About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

It Came From the Bible!

2013-10-27 It Came From the Bible!
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Luke 6:20-31
All Saints/All Hallows Eve
Retailers will be "goblin" up sales this Halloween.
According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2013 Halloween survey, total Halloween spending is estimated at $6.9 billion dollars, more than double the paltry $2.96 billion ten years ago.
We'll spend $2.1 billion on candy, $2.6 billion on costumes, and $2 billion on life-size skeletons, fake cobwebs, inflatable rats and other festive decorations.
Thankfully, we'll only spend $330 million this year dressing up our pets.
Maybe your pets like being dressed as the devil, or a Minion from Dispicable Me. We'd try to dress up ours and they always looked at us with murder in their eyes. Especially the cats. You embarrass a cat; you will pay.
Halloween continues to be the second-most expensive holiday next to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwaanza - and, for Seinfeld fans, Festivus.

I don't know how many billions you're going to be spending on Halloween, but since it's so vital to our economy and American way of life, it seems appropriate to give the holiday its due, and tell a ghost story.
The Bible has some good ghost stories.
One of its best is when Ezekiel saw a vision of dry bones rising up from the earth.
It's like "The Walking Dead: Bible Edition."
But instead of trying to scare people to death, Ezekiel's ghost story is about scaring a people to life.
And its cost? Priceless.
Ezekiel sees a vision.
God shows him a vast field of bones.
These are the remains of fallen warriors, left by their enemy where they lay, deprived of all dignity, not even given a decent burial.
Which may well be how the Babylonians left things when they leveled Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, and marched all the surviving Israelites into captivity.
Ezekiel speaks to the captive children of the children of that Israel.
And through him, God's voice declares that these dry bones are all of Israel, Israel destroyed, Israel forsaken, Israel left for dead.
God declares that a holy wind will blow across the dry bones of Israel.
The breath of God will knit the bones together, wrap skin around them, and new life will come again to God's people.
The hopeless captives won't just be set free, they'll be re-animated, re-created as God's chosen.
To the captive Israelites, this oracle must have sounded like a wild ghost story.
Crazy Ezekiel and his visions may have been a good laugh.
They might have looked at their thick-muscled Babylonian captors and thought, "Ezekiel! Hush! Be quiet before someone hears you!"
But God called the Israelites to look past their fears.
God called them to look beyond the exile of Babylon.
God told them to see beyond the limits of their hope.
And so, not only their homes and yards, but their whole existence was decorated with the spooky theme of life beyond death.
Ezekiel's ghost story would turn into a life story so hopeful... it was scary.
Oh yes, "It Came From the Bible!"
It was a spooky story of life.
Churches these days seem to have trouble with spooky stories.
Halloween has a bad reputation where churches are concerned.
I don't know if this is true everywhere, but in the Southern US, if you have a "Halloween" party at your church, people will think you worship the devil.
So, not to scare anyone, we all changed the name to, "Fall Festival."
We still dress up the kids dress up like witches and wizards. 
We still load them up on candy and make them walk in circles. 
But when you say, "Fall Festival," it seems more wholesome.

What people don't remember is that "Halloween" is a Christian holiday.
It was invented to replace the pagan fall festivals of Europe.
The church didn't like the Fall Festivals so it renamed them, "Halloween."
Here's the spooky story.
2000 years ago, the Celts of Western Europe celebrated their new year on November 1st.
November 1st marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter.
Winter was awful.
It was often associated with -- and often brought -- human death.
The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.
On the night of October 31, they celebrated the fall festival of Samhain (sow-in), when it was believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
In addition to causing trouble, damaging crops, and toilet-papering trees, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, the Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.
For a people entirely dependent on the natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
On Samhain, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.
When the celebration was over, they re-lit their home hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
But then, around 43 A.D., the Romans took over Europe, and incorporated their own fall festivals into Samhain.
One of these was the day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and so Samhain became a festival where you bobbed for apples as you were wearing your animal heads and skins.
(I'm not making this up.) 

By the 800s, Christianity had spread into the Celtic-Roman lands.
In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV decided to re-brand Samhain.
The Pope designated November 1 as All Saints' Day, a time to honor Christian saints and martyrs.
In Europe the day was called All-hallowmas, or All-hallows.
The fall festival, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church made November 2nd  All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.
It was celebrated much like Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, devils, Spiderman, and Disney Princesses.
Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas (similar to "Christmas").
[Information on Halloween taken from The History Channel's website.]
And while these days no one complains much about the commercialization of Halloween, somewhere along the way, the Christian holiday turned too creepy for a lot of Christians.
Which is sad.
Because the intent of Halloween and its ghost stories is a lot like the vision of Ezekiel.
The intent of Halloween is to help us see beyond this frightening life, to point us beyond the darkness of death, to a future of resurrection and rebirth.
The intent of Halloween is a ghost story that turns into a life story so hopeful... it's scary.
Over the centuries, as the church has awakened from All-hallows Eve, on All Saints' Day, it has read the words of Jesus that we heard read today.
These were words that no doubt echoed in the ears of martyrs and missionaries, the saints who sacrificed their lives to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their fathers treated the prophets."
And when the disciples first heard these words, they may have raised their eyebrows and thought, "Jesus, hush! Be quiet before someone hears you!"
What they didn't know was that Jesus was telling a life story.
A story of life beyond death.
A story of resurrection and re-creation for people like you and me.
A life story for everyone who faces the demons of illness, the devils of hopelessness, and the dark winter of death.
"Blessed are you."
Jesus not only tells the story, Jesus is the story.
Jesus is the story of how the line between the living and the dead and the living-again did become blurred, so that instead of focusing on our fears, we can set our eyes on God.
Halloween (and All Saints') is worth so much more than billions of dollars in annual holiday spending.
Halloween is about so much more than going, "Boo!" and drinking too much spiked cider, although those can be mirthful.
All-hallows Eve and All-hallows are here to reassure us.
They remind us that the spirits of the saints who have gone before us are never gone away from us.
The saints of this congregation, the saints of your own lives -- their goodness lives on, even though they may no longer be with us in the flesh.
And that is not a ghost story.
It's a life story.
And so we remember.
We thank God that by the mystery of Resurrection we will live and breathe again, in a new life.
And we praise God for the promise that someday we'll join in that communion of saints...
in a place where there are no tears and nothing, not even death, can scare us.