Life

A sermon, based largely on Ezekiel 37.1-14 with references to John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15, Acts 2.1-21, and Psalm 104.24-35, on the Day of Pentecost, May 20, 2018

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion and death, he promised his disciples that he would abide with them forever: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth.”
The descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost, signaling the founding of the Church, El Greco (1541-1614)

When the day of Pentecost had come (Jesus’ promise was fulfilled, for) all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…about God’s deeds of power.

These deeds of God’s power, the psalmist succinctly, singularly declares: O Lord, how manifold are your works…You send forth your Spirit and (all things) are created.

The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, bears, brings, bestows life, even out of death. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.
The vision of the valley of dry bones (1866), Gustav Doré (1832-1883)

The people Israel, defeated by the Babylonian Empire, dislocated from their land, deported to Babylon, and, for nearly fifty years, in captivity, having lost their communal identity, without any hope of returning home, dwell in a living state worse than death. Beyond a decaying body, beyond skeletal remains, they are as disjointed and scattered bones.

Into this lifeless landscape of human misery barren of hope, Ezekiel prophesies a word of reconstitution, literally re-membering. First, the bones come together, then sinew, then flesh. Still, “it” is only a dead body until the breath of God, God’s Spirit blows. And so, as the prophecy goes, it does and life begins anew; the people, restored, “stand on their feet, a vast multitude”, preparing for God to “bring (them) back to the land of Israel.”

On this Day of Pentecost, I affirm, reaffirm that God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to bear, bring, bestow life. This I know, for my experience tells me so.

Last Sunday afternoon, I posted on my blog page my text of last Sunday’s sermon, “An Overheard Prayer”,(1) in which I spoke of Jesus, prior to his crucifixion and death, praying for his disciples then and now, us, that we be protected from evil in this world. During the course of this past week, two dearest friends, Loretta and Karen, the three of us born of different mothers and fathers and the three of us sharing the experience of mothers stricken with dementia, responded to the sermon and to each other in a life-bearing, bringing, bestowing way.

Loretta found inspiration in the sermon, for she, with a daughter’s boundless love, oft prays that her mother be protected, freed from the fears that beset her of all the things she no longer comprehends; her mother’s dementia, Loretta poignantly described, as “her version of the devil.”

Karen, with a measureless breadth of compassion, shared with Loretta the anguish of her mother’s struggle with fear and anxiety, which, with the loss of her memory and an associated loss of defensiveness, she, somehow, laid aside, becoming, until her death, a bearer, bringer, bestower of “pure love” to all around her. Karen prayed that Loretta and her mother, too, might know such amazing grace.

The more I reflected on their exchange, the more I recognized my regret, my guilt, deep and abiding, which has left my mind and heart, soul and spirit as disjointed and scattered bones, about medical choices I made that had the effect of prolonging my mother’s life; a nearly twenty-year trek into the shadows of Alzheimer’s disease; a life of the loss of her sanity, her self that I do not believe she ever would have desired.

There was much motherly care that my mother, for reasons of her upbringing and her being, was not able to give to me. Oft I thought, I hoped, doubtlessly selfishly, that, as long as she lived, one day, somehow, I would receive from her the grace of her blessing of me as an individual, a person, and not one who had to be conformed into her and my father’s image.

In her illness, she could not, could never grant my want, my need. And after so many years, in my calculus of care for her, her living, existing in seemingly limitless limbo overshadowed, outweighed everything, anything else. Finally, three years ago, she died. Now, she abides with the angels as, I pray, her soul long ago had done even while her body was still in this world.

This past week, through the Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, life bearing, bringing, bestowing correspondence of my dear sisters, Loretta and Karen, seeing all of this, for the first time, clearly, comprehensively, I could release all of this completely. Now, I have the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.(2)

I share this with you today, for I believe that there is no one who at some time, for some reason has not, does not, will not bear the burden of regret and guilt to the extent that mind and heart, soul and spirit are as disjointed, scattered bones. If so, when so, I pray we know that God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to bear, bring, bestow life.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Based on John 17.11b-19
(2) Philippians 4.7

Illustrations:
The descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost, El Greco (1541-1614)
The vision of the valley of dry bones (1866), Gustav Doré (1832-1883)

5 thoughts on “Life

  1. Paul,
    I’m thrilled that you shared our story with the wonderful folk of Epiphany, Laurens. I totally agree with you… we never know when we will share a word or a thought or a hug or even a reassuring glance that will help someone in ways we couldn’t begin to understand until they let us know…

    The Holy Spirit bearing, bringing and bestowing life…. I hadn’t known what to call what happens with me on the road speaking with caregivers who like me, you and Karen are dealing with loved ones with Alzheimer’s. There are so many statistics that warn that not caring for ourselves as caregivers can result in us actually dying before the folks we are caring for…. That usually scares the you know what out of people and some have never heard the statistics. Studies go further to say that it is the GUILT caregivers feel about things done or left undone that causes them the most health related stress issues.

    When Karen and I shared our stories (some of which you already knew), I had no idea the impact it would have one you. That’s why it’s sooo important to have friends who are also loved ones (for those of use who no longer have siblings) with whom we can feel safe and loved enough to share our innermost thoughts and fears. That we could “accidentally” help you release all of the guilt you felt for so many years.

    On this Pentecost I thought a lot about the fact that each of us have a responsibility to listen to each other, to be open to ideas we don’t agree with and to embrace them because we may actually give them new hope, new perspective or a new reason to live. I have received email from folks after my presentations who share that my words gave them new life, and new strength to face their caregiver challenges. I’m certainly not trying to be God, but I am grateful for the opportunities to touch others in a way that can bear, bring and bestow life in some way, shape or form.

    I send you much love and gratitude for that conversation last week, because it was as beneficial for me (and I believe, Karen) as it was for you. We just never know what our words will do! There are so many negative and hurtful words thrown around these days on social media, so it’s refreshing when words can have a positive impact on others. I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Curry’s rousing sermon yesterday, that the power of love can make this old world a new world. Love is the only way.

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  2. First of all, a hearty “Amen” to everything Loretta said in her response above. Thank you for voicing my own feelings so well, Loretta.

    “The Holy Spirit, God’s spirit, bears, brings, bestows life even out of death.” This is the central lesson, to me, of our exchange last week and of the Pentecost experience related so beautifully in your sermon yesterday, Paul. You go on to attribute this truth to the Bible’s “telling,” and I don’t disagree with you on that: the Bible is a collection of stories that largely demonstrate God’s bringing life out of what we humans perceive as death, time after time. But I have come to the point in my life where I must read my own experience as the primary proof available to me of any assertion. And I am prepared to state that, in hindsight over 71 years, the quote above has been proven to me over and over during the course of that life, with the caveat that it is very hard for me to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit/God’s spirit, and love.

    Love wrought our conversation last week, I’m convinced. Caring about others’ experience, both the commonalities and the differences, is love. Needing and wanting to offer our own experience as a balm to the hurting of another is love, I believe. Your sharing your experiences with your mom with other caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers clearly flows from deep love, Loretta. Your sharing with your congregation of your truths about the scattered bones of your guilt, and the effects of having loving friends join you to revisit that painful time and place, is, as I see it, an outpouring of purest love, Paul. Yes, the Holy Spirit/Love “bears, brings, bestows life even out of death.” But we are instruments of that bearing, that bringing, that bestowing, if we allow ourselves to be. That is the miraculous part of the learning to me, that not only does it happen, but, astonishingly, I can help it happen by engaging the love in my heart and the energy of my caring.

    With thanks for the loving honesty in your sermon, Paul, and with deep gratitude and love for both of you,

    Karen

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  3. Loretta and Karen, truly this past Sunday’s sermon was the proverbial team effort. (All sermons are, I believe, given that they are elements of an ongoing communal conversation.) The levels and degrees of this team effort are manifold…

    The richness, Karen and Loretta, of your sharing with each other…

    The unfolding for me, quite serendipitously, far beyond my capacity to conceive, much less create, the effect of your gracious sharing…

    The weekly Tuesday ecumenical Bible study I attend and, during the course of it, my intense wrestling – obvious to my fellow clergy seated around me – with the lections appointed for the Day of Pentecost. (I had gone to the Bible study with an outline of a sermon in mind, which, amidst my wrestling, I knew was not where I was being led.)…

    And, chiefly, I believe, the community of the Trinity gurgling, gushing inside of me, yielding a flood of words, which, once I realized what was emanating from my fingertips and displayed on my computer screen, led me to contact you two and ask your permission to share a bit of your conversation in the sermon.

    Again, a team effort. Thank you. Thank God.

    And, Loretta, so right and wise you are. We never can know the effect of our words. And in this current age of such vitriol being cast into the air, let us continue to pray for graciousness and to be used as emissaries of God’s grace in our words and deeds. (More serendipity… I sat with the wife of a parishioner this day during the course of his surgery. One of the many things she shared with me was her sense of the daily need to be mindful that “Everyone is carrying some burden, the likes of which we do not know and, perhaps, they themselves cannot know fully. It is well that we treat all with kindness.” Amen.

    And, Karen, your sense of the identity of the Spirit resonates within me. I believe it is no accident that the New Testament is quite unspecific about the Spirit. Sometimes it’s God’s Spirit…sometimes, the Holy Spirit (or Advocate or Counselor)…sometimes, Jesus’ Spirit. Each and whichever, the Spirit, as you say, Karen, is Love.

    Love you, each and both, always and in all ways,
    Paul

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    1. Dear Paul,

      Please tell your parishioner with whom you sat today that her words are going to be my mantra for the foreseeable future. What a beautiful thought, and how beautifully expressed. And how very much needed in this fraught time.

      I so appreciate your sharing your process of working on the sermon and so graciously sharing the credit among “the team.” So blessed am I to be a member of that particular team.

      Much love,

      Karen

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  4. Thank you, Karen. I will share with Loren your gracious compliment to her and her deep wisdom and care.

    As for sharing the credit with the/my team, what else, in deepest gratitude could…would I do? Nothing else, nothing less.

    Love you

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