May 27, 2012
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Acts 2:1-5
Rev. Dr. Bob Maddox
Three years in a row Linda and I have spent time in Sahuarita, Arizona at the Border Issues Fair of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. Randy Mayer, pastor of the church for fifteen years, and scores more from his church, looked at bleaching bones in the Sonoran Desert where they live and decided to answer God’s Pentecost call to help bring those bones back to life.
The picture: Sahuarita and its sister town Green Valley are about forty miles from the US/Mexico border depending on how the actual border meanders. It’s a forty-five minute drive down the interstate highway from Green Valley to Nogales, Mexico. That swath of God’s earth embraces hundreds of square miles of magnificent and forbidding trackless mountains, fierce cactus, dried up creek beds all under high blue skies from which only a smattering of rain falls each year.
I say magnificent if you are riding through this desert in an air conditioned car. Forbidding if you are trying the trudge through that wilderness on foot with a forty pound pack on your back holding all your worldly possessions. Forbidding if you are skulking in daylight lest the Border Patrol spot you and stumbling at night following an invariably unreliable guide, coyote, who just might break and run away with the money you and your family scraped together to pay him to lead you to Tucson and the possibility of a job in the United States.
All too often, all too tragically often serious injury even death strikes these fellow human beings, these sisters and brothers of ours who just happened to be born in Latin America in a time and place beset with grinding poverty and economic and political policies on both sides of the border that demean and humiliate. And, horribly of late, brutal drug gang wars financed by this nation’s insatiable addiction to illegal drugs. Since officials have kept count, something like 5000 people have died in the desert. Women who undertake the trek are always urged to start birth control pills in advance because they will be raped.
Good Shepherd Church and dozens of allied humanitarian agencies looked at that valley of dry bones. They heard the voice of God in the muted moans of these migrants and set about to help them in the name of Jesus, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made manifest by a Pentecost that did not just happen two thousand years ago; by a Pentecost that happens all the time; by a Pentecost that happens any time and every time we look at valleys of human suffering littered with the bones, real or virtual of our fellow human beings. The Pentecost spirit does not give us simply the liberty of perusing. The Pentecost Spirit says up my brothers and sisters, up and get you going. Pentecost spirit demands that we set about to bring some of the bones back to life.
Spiritual is as spiritual does.
Over the weekend of June 30 and July 1, you will have the incredible chance to meet Randy Mayer. He will tell you his own story of bones in the desert. I talked with him agaon on Friday. He has just completed his Doctor of Ministry degree.
You will also have the chance to meet a 21st century version of Mother Theresa in the person of Shura Wallin. This diminutive female power house knows the desert and ministry to the bones of the desert like few other people. She will bring with her a trove of art work like you’ve not seen before. It’s art left in the desert by the migrants . It’s art created by the migrants to provide spiritual fortification for the trek through the desert. It’s art that people at Good Shepherd have created from the detritus of countless treks through the desert. The weekend is jointly sponsored by the Briggs Center and our church’s Music and Arts Committee. We are calling the weekend “Loss in the Desert.” For every instance when the migrants make it to relative safety north of the desert , or fail to make the trek, there is staggering loss.
Of course the entire issue is incredibly complicated. It is muddied by political corruption and a million terrors generated by drug cartels south of the border and shameless politicians and special interest groups on our side of that silly, useless, incredibly expensive fence that meanders haphazardly through miles of the desert. An entire industry has grown up around the immigration issue. That immigration industry actually seeks to perpetuate the problems because the economic well-being of those who work on the border is tied up in the endless war for which there is no end, and which many, frankly hope never ends. If migration suddenly stopped, their whole economic world collapses.
But we are thousands of miles from the Arizona desert. Randy’s problems are not ours. Not so fast! The reverberations of the problem shake the entire country. In every generation, in every region, Jesus urges us to look to the fields that are white unto harvest. That’s a terrific metaphor. We do not have to go far to find bleaching bones. We at Westmoreland need to see white fields littered with bleaching bones. To respond, we need to open ourselves to the stirring of Pentecost faith. Indeed, Ezekiel forces us to experience valleys of human suffering littered with dry, lifeless bones. The same spirit that brought life to a tiny band of Jesus people called to serve God in the wilderness of the Roman Empire calls us to make concerted efforts to bring life to valleys of dry bones in our time and place.
The unending genius of the Pentecost spirit is to energize folks like you and me to bring new life to bleaching bones. Off and on for over a century the people of this church have allowed themselves to find energy and creativity through encounters with this spirit. We’ve been up and down, energized and passive. Invariably we’ve assailed acres of valleys of dry bones when we have moved in concert with this life giving spirit. We find ourselves poised again to respond to the ever breathing of the spirit of Pentecost, to venture into valleys of dry bones in our time. Just as with our distant cousins this Pentecost spirit sends us on a journey inward and a journey outward. If we simply behold the flickering flame of the spirit, if we only feel the fluttering of the wind, we’ve not gone the distance. At the same time, if we go to the valleys of dry bones without the energizing of the Spirit, we will likewise miss the mark. Spiritual is as spiritual does.
We have the chance right here in Maryland to live out a dimension of Pentecost faith as we labor for justice and equality. For the next months churches, synagogues and even a few mosques are going to join heart and feet to sustain the act of the legislature for marriage equality. This is an issue whose time has come. No one is threatened when same sex couples are allowed to marry. The Bible with its snatch of verses allegedly aimed at homosexuality is not threatened. Deeply rooted prejudices and ill conceived psychoses are threatened. And threatened, they rise up to oppose the act of the legislature. I worked to help end racial injustice a generation ago. I thank God that I am alive and healthy and in the midst of like-minded folks like many of you to bring to bear Pentecost faith on this issue in our time. Is it the only valley of dry bones we need to revitalize? Of course not. You pick your valley. But this valley is right here. We need look no further. The wind of change is still blowing against Randy Mayer and the Church of the Good Shepherd on the Arizona border. The wind of change may be at our backs on this issue. Hear me again:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which when taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.