This passage from Ezekiel is uncomfortable to hear. Although we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters many of the same texts throughout our lectionary reading cycle, we don’t include this one. We don’t include the imprecatory psalms, either, those agonizing poems that describe deep agony or express unbridled rage or the thirst for vengeance. We don’t include a good bit, actually, that would make preaching even more challenging than it is already. There is something a little disturbing about listening to the prophet recounting the range of horrors in such graphic terms for which God’s own people must answer.
Yet, how much like our modern day evening news this indictment sounds! “Everyone according to his power has been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the alien residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things, and profaned my Sabbaths. Can your courage endure or can your hands remain strong in the days when I shall deal with you?”
For the past few weeks, dozens of women have gathered every Wednesday evening to study Brene Brown’s book “Rising Strong.” As a social scientist, she studies how we operate as individuals in community. In this particular book, she is exploring the virtue of resiliency and how it is developed. In a recent chapter we learned about the necessity to learn how to “dead reckon.” Those of you who spend any time on private boats will recognize the seriousness of such a skill. When there is no land in sight, and you have lost your way, and need to know where you are in order to figure out how to get where you are going, it’s time to dead reckon.
Dead reckoning involves using a previously determined position and advancing that position based on known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. This is no time to prevaricate or spin a story about what happened. Maybe you did trim the sails correctly and pay attention to the dials and levers. But did you pay attention to the sun, to the wind, to the smells in the air? Did you really just close your eyes for a few minutes or were you conked out cold for two hours? If you lie about how you got where you are, you have absolutely no chance of safely getting out of this predicament.
God loves God’s people. But loving us doesn’t mean overlooking our faults. In fact, it would be deadly if that happened. Now is no time to be modest or euphemistic about how far from where we began we have come. If we are going to make our way safely to the other side, it’s time to tell the truth.
Every person in this space recognizes the dynamics here. We want to ascribe the best intentions to each other. In fact, the formula for reducing anxiety in a group is to begin exactly from that position, of assuming that each person is doing the best they can, and not that they are doing their worst on purpose just to aggravate us. But when a community is riven with discord or crippled by anxiety, perhaps it is time to sit together and tell the truth about how we have ended up where we are, in a dead calm mid-sea with no land in sight and not the hint of a breeze.
Let’s let the prophet Ezekiel have a conversation now with the gospel of John and Jesus’ prayer to the Father that “they might be one as we are one.” How exactly are Jesus and the Father “one”? And how can Jesus truly imagine that all of us with our wildly different ideas and passions could possibly be one? At the risk of trading some perfectly good questions for answers, I propose the following.
At least one aspect of the communion of Jesus with God is unbounded love for the world God made and all that lives and breathes on its surface, in its depths, and in the skies. God not only provided the Sabbath for our rest and renewal, but prescribed Sabbath rests for the earth and its animals. Among the many gifts of the Sabbath rest is the opportunity to pause, to unwind, and unplug and to consider how interconnected we are to each other and to our world. When we take the time to do this, we should not be surprised if we feel a twinge of guilt over taking up more than our fair share of space.
The sacrilege, after all, of profaning the Sabbath was to trespass the boundary that God had set around space and time, a boundary established in order to keep us sane and healthy, and to keep us our right size. If God can stop for twenty-four hours, so can we.
Another aspect of the communion between Jesus and God is that Jesus trusts to God’s unfailing care those whom he loves, asking in his prayer that that would hold to God’s promises for those God chose, for those God created, and for the world God imagined into being. What a riddle: the secret of us finding our relatedness, our one-ness, to each other does not actually begin with connecting with each other, but rather with connecting to God, from whom we came and to whom we have been given. The closer our connection grows to God, the nearer we will move toward each other.
What the women are finding as we look hard at our own stories in the light of trying to become resilient is that we can only bear that level of honesty when it is in the context of prayer and devotion to God. It is true that God has charged us with governing ourselves, but God knows we are far too good at minimizing our roles in conflict or human suffering. And so, lest we become hopelessly lost at sea, from time to time, the word of God through the prophets gives us a truer reckoning of where we must change if we are to make it home.
Our becoming “one” as Jesus and God are “one” by necessity means that we must move constantly toward God in order to be mindful of our right size in the world God made. And we must consider that the transforming love of God is intended not only for a few, or even just for us humans, but that it is intended for the transformation, for the healing of the world, of its systems and powers, the land, the sky and the sea – all of it. This is the “tikkun olam” the repair of the world, and it is at the same time God’s design and our duty.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we pray for your people everywhere. Fill us with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where we are corrupt, purify us; where we are in error, direct us; where in anything we are amiss, reform us. Where we are right, strengthen us; where we are in want, provide for us; where we are divided, reunite us, for the sake of your love.
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park
May 8, 2016