Tag Archives: Ezekiel

For freedom Christ has set us free | St. Peter and St. Paul

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David. (BCP 92)

God has come to his people and set them free

The Spirit includes in our fellowship people we normally wouldn’t include, and the apostles proclaim inclusion and freedom.

Peter has a vision from God that leads him to understand God is doing a new thing, inviting him to move beyond the familiar boundaries of Jewish law and practice.

In response to that vision, he follows God’s leading — “the Spirit told me to go with them, and to make no distinction between them and us” — and goes to the house in Caesarea where some Gentiles are gathered.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:15-17)

Peter’s story convinces the leaders of the Jerusalem church. “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'” (Acts 11:18).

God has included in our fellowship people we were once commanded to avoid, and the leaders of the church recognize that God is doing a new thing.

It’s a good start, but it doesn’t last very long.

People don’t want the freedom God offers

It’s no accident that the lectionary appoints the passage from Ezekiel for Morning Prayer on this Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Like Peter and Paul themselves, the early church struggles between law and grace, and in fact we still struggle with it to this day. We refuse to hear the message of inclusion and freedom.

Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (Ezekiel 2:3-5).

It is, however, a lovely coincidence that the lesson appointed for this Monday morning (Proper 8) in the normal lectionary tells exactly the same story of rebelliousness.

Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’” (1 Samuel 10:17-19)

We do not want the freedom God intends for us, the special covenant relationship with God that saves us. We want what everyone else has.

So Samuel gives us Saul, whom he has already warned us about and (with God’s grudging permission) anointed as our king.

But (what a bunch of jerks!) we don’t even want the king that we chose instead of God’s freedom.

Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace. (1 Samuel 10:25-27)

Can this man save us? Of course not, as Samuel has been trying to tell us.

For freedom Christ has set us free

Our apostles (whom we call bishops) still have to beat their heads against our stubbornness.

Like Paul before them, they have to keep reminding us not to slip backward into law, into exclusion, into wanting what everyone else has — a secular king who will enslave and exploit them.

We need our apostles to remind us to keep pressing forward into inclusion and freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

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A sure and steadfast anchor

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Three times in the two-year cycle of Daily Office readings we get the chance to celebrate the “patronal feast,” so to speak, of the Daily Office Anchor Society.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19).

The other readings assigned for today give us a sense of the particular flavor of the Christian hope.

Ezekiel is prophesying against Israel, speaking God’s word of wrath against the wayward people. “According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. And they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 7:27). God is mighty and holy, and we are prone to fall away into sin and forget how we have been blessed.

Canticle 13, suggested for Tuesday mornings, is a song of praise, but it underscores God’s remoteness as we sing of God “seated between the Cherubim … in the high vault of heaven” (BCP 90).

In the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, however, we see Jesus, our great high priest, bridging the gap between us and God. For “we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19-20).

No longer are we distant from the mighty and holy God, who in “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). No longer can anything separate us from the love of God, for now God’s only Son intercedes for us. Jesus, having ascended into heaven, takes our humanity — takes us — with him into the inner shrine, into the presence of God. We now live for all time in the heart of God.

That intimate and enduring union with God is ours through Jesus, the “forerunner on our behalf,” and this particularly Christian hope is indeed a “sure and steadfast anchor” for our souls.

Meant for a sign

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“Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals. He was hoping that someone would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Nöel Coward song called ‘Mad About the Boy’ over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons that he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the ‘about the boy’ bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked.” ~Douglas Adams, Life, The Universe and Everything

Reading today’s passage from the Book of Ezekiel reminds me of this bit from the third of five books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

Ezekiel is doing something with Legos, and then he’s putting up a wall and very pointedly staring at it, and then he is lying on one side, and then on the other, and then he is making some really disgusting bread and burning it over a fire made of — what is that! — oh, it’s just cow’s dung.

… oh, whatever!

I’ll bet Ezekiel’s annoyed that no one has asked him what he’s doing. If he tried to explain it, though, he’d have about as much luck as Douglas Adams’ Ford Prefect making anyone understand.

The weird things we do — like going to church on Sundays, praying out of a book twice a day, or reading (on purpose, yet!) about crazy old Ezekiel — are meant for a sign. It’s not the actions themselves that are the sign, though.

We’re the ones who are meant to be transformed by our discipline of prayer and Scripture study, transformed more and more by our obedience into the likeness of Christ, living into our calling to be a light to the nations. I think people will ask us what we’re doing when what we’re doing has made us more peaceful and made a visible difference in the lives of those around us.

So don’t be annoyed and don’t be a one-note Johnny — and don’t, for goodness’ sake, cut off half your beard like Ezekiel will do tomorrow! Instead, be faithful, be disciplined, be “Mad About the Boy” who is our living Lord Jesus.

Can these bones live?

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The Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer today comes from the book of Ezekiel, the “dry bones” story that we heard just a few nights ago during the Great Vigil of Easter.

Ezekiel is led in a vision to a valley full of bones, and God tells him to prophesy to the bones. Bones come together, sinews knit them up, flesh covers them, but there is no breath in them.

God commands again, and breath enters the bodies, “and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (Ezekiel 37:10).

God ends by saying “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, The Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord” (37:14).

I couldn’t help thinking of the skeleton warriors from the movie Jason and the Argonauts, created so memorably by Ray Harryhausen in early stop-motion animation.

However, these fighting skeletons are not the living people of Ezekiel’s vision. We call it the “dry bones” story, but it’s really the “reborn people” story. That’s why it’s part of our Easter Vigil readings each year.

It seems to me that too many of us get stuck halfway — we are dried up, but we can at least move and fight and defend ourselves, and we are terrible to each other.

However, we are called to more, much more. Through the gift of God’s Spirit, we can live as reborn people, not just as dry bones.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of this life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)