Pentecost Sunday,  20th May 2018

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14

Psalm 104: 26 – 36

Acts 2: 1 – 21

John 15: 26 – 27; 16: 4b – 15

They say every little girl dreams of finding her prince – a dream wonderfully fulfilled for one girl yesterday. I wonder whether you can remember the dreams you had for yourself as a young person – perhaps a child in primary school; or a little older during your teenage years; or the dreams as you started out in the work force, leaving home, perhaps having finished your studies, looking to the future? Most of us have dreams that guide us into what we want to do with our lives. Sometimes they are totally unrealistic and come to nothing. But at others, our dreams shape and fashion and steer our course through life.

Many of us here today will also, sadly, have experienced the shattering of dreams. Perhaps a relationship breaks down, or there is no funding to pursue study goals, illness or accident interferes; it may even be that our own stupidity, or greed, or selfishness contributed to the shattering of dreams. Sometimes the dreams are barely articulated – this is how life is, and it’s comfortable, predictable, and has a future. The interruption of war or natural disaster such as fire, flood, drought and earthquake may cause the shattering of dreams through no fault of our own. And we are left, or the people involved are left, in a situation akin to darkness, barrenness and emptiness.

Such was the situation the ancient people we read about in the pages of the Bible experienced from time to time. Ezekiel was shown a vision of a barren valley, full of old dry bones. What had caused this? Was it the site of a battle? The remains of one of those intrepid trips made by European explorers as they set off from Adelaide seeking to cross the desert? I recall reading a vivid account of the crossing of the “Dorsland” – literally the thirsty land – by people following the end of the Anglo-Boer War. (There is a memorial to that war just above the Stewards pews in this Cathedral). People tried to cross the desert, lost their way and ended up dead. Those who eventually found them reported only a valley of bones – men, women and children, cattle, dogs, horses.

Such was the feeling of people to whom the prophet Joel was attached. He spoke into a time following a devastating swarm of locusts – there was nothing left as the hundreds of thousands of insects devoured every living plant in their path.

Such might have been the feeling of the disciples after the Crucifixion. Their leader, the one for whom they had left home, livelihood and family; around whom they had shaped and fashioned their lives; in whom they had placed so much hope and longing for the coming of God’s Kingdom – in the end it had all come to nothing with Jesus betrayed by one of their own, arrested, mocked and spat upon before finally being nailed to the cross. Yes, they had seen him afterwards – though, if the evidence of the Gospels is to be believed, some still doubted – but it was not the same as when he was with them.

Such might have been the feeling of the Cathedral Council when, twenty and more years ago, the musicians came and said we really do need to do something about the organ. And even more that feeling must have descended on them a few years later when, having plucked up the courage to ask for some quotes they gawked at the estimated cost!

Such must have been the feeling in the Diocese of Adelaide 15 or so years ago when the full extent of the abuse of children in our midst began to dawn – not only at the level of church office but across the parishes and schools. How could this happen? How did we not know? What happens next?

The crushing of dreams, of visions, and the forward lookingness that sometimes goes by the name of prophecy, is a terrible experience for those involved. It is so hard to rekindle a dream, or to turn a corner and find new ones.

Today, Pentecost Sunday, is one of those corner-turning moments. Today’s readings, particularly those from Ezekiel and Acts, invite the people involved to turn the corner. Ezekiel is writing to the Exiles living in Babylon. They had been brought up on the sort of stories I was referring to last week – the great stories about God calling Abraham and Sarah to leave their home, to put their trust in God, and go where God led. In doing so they would, said God, become a blessing, not only to their own family and people, but to the whole world. The stories evolved into changed periods of leadership and government – a single leader like Moses or Joshua, judges called for a special time and place, great military leaders in time of battle, kings who would guide them into prosperity, build a great city with a temple in the middle. And then, it all came crushing down and they lost everything – king, temple, city, even their land. Rightly does the psalmist cry in Psalm 137, ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

And so Ezekiel is taken into the valley of the dry bones – a place utterly without hope, future, dreams. And God goes to work. The Spirit of God, also known as the Holy Spirit, begins to breathe life into the bones as, sinew by sinew, bone by bone, they come together and are infused with life – the very breath of God. So it was in the beginning, in the early accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2; so it is over Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. The message is clear and simple: God is not dead; God has not forgotten you; get up, there is a new dream, a new vision, a new thing to be done.

Peter and the other disciples find themselves in Jerusalem – waiting – for what, they are not quite sure. And then it happens! What happens? How to describe it? It’s impossible really to say. Except that it felt like a strong and mighty wind blowing over them, it seemed to fill the whole house, and more, there were what looked like tongues of fire – one on each of them. And then, to turn a phrase, all heaven broke loose and they began to talk like never before. They talked and shouted and laughed and sang and the noise attracted a crowd. To the crowd’s amazement – a sort of Boxing Day Rundle Mall crowd of people from every which walk of life – the crowd of people from all over the world heard the same message, each in their own language. It was a message of hope, an articulation of a dream long forgotten (if ever known), a simple message really. It spoke of God’s love for creation and for every man, woman and child. More than that, it told of God’s Son Jesus Christ – one who lived and died among them, who told stories, made people well, laugh and be happy, and invited others to join him in doing the same.

Like Martin Luther King two thousand years later, Peter articulated a dream for the people around him. I have a dream, said King. I have a dream, said Peter, it’s a dream that the prophet Joel spoke about centuries ago, a dream we had forgotten about. The dream is so simple, so delightful, so obvious. God will pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh, all people and “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2: 17 quoting Joel 2: 28 ff) The Spirit of God, the breath of God, the ruach of God breathed into that first human creature in Genesis 2; the pneuma of God, the pneuma, life-giving breath of God was breathed on to Peter and his companions. And, if we believe the testimony of the rest of Acts and two thousand years of practice of Christians, it is the same Holy Spirit active at baptism and throughout our lives, even today.

This organ pipe, one of those beautifully mounted by Ben Oborn and for sale in the Cathedral Shop, is a metaphor for what happens. On its own is may be beautiful, it feels smooth, a bit cold to the touch – but it is lifeless. But breathe breath into it – the Hebrew word is ruach, the Greek pneuma – and it comes alive and makes a sound. Listen! Put them together and the result is a harmonious wonderful dream.

At the Vestry Meeting of 2014 we brought a dream, a vision, to the annual meeting. It was bold, innovative, perhaps impractical – but it was a dream. We looked ahead to five years when, in 2019, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of this Cathedral … and we dreamed. We dreamed of a restored Cathedral Organ, we dreamed of a roof replaced so that there were no more leaks in the Cathedral, we dreamed of a lively vibrant community who own and use the Cathedral as their sacred space – a place of worship, hospitality, education and outreach. We are not there yet, and the dream, as dreams must, has changed a bit and will continue to change. But the organ is almost ready to be packed into the container for the long sea-voyage back from Durham; the Pennington Terrace Access path has been laid and gutters and downpipes are now cleaned relatively easily and cheaply thus eliminating leaking inside the cathedral; new slate is being laid on the roof as Phase 1 of that work; the cathedral community, despite what some people sometimes think, is alive, vibrant, and increasingly diverse.

As we look forward to next year, and the years that come after, we do so using the strapline My-Your-Our Cathedral – for that is what it is. It is ours, those who worship here week by week. It is yours – those who belong to the city and pass it on the bus, or see it as a backdrop to the news. It is mine in the sense that this is where I find God, where I find fellowship and teaching and inspiration and prayer and support and all the wonderful people who enrich my life in so many different ways.

More than one hundred and fifty years ago Bishop Augustus Short and those with him had a dream – St Peter’s Cathedral. We are part of that dream. We live that dream: a dream of love, God’s love. And it is up to us, prompted, cajoled, enthused by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God – it is up to us to imagine the future, and work to make it reality, a reality so eloquently expressed by Bishop Michael Currie just yesterday, when he spoke about harnessing the power of love. We can’t do it on our own – but we can do it in the power of the loving, liberating, life-giving God we worship.