Archive for the 'Ezekiel' Category

For Nov. 23, 2014: Christ the King, Year A

The Reading                                                      Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

As Ezekiel prophesies, six centuries before Christ, the Temple is in ruins and the people scattered and kingless. Now God promises to gather God’s sheep back home to be fed and healed and strengthened. (“David” means David’s descendant.) The fat, strong ones who butted and scattered the weaklings, however, will face judgment.

The Response                                                    Psalm 95:1-7a

The rousing Psalm 95, which celebrates the reign of the Lord God, appears twice in the lectionary: a selection on Christ the King Sunday and the whole psalm on the third Sunday of Lent. It includes a call to shout with psalms. Let us make a joyful noise, if an Episcopally decorous one!

The Epistle                                                         Ephesians 1:15-23

In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord God promised to gather and shepherd and heal the scattered sheep of Israel. Ephesians 1:15-23 tells how this promise is fulfilled and more than fulfilled by the power of God working through Christ the risen Head of All.

The Gospel                                                          Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46 follows two difficult parables in which people in power shut doors in the faces of those who are struggling. Jesus’ story here sounds a different note: this King is in the business of opening doors to the needy and the outcasts, and to those who tend the needy and the outcasts for their own sakes.

 

Further thoughts

Some years ago, Leona Helmsley earned the sobriquet “The Queen of Mean” for her vicious, grasping, mean-spirited reign as head of the Helmsley hotel empire. She reportedly fired employees on little provocation and, though phenomenally wealthy, nitpicked the large bills she ran up with contractors. When she finally fell, people laughed at her—but she got away with it for years, because, as the saying goes, “Power corrupts.”

The readings for Christ the King Sunday give us a head-spinningly different way to understand power as it is seen by God. On the one hand, Psalm 95 gives us the mighty Creator whose mere word suffices to bring into being all the wonders of the universe, before whom all knees bow, and Ephesians 1:15-23 reminds us that all of God’s authority is in the hands of the risen and victorious Christ. On the other hand, this supreme God, CEO of CEOs, doesn’t emerge from the corner office solely to enlarge his empire and abuse the staff. No: as Ezekiel tells it, this CEO looks after the needs and dignity of every last housekeeper and busboy, and is preparing scathing performance reviews for the middle managers who haven’t done likewise. Moreover, in the words of Matthew 25:31-46, this CEO sees his own likeness in the throng of humanity outside: the dispossessed, the disheartened, the suffering, even the criminals are worth tending and encouraging. And this CEO trains and encourages everyone on staff to see their likeness in him and to act accordingly in his name.

The analogy stops here: what CEO ever died for the employees? But this too is what the working of God’s power through Jesus truly means. What if we were to choose, in each interaction, to crucify our need to win and wield power in favor of recognizing and encouraging the power of God in each other?

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For Sept. 7, 2014: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18

The Reading            Ezekiel 33:7-11

At chapter 33, the book of Ezekiel begins to turn from warning of Israel’s conquest by Babylon to prophesying comfort to follow. In Ezekiel 33:7-11, the speaker is the Lord God: the first three verses lay out the penalty if Ezekiel fails to warn the wicked—but the last reveals the Lord’s yearning for the wicked to repent and live.

The Response            Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119 is a psalm of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas; the verses in each stanza all begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 33 to 40 begin with the letter ה (heh) and beg the Lord to keep the psalmist following the torah—that is, God’s statutes, law, commandments, decrees, and judgments.

The Epistle            Romans 13:8-14

Psalm 119:33-40 implored God’s help in keeping torah, the Law. Romans 13:8-14 reminds us that the God’s Law is summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”—and advises us that it is high time that we do just that.

The Gospel            Matthew 18:15-20

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus explains how to respond when a member of the church does ill: first speaking with the member privately, then bringing in one or two witnesses if needed, and confronting publicly only as a last resort.

 

Further thoughts

A friend of mine, one of the quietest adults I know, must have been a wild toddler. Whenever he wasn’t within earshot, his mother learned to tell the family servant, “Find Paul, and tell him to stop.”

Ezekiel is a sentinel with a similar job: keeping watch on God’s people and, when the word of the Lord says so, warning them to stop. The Lord’s stated goal is that Israel not die but live, like the child who thrives under a good parent’s rules. Psalm 119:33-40 celebrates the loving Parent’s rules, the torah, and begs God’s help in obeying them. Love motivates the rules; as the letter to the Romans notes, love is what we owe each other—and communicating in love about what is wrong can be a powerful act of healing.

Matthew 18:15-20 is sometimes taken to mean that a churchgoer who feels wronged by another is permitted or even required to shun the other, have the other excluded, and expect the Father to follow suit in heaven. As D. Mark Davis notes, however, in his blog Left Behind and Loving It, the Greek text can support a different reading. First, the topic of Matthew 18 as a whole is the “little ones” and our duty to put no stumbling blocks in their way. Second, though the NRSV translates ἔσται δεδεμένα and ἔσται λελυμένα as ‘will be bound’ and ‘will be loosed’, these phrases are more accurately if less idiomatically ‘will have been bound’ and ‘will have been loosed’, which suggests not that earthly binding causes binding in heaven but the other way around. Third, Jesus’ own approach to the despised Gentiles and tax collectors is to heal (15:21-28) and feed (15:32-39) them, associate with them (9:9-10, 11:19) and even make disciples of them (10:3).

Who do I regard as a Gentile and a tax collector? Is that who I need to love as Jesus loves?

Davis, D. Mark. “The Power of Reconciliation.” Left Behind and Loving It, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014. <http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/&gt;

For April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil of Easter, Year A

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

The Story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

The Valley of Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

These four readings and their responses relate the story of humankind before the mighty acts of Easter. Genesis follows the light and delight of God’s very good Creation with the tale of how an Earth sullied by sin is scoured by the once-in-an-eternity Flood. Exodus relates the flight from Egypt, from whining Israelites to God’s literally one-sided victory over Pharaoh’s forces. Ezekiel, one of many prophets to decry the incapacity of humans on their own to be holy enough, uses the arresting image of dry bones called to life to symbolize the saving power of God.

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. Now the first epistle we read in Easter proclaims our liberation from sin but also looks back to the suffering that has once and for all freed us from sin’s bonds.

The Response            Psalm 114 Page 756, BCP

Psalm 114 celebrates the events of the reading from Exodus in which Israel is delivered from the power of Pharaoh. Even mountains and sea are shaken by God’s great deed!

The Gospel            Matthew 28:1-10

Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus differ in details—Matthew’s is the only one that mentions an angel-caused earthquake and guards terrified into catatonia—but the general outlines are consistent: messengers of God remind two or more women that Jesus is risen, just as he promised, and they instruct the women to bid the disciples join him in Galilee.

 

Ponderables

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ resurrection includes the counsel “Do not be afraid,” twice. The first time, these words are uttered by the angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid. It seems that angels—in Greek, literally ‘messengers’—in their proper forms are so terrifying as to make hardened soldiers swoon. The second time, the words come from the mouth of the risen Jesus himself. He comes not as the familiar Rabbi with whom the disciples had eaten and walked and lived but as a transformed and astonishing messenger with other business elsewhere.

So the messenger always begins, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then the messenger passes on the sort of word that turns one’s world upside down.

The most obviously counter-to-reality claim that Jesus had ever made—that he would return from death to life—has come true, nail marks and all.

And if that is true, think of all the other things Jesus has said that are preposterous within the world as most of us know it. In God’s realm, the meek inherit the earth. The nobodies matter at least as much as the big shots. The genuine leaders are those who serve. The whole of the Law is summed up as “Love God with all your might, and love each other enough to be Christ to each other.” The people of God are each called to follow Jesus to our own crosses—and to the life beyond.

How on earth can we live up to all of that? We can’t.

But how in heaven’s name can we say no?

For April 6, 2014: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            Ezekiel 37:1-14

As the book of Ezekiel tells it, God’s people were deported to Babylon in the sixth century before Christ for failing to uphold their part of the covenants. This familiar reading tells us, though, that there is help: no matter how dead we are and how we are dead, God is ready to breathe new life into our spirits and to bring us home.

The Response            Psalm 130

Some psalms are laments and some praises. Psalm 130 is a short and cogent summary of the human condition: when things are bad and even when I am bad, good God is on my side anyway, no matter what.

The Epistle            Romans 8:6-11

This passage from the epistle to the Romans carries forward the theme of the first reading. Through our own efforts we cannot please God and so we gain only death. Through Christ, however, we have the Spirit of God in us and so we have life.

The Gospel            John 11:1-45

In today’s gospel, Jesus knows he is already marked for death if he ventures anywhere near Jerusalem. He is also aware that, in Jewish belief of the time, the soul hovers near the body for three days. Nevertheless, he ventures to Bethany, and four days after Lazarus has died, to work a spectacular miracle.

For March 30, 2013: the Great Vigil of Easter, Year C

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD: God acts to create and restore the world

The story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

Salvation offered freely to all: 
Isaiah 55:1-11

The Response: Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)

The valley of dry bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. The first epistle we read in Easter rings out our joy, as Isaiah puts it, but it also looks back to the suffering that has freed us from sin.

The Response            Psalm 114

The Gospel            Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

 

Further thoughts

People in Jesus’ place and time had a pretty good idea what death looked like, what with infant mortality, childhood and adult diseases, death in childbirth, farming accidents, the various ailments associated with old age, and the occasional murders, executions and suicides. Adult women, in particular, knew well what they were supposed to do about it: wash the body (especially if there were blood), treat it with spices against stench, dress it, and straighten the mangled or emaciated limbs in preparation for burial.

They were clearly quite unprepared, however, for the idea of rising from death.

We postmillenials have the advantage of two thousand years of exposure to the idea through scripture, analysis, sermons, and old-fashioned hindsight, but it’s not clear to me that we are really any better prepared for the reality of resurrection than were Jesus’ grieving friends. It’s hard to imagine being resurrected to anything but a life like the one that we now lead, with its dishes to wash and its bills to pay. That’s unsurprising, of course: this is the life we know.

It’s the case, however, that many people who have undergone a near-death experience live differently, at least for a while. They wash the dishes and pay the bills, but—like Scrooge at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—they live more in the moment, and they are much more mindful of the wonder of the world around them and the people in it.

And we who still stand on this side of the grave—what if we are called to do likewise?

For Nov. 20, 2011: Christ the King Sunday, Year A

The Reading    Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
In last week’s reading, God chose Deborah as hero and judge to save Israel from the Canaanites; about a century later, God chose David as hero and king to save Israel from the Philistines. The book of Ezekiel comes after another four centuries during which rulers and the well-to-do fleeced the weak and powerless and flouted God’s rules. As Ezekiel predicted in earlier chapters, Jerusalem has fallen and the Temple is destroyed; he is among those forced into exile in Babylon. But here Ezekiel prophesies hope: a new hero who will rescue and tend the strayed sheep of God.

The Epistle    Ephesians 1:15-23
Ezekiel prophesied that God’s good shepherd was coming to gather and tend God’s flock. The Gospel for today foretells Jesus in glory at the end of time, judging between attentive sheep and thoughtless goats. In contrast to these future orientations, the passage from the letter to the Ephesians plants us squarely in the here and now: it tells us, even as we look forward to Advent, that Jesus is in charge this very day—and at work in us.

Further thoughts
Taken together, today’s three readings give a vivid picture of the power and magnificence of the triune God— and of God’s abiding and intimate interest in preserving the small, the weak, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the powerless, the imprisoned, and even those who by our earthly standards seem to deserve their poverty, their illness, or their incarceration. The Old Testament reading calls us to hope in the darkness while reminding us not to contribute to the darkness through mistreating our fellow humans. The Epistle reminds us that, however dark things look today, Jesus is in power today. The Gospel gives us specific marching orders—and a strong hint that showing mercy to our fellow creatures for their own sakes is more godly than showing mercy to try to buy our way into heaven.

Another note: Some of the commentaries on Ezekiel sheds light on one of those questions that an Episcopalian may not think about very consciously: Why are the leaders of Jewish congregations called “rabbi” and not “priest”? The short answer is that the priest or kohein was and is designated to perform rituals of animal sacrifice and atonement—rituals that could be performed only in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.