I have wondered for days why this year's trek through the Book of Ezekiel has been so difficult, almost grinding. I even researched the history of the book, hoping to come upon some convincing controversy that would allow me in good conscience to skip over this prophet from now on!
In my search, I fortunately found little, though other books of scripture, some which have long provided me rich comfort were contested by the Church Fathers! That's for another day!
My search cast little doubt of Ezekiel, save a few chapters and those only among early teachers of the Talmud, apparently opposed to the last chapters of Ezekiel because of the evident halakic conflict with the Torah (hold that thought), and his theosophical speculations related in the first chapter, namely his description of the Chariot (see Merkaba).*
This morning as I tracked through Chapter 23, forced to read his list of Israel's "whoredoms," himself by then in exile. In Chapter 24 he goes on to describe the instructions "recieved from the Lord" to gather pieces from the"choice of the flock" to boil in a pot, symbolic of their situation as he continues his rants regarding the rebellion of "bloody Jerusalem."
For the first time in the fifty years of my disciplined annual read through scripture, I had just about had enough, as I had stated in earlier posts some days ago. I was ready to skip over the rest of his writings and move on!
It was then that I had this erry sense of identity with this strange elder brother! I suddenly felt his desperate sense of responsibility for carrying out his calling and his often self-stated assurance and confidence in his hearing from the Lord. In ways that I cannot describe, I began to reluctantly identify with Ezekiel!
Here I am, having tasted and seen "that the Lord is good," with a deep longing in my heart that others might see the beauty of the I Am as experienced in my life. Still yet now aging out, only to "hear from the mouths of babes," folk much younger than I, that this institution to which I have given so much, may have missed the hearts of the next generation.
It was then that I began to sense somewhat of a wake up call in my spirit...an "aHa!" and thus perhaps my recent angst with Ezekiel, for God was speaking to me a "Word" that, believe it or not, I have long consciously resisted.
As I unpack my heart just know that I am quite aware and appreciative of the many young pastors with quite successful church plants, some with very high tech capacity, a deeply impactful social media presence, streaming across the globe, with wonderful, contemporary worship. I even enjoy it at times for that's the home team!
I would be there this morning if it wasn't for the sense of necessity, the first time in a month, to visit our place in the mountains.
I share that last part to communicate that unlike Ezekiel or his fellow kinsman, Jeremiah, my wife and I have suffered little, in fact blessed beyond our imagination.
So why not "just settle down and serve God," like my other brothers and sisters in the church? That very statement was made to me in 1986 by the pastor of a church which I had served as a bi-vocational volunteer for thirteen years!
I have really tried to make this work. Apparently, little has changed in my calling, even at 75!
I love the Body of Christ, and the comforting consolation of like-minded believers who huddle quickly in intercession when one is hurting. If you know me, I have always loved ministry, often so caught up in corporate worship that I embarrass myself. That's how I was raised.
Yet, our mission is not competing with those that "do church better," providing hotter music, a more contemporary architectural aesthetic. Hoping at times, though not publicly owning our inner motivation, to attract those discontent with their current congregation, along with the few that occasionally visit, curious as to what causes hundreds to gather on Sunday's. Can you hear my inner Ezekiel?
Dont get me wrong, that joyful fellowship of the saints is the blessing of our heritage, but not the mission. In fact, this moment in America may be akin to exile, seperation from what was the true purpose of the Church.
I must admit that I once fully bought into the "Church Growth Movement." I even left my well degreed professional career to use my gifts for a higher purpose, "full time"! That lasted only seven years until redirected toward my calling to true and more inclusive community.
I must admit that I was having fun, as the collective support of almost ever "others oriented" initiative made each one easily funded. Yet with that the underlying expectation of a return on investment by way of increased attendance and membership.
What I found was a concept headed toward extinction. History even reinforces this in countries, once majority Christian, their cities dotted with empty facades, representing the most well intended of efforts. There sit massive, but relatively empty sanctuaries, historical art exhibitions, wonders of architecture, spiritual dinosaurs, tourist attractions at best.
Jesus delivered a similar discourse to his disciples while sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking at the Temple.
Some say that the destruction of the Temple, which took half a century to build, was a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy. From 70 to 135 AD, Roman soldiers completely stripped the Temple Mount bare.
Now I'm sounding too much like Ezekiel for my own comfort and I apologize!
However, Ezekiel knew why they were in exile for they had gotten off mission, his term was idolatry. Do I agree with the image of God cast by his writings, absolutely not. God is not wrathful, but rather full of grace and mercy when we are open to change.
Yet, when the people of God abandon the mission of God, the loss of the power and Presence that once attracted favor and blessing increases the natural consequences of their then often absurd behaviors, relative to what might have been.
Think Germany, the seat of Luther's Reformation, and the blindness that eventually came to the leadership of her church. Duped by a maniacal Hitler, their departure from the ways of Christ soon afforded the holocaust!
As I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he like Ezekiel also struggled with how his happened, and on his watch! During his final moments alone in dark isolation before being hanged, he recorded his thoughts for posterity. Perhaps my reason for writing?
Still the Presence of grace that we all desire was there, as the last words of this brilliant and courageous 39-year-old opponent of Nazism were “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”
Are we there again, in a moment of spirtual flux, exiled from those to whom we are called, given that "the Lord is not willing that any should perish"?
Still, we huddle on Sundays, struggling to sustain what history has shown as error. Meanwhile our own offspring are beginning to question the faith given the church's failure, though America has had over two hundred years of religious freedom, only to early on foster among many, a lasting legitimization of slavery by way of scripture, then colonialism under the name of God, and at times behind the scenes, war when resisted, or worse yet for economic recovery.
Meanwhile, we represent only 4.23% of the world's population, yet leverage the vast majority of Earth's resources for our pleasure, mostly among the 10% to which I graciously belong. I was deeply humbled in 1996 by a "Word" spoken to me just before our last move, as I prayerfully sensed direction toward the development in which we now live.
At that time, this beautiful, new, all brick subdivision, even with brick sidewalks, and ornamental lamp posts, felt a little over the top, relative to how we were both raised. Yet, when I questioned the Lord as to why I felt so strongly drawn to the site, as well as expressing my concerns for the investment required to meet the square footage and architectural requirements of the developers, I heard: "Yes, but the people in who's lives I need you to be involved, need you to live here."
We moved into our new home that Fall and have always known that we were blessed in order to be a blessing! Yet,
I say all this to bring attention to a shift that seems slowly occurring iinmy spirit and in our land, though it was not as noticeable to me in the '90's. Perhaps that's what maturity will do?
It now seems that the other 90% of America, many who also work hard, have been left outside the provision and abundance that the top ten percent now enjoy. The youngest of these now given little promise of home ownership and some even food! A plight likely no longer sustainable given our growing national debt.
Now you hear the growing dislike for where all this late-stage capitalism has taken us, thus the not so subtle "aHa!" that I spoke of earlier, as I struggled with Ezekiel. Unknowlingly, at least at first, it was me struggling with the Lord. We often dislike those folk who most remind us of ourselves! I know I am now sounding a little complex, on one hand blessed abundantly, but on the other convicted deeply, and concerned for where we are as a nation.
Ezekiel, I owe you an apology!
However, hope emerges toward the end of his book, reminding us of a historically reoccurring promise of renewal, in his case, describing a redistribution of the land to Isreal, a river that brings new life, a well-gated city: "It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there."*
Sounds like John the Revelator's last couple chapters, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Rev. 22:1-2*
I sense another shift in the Lord's long evolving investment in the Body of Christ, among those both in exile, as well as those searching deep for new meaning, such as was the case in those late stage moments of ancient Judaism.
I hear it from the lips of those outside the walls, much younger, and with a deep desire for a new hope, a new city, whose builder and maker is God. Christ followers, though now less likely to call themselves Christian. Most prefer the word, entrepreneur, seeking a new approach to the same Kingdom!
You go, God!!!