Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sermon, Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21

During the civil rights struggle of the 1960's, Martin Luther King, Jr. told his followers, "You are citizens of this country -- act like it," (or words to that effect). He was reminding people that by their very birth in this nation they were citizens. Because they were citizens, they had the right to be treated equally. Because they were citizens, they had the right to sit in any available seat on the bus. Because they were citizens, they had the right to shop where they wanted, live where they wanted, and drink from any drinking fountain they wanted. He reminded people that by the simple fact of their citizenship in this country, they were as equal and able as anybody else. He reminded them to act as equal citizens and to stop acting as second-class non-citizens.

We are being told the same thing today. By our very baptism, we are members of the household of God, citizens of God's heavenly kingdom; and it's time for us to start acting like it.

In the reading from Acts, we hear about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, and we hear that the twelve began speaking in other languages. This is often cited as the birth of the Church. In actuality, this was nothing new.

In all three synoptic gospels, the disciples were sent out by Jesus into the surrounding towns and villages with authority and power over demons, the ability to cure diseases, to proclaim the gospel and to heal. In a later chapter in Luke, Jesus sends out 70 others to proclaim, heal and drive out demons. And after Jesus' resurrection, he gives the disciples all authority in heaven, he breathes on them, and gives them the Holy Spirit.

The apostles were already citizens of the kingdom of God. They were already prepared to preach the good news. They were already able to drink from the living waters of Christ. They just needed to be reminded of this fact.

Too often we forget our heritage. Too often we forget the gifts we have been given. Too often we let the world dictate our behavior. Too often we ignore our citizenship in the kingdom. Too often we lose our direction. This is what happened in Acts; the disciples were in danger of not living up to God's expectation. So the Holy Spirit descended upon them and reminded them of who they were.

The story from Ezekiel is much the same as the one from Acts. In this passage, Ezekiel is taken out to a valley of dry bones. As it turns out, the bones are the whole house of Israel. But they have forgotten who they are. They have forgotten that they are citizens of the kingdom of God. They have lost hope and they feel separated and alone.

Through Ezekiel, God reminds the dry bones of who they are. Through the breath of the Spirit, the bones live again. Through the breath of the Spirit, they are reminded of who they are -- members of the house of Israel, sons and daughters of God, citizens of the kingdom.

Sometimes we don't need a new thing; sometimes we need a reminder of what is.

Our bishop is fond of saying that we are resurrection people, and he's right. In the large picture, our diocese is working to overcome past abuses, to heal and to grow. We are a diocese of resurrection stories. In smaller, local snapshots, many of our parishes are working to overcome mismanagement and less-than-ideal leadership in order to heal and grow. And our parishes are growing. We are a diocese of resurrection parishes.

Those past events can take a toll on people. But so can current events where we find ourselves as tired and worn out as those dry bones. We may find ourselves doing the same thing over and over and over again, forgetting that through our baptism, we are members of God's family, residents of the kingdom and apostles of Jesus to the world.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles that first Pentecost morning, this was not the first time they had been given the ability and authority to proclaim the good news. Instead, it sparked their memories to say, "I am God-breathed; I am a citizen of the kingdom; I have done this before and I will do it again." The Holy Spirit, like Martin Luther King, didn't do anything new; it just reminded them of who they already were.

As we renew our baptismal vows, may you remember who you are. You are members of the household of God. You are citizens of the kingdom. You are apostles of Jesus Christ. You have been baptized and sealed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are God-breathed.

Like the people in the civil rights movement, we are citizens with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that entails. Like the bones in the valley, we are God-breathed. Like the disciples after Easter, we are a resurrection people.

We don't need a new thing; we just need to remember who we already are.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Now -- go live like you mean it.


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