May 23, 2021

Day of Pentecost - Year B

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/866948157190299

 

The sermon, preached by Fr. Ian Delinger, begins about 29 minutes into the service.

 

Click here for the Service Booklet and Hymnal & Psalter for Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

 

Text of Sermon

2021 May23_Pentecost
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Psalm 104:25-35, 37 – Acts 2:1-21 – John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

 

Almighty God,
May Your Spirit make us wise; May Your Spirit guide us; May Your Spirit renew us; May Your Spirit strengthen us
so that we will be
Strong in faith; Discerning in proclamation; Courageous in witness; Persistent in good deeds.
Amen.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

Pentecost is known as the Birthday of the Church. As you heard in the reading from Acts:

 

The Disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.


At the Ascension last week, we heard Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit, and that promise has been fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Now empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers can boldly fulfil Jesus’ mission, to spread the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to be guided into all the truth and to testify on Jesus’ behalf.

 

The Church believes that the Holy Spirit was not only given to the Disciples on that Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is given to us by our Baptism. We, too, are empowered to fulfil Jesus’ mission by virtue of our Baptism. In fact, Pentecost is one of the special days of the year for Baptisms. The prayer after the Baptism gives thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit upon that newly baptized person, and asks that God sustain them in the Holy Spirit.

 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we, the people, are the Body of Christ. There is the Body of Christ the Sacrament and the Body of Christ the Church, the people. Never before has it felt so strong that “the Church, it is the people,” than during this more than a year of pandemic. We have remained faithful to Christ, to our worship and prayer and to the St Stephen’s Family while being physically apart. Now, as if a birthday present for the Church, we are looking toward coming together again.

 

The story of the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel feels very much like the moment that we are in.

 

…suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone…and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; …and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

 

This past month of writing protocols for re-entry, seating charts, confirmation emails and much more, the picture in my head is of each of us, one-by-one coming back together, being the Body of Christ at St Stephen’s. Sure, we will be masked and distanced, but like the coming together of the dry bones, our coming together will be one bit after another until we are once again fully en-fleshed, and we bring God’s Holy Spirit back into this building.

 

And I hope that you realize what I have experienced every week: That the Church is not the building; it is the people. The building we call “the church” has been empty for over a year! But you, the people, have been worshiping with me. The dynamic of seeing this empty building and preaching to empty pews, but knowing that others are worshiping with me, hearing God’s Word and praying with me, that definition of “Church” that we’ve been taught since we were kids comes alive: The Church, it is the people. So, when you return to this building, it will come alive again, it will be filled with the Holy Spirit…not because this building houses God, but because the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of you, and you are what will make this building feel like a holy place.

 

Today is the last day that we will light the candles for the St Stephen’s Family. It was our Director of Music, Cassie, who came up with the idea of lighting a candle for each member of the congregation. There are roughly the same number of candles as there are households in the congregation. Yes, they are hard to see on the screen, and it may seem like a small gesture. But when lighting the candles, and I’m sure for the Choral Scholar who turns off the candles, you are brought to the forefront of my prayers. This being the last day doesn’t mean that you stop being in my prayers. It means that we are – I am – looking at an horizon, and I see you on the way back to the pews. It will take some of you longer than others. And the guidelines that we will put into place will be focused on making the most cautious person comfortable coming into the building, not the most cavalier person. It is analogous to the re-animation of the Dry Bones: bone-by-bone in the Valley; one-by-one into the pews.

 

**We will see one another’s faces, hear one another’s voices, pray and worship together. We will return.

 

The setting for Ezekiel’s prophecy is the Babylonian Exile. This pandemic time has been compared to a very long Lent and also to the Exile. While in Exile, the Israelites had no clue when or if they would ever return to their land around Jerusalem. The pandemic has really felt like that: When will we ever return to an in-person world, in-person worship, being the gathered Church, the Body of Christ with its many members?

 

While our circumstances are very different than those of the Israelites during the Babylonian Exile, life without close contact with those we love and varying degrees of freedom of movement have no doubt felt very lifeless to many of you.

 

“Mortal, can these bones live?”

 

Is this a trick question on an essay test? “Priest, will your parish survive?” What is the correct answer when Ezekiel’s bones and our pews are nothing but utter lifelessness? In no way would Ezekiel second guess God; in no way would we second guess God, for with God, all things are possible. So, the response cannot be “No” or “I have no idea.” So, with a trick question comes a trick answer:

 

“O Lord God, You know.”

 

Like Ezekiel, we have had no choice but to place our survival as a parish into God’s hands. God knows our fate; God alone knows what is possible; yet God expects us to be faithful not presumptive. This prophecy of the Dry Bones is a metaphor for Israel’s future restoration, and told not only as the assured outcome, but as incentive to remain faithful to God. Fully trusting God, Ezekiel watches God cause the dead and desiccated bones to live, and then as living beings, they acknowledge God.

 

With faith like Ezekiel and the Israelites in exile, we have endeavored to remain faithful to God. It is now, as we turn a corner in the pandemic, that we pray:

 

Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Amen. It shall be so!

 

And like at the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes with new life, with new breath, with new animation of God’s people. The readings for today emphasize that God is with us by the sending of God the Spirit and by breathing the Holy Spirit into us. With God, all things are possible, like bringing new life to dry bones, enabling those of many languages to understand one another, and empowering God’s humble people to be agents of God the Son’s mission, to be the Church, the Body of Christ.

 

We are standing at the edge of that valley, about to be re-assembled, bone-by-bone, pew-by-pew. Once again, we will be the disciples gathered all together in one place, and Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit will come to us, give us breath, give us life and give us ability.

 

Today is the last day that we will light the candles which represent the households of the parish. Like Ezekiel’s prophecy to the Israelites, these Bible readings for us today are partly to inspire us to remain faithful to God and to trust God when our many households gather together again, safely, and the Spirit will be in us to fulfill Jesus’ mission in SLO.

 

At your own pace, you will return to the pews. Like I said, our guidelines for re-entry will ensure that the most cautious feels safe being here, not just the most cavalier. We will see one another’s faces, hear one another’s voices, pray and worship together.

 

Ezekiel scholar Julie Galambush wrote of this prophecy of the Valley of the Dry Bones:

 

The image of unburied corpses, now turned to parched, dislocated, and scattered bones, simultaneously evokes the remains of Israelites killed in the Babylonian invasions, the dislocated and disoriented Israelites still living in the land, and the exiles whose hopes have at last been utterly crushed. To this devastated people YHWH promises that He will act beyond their despair; He will open their very graves in order to give them life and restore them to their land. (Oxford Bible Commentary)

 

That grim image is the 15 months of the pandemic; that cautious hope is where we are now. If we remain faithful as we look toward worshiping together in this building, we look for God acting beyond our despair, of God opening our doors in order to give us life and restoring us to the assembled Body of Christ in this place, and at this time.

 

Pentecost: The Church’s Birthday. This Pentecost, the Church is being re-born. The Church it is the people...you are being re-assembled, re-animated, re-livened to come be the Church.


God will put the Spirit within you, and you shall live,
and God will place you on your own soil – in your own pew;
then you shall know that the Lord has spoken and will act.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah!

During the online service, a video was shown as Fr Ian preached, through to the end of the sermon, with your faces filling the sanctuary. It started at the ** indicated in the text. These are 3 screenshots from that video.

 

2021 May23_PentecostVideoImages

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