I want to start by relating some conversations I have experienced these last few days since I have been back in our building after a couple of weeks away. I overheard two women talking in the lobby. They were discussing the beauty of the building. One woman commented that she grew up in the church – and that, of course, she left as soon as she could. I wish I had stopped, listened. I wonder why that seemed such a natural thing to do, to leave the church when she was old enough to be able to do it. What did I have to learn from her?
Can these bones live?
Why don’t we have a season of Pentecost? Why no season for the Holy Spirit? “Presbyterians are about control, and you can’t control the Holy Spirit,” was one reply. Spirit moves, like the wind, wherever she wishes.
Can these bones live?
I was putting up the flame banners yesterday and got to thinking: Why do we sit where we do every Sunday? The banners were originally an idea to encourage people to sit in front of them, since they would partially impede the view to the front, and they would form a visual sense of the back of the sanctuary. But they have become our thing of beauty. They belong here. That aside, why do you sit where you do on Sunday mornings? No judgment. Whatever the reason is fine! But is there a reason? Take a moment and think about it….
Would anyone like to share?
There are two signs of an off-grid campsite: First, a driveway and second, a campfire ring. I found lots of campfire rings over the past couple of weeks, many already supplied with wood. But no kindling. They needed some small, wispy, almost unnoticeable fragments to get things started. Isn’t it often the little things that happen which start a big change? The last lines in the hymn, “We Are God’s People,” go like this: We die alone, for on its own Each ember loses fire: Yet joined in one the flame burns on To give warmth and light, and to inspire. I wonder whether if we all sat close to each other (as some of you already do) whether we might catch fire, give warmth and light and inspire the world!
Can these bones live?
Of course they can! We are only limited by our own imaginations. We are only limited by what we consider natural law, or the way things are.
Ann M. Pendleton-Julian and John Seely Brown in volume one of their book, Design Unbound, discuss the problem of the “tyranny of the possible.” They note, that “our solutions to problems are limited when we think only within the constraints of what we currently accept as possible.” It reminds me of Einstein’s quip, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Design Unbound suggests that the kind of world we are navigating now, the kinds of problems we want to have solve, demand a new tool set in which imagination is not an embellishment or an extra, fun exercise, but the real work in the world. Imagination is where all the rest starts from. It is not just about novelty, but imagination gives us open hearts and eyes to nurture compassion, and curiosity which gives us the good questions we need to make sense of what is happening around us.
Ezekiel was not bound by the tyranny of the possible. He is one of the most visionary of the Hebrew prophets. A lot of what he saw was bizarre, and impossible to imagine. But this particular vision is something we can imagine. We know what bones look like. We know what living bodies look like. We can imagine, with varying amounts of detail, what it might look like for bones to come together, reconnect, and finally become living, breathing humans. When I tried it, I went first to cartoon images. You can draw anything. And then came computer graphics – they could take photos over time and play them in reverse to make this thing into a film. Weird, yes, I know. But we can imagine it! We can have a picture in our minds of this new life.
The people of Israel were in exile, lost, disheartened, hopeless. They could not possibly imagine a day when they would be free, be in Palestine, be at home, be a nation of their own. They could not see it, so they were sinking in despair.
So God gave them a picture, first.
Being able to imagine a thing, to see it with your mind’s eye, is the first act of discarding the tyranny of the possible. If you can imagine it, it might be possible. It opens a tiny crack in the tyranny of the possible.
I pray in pictures, so this makes sense to me. When I pray for someone, I let a picture come to me. I don’t fight it, or try to create a picture. Sometimes I don’t understand the picture. But what comes is what I hold with Jesus in that moment. Sometimes it is a simple as the person’s face. Sometimes there is more.
Can these bones live?
Ezekiel didn’t even dare answer! “You tell me, God, Can these bones live?”
1. Saw the bones, devastation. The first step is to see the devastation. That all is not well. Like the environment. Reading a book, The Overstory, by Richard Powers – the protagonists are trying to save the trees. Their biggest obstacle is to get people to see the devastation that we are wreaking on the trees and the community of life they hold.
2. Then Ezekiel was asked to do something about the devastation he saw, like when Jesus told the disciples seeing the hungry masses: You give them something to eat. Speak to the bones. When he did, they came together, but just lay there in human shapes, like mannequins, askew all over the valley. This was not enough for the Creator of the Universe!
3. Ezekiel couldn’t imagine it all at once. He could not speak it all at once. The power of the first prophecy may be what gave him courage to speak the next ones. Now speak so the mannequins become living beings, speak so the people come to embrace you out of the painting. Ezekiel summoned his courage and turned north – breath come, east – breath come, south – breath come, west – breath come! Ezekiel spoke to the four winds, and they came. Beyond possible! All those shapes became living souls.
On Pentecost, when the Spirit broke into the room, it was in the form of wind, breath. In many ways it was another answer to Ezekiel’s prayer to the breath to come from the four directions and give life. So it did on Pentecost.
Pentecost unsettles. Pentecost unbinds the tyranny of the possible and makes room for life and healing which is beyond imagination. What might such a Holy Spirit upheaval look like here? Maybe the women in the lobby won’t think that the natural step in growing up is to leave the church. Or maybe leaving will be a new path opened up in faithfulness to the Holy One. Can we imagine that? Maybe we don’t need our rules to tell us what to do, or our books to hear the word of the Lord. Maybe when we rub up next to each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, a fire will start. The fire will give warmth and light and inspiration, and may also burn down some things we thought we needed. But when we are in the wind, we may not need them any more. We need to stop being beholden to the tyranny of the possible, remember that through Christ all things are possible and trust that the Holy Spirit will give us the words and the power and the courage to live that truth. Can you begin to imagine it?
Can these bones live? (To Communion Table) … Can this cut and beaten grain live? Can this juice of trampled grapes live?
Let us pray to the breath to come from the four directions. Spirit breath, come! As you pray, see this people knit together joint by joint, tied together with strong connecting tissue, and draped in skin that touches, feels, knows the feel of love. So incarnated, what may become of us? What can you imagine? Let go of the tyranny of the possible. This table is nothing if not a declaration that all things are possible! Take and eat. Let’s dare it together!