Sermon for Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday - Ezekiel 37:1-14
It is amazing for me to look at you today and realize that you have been mine for 2 years. You are my first full confirmation group here at Bethany and First. This is both good and bad. Good because I have been with you, you with me, we have a bond in some way and I have had the chance to be your preacher for these years. Bad because I think in some way I may judge myself based on you. Looking ahead in 5 or 10 years to see where you are and wondering what you remember from me. What of what I said to you will take root in you? To transform you and embed you in the Kingdom forever? I will always, in some fashion, compare every group back to you. Whether for good or ill, I don’t know.
Wrapped up in this is a multi-layered forgetfulness. A lasagna of forgetting. Me forgetting that this work of faith and life is not my work in you but the Spirit’s work. That is the reason for Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming. Forgetting that it is the work of God in you to form your faith and enliven this renewal and growth in you. All of us, gathered here today, forgetting our baptismal promises. As a parent I can at least remember my kids’ baptism. But how often we forget the promises made to us of rebirth, forgiveness and mercy. Forgetting the promises as parents that we make of bringing you to the Lord’s house and teaching you, growing your faith, making this whole Christian business important in our lives. Forgetting. All of us do it.
I think that is why I always tell you that you will remember 1% of what I teach you and I want that to be Jesus. Always Jesus. The Gospel. The Good News. The truth given to you that when we forget, he remembers. When we break our promises and disappear for a time, he remains faithful to the truth of his word. When I fail you as a pastor, or your parents fail you in parenting, knowing that Jesus is the source of our identity and forgiveness given to all for that. That being the most important lesson for you.
Because today you are affirming your baptism. You are saying to your brothers and sisters here that this is no longer your parents’ responsibility but yours. That you have decided that Christ will be your identity. That this faith we confess in the creed – God being your God. The trusting of the God of Exodus 20. Do you remember that? Exodus 20:1-3. Say it for me. And the Lord said all these things… I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods. Holding to that promise that you have a God, but that you need help avoiding having other gods.
Holding to what is said at baptism - Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you birth again of water and the Holy Spirit, and has forgiven you all your sin, strengthen you with his grace unto life everlasting. That you have received new birth by water and the Holy Spirit. Being forgiven. That God will strengthen you in this, because you need the Spirit. You need that strength to guide you through faith.
You need the strength because there is one promise we miss all the time. Death. Do you not know that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. That is Romans 6. We come to faith in Christ having been crucified, having been drowned, having the old us killed and a new us take its place. This new us becoming something strange or different. A new us that becomes dependent upon grace. Upon unmerited favor. Upon God looking at you and seeing Christ. Dependent upon His Word and His Table, things we call the means of grace, how God makes us know of his mercy. In a few minutes you will actually confess that you will be diligent in the use of the means of grace. Knowing you need Christ. You need this God we confess.
The crazy thing about this whole Christian life is that it revolves around death. The death of Christ for you so that he might bring you to life anew in him. Parents, I’m sorry but if you sent your babies to me in the expectation that I would turn them into good citizens or nice people, sorry, that is not my job. If you sent them to me to help them grow up or learn life skills, sorry, that is not my job. If you sent them to me to be killed and reborn – that is my job. To forgive them all their sins – that is my job. The work of the preacher to find the dead and speak life. To crucify ourselves daily, DAILY, a daily working of the Spirit in us through God’s word and Sacraments to make us his own.
I chose the reading from Ezekiel for today because it is the very nature of the work of God in each of you. Not just these students but all of us. The Men’s Fellowship felt that maybe I put the texts in the wrong order. That it should have been Ezekiel and then Acts, but this is preacher’s prerogative. It is on purpose, because we always think of the Spirit as some amazing work. Some special magic. Tongues of fire. Different languages. Miracles. Yet, we never think of the Spirit as raising the dead. Never think that the work of God is coming to find us as these dry bones, Bones so dry that the buzzards can’t find any flesh left on them. Bones so dry they would turn to dust in your hands. Ezekiel wonders what it all means when God asks him, “Can these bones live?” He answers rightly, as should we all – “Only you know Lord.” And then THE sermon comes. God’s working to raise the dead. To put flesh upon our dryness and to have the Spirit breathe into us life.
This is that work for you today. For this morning. For every day of your life. A coming to God by you to find the only source of life for you. In finding yourself so limited in knowing that your faith, your trust in what God has done for you will often be dry and needs the Spirit. For you will discover over the next few years or decades the scale of your dryness and your need for the breath of God.
Right now you may think it is not there. That need. But think of it this way. When you work hard and study for that test and still not get a good grade, that’s a sign of your mortality. Your being mere creature in need of the Creator. Later on when you come to me to marry your sweetheart, you’ll eventually discover that the Hallmark Channel lied to you. Relationships are hard work and need the Spirit to intercede for them. For us. When you bring your babies to be baptized, you will be doing it because somewhere deep inside you know that that collection of dry bones needs to be reborn in God. Someday you will age, grow ill, need comfort or healing, coming to the point that living out the Gospel means nothing anymore. What you will want is to hear that sermon to you again - I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them…and lead you into the land of Israel. You will know that I am the Lord…when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
Today you are affirming this, whether you truly know it or not. You are affirming that you need Christ. You need this God of the dry bones, this God of Pentecost and fire, this God that breathes life into the dead. Today you will step forward and say this is you. Basically telling us here that you are yearning for that mercy that comes from God every day.
As I said to Cain Mitchell when he was trying to decide on being baptized – This is your decision to take on this identity, but also to receive from God the full benefits of his work in you. For you. Always. This is yours now. Not mommy or daddy’s.
So you will go from this place. Your Wednesday nights are now yours, in theory. But as I told you when we worked on your faith statements, I said to you – Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Use your words. Because you have that gift now. You are a part of this priesthood of all believers. Those who have said I am Christian. That you have been bought by Christ. You live to serve him. For that is your calling.
I do wonder though, who of you might be standing in this place one day, called by Christ to be his preacher to share this news with his people. I wonder if the God who raises the dead is stirring in you a thought of becoming a pastor, one who might take over for me one day. Because there are so many bones to preach to. So many dead and dying to raise by the Word of God. I pray God’s power to be in you this day. Calling you to live out this faith and this work each moment of each day, both us here when we gather to be served by Christ in Word and Table, but also as messengers to the world of the truth that Christ raises the dead. Thanks be to God. Amen