Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2: 1-21
Rev. Loren McGrail
St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church
Jerusalem, May 20, 2018
This has been a difficult week here in the land all call holy. A week of unspeakable violence and killing, hatred unleashed and spewed, and God’s holy name and vision for a beloved community in Jerusalem hijacked by false preachers calling for end times beginning now with the coronation of my President as King Cyrus come to restore Israel.
Hard to watch over 60,000 Israelis storm through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City shouting racial slurs against Arabs. Hard to watch the images on my Facebook feed full of black smoke, burning tires, and dead or maimed bodies. Hard to watch Border Police attack Palestinian Parliamentarians for daring to speak their truth or hold their flag at the opening of the embassy on Monday.
Hard to find words to match this growing feeling of despair at who we have become. Hard to find a message of hope in texts that match my depressed spirit— a valley of dry bones, or the disciples hiding in fear to live into their resurrected lives.
But then I realize, dear ones, these are the perfect texts for me and I think for us in such a dark time as this with images of death every where and threats of war like flames lapping at the edges of our borders or consciences.
Are we not a pile of dry bones once marrow filled, now mere skeletons of our beautifully created selves picked clean by a culture intent on killing and death rather than life?
Are we not all feeling a bit like those dry bones Ezekiel has come to prophesy to? Are we not a divided people too worshiping at the altars of nationalism, xenophobia, and the restoration of our own countries at the exclusion of others?
It’s ok to admit that this is where we are but this is not the end of the story. God sends exiled prophet Ezekiel to prophesy to us saying, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay my sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come to you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live.”
Take a deep breath, dear ones, inhaling each other’s exhale and allow God’s Holy Spirit to lay sinews between the dry bones of your divided self. Breathe in new life so we all can live bone to bone together in harmony.
“And they were gathered together in one accord” we are told in Luke’s Book of Acts about that fateful day in the Upper Room in Jerusalem during the festival of Shauvot, the completion of the grain harvest or the harvest of the first fruits and the giving of the law on Sinai.
If dry bones live is a national resurrection of the Israelites then Pentecost is the beginning of our lives as people of the resurrection who will live our lives out loud and boldly speaking truth to power.
The Holy Spirit descended on 120 Galilean peasants and fishermen 50 days after the resurrection. The Spirit manifested itself as an uncontrollable wind and a fire with tongues, which allowed all to speak and be understood.
Theologian Ched Myers puts it this way,” The Holy Spirit ignited a multi-lingual eruption at the heart of cosmopolitan Jerusalem in the face of Roman control…The gift of tongues communicates across linguistic differences without suppressing or eradicating those differences. Unity through the Spirit does not mean monoculture.”
This is not the reversal of the Hebrew Scripture about the Tower of Babel when God divided and scattered the human community by multiplying their languages. Here Spirit does not restore humanity to a common language but rather declares all languages holy and equally worthy because God’s deeds demand diverse tellings.
Pentecost was a protest moment in which God refused to be silenced. Last Monday while protesting the opening of my embassy in Jerusalem, I had a Pentecost moment. Here is a piece of the story I wrote about that historic day.
Over the course of a few hours Palestinians from the North made it in along with Arab lawmakers from the Joint List. I recognized the faces of a few East Jerusalemites but not many. The chants were in English and Arabic,” “Heh, heh, ho, ho Americans have got to go,” or “With blood and tears, we will redeem you, Palestine.”
The Border Police were aggressive and abusive to the Arab leaders when they came out with their signs but controlled compared to how soldiers act in the West Bank. We were in West Jerusalem after all and there was lots of media…
I wasn’t able to capture on film the pushing of Arab women, or the shoving of Arab men and young Jews. But I was a witness. At one point I stepped away to get a better picture when two Border Police came up and told me that only the press could stay in this inner ring. I could see that one of the soldiers was an American.
I told them I was an American priest who lived in Jerusalem. They still wouldn’t let me stay so then I felt the need to speak my truth to my fellow American.
Our conversation became a petite sermonette on this mount overlooking the place where my country and Israel were celebrating victory while thousands were being bombed with tear gas and shot at in Gaza.
Me: Are you American?
Him: Nods yes.
Me: So you made Aliyah and are now serving Israel, a foreign country? The only democracy in the Middle East? And you are telling me I can’t stand here to see what is going on?
Other soldier: Looks uncomfortable because we are speaking in a language he doesn’t understand.
Him: He looks down, can’t maintain eye contact.
Me: So as you know we both worship the same God and (pointing to the Arabs) and we are all people of the Book.
Him: Listening but trying to pretend he isn’t.
(People are beginning to gather around to hear what I am saying).
Me: We worship the same God and this God is watching us today. He is watching everything you are doing and not doing.
This God stands with the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan, and all those Gazans getting massacred today. He is here watching you deny my freedom to assemble and your fellow soldiers beat up unarmed protestors. It is not up to me to judge you for your sins but make no mistake you will be held accountable. You will be judged.
Maybe it was the close proximity to those right wing Christians a few meters away that made me talk like this, maybe it was because the Advocate showed up early and made me speak truth to their power.
The other soldier was visibly irritated so I moved away and joined my fellow protestors behind the barriers.
Towards the end of our demonstration, as people were beginning to drift off, the Calvary arrived in the form of a band of Ultra Orthodox non-Zionist Jews known at True Torah Jews. They bowed their heads and carried their signs into the middle of the demonstration.
The winds of Pentecost had come early. They made everyone smile, laugh, applaud. The soldiers had no weapons for these religious Jews who would not bow to them.
Monday was still a day of rage with the Gaza death toll rising hourly and thousands more maimed for life while Israel and America celebrated their hollow imperial victories.
But that Monday will also be etched in my imperfect memory as a day when God, via the Advocate, showed up and made me speak; when the Advocate transformed itself into black cloaked Haredi Jews who brought good news to this abused yet high spirited multi-cultural, multi-lingual group, multi-faith group of justice seekers.
So dear ones, go to the margins of empire. You don’t need an invitation. Stand with the oppressed and those seeking their freedom. You will not be alone. You will find others speaking in tongues you don’t understand, speaking the language you do, truth.
The beauty of Pentecost is that the binding constraints of nation, culture, tongue, age, race, and sex are broken. The promise of Pentecost is that we are free from our fears and once we risk speaking out we will be understood. Like the wind, we cannot be contained. Like a fire, our passion cannot be extinguished.
To those listening from their windows or watching from the street it must have appeared that those singing and dancing, speaking in tongues were drunk. For those imperial forces standing guard this must have seen like some kind of a new form of political madness— an “isolated case of sanctified anarchism.”
So dear ones, gather up your rattling bones to make some praise music, let God’s hot breath enter you and lick your tired spirit back to life. Leave your locked rooms, your sheltered lives, and your comfortable worship places. Take the risk to live your life boldly. Allow yourself to become un-hinged. Go into the streets and live your Spirit filled resurrected lives.
The Body of Christ has been anointed by the Spirit for life and freedom. And the church says Amen. Amen.
Let Grace Scorch You: A Pentecost Blessing
May you who have become a pile of dry bones
rattling in a valley of other dry bones
find your yourselves resuscitated
by God’s sweet breath,
find your skeleton growing flesh
your breaths deep
your life restored.
May you who have been paralyzed by fear
hiding behind locked doors or
locked inside dead dreams
feel the presence of the living Spirit
who has come to stand along side you—
to comfort, protect, and advocate for you
within the chaos of the blazing.
May you who have become speechless
from anger and despair
find your tongue aflame
with the language of truth
you did not know you had left within you
to see let alone speak.
May you who have become deaf
from too many sound bombs or gun shots
find the ears of your heart open
to the language of love
whispering you are my beloved
I will not leave you.
May you all be crazy, unhinged, or drunk enough
to let Grace scorch you toward one another