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Posts tagged ‘Ezekiel’

Wind, Water, and Life in Desolation

Ezekiel 37:1-10 NRSV

desolateLifeHave you ever felt like you were in a place of desolation? In other words, when have you felt hopeless, stranded, parched from thirst, empty?

Part of our humanity is in recognizing that we do have these low moments—periods of time when we just don’t know if we can continue living. We feel dead. We don’t know if feeling alive again is possible. I invite you to remember when you have felt like this. Where were you? What was happening? What were the sights, sounds, and smells? Maybe today, in this moment, you are experiencing a desolate time.

This is not meant to be a downer of a message. I’m simply saying that we must recognize our “death,” our emptiness, giving ourselves space to express frustration, anger, and sadness. We should not suppress such feelings as this can only entrench us deeper in despair. It’s even important to say and express when God feels far away or even absent. This type of recognition in life is often referred to as spiritual and emotional exile.

In the Jewish tradition, the notion of spiritual exile is important. And it is based on an actual exile and the continuing dynamic of the city of Jerusalem. Most scholars, including Walter Brueggemann believe that the book of Ezekiel was written during the crisis of 587 B.C.E., i.e. the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the consequent exile of the Israelites in Babylonia.[1] Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet. He witnessed the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and saw the temple in ruins: desolation. And then Ezekiel, and his community from Judah, were taken to a strange place far from home. The people around them were different religiously and culturally. There was very little hope of returning to Judah, of going back home. And even if they did go back home, the city they loved was in ruins.

So the story goes that Ezekiel had a vision, and in this dream Yahweh’s spirit takes him to a valley of dry bones. As a priest, this would have been extremely uncomfortable, for dead bodies were unclean. This vision was repulsive, actually, it’s supposed to be gruesome. Use your imagination. Think ugly, horrific, disgusting even. This dream is meant to challenge Ezekiel, and all of Israel. Did they really think that Yahweh was confined to a temple or to a city? Did they really think that YHWH could not exist, be present, in a valley of dry bones? Could not YHWH be with them even in exile?

At the moment, the Israelites and Ezekiel thought God had abandoned them. They had no hope because they had lost their financial, cultural, and religious stability. Their community had no life. No way these bones can live.

But YHWH has something to say, something to do.

I will cause breathe, lay sinews, cause flesh to form, I will cover those skeletons—I will put breathe in these bones.

The point YHWH is making is that people must enter into a new way of thinking and doing, leaving the past behind. What they have always thought and done is not helping them—it is hurting them and sucking the life from them. They are challenged to see new life even in a valley full of dry bones. They must ask themselves: can you imagine dry bones coming to life? If so, what can you imagine for your community? What can you imagine for yourself?

Maybe we hear Isaiah’s voice: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). The way is the spirit, once again that symbol of Divine wind/breath. Restoration is possible when the people recognize the spirit moving, bringing life even in desolation and despair.

I hope you find some meaning in this story for yourself. Personally, I see this as a call for me to be more honest about those moments when I do feel empty and like dry bones. Because in that honesty, I open myself up to change; I open myself up to others. I also recognize that life will not always be happy, wonderful, and as planned. I won’t always be comfortable or at home. I will sometimes be in spiritual and personal exile.

I also hear, though, that this story is about community. It isn’t just about Ezekiel finding a spiritual path or renewal. It is about whole communities discovering that. So I’m asking this question: what and who in our communities are in need of hope and new life, who is broken and in despair?

Friends, we are all those dry bones; spread out across a massive desolate land we call earth. We all wait for fresh breath of spirit to move through us, reviving us, filling in flesh and skin, making us whole once again. Don’t we? Wherever you are, wherever we are in our community, may we find new life and may we breathe new life into anyone or anything that needs it.

[1] An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination.

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What Do We Need?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A question for you, once again.

Right now, in this moment, what do you want?

Okay, a follow-up question.

What do you need?

It’s true, isn’t it, that what we want is often not what we actually need.

WANT-orSometimes what we want is based on social conditioning. We want material things like cars, clothes, jewelry, electronic devices, etc., because we’re taught to want them.

Other times what we want is a result of habits we have formed over many years. Our brains are trained to want certain things.

What we need, however, is another story. Sometimes we need rest and more sleep. Other times we need to eat healthier or exercise more. At times we need alone time; other times we need time with family and friends. Perhaps we need encouragement, or honesty, or motivation.

So allow me to expand the previous questions.

In this moment, wherever you are in life:

What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

I’m interested in how you answer that. Feel free to comment on the blog, as you feel comfortable. Well, here’s how I answer that question in this moment:

To feel whole and content, I need to have creative freedom, and challenge, and partnerships with others. To live a fulfilling life, I need to sing and make funny faces, and laugh, and make a positive difference in even just a few people’s lives. To make a difference in this world, I need to be curious and proactive in making new friendships and finding new colleagues—all people who are different than me in many ways. I need to let go of things and people that hold me back from this. And, to feel like I belong, I need to shake hands and hug and high five and talk with people. I need to be in nature enough to hear birds and smell flowers and appreciate plants and animals and water and mountains. But I also need to be in bustling urban areas full of people and movement and action and all kinds of smells and sounds. And finally, I need people with which to share my life—people who love and accept me as I am and don’t expect me to be anyone I am not.

How did you answer?

This story in Mark’s Gospel about Jesus and his followers could take us in a variety of directions. For example, is this story about rest, taking time off, even when it’s counter-culture? Or, is this story about paying attention to people and helping them, even when you don’t want to or when you’re exhausted?

Let’s explore some together.

We encounter the disciples and Jesus of Nazareth in a sharing moment. The disciples were telling Jesus what they had been doing and what they had been teaching. Then Jesus, possibly noticing their fatigue and burnout, says:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

And to emphasize this point that Jesus’ followers were exhausted, Mark’s writer says that because of all the people coming to them for help or healing, the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! Makes me think about how things have shifted in culture—at least in the West. Now some people say it’s a “luxury” to be able to eat lunch off on your own. Most people “eat” their lunch at a desk, in front of a computer, in a car, or not at all. And we say this is “normal.” For 1st and 2nd century folks in that part of the Mediterranean world, eating meals was an important part of culture. And they weren’t called working lunches.

Eating is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel. Mark chapter 6, the part of the Gospel we are looking at, also includes the story of the feeding of the 5000. In that account, many people did not have enough to eat. The story is foreshadowing and not necessarily a literal, historical event. It points to a time when Jesus will no longer physically be on earth, but that his presence will be seen and felt in the open table fellowship of his followers—that everyone is welcomed and fed and accepted. But our part of Mark 6 is the story of when the disciples of Jesus did not have time to eat, and in their journey to find a place to rest, Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd.

Sheep without a shepherd is a phrase rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. Numbers 27:16-17 says:

Let the Lord…appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.  

Of course, in Numbers, this is nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s about Joshua, or Yeshua, the name that translates in Greek to Jesus. So obviously, Mark is throwing a softball here. We’re supposed to notice this implied reference and connection. Secondly, Ezekiel 34 talks about shepherds who do not feed their sheep as a metaphor for elites or religious leaders who were ignoring the poor and those without food. So Mark’s Gospel is implying that Jesus of Nazareth is teaching his disciples to feed people [and not just with food, mind you]. And that there should be no sheep scattered and left without their needs fulfilled.

And so it was in Mark’s story. Jesus and the disciples made it to the other side of the water to Gennesaret. People saw them and rushed in from all over to be taught and healed, as they needed. And all who touched Jesus’ cloak were healed.

So let’s return to the question of the day: What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

It is a beautiful and important question to ask.

If you ask it honestly, you’ll find yourself drifting away from the things you want.

The things you want won’t bring fulfillment or wholeness or peace into your life. You’ll end up feeling empty. Look, a lot of us on this planet, religious or not, pursue things just because we think we want them. And I don’t just mean material things like cars, houses, clothes, etc. I mean that we pursue lifestyles and social status because we think we want them.

But do we need them?

As an ordained minister, I do a lot of weddings. But I don’t say yes to everyone. Why? Because some want to get married, and according to them, “start a family,” but they really don’t need to. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. They are in no position to do so, and if they do have children, those kids will suffer the consequences. Not everyone needs to follow every convention of society. Some who get married and have children have fulfilling and whole lives and that’s wonderful! I’m so glad for that. But not everyone needs that life. Others need a different life full of different challenges and adventures.

Likewise, youth and young adults are pushed so hard to get into the best schools and then to make the most money in the highest-paying careers, and I wonder:

Do they need to do that? Does it fulfill them? Are they whole people?

More often than not—no.

More often than not, they give up passions, joys, creativity, and uniqueness for a desk job and corporate benefits. Maybe this is what they have been conditioned to want. But I would argue that it’s not what they need.

I could go on, but you get the point. Think of all the ways that you have been conditioned to want certain things out of life and whether or not those things brought you fulfillment, joy, and wholeness.

And then, ask yourself: what do I really need?

Jesus’ compassion for people continues to inspire me to do the same for myself, and for others. Let’s stop telling people and ourselves what they should want out of life. Let’s focus on what we all need to be fed, supported, loved, accepted, inspired, filled, and whole.

See yourself and others in this way.

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