The Poisonous Merry-Go-Round of Mockery

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 26.2-3
Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’ 3 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.

Psalm 74.18-19
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, LORD, 
how foolish people have reviled your name. 
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; 
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. 

Reflection: The Poisonous Merry-Go-Round of Mockery
By John Tillman

Mocking is not looked on favorably by God in scripture. 

While his punishment for the sins of Jerusalem was being carried out, God had harsh responses to nations surrounding Israel and Judah who would mock, cheer, celebrate, or participate in the destruction. Tyre is just one example. 

There are long lists of countries and kings falling under God’s judgement for mockery and scorn. God’s people, however, should not be among them. When Jerusalem is being mocked, Ezekiel is instructed to lament the fall of the mockers. Mockers will be brought to justice. We are instructed to lament.

Tyre was powerful, not because of its land mass but because of its economic influence. The economy of the Mediterranean ran on Tyrian ships. Tyre’s glee at the fall of Israel was due to the newly opened opportunities for profit.

Comedy and satire have a fitting role in entertainment and the arts, but it is the vitriol that passes for political rhetoric and news coverage that is the most profitable form of mockery today. Individuals, institutions, and industries are built upon the monetization of mockery.

When someone or something crashes and burns, jeers and mockery rise with the smoke. The more savage the headline, the better it will sell. They aren’t making beauty from ashes. (Isaiah 61.3) They are making money from it. 

Meanness makes the world go ‘round, mockery is a media moneymaker, and Christians have been hopping on this poisonous merry-go-round. As Tim Keller said recently, “The demonization and dehumanization of the other side must stop. When professing Christians do it, it is triply wrong.” We help monetize mockery with our retweets, likes, shares, and passing on the derisive and divisive rhetoric that we intake.

Every time we click and share, the scornful cash in. Scorn is on the menu as we scroll through tweets, headlines, and memes. Far too many of Christ’s people lap up the disdain which drips from the lips of politicians and reporters and then spew it back out like so much bile. Disciples sound like their teachers. Some Christians sound more like these heartless mockers than like their rabbi-in-name-only, Jesus.

Although God tells Ezekiel of Tyre’s fate, is it not for Ezekiel to gloat or celebrate. God instructs him to lament. (Ezekiel 27.1-2) God deals with mockers. We need not return fire.

Judgment will come for mockers. May God’s people not be among them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 26  (Listen – 3:45)
Psalm 74 (Listen – 2:34)

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
Our political rancor has reached the point of normalizing violence…Christians not excluded.

Read more about Abandoning Human Vengeance
We must be the first to break the chain of retaliatory and violent rhetoric.
We must abandon human vengeance before we can see divine justice.

Losing Cynicism in the Sanctuary

Scripture Focus: Psalm 73.1-3; 16-17
      1 Surely God is good to Israel, 
         to those who are pure in heart. 
      2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; 
         I had nearly lost my foothold. 
      3 For I envied the arrogant 
         when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

      16 When I tried to understand all this, 
         it troubled me deeply 
      17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; 
         then I understood their final destiny.

Reflection: Losing Cynicism in the Sanctuary
By John Tillman

Psalm 73 begins with its conclusion: Surely God is good to the pure in heart. But the psalmist goes through disillusionment and cynicism before getting there.

The psalmist is distressed by disparity, to the point of despair. The wicked grow rich, healthy, wealthy, and (at least in their own eyes) wise. He begins to think God uncaring and unjust, sinking in a spiral of cynicism. He describes this as a trap he almost “slips” and falls into.

But there is more than one trap. The psalmist says the arrogant rich are also “on slippery ground.” (Psalm 73.18-20) Wealth that works like a charm in this life is, for many, a curse and a trap. (Proverbs 17.8)

We can be snared by both traps. Wealthy as we are, we may think that other wealthier ones are guilty of greed as we hoard our own resources. Poor as we are, we can be in denial of the blessings that God has given us and guilty of the same selfishness as the wealthy. All of us can be guilty of taking rest, ease, and luxury at the expense of others. How can we escape these traps of hubris, greed, jealousy, and despair? 

The psalmist loses cynicism in the sanctuary of the Lord. It is there he sees that all humanity’s unpaid debts to each other are ringing up interest in the Lord’s accounts and we will not avoid his justice. 

We mistake wealth in this world that will pass away as being more desirable than wealth in God’s kingdom that will not pass away. Tricks of perspective can make large things seem small and small things seem large. 

For the rich and the poor, worship of God is the doorway through which we see with a different perspective. This is why James speaks so harshly about treating the rich and poor equitably in God’s house. (James 2.1-13) This is why Jesus was zealous for God’s house, expelling the money changers. (John 2.13-17; Mark 11.15-17; Matthew 21.12-14)

God intends our worship to reflect heaven, not earth.

It will be in worship that we gain a better perspective to help us see things rightly. 
May the Holy Spirit confront us about equity and justice. 
May we question our justice, not God’s. Are we being prudent or greedy? Are we being responsible or cruel?

May moments of worship overwhelm our cynicism and reveal a perspective of eternity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 25  (Listen – 2:50)
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

Read more about Greed and Envy
The trap the psalmist escapes is to mistake stored up justice for absence of justice.

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
We still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Calling the Kettle

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 24.11-12
      11 Then set the empty pot on the coals 
         till it becomes hot and its copper glows, 
         so that its impurities may be melted 
         and its deposit burned away. 
      12 It has frustrated all efforts; 
         its heavy deposit has not been removed, 
         not even by fire.

Psalm 72.4-7
      4 May he defend the afflicted among the people 
         and save the children of the needy; 
         may he crush the oppressor. 
      5 May he endure u as long as the sun, 
         as long as the moon, through all generations. 
      6 May he be like rain falling on a mown field, 
         like showers watering the earth. 
      7 In his days may the righteous flourish 
         and prosperity abound till the moon is no more. 

Reflection: Calling the Kettle
By John Tillman

Ezekiel’s pot is too filthy for use. Caked, rotted food is encrusted inside. Cooking anything in it would be unappetizing and unhealthy, perhaps poisonous. 

This pot is black. This kettle is filthy. “It has frustrated all efforts,” God says. 

If you have never stood looking at a pot with food so encrusted and burned to the bottom that you were tempted to just throw it away, then you’ve been luckier in the kitchen than I have. Yet, God did not cast away Jerusalem, nor us.

Psalm 72 tells us what the pot was intended to be—a blessing to the world. Saving the afflicted and the needy, crushing the oppressor, and causing the righteous to flourish was its purpose. (Psalm 72.4-7) Yet Jerusalem became the opposite of that. 

Instead of crushing oppressors, they became them. Instead of saving the afflicted and the needy, they became the source of affliction and the cause of need. Instead of causing the righteous to flourish, they cultivated corruption into a flourishing garden.

This Psalm speaks of earthly kingship but prophetically points to a different king. David was not fooled by the golden age he lived in. He knew better than most that human leaders, especially himself, were incapable of bringing the kind of glowing, incandescent justice he wrote of. He looks instead, past his son, Solomon, to Jesus, the king God promised would come.

The bright, shiny kingdom David wrote from would become the blackened, filthy, pot of Ezekiel’s vision. We, or our nation or our church or our community, can easily be like this pot. It doesn’t happen all at once, it happens over time.

But we are blessed with a God who refused to simply toss away the worthless pot. God is a reclaiming God but often the first step of reclaiming is a scouring, burning, cleaning that strips us bare. The only option is to set the pot on a fire so hot that its metal glows, incandescent heat burning and melting away its gross deposits.

Have we frustrated God’s efforts?
Of what corruption do we need to be scoured?
What flaking varnishes of sin need to be stripped and sanded down?
How hot will the coals have to get before we allow our hardened hearts to melt and be purified?

Only then will God call our kettle back. Purified, he calls us to be used as a blessing to the world.

*And speaking of refurbishment and restoration of the corrupt…September 21, for millions of Christians across the world, is a day to celebrate the calling of Matthew, a publican and tax collector, a corrupt “pot” called and chosen to carry the account of Christ’s compassion to us in his gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 24  (Listen – 4:13)
Psalm 72 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Confession Destroys Denial
Nothing destroys denial except confession. Nothing repairs the damage of denial except repentance.

Read more about Blind to Injustice, Deaf to Oppression
Many modern, Western democracies would do well to take up this prayer’s wrenching confession of obsession with wealth and power at the expense of the disadvantaged.

A Sword Unsheathed

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 21.3-6; 25-27
This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. 4 Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north. 5 Then all people will know that I the LORD have drawn my sword from its sheath; it will not return again.’ 
6 “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 

25 “ ‘You profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, 26 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. 27 A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it.’ 

Reflection: A Sword Unsheathed
By John Tillman

The slashing sword God unsheathes may seem shocking. Isn’t God going overboard here?

There are some things to remember about passages of judgment like this.

Like many apocalyptic passages, these are poetically exaggerated for emphasis. The sword did not cut down every single human in Jerusalem. Even though the Babylonians went farther in violence than God intended them to (which he later punished them for: Isaiah 13.17-22; Jeremiah 50.1-16) there was not complete eradication.

The destruction of Jerusalem was brought by the destruction they wrought. Jerusalem was characterized primarily by violence and was ended by violence. (Matthew 26.52) Few people feel bad for the destruction brought to Nazi Germany after a good look at the destruction they wrought. When we look more deeply into the sins of Jerusalem, we will see its destruction as the justice of God, not an overreaction. We may also see sins we are familiar with in our own countries.

Over and over the prophets’ voices cried out God’s concerns. Powerful and wealthy leaders who represented God profaned his name through their abuses. Widows and orphans, the poor and the foreigner suffered under violence and abuse. The blood of the poor ran in the streets.

Jerusalem’s leaders ignored God’s whistleblowers. The watchmen called out warnings but no one listened. (Ezekiel 33.1-7) The fire alarms went off but no one fought the fire.

The righteous, although they suffered, were sealed, loved, and cared for even in the midst of the destruction. In a different vision (Ezekiel 9.3-4), God set a seal on those who lamented the wickedness around them. This seal did not prevent all physical harm or suffering. Instead, God’s seal was a guarantee that evil would work out for their good. (Genesis 50.20)

God’s good purpose for them would come through the destruction, the exile, the return, and ultimately, through Jesus. God promised to remove the kingship and to restore it only when one worthy of it came. We are the selfish kings, uncrowned. The worthy king we now must serve is Jesus.

As whistles blow and alarms of judgment sound in our cities, may we be those who the Spirit finds filled with lament not contempt. 

May we cry against violence not cry for it. 
May we end the suffering of the poor not endorse it. 
May his unsheathed sword mercifully cut us away from the false political kingdoms we have served, that we may learn to serve the kingdom of Heaven.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than  we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 21  (Listen – 5:29)
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 22  (Listen -4:58), Psalm 69 (Listen – 4:04)
Ezekiel 23  (Listen – 7:48), Psalm 70-71 (Listen – 3:29)

Read more about Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)
But despite their words of judgment to the kings and rulers of Judah and Israel, both men deeply loved their country…

Read more about The Thriving Tree
Jesus, the king planted by God upon Zion, is the tree that will thrive, bringing all the birds to his shade.

Denying Our Exile

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 20.44
You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices.

Reflection: Denying our Exile
By John Tillman

The elders of Israel came to Ezekiel to inquire of God—to seek something from him. What they got instead was a list of reasons that God had no intention of hearing their requests.

God instructed Ezekiel to launch into a litany of Israel’s idolatry and failures. This was not a history that his audience would have been unaware of. They were living in exile, suffering from what was being described. The problem was, they were continually in denial about their judgment and exile. They thought they deserved to go back.

Israel thought it was God’s nation. They had a son of David on the throne. They had their founding documents. They had God’s Temple. They listened to false prophets of God, who taught that God would miraculously bless them with deliverance, wealth, and freedom. They confronted anyone who questioned their narrative as unpatriotic.

Much of Ezekiel’s ministry was attempting to convince the already exiled, that there was not going to be a miraculous return to Israel’s glory days in their lifetimes. Over and over in many ways, he tells them,

“No. The king won’t save you.”
“No. The city will fall.”
“No. God’s Temple will be destroyed.”
“No. You will never go back.”

Normalcy was dead.

Because to God, Israel had already ceased to be his people by breaking his covenant. They worshiped God in name only. Their true worship was dedicated to gods of financial blessing and prosperity, such as Ba’al. They profaned God’s name when they claimed to worship him.

So, for the sake of God’s name they were exiled. But also for the sake of God’s name, he promised to restore them. Not on their timetable. Not like they wanted. Not like before. But through the suffering and purifying heat of exile, eventually, they would be redeemed.

We should not deny our exile. We should confess it. When we do, our redemption is certain because it relies on God, not us, being true to his name.

In these times of exile, we can cling to his promise that he will deal with us for his name’s sake and not according to our evil ways or corrupt practices. Then we will know and confess that he is the Lord.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 20  (Listen – 9:25)
Psalm 66-67 (Listen – 2:42)

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship…May we take warning.

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
We pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.
We weep for losses, sins, error, and struggle. We shout for mercy, comfort, redemption, and aid.