May 27, 2012 Psalm 24: The Earth is the Lord’s!
Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 24 Acts 2:1-21 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
“Dem Bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord!” In the Ezekiel reading about dry bones, we hear how God will breathe life back into dried out bones, wonderful imagery, a field of skeletons getting up and dancing a macabre dance as God brings them back to life and puts flesh onto their bones. God asks the prophet, “can these bones come to life?” Of course, we all know that dry bones cannot be restored to life, however, the prophet, in true wisdom, put the question back to God, “you alone know that.” And God proceeds to surprise by doing the impossible and bringing life out of death.
It has only been recently that science has begun to explore the spiritual realm, trying to put “God” under the microscope, study religious phenomena using scientific method. One area of research has been near death our out of body experiences. In these experiences individuals are technically dead, brain activity and breathing has ceased, and they leave their body and proceed on a journey until sent back into their bodies. Science has tried to quantify these experiences, come up with some explanation. They suggest that what the individual sees and experiences are just the brain shutting down, including a review of their life as the brain waves spark and go out. However some of these individuals relate what happened around them at the time they were technically dead in great detail, with great accuracy. In one such case, the person related being out of their body, leaving the operating room and flying above the hospital where she saw a tennis shoe on the roof of the hospital. Upon returning to her body and relating what had been seen, staff went on the roof and found the shoe.
One aspect of these experiences that I find comforting is that in leaving behind broken bodies, their bodily spirit is whole; the blind could see again, the deaf hear again, the lame walk. What a wonderful confirmation of what Scripture tells us about life after this life. Our bodies are restored like new flesh being put back on dry bones, life being brought out of death.
Our psalm for today reminds us that the Earth is the Lord’s, it’s not ours; we are but temporary residents of the earth. Written in three parts, it is meant for a procession, something that would be very appropriate for the celebration of Pentecost. Some churches celebrate this day with a procession with red banners and flags, symbolizing the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles. First section is comprised of the first two verses, reminding the listener of the God of creation who first brought forth life upon the earth when God’s spirit swept over the water and God breathed life into creation. All creation belongs to God for God is the creator. He founded the earth and established it.
It’s not us who created God, contrary to what some may say, but God who created us. The evidence for God is everywhere. Some scientists point to discoveries and claim them for their own, but they are only finding what God has planted upon the earth. As one commentator states, “Science is a sort of treasure hunt, with scientists as the hunters—all honor to them; but the originator of the treasure is God.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4, p. 133) They would never have been able to discover anything had God not made it.
The second section, verses 3-6, recounts who the true worshipper is. It asks the questions, who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? Reminiscent of Psalm 15:1-2ff where the answer to this question is, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart. . .” The answer here is simpler, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.” (vs. 4) Those whose hands are not stained by murder or theft, or taking a bribe or other sins; those who do not sin with their hands or hearts shall enter the Temple. Such a person will be blessed by God, his cause will prevail. In a ritual setting, the priest might pose this question about who is worthy of entrance into the Temple, then conclude that those gathered possess these qualities, “such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (vs 6)
The procession moves on to the gates of the Temple where the people call out for the gates to be opened, singing back and forth in an antiphonal song where one side sings one verse and the other the next. In triumph, at the words “Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of hosts!” The gates are lifted so that all may enter. And what are the gates that need to be lifted? Perhaps the gates of unbelief. The procession is complete and all those who are worthy, who believe in God the creator, shall enter in.
In our reading from Acts of the Apostles, the apostles are hidden behind locked door out of fear, their own gates that need to be lifted. With the coming of the Spirit, the doors are opened. The Spirit breaks through the locked doors, it can’t be kept out. Filled with the Spirit the apostles open their doors and Peter begins to preach. It’s as if a light has been turned on, Peter and the others have been changed in a way that frees them from fear. They see the world in a vastly different way thanks to God’s Spirit.
Part of the nature of an encounter with God’s spirit is that it changes us. As Barbara Bradley Haggerty notes in her book, Fingerprints of God, after examining numerous studies of religious experiences: “I began to perceive a theme. Simply put, when you bump against the spiritual, something changes. First, your brain begins to operate differently, even at resting state. Second, your interior life is transformed. Your priorities and loves, how you choose to spend your time and with whom you choose to spend it—all that changes in blink of an eye.” (pp. 276-7)
According to scientist Dean Radin, 96% of the universe is “dark matter” or “dark energy.” We don’t know what it is. This means that all of our theories and supposed knowledge is based on just 4% of the observed universe. And yet there are those who claim emphatically that there is no God. Foolishness. They think themselves wise when they are not. Myself, I prefer to leave room for mystery, acknowledging that what I do not understand far exceeds what little I do. If there are mysteries to be discovered, it is because our God put them there at the beginning of creation. Not only is 96% of our universe dark matter, much of our brain is. We only use a small portion of our brain. If we used all of our brains, what wonders might we experience.
Jesus tells the disciples in our reading from John how they cannot understand what he is saying but when the Spirit comes they will understand. It’s like a light bulb waiting to be plugged into a source of power. When the Spirit comes, the light goes on and the apostles are changed in ways they couldn’t have imagined before this. There is still so that we don’t know, don’t understand. There is so much that is dark matter, so much within our own brains waiting for God to light it up as he did at the first
This weekend, besides being the Christian celebration of Pentecost, we remember those who have died that we might have the freedoms we enjoy. Our readings for today are messages of hope, that there is more to this life than we know, that God can restore our loved ones, if not in this life, then in the next when he will breathe the Spirit back into dry bones. No-one who lives a life of service and love, whose heart is pure, is lost. Their sacrifices are not forgotten, were not for nothing. They have entered the gates of the Temple. For the rest of us who continue on this procession through life, may God’s healing love keep us on the way that leads to you until that time that we stand at the gate and knock, confident that are God will open to us.
Copyright May 2012, Robertson