Wake Me Up by Janine Dowdle. Janinedowdle.com
Used with permission.

Adventures with God:
Expect the Unexpected

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost • August 25, 2019
Scripture Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
(from NRSV, rev.)
Sarah Alphin, guest preacher

Y’all the body is an amazing thing isn’t it?

It is strong, flexible (for the most part), keeps us moving and doing what we want and need to do.

It sustains us by protecting us, and keeping us as healthy as possible. It does so much, BUT it is delicate, fragile at times, and has needs.

Most of your don’t know this about me, but I had originally gone to college to be a nurse. Now, it didn’t quite work out for me to become a nurse, but that doesn’t mean that I have ever stopped appreciating just how amazing human bodies are. Our anatomy and physiology, and our biological make up are awe-inspiring. I know, I’m a nerd, and I accept that.

For those of you who may not be as excited about how the human body works, here are a few fun facts to peak your interest:

- The average person breathes in the equivalent of 13 pints of air every minute.
- The lungs are the only organs in the human body to float on water.
- If the lungs were open flat, they would cover the entire size of a tennis court!
- Breathing has very little to do with oxygen. Air has 21 percent oxygen and the body only needs 5
percent. The rest comes from carbon dioxide.
- Seventy percent of waste is eliminated through your lungs just by breathing.
- The human sneeze can take place at 10 mph.
- Humans exhale up to 17.5 milliliters of water per hour. [1]

And these facts only cover the lungs!

Our bodies are gifts. They are our homes, they are vehicle for how we experience the world, and they are, and can be, temples that hold sacred space for God - a life force that connects us to all that is - both seen, and unseen.

For those who may be visiting the Church of the Village for the first time today, or those who may be joining for the first time during this sermon series “Adventures with God,” we are wrapping up our current sermon series about “Adventures with God.” We’ve heard from a number of preachers, and sherpas, or guides if you will, over the course of the past couple of months, who have outlined practices, have provided insights, and have invited us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be present in adventures with God. I thought what better way to conclude this series than with asking the question, “Where do we go from here?”

I must admit, I really thought about titling this sermon, “Adventures with God: Angels, Earthquakes, and Fire. Oh My!” It seemed fitting for talking about the more startling, sometimes even shocking, things that have been experienced while on and adventure with God. However, it felt even more relevant to talk about common theme that arises when talking or reading about adventures with God. Do you have any guesses as to what the constant theme may be? Anyone?

To me, the constant theme seems to be: “Expect the unexpected!”

Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t trust, or expect God to be consistent, because we can, BUT, I am getting a little ahead of myself…

From Genesis to and through the Gospels, God shows up to many people in a variety of ways:
- With Moses God spoke through a burning bush
- With Elisha, it was witnessing Elijah being taken up in a chariot of fire amidst a whirlwind
- With Mary, the angel Gabriel came to her and told her she was to bear the Son of God.

Excuse me, but, WHAT?! In these stories, encountering God is terrifying!

There’s fire.
There are mystical beings*.
Earthquakes, pillars of fire, things that startle out of us any sense of “normalcy.”

I’d like to think that I’d be brave, but Oof! It’s highly likely that I’d probably be doing anything except being cool, calm, and collected.

As with the story and vision that we just heard read from Ezekiel, the same is true: Expect the unexpected, with a Tim Burton-esque, zombie-ish feel.

[Sings “Zombie,” by The Cranberries internally. This a note for all of you reading along.]

Here’s a little bit of background to help us understand the context of Ezekiel’s vision, and prophecy…

- vision dates to the period of Israel's history known as the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE (first wave)
^^ Northern Kingdom (Israel)
- Among the first wave of the deported was the young Ezekiel, whom God later called in Babylon
to the office of prophet. For those deportees forced to live in Babylon, the future seemed a black
hole into which the people were destined to disappear. 
- The exile was more than just a crisis of physical suffering and communal identity. It also
necessitated a crisis of faith. The key symbols of Judean faith--Jerusalem, its temple, its people,
and the Davidic monarchy--had been destroyed (cf Psalms 89 and 137). According to the
theological rationality of the ancient world, many exiled Judeans assumed that their deity had
been defeated by a stronger deity from Babylon (cf. Ps 42:3, 10; 79:10; 115:2). The people
wondered if the Lord was truly lord and truly faithful.
- Literary forms--the communal lament psalm and the prophetic message of deliverance.
In communal laments, the people poured out their pain in fervent cries for deliverance

- Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones is a poetic and prophetic response to the situation of
God's people--to their sense of hopelessness, to their situation of being cut off from their land,
their temple, and--they think!--from their God.

- God's spirit is the key. With God's spirit, anything is possible. Without it, existence is just flesh
and blood. But with God's spirit, there is life--and what Jesus called fullness of life. And there is
no place on earth, no when in time, and no what in sin or situation, that can keep God's Spirit
away from God's people (see Romans 8:31-38). [2]

God’s presence in all.

This is the breath of Life >> the “Ruach.” It is in every atom, every molecule, every fiber of “being.” It IS because of love.

As we learned from Jorge, our sherpa last week, pain, difficulty, and loss are all a part of life. Death is a part of life, NOT some separate, final act. No, it is not a grand finale, although sometimes it is dramatic. Can, and is, God in the midst of even the worst possible things in life? Yes! Even in death, whether figuratively or literally, God is there...dry bones and all.

My experience with anxiety and panic attacks: I was feeling disconnected and dead in so many ways. If you struggle with mental illness, reach out, ask for help. Why? Because you are worth it. You are worth care and help, and because sometimes we need help in order to “come alive” again, to allow the many pieces that make up our existence full, and vibrant again. I mean all of you - the physical, the mental and emotional, and the spiritual (within you).

Breath - it matters, and if God can make bones to live, then what can stop God from breathing new life into you, us, all that we know? Friends, the answer is nothing. Nothing can stop God from loving you, and being with you EXACTLY where you are. PERIOD.

As I mentioned earlier, I have found that God often leads up down the wild, wondrous, and often alarming path, BUT God is with us the whole way. How do we know? Because Jesus said so, and because there is example after example packed into every book in the Bible. That’s a lot of examples!

So on this adventure with God may you remember these things (3):

1. (God’s) Presence & breath: Even in the midst of death and decay, that life is present.

2. First-aid kit: Love, Grace/Compassion, Sabbath - a commandment rest: this is a journey, not a
walk to the subway [although, that may be a trek for you too])

3. We are on this adventure together. We may meet, and depart, one another at different points,
but friends we are certainly not alone.

4. Jesus: the one who healed the sick on the Sabbath. Jesus, the one to who queered the
hierarchical relationship structures as well as religious customs. Jesus, who weeped at the
death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus, who raised multiple people from the dead including himself.
Jesus, the Jesus who saw things as they were, and what they could be. Jesus is the light of the
world, and he is our source of light, especially in the darkness.

Breathing exercise

First: Disclaimer (may elicit strong emotion that you’ve been holding in), is it not only okay, but you
are invited and welcome in your fullness, invitation get comfortable.

Second: Invitation to quiet down and center via feeling one’s body...feeling it supporting you, feeling
the chair and the floor.

Third: begin to recognize your breath, without controlling or changing it, simply notice it and how it
feels.

Fourth: As you begin to recognize your breath, let it flow naturally for a few inhales and exhales.

Fifth: Do 3 intentional cycles via this method:

Sit up straight

Hand on side of ribs

Fill your ribs so they expand to the side

Sit taller each time

Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8**

- Ins: Invite life, invite peace, invite courage

- Outs: Exhale

Sixth: “You can use that power of the breath to create…”, “When you know how to move breath in your body (i.e. chakras), so that it flows that it can create” → “Energy needs to flux, and we hold breath in one spot then we are not allowing ourselves to show up in our fullness.” (Conscious breathing)

Seventh: “There is a tremendous relationship between breath and grief.” - TEDx talk by Max Strom

→ What are we holding onto that contributes to our *lack of breath? What is keeping us from accessing the creative, and generative, power of breath?

!!! - You may weep, you may feel peace. Welcome what rises to the surface and know that it is both okay and healing to show up in your fullness. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

“Some doors only open from the inside. Breath is a way of access that door.”

“From earth, you became plant, from plant you became animal.
Afterwards you became a human being, endowed with knowledge, intellect and faith.
Behold the body, born of dust -- how perfect it has become!” [3]

Dust.

Dry
Dirty
It can coat everything.

When I think of significant things in life, I can honestly tell you that “dust” is not the first thing that comes to mind. You know what, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. And yet, God used dust, God worked with dry, parched bones and made them to grow sinew, flesh, ligaments, skin, and to be filled with breath. God made these bones to live again, and God did that in, and through, Ezekiel.

You are not less, you are not invisible, you are precious, and unique, and you are alive - here and now. This text is not about us. It is not about why we can do, but it is about God and who God is, and what God can do.

It is a reminder of God keeping God’s promises to Israel, and it is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own passion and resurrection. Is it the same? No. Yet, if Jesus is the Word, God made flesh (slight pause) made with flesh and bones and ligaments - made from the ordinary, yet complex things, God who CHOSE to dwell and live among us (yet again, this shows us who God is...as intimate, committed/dedicated, relational, extravagant). Well, then, who are we to be afraid of what is next? I cannot say what is around the bend in this adventure you and I are on with God, but what I can say is that even in the bleakest, most confusing, and terrifying of times, that none of us are ever alone.

I once heard a quote that has stuck with me for years by asking King George VI (Christmas Day, 1939), “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may safely tread into the unknown,’ and he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be better than light and safer than the known way.’”

Friends, siblings in Christ, put your hand into the hand of God and breathe - in and out. Trust that God has your interest so deeply at heart that they will guide you on the path - even admits the pain and death that creeps up along the way. Let Jesus be your light and the Spirit your guide, for love so profound is with you now and forever. Amen!

Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Alphin
All rights reserved.

[1] Lung Institute, “What You Never Knew ABout Breathing: Fun Facts,” August 17, 2014, https://lunginstitute.com/blog/never-knew-breathing-facts/

[2] ALL colored text is from Rolf Jacobson

[3] Rumi, “A Garden Beyond Paradise.,” Date unknown