Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Do you ever feel like your life is nothing but a massive letdown? Do you ever feel as if nothing in your life is ever as good as you hoped or imagined it would be? Maybe it was a home renovation project. You had these grand plans for how it was going to go—every detail was planned. And when it was done it was going to be beautiful. But then reality struck. The project didn’t go as you planned. You hit hiccup after hiccup and by the time you finally finished the project, part of you was just happy to have it done, but the other part of you was a disappointed as you stood there thinking, “This is not what I hoped or imagined it would be.” O
r maybe it’s a family vacations, or even just a family day. You had this wonderful time planned. You were going to enjoy the beautiful weather, have quality time with one another, and just simply enjoy each other’s company for a while. But then reality struck. The weather was awful, the bickering was endless, and you all found yourselves counting down the minutes until you could go home. It just wasn’t what you hoped or imagined it would be. Or maybe it’s been this pandemic experience. If you’re like me, you spent time 12-14 months ago thinking about what it was going to be like when we finally got through to the other side of this—the reunion with friends and family, the mask burning party, or even the proper celebration of Easter with your church family. But then reality struck and things haven’t worked out the way you hoped or imagined they would. It’s all been a bit anticlimactic—a letdown, really. See, the truth is, no matter how good we imagine the future to be, no matter how hard we strive to make it a reality, the same thing almost always happens. Our plans and dreams almost always end in a letdown.
2. You know, Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, which we read in our Old Testament Reading, was kind of like that. No, the vision itself wasn’t a letdown—quite the opposite. But the fulfillment of the vision was a complete letdown. The vision, on the other hand, was completely spectacular. Maybe you’re familiar with it. It begins with the prophet Ezekiel being carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley. And the valley was filled with dry bones. Ezekiel gets to take a tour of the valley, and he discovers that it is absolutely littered with bones—not corpses or even skeletons—dry, deader than dead bones. Or, to use Ezekiel’s exact words, “Behold, they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:2). But then the Lord asks his prophet a question. He says, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3). You can almost imagine the significant pause between God’s asking the question and Ezekiel’s answer. He must have been thinking: “Well, it sure seems like the answer should be, ‘no.” But, then again, this does seem like a bit of a trick question.” So, Ezekiel gives a diplomatic response and says, “O Lord God, you know” (Ezekiel 37:3). Then the Lord spoke to Ezekiel, “Son of Man, prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:4-5). Those instructions probably seemed as strange to Ezekiel as they do to you and me, but Ezekiel faithfully did as the Lord commanded. He began to say, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…” And as he continued to speak those words, he heard a faint rattling sound—as if the bones were jiggling against each other. And as he continued to prophesy, the rattling got louder. Then, suddenly, the rattling turned into snapping and cracking as bones started coming together—bone to its bone and joint to its joint. And as he continued to prophesy, ligaments and tendons and muscles began to form on those bones. Then, finally, skin formed over the top. And as Ezekiel finished prophesying, he looked around and this valley which had been filled with dry bones was now filled with human corpses. They were human beings in every sense except that they didn’t have the breath of life in them. But then God spoke to his prophet again: “Son of man, prophesy to the breath, and say Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds and breath on these slain…” (Ezekiel 37:9). (Now, the Hebrew word for “breath”, “wind”, and “Spirit” are all the same word, so the Lord is clearly playing on that idea here. Ezekiel prophesies to the wind to come and fill the corpses with the breath of life, but it’s really the Spirit of God who is at work in all of this.) So, Ezekiel did as he was told, and he heard rushing wind which came and the Spirit of God filled the corpses with the breath of life—the very breath of life that God has once breathed into Adam long ago. And as Ezekiel looked around, he found himself surrounded by a vast army. No long was he standing among dry, deader than dead bones, he was surrounded by living, breathing human beings. But just then, the Lord spoke one last time: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:11). These dry, deader than dead bones are just like Israel. Israel is deader than dead in exile. They have rejected their God, desecrated his temple, and worshiped false gods. And so they got what they deserved when they were sent into exile. But now, even though they felt like all their hope was lost, God had a message for Ezekiel to proclaim to the people of Israel: “Behold, you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:14). This is an incredible vision, an incredible prophecy, an incredible promise. And so, in the days of men like Ezra and Nehemiah, God fulfilled this prophecy, but Israel’s return to their land was every bit as disappointing as Ezekiel’s vision was spectacular. There was no mass-exodus from Babylon. There was no triumphal procession with trumpets and banners. There was no victory march into Jerusalem. The whole thing was a bit anti-climactic as small groups of exiles slowly returned to a ruined city. They spent decades struggling to rebuild a shadow of what they had. And all the while they struggled not just against the antagonistic people of the land, but they struggled against their own hard hearts which continued to lead them astray. The fulfillment of this grand vision of Ezekiel’s was a complete and utter letdown.
3. You know, on it’s fitting that we meditate on this text on this Pentecost Sunday. It’s fitting because the fulfillment of Pentecost in our lives ends up being a bit of a letdown too, at least from our perspective. Acts 2 tells us all about the grand day of Pentecost—the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in a mighty rushing wind and rested on them like tongues of fire. And then each of the apostles was given the ability to speak in languages they had never spoken before. And when the crowd gathered to see what was going on, the heard the Gospel message of Jesus and thousands were brought to faith in Jesus as the church was born. It was spectacular. But the thing is, the fulfillment of Pentecost in our lives is utterly ordinary. Yes, we still receive that same Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t usually involve those spectacular events—just ordinary water in an ordinary bowl poured by the hand of an ordinary person onto the head of another ordinary person. From our perspective, it’s a letdown.
4. And that pretty much sums up our lives, doesn’t it? We live lives filled with letdowns. So, where does that leave us? Frustrated? Hopeless? In despair? Maybe… Or this recognition that we live lives filled with letdowns could lead us to a profound realization: after a life of letdowns, it’s only through death that we can find true life. Life will always be filled with letdowns when I’m ultimately concerned about my wants, my desires, and my needs. But when I die to myself and submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, when my own wants, desires, and needs aren’t the ultimate priority anymore, that, my friends, is where true life is found. It’s only then that we begin to fully experience the Gospel message the Jesus sends his Spirit to breathe life into our dead bones. God’s Spirit works in our lives in a greater way than we could ever imagine—we just have to get our selfish self out of the way to see it. Life is hopelessly filled with letdowns when I matter most, but when I die to myself, a hope-filled life in the Spirit awaits.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.