Updated: Jan 30
The Counting of the Easter Omer is over. We have reached Shavuot – the Festival of Weeks – traditionally representative of when the First Fruits of the harvest would be turned over to the priests if the temple, to be sacrificed on the altar.
Over the past seven Sundays, we have heard Jesus refer to the fruit of the true vine; and today is when we read of how the disciples became living fruit of the Jesus vine, speaking in the tongues of many lands.
Because the true vine still lives and still produces fruit, I welcome those who have regularly sat at this bus stop over the past Eastertide, patiently waiting for their bus to arrive and take them to a more important place than this; I welcome those to now stand and speak in the language of Scripture, telling the others here why they should believe he or she is a fruit of the true vine.
<cue “crickets chirping” soundbite>
Well, that silence speaks louder than words.
I imagine if Ezekiel had been a bus stop preacher, he might have heard God ask, “Mortal, can any of those dried bones on the bus stop bench stand on its own and speak?”
Ezekiel’s answer would still be applicable: “O Lord GOD, you know.”
Sorry to put strangers on the spot, asking for volunteers to speak in tongues on Pentecost Sunday, but there is solace to be found in knowing dried bones can find life. If slow-witted disciples can become Apostles, and people from all nations can understand multiple foreign languages coming from Galilean rubes, then life can come to dried bones when they receive the Holy Spirit.
The first step in that direction is accomplished by willingly reading a sermon – any sermon – but preferably one that is longer than a 50-word blog. You have accomplished that … if you willingly finish reading this sermon.
The next step is to realize a sermon is not anything more than one person’s thoughts and feelings about Scripture. When you realize that anyone can write a sermon – simply by reading something in the Holy Bible, taking the time to think about it (pray about it), and then placing those thoughts on paper. Doing that, but then not making it available for others to read, is not really a sermon. That is more akin to self-justification.
Have you ever thought about Scripture while you were away from a place that regularly and formally requires your mind to ponder Christian issues … like a church does?
Have you ever pondered questions that came to you about what something in Scripture meant, to the point of being motivated to look that up online – or personally ask someone to answer that question – someone you think to be more knowledgeable of Christian studies than you are?
Have you taken the step to regularly attend Bible Studies or extracurricular – voluntary – classes at church?
Have you ever volunteered to lead a class of that nature?
Are you still doing all of the above: Taking your religion home with you – to work and play with you; seeking to learn more about the meaning of Scripture; entering into honest debate about how moving Scripture can be; taking the time to teach others about what you see and how your religion is relevant in how you lead your life?
Until you have answered “Yes” to all these questions, you cannot expect that God does not to see your lack of effort, your fear of taking a leap of faith, and your selfish views of religion as an indication that you do not want God’s help.
God is not withholding His Holy Spirit from you, YOU are refusing to receive what God offers, through true faith in Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus is remembered to have said, “When [God] comes” – meaning when God comes to you – “[God] will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”
Now, Jesus went on to explain that, but before we go over that, do you – as part of the world – have any idea or opinion about what sin is?
Can you explain what righteousness is?
Do you understand the concept of judgement?
If you think, then of course you have ideas about the meaning of each.
And, it is okay to venture the most wild guesses at this point, because you have all (basically, through silence) already admitted you are clueless about what being filled with the Holy Spirit is like, meaning you are in that blissful state of ignorance before God comes to you.
Whatever you think (as part of the world), God will prove you wrong.
Today, it seems our society struggles with calling some sins a sin at all. We read how Jesus said, “Let you without sin throw the first stone,” and realize, “Wow! I sin every day. I wouldn’t want to be stoned to death.”
We then think, “Hey, if so many people are doing the same wrong things I am doing … and so many who are doing them also call themselves believers in God, as Christians, then who am I to say something is a sin?”
We like to think of God as the mean ogre of the Old Testament, who so often said, “Off with their heads!”, but we then like to think of Jesus as the “new wave” hippie dude, who goes around saying, “Peace man. Like … love one another dude. That’s all you gotta do man.”
Do you think God sent his Son Jesus to say, “It is okay to sin. You are forgiven of anything and everything”?
As to righteousness, we tend to think icons are those who are righteous, such as the pope … but I forget … is there one or two popes? Or, is it up to three popes now?
Forget him, that’s a poor example. How about our political leaders as examples of righteousness … like President Barack Obama, or President George Bush, or President Bill Clinton and presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush?
Well, maybe politics is not the road to righteousness. So maybe it is your priest, as to whom you look, for where you find righteousness in a human? Maybe the woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church represents righteousness? Maybe the professors at seminary schools are righteous, teaching priests to also be righteous?
In the movie Farris Beuller’s Day Off, the principal’s assistant said, “They think Farris is a “righteous dude.”
Was he? Or, was that misuse of the word “righteous”?
Do we truly understand what “righteous” means?
That question then leads to the issue of judgment, which, today at least, is not as much a legal issue, as it is more of a “die and go to heaven” issue. We are talking about Judgement Day stuff now.
What do you think is the key to getting in heaven when you die?
After all, we are all mortals and can only live for so long. So, what is your opinion about heaven and hell?
Who goes to the big house in the sky and who burns in the fiery pits below?
Some people may think Jesus was only talking about the way the world was in 33 A.D.
A sinner, to the Jews of his day, was anyone who broke the laws of Moses; but, as we read from week to week – how some Jews saw Jews who were lame, sick, diseased, blind, and poor as being punished by God … for having sinned – is a sinner marked by sin, so everyone can clearly see what sin looks like on a human being?
When the blind man was healed by Jesus, the disciples asked Jesus, “Whose sins made that man blind? Himself or his parents?”
The Jews thought “sin” was a reflection upon the way one was seen by the society, as a whole. The ones who were imperfect were deemed sinners.
Then there were the Gentiles … especially those rascally Samaritans. They were sinners because they did not know how to recognize sin. This means “sin” was the way of life for EVERYONE who did not memorize the Law … and look good while doing it.
In Jesus’ day, the righteous were thought to be those who looked good … those who had land, title, possessions, money, position, power, and the respect of listeners, those who they stood before – the gathered crowds seeking guidance. The righteous were thought to be those who were especially versed in the laws of Moses, the stories of the Torah, the lyrics of the psalms, and writings of the prophets.
Righteousness was then seen as relative to how much religion one knew. How much time one spent learning those important details meant one spent time not sinning, simply by studying holy books.
Based on all that, judgment was one of those things the so-called righteous didn’t believe came after mortal death. Most of the religious scholars in the Temple did not believe in Sheol (Hell), and none of them thought anyone would ever go to heaven without a proper guide. That had to wait until the Messiah came, for heaven to bring everyone back to life on earth … for the Jews, at least.
So, back then, judgement was a legal issue … as far as the Jews were concerned. If you broke the Law, you were judged.
Therefore, it might be easy to think how wrong those ancient Jews were … about sin, righteousness and judgment … from where we sit today. But it is just as easy to think we – our Christian society – are just as wrong IF WE ARE NOT LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
They were not … before Christ, before God’s Holy Spirit was Advocated by Christ; but are we not – as a whole, as a Christian nation – just as lifeless as they were?
Consider this: Sin is such a struggle before God comes, it seems impossible not to break some rule, do some sin; but after one is filled with the Holy Spirit, then sin is the last thing on one’s mind.
Sin doesn’t evaporate and cease to exist then. In fact, it attacks you, tries to entice you, trick you, and make you think one little sin is okay. If you still resist all the lures, it then comes after you with persecution, with crowds of people holding protest signs in front of you, calling you names, seeking Federal indictments and punishments for refusing to recognize it is our right to sin – even though sin is something you have no use for.
After God comes to you, you realize righteousness is God. Jesus was righteous because God led his life and the Holy Spirit within would not permit him to fall for sin’s tricks. Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” You too must become a temple in which God resides … just like Jesus. You must protect that presence; and the actions of that protection make you appear righteous … but righteousness is really God.
Judgement is then your decision to allow – welcome, request, desire – God to come into you and stay with you forever … BEFORE … all other judgments are God’s to make for you … and you willingly submit to God’s will.
It is impossible for anyone to fully grasp this when someone else is telling it to them.
Everything I say now is just made-up stuff … until you experience God. Then everything you thought about sin, righteousness and judgment changes.
The excuses … the crutches of lameness … which is why you cannot stand up and address the gathered crowd on the Day of Pentecost … they get tossed away. You are healed!
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, talk!
At that time, you cannot stop from speaking, and you cannot say the wrong thing.
You speak the truth …
and the truth is impressive.
The truth is attractive, leading others to you.
In the reading from Acts today, Peter stood before the gathered crowd and explained how the amazing abilities of the disciples … those abilities with foreign languages … was like the prophet Joel had written.
Joel wrote, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I [God] will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
God said, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”
“Prophecy” IS everything that is Scripture.
In the last days of not knowing what Scripture means, every iota of one’s body – all flesh – will be filled with God’s Spirit and then one will know everything God meant when he had a prophet write something. EVERYTHING leads one to see how Jesus Christ would be sent to save dried bones from eternal death … giving us the opportunity of eternal life!
Jesus had to die for us to have that gift be given to us, as Jesus said in John’s Gospel.
When Jesus died, Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled … when “The sun shall be turned to darkness.” We read how the sun went dark between the sixth hour and the ninth hour, in three of the four Gospels.
Thus, after that event, “Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
You are saved by the Holy Spirit coming upon you, as advocated by Jesus Christ, when sin, righteousness and judgment are finally realized.
Sin can only be seen when one hangs out at the fringes of the law, feeling restricted by commandments written down on paper and nailed to signs along the road. Being so close to sin makes on desire sin … and when sin whispers, “Jesus will forgive you,” what happens next?
AFTER the Holy Spirit comes, the law ceases to be an external document. It becomes your personal way of life. You stay so far away from the boundaries of the external law that there is no distraction. Sin is always behind you because you believe in Jesus as your Messiah.
AFTER the Holy Spirit comes, righteousness is not some public figure … like Jesus, like Peter, like Ezekiel, like someone other than you. You become like all those who were truly righteous, because those who are truly righteous have God’s Spirit within. Righteousness never promotes self, but always praises God.
AFTER the Holy Spirit comes, judgment has been made. What was dead – as they say in prison lingo, “Dead man walking” – has then come to life. Judgment is acceptance of the new life that is filled with the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. Judgement is the sacrifice of one’s dried bones for the opportunity of other dried bones also finding new life.
In the reading for today from Ezekiel, God told Ezekiel to “Prophesy to these bones” … and he did … making all the bones come together and have new muscles and skin …
But … prophesying to dried bones was like preaching to people who are afraid to receive the Holy Spirit …they have no life of true value … even if they look like they are alive, they are still dead.
So, Ezekiel was told to prophesy to the breath … the breath of God that will bring the life of the Holy Spirit within.
When Ezekiel did that, the winds came … just like told of in Acts, on the Day of Pentecost.
Today is the Day of Pentecost and before me is a valley of dried bone.
God is calling for more sons and daughters to take the leap of faith.
When will your “last days” lead you to stand and prophesy?
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