O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Preached on May 20, 2018
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fellow baptized saints, in order for preachers to preach they need to have a call. That is, call documents. From the LORD Jesus. Preachers don’t call themselves to preach. Men don’t put themselves into the preaching office. The LORD Jesus does the calling, the putting in and the placing. And He does this by the Word of the documents. The LORD Jesus must say: “I want this man to preach.”
Meet Ezekiel. He has such a call. A divine one. “The hand of the LORD was on me,” Ezekiel reports. “And the LORD brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD.” Did you catch that? The third Person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit – takes part in Ezekiel’s call to preach. LORD Jesus and Holy Spirit always go together. Can’t get any more DIVINE CALL than that! Isn’t that exciting? Good for Ezekiel! He can preach with confidence. And with great joy.
Where will he preach? The LORD, “set me down in the middle of a valley,” Ezekiel says. Awesome! Even though God’s people are in exile in Babylon there is a First Congregation of Israel Down in the Valley! No doubt there’s green grass. Trees galore. Underground spring water bubbling up to feed a lovely meandering creek. Can you imagine how vibrant the congregation is in that valley – even in Babylonian banishment? I’ll bet Ezekiel can’t wait to get started at First Congregation of Israel Down in the Valley.
Now you can imagine the utter shock and colossal disappointment when Ezekiel arrives and sees the congregation. He probably should have done an interview before he ever considered let alone accepted the call. This comes as a shocker of shockers! You better prepare yourselves. Some jaws are going to hit the floor. Eyeballs will pop out of sockets. Some of you ladies will faint. Others will just be quite disgusted, visibly angry and upset when you hear about the congregation. The valley “was full of bones. He [the LORD] led me back and forth among them and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.” First Congregation of Israel Down in the Valley is D-E-A-D – DEAD! Skull and crossbones DEAD! D-O-A dead! Can’t get any more dead or lifeless than dry as dust bones!
What is the LORD Jesus thinking? Sending a preacher to a dead as dry bones congregation? This has to be a divine mistake! A divine miscommunication. Paperwork lost in the shuffle of the Holy Trinity’s call office. The LORD Jesus together with the Holy Spirit can’t or wouldn’t do anything with a dead congregation! Let’s make no bones about it! (Pardon the pun!) This is not a good fit! Somebody text, tweet or email the district president to put a stop to this travesty! You don’t send a preacher to a DEAD CONGREGATION!
The district president’s infallible and unquestionable advice would be: Best just to leave the dead – dead. Dig a trench with a borrowed Babylonian Inc. backhoe, shove the bones into the ditch with a borrowed Babylonian Inc. bulldozer, and cover them with piles of dirt. Give First Congregation of Israel Down in the Valley a decent mass burial, put up a marble headstone and move on. I’ll send Ezekiel to a congregation that’s alive! Vivacious. Exciting. Pulsating. Energetic. Put his gifts and talents to work!
Right? That’s what you’d do, isn’t it? Of course you would. You’d have the district president’s back!
Nevertheless, that’s not how the LORD Jesus does things! That’s not the LORD Jesus’ cup of tea. He’s all about – He’s into — raising … THE DEAD! GIVING LIFE TO THE LIFELESS. Animating the inanimate. Bestowing belief out of unbelief. Creating faith from nothing! The LORD is all about being God – SAVIOR – EVEN FOR THE UNGODLY-AS-GOOD-AS-DEAD-SINNERS! That’s how God rolls!
Yes, First Congregation of Israel Down in the Valley is dead. DEAD IN HER TRESPASSES AND SINS. Her idolatry – her spiritual adultery with false gods – those inanimate and mute idols that promised life and prosperity and utopia – led to her demise. She is Dead in Babylonian exile.
But as I said, that’s when the Holy Spirit kicks it up a notch. He is the Lord and Giver of life as the Creed correctly confesses. “Can these bones live?” the LORD Jesus asks Ezekiel. “You alone know LORD.” Good answer Ezekiel! The LORD kills in order to make alive! Ezekiel’s call is no mistake. He is a good fit for this congregation down in the valley!
So, Ezekiel is told to start preaching! “Prophesy to these bones,” the LORD Jesus commands. Preach to the … DEAD congregation. The LORD Jesus gives Ezekiel the words to preach. “Say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the LORD!’” So the preaching is really the LORD’s. As Ezekiel preaches the LORD’S words the LORD PREACHES. So too the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is at work through the preached Word of the LORD Jesus from Ezekiel’s mouth!
Again the sermon: “‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the LORD! This is what the LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, … Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”
And that’s precisely what happens. The LORD’S HOLY SPIRIT – FILLED WORDS THROUGH EZEKIEL’S PREACHING DO WHAT THEY SAY. Israel is given new life. Brought back from the grave of her spiritual death of Babylonian exile. From nothing - the LORD Jesus has an Israel for Himself – a bunch of Spirit-filled believers that trust in Him and in His promise of forgiveness and salvation! “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” That’s huge. That’s the entire reason for the Holy Spirit: to bear witness and bring glory to the LORD Jesus. So that you know and believe that Jesus is LORD God FOR YOU!
Yes, the LORD Jesus’ promise to be LORD for Israel also applies to you the New Testament Israel! Jesus is LORD FOR YOU too! Hanging-dead-on-the-cross-with-all-your-sin He is LORD FOR YOU. Not counting your sin against you because it was all counted against Him that Good Friday. Covering you and cleansing you from the toxic pollution of your sin with His sacrificed divine blood that flowed from His crucified Body and stained the cross and the earth below it red.
But you would never know that this death on a Friday afternoon was FOR YOU or for your salvation unless the LORD JESUS gives you the Holy Spirit to call you to faith in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel by His divinely sent pastors. The whole point of the Pentecost account in Acts 2 is so that the preachers will preach Jesus! Jesus the Savior - of exiled dead and damned in their trespasses sinners! Savior FOR YOU! And for all nations! When preachers preach the LORD Jesus in that way the Holy Spirit is at work. Remember what LORD Jesus promised in John 15 and 16? He said that the Holy Spirit would “testify” or bear witness only to Jesus. That the Holy Spirit would give “glory” to Jesus. That the Holy Spirit would take what belongs to LORD Jesus and “make it known to you.”
“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” Estella and Jorja – you’re about to stand up and publicly confess this truth about the LORD Jesus. The Holy Spirit is going to use your mouths to testify to Jesus. He’s going to use your mouths to give Jesus glory. You are going to confirm - that when God spoke His Word over you in baptism – when He pronounced forgiveness upon you all these years – He has been doing to you the same thing He did to those dead dry bones down in the valley. Bringing you from death to life. From chaotic nothing to freshly spoken new creation in Him. That He has given you faith. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” Because you will trust me – and receive my Spirit when I forgive your sins – over and over and over again.
Every Sunday divine service is a little Pentecost! Every time you hear your sins are forgiven! Because then – Jesus is LORD – FOR YOU. Every baptism. Every absolution. Every Lord’s Supper is a little Pentecost where you are Holy Spirited. Every time the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to the LORD Jesus and makes it known to you.
“I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, … Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”
Your faith – this gift of the Holy Spirit, more precious than gold or silver – will come to its fulfilment on the Last Day with the resurrection of your body. “I will open your graves and bring you up from them.” All this – you His most precious congregation in the Red River Valley - so that you know that Jesus is LORD God - FOR YOU! He has promised it! He will do it!
Have a happy Pentecost! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr