In Denial about Injustice

Ezekiel 22.29-30
The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

Reflection: In Denial about Injustice
By John Tillman

The sins that brought God’s judgment and caused the exile of Israel were multi-faceted. But there is a common thread—injustice.

Having a justice system is not the same as having justice.

In Israel, as Ezekiel was prophesying, the Temple still stood. There was still a king on the throne and people still gave lip service to God’s law and sought the blessing of God in the Temple. The justice system was in place.

But God’s spirit looked wider than the narrow focus of political posturing, of religious rituals, of attendance of worship, of psalm singing, of sacrifices, and incense.

God’s spirit searched the city, through the forgotten alleyways and the corridors of power. He witnessed the criminality of the slums and of backroom political conspirators. And what he spoke of, more than anything else, was of its corruption, greed, and lust for power.

Over and over again, the prophetic words echo through Ezekiel, and all the prophets, with lists of financial sins. Sins of greed. Sins of exclusion. Sins of corruption. Sins of oppression. Sins against foreigners. Sins of denying justice.

In Israel, there was a nationwide, top to bottom, culture of injustice that subverted the purposes of God’s law and took advantage of—and often took the lives of—the city’s most vulnerable. In the Ezekiel passage God links the injustice of “bloodshed” to unjust financial practices.

God asks Ezekiel in our passage if he will “judge” the city. God seems to imply not the role of a priest or a legal figure, but more like the leadership role of judges before the failed line of kings. God tells him that if he would judge them, it is his responsibility to confront them with their injustices.

The Spirit of God is moving now, through our many nations, through our neighborhoods, beyond the naves and narthexes of our churches. He is moving as he did through the city of Jerusalem and the population of the exiled, looking for those who will stand in the gap for the oppressed, maligned, and neglected.

To judge our cities (to lead them) we cannot be in denial about injustice. To stand in the gap, we need to be prepared to stand up to the powerful on all sides, speaking out against all forms of injustice.

Denying the existence of injustice is not how to be a patriot. It is how to get exiled.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding, according to your word.
Let my supplication come before you; deliver me, according to your promise. — Psalm 119.169-170

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 22 (Listen – 4:58)
Psalm 69 (Listen – 4:04)

Additional Reading
Read More about Finding Faith in Injustice
We cannot miss the reality of our role in the injustice we long to see God destroy. We are co-conspirators in other people’s pain—our passivity, our lies, our sin are all part of the injustice of this world.

Read More about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness :: Readers’ Choice
God’s liquid wrath flows from his love for the victims of injustice. It is fueled not by simplistic destructive retribution, but redemptive restoration.

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Sewing up the Veil :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Bruce Edwards
I’ve always said the first thing the high priest did after the damage to temple was to fill out a work order to repair the veil.

Originally published April 6, 2018

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
…And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. — Luke 23.43, 45

From John:
This bonus Readers’ Choice fits well in this week in which we are examining being in denial.

Reflection: Sewing up the Veil :: Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

One week ago, as Christ was dying on the cross, the scriptures tell us three times—in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—that the veil of the temple was torn in two. Mark and Matthew add the helpful detail that it tore “From top to bottom” implying heavenly agency in its destruction.

According to the Talmud and other sources, the veil was quite large and heavy—requiring 300 priests to move when it needed to be cleaned. It is not hard to imagine them now, a week later, hundreds of them, working to repair it.

It would be easy for us to smugly shake our heads at those priests. Couldn’t they understand the meaning? Couldn’t they let go of their rituals? Why set back up the barrier that God tore through?

But are we so different?

We don’t have a literal Temple veil, but we each stitch up a veil of our own cultural assumptions, religious rituals, and precious objects. These form our ideas about what it takes to approach God.

When we come to God, we must bring nothing but Christ with us. Any ingredients, or any previous qualifications of our own, will poison and corrupt faith. — Thomas Wilcox

Anything that we think we can’t be a Christian without, is a stitch in the veil.

“You can’t be a Christian without supporting _________.”
“You can’t be a Christian without abstaining from __________”
“You can’t be a Christian without __________.”

We’ve all got something in the blanks.

Whenever I’m tempted to put something in those blanks, I try to turn my mind to the thief on the cross. I think of the criminal who watched Jesus die, got his legs broken to hasten his suffocation, and whose body was—more than likely—dumped, naked, in a mass grave.

Anything we put in those blanks should disqualify that thief on the cross. But there is no one, in all of scripture that has a more direct and unambiguous promise of being resurrected to live with Christ in Heaven than this criminal who did nothing—nothing but believe.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about how the Jews carried a veil over their minds that kept them from the truth of the Gospel. We are subject to the same tendency and only in Christ is this veil removed.

May we resist our tendency to repair the veil Christ removed, while looking with grace and compassion on those who labor, stitching up their veils.
May we unveil our faces and turn to Christ—like the thief—with our hands empty and incapable.
May our unveiled faces shine on others, that they can see, not our great works or piety, but God’s grace to us.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 21 (Listen – 5:29)
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Crux of Repentance
We acknowledge that Jesus said “It is finished.” But still we often want to “do our part.” We are like a patron in a five star restaurant being served a dish prepared by a master chef which we then we drown in ketchup.

Read More about Invitation
Like a masterfully arranged symphony, the final note of Scripture rings with wonder and beauty: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Grace—and not just grace, but an invitation for others to come into grace.

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In Denial in Exile

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: In Denial in 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 this 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 him in name only. Their true worship was 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 don’t have to deny our exile. We have to confess it. When we do, our redemption is certain because it relies on God, not us, being true to his name.

In these times 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.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our god!
How pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. — Psalm 147.1-3

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

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

Additional Reading
Read More about Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer
In ancient agrarian society if you worshiped a sun god or a fertility goddess or a god of weather or a god of bountiful harvest you were worshiping a god of financial success. Guaranteeing continually renewing cycles of growth was Ba’al’s main gig. Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko.

Read More about Placing Trust in God
I decided early (Oh yeah.) to give my life to something eternal and absolute. (All right.) Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow, (Come on.) but to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. — Dr. Martin Luther King

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Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer

Psalm 61.8
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Reflection: Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Scripture resounds with trouble.

From scripture’s earliest writings, in which Job’s friend, Eliphaz observed that “man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward,” to the end, in which John hears of those “who have come out of the great tribulation,” trouble and strife are never but a page turn away.

Jesus himself directly told us that “in this world you will have trouble,” and then his disciples went out and proved it, many of them by serving the gospel unto death.

But another common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Today we join in a guided prayer of praise in the midst of our troubles using parts of our readings from today.

Guided Prayer
In the midst of our trouble, we cry to you, Lord.

God, you have been angry!
You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger. — Psalm 60.1-3

Our land, our people, our churches, our politics are fractured, God.
We stagger, shaken, fearful, and unsteady.
There is no firm ground.

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us
and no longer go out with our armies? — Psalm 60.9-10

It is you, oh God, who must lead us.
Not politicians.
Not so-called “great men”
Not our armies of soldiers, armies of yes-men, or armies of Twitter followers.
All are useless to you, oh God.
Lead us to help, to serve, to save our cities!

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I. — Psalm 61.1-2

Hear our scattered cries,
Across the world,
Across denominations,
Across political ideologies…

Lead us to build on the only rock, the sure foundation of Jesus Christ.
Lift us.
Elevate our efforts.
Grow our seed of faith.

I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. — Ezekiel 17.22-24

Plant us, Lord. Cause us to grow to shelter many.
In the midst of our trouble, raise us up to shelter the troubled around us.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will come upon you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come down on all those living on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all time sof the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of man. — Luke 21.34-36

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 17 (Listen – 4:26)
Psalm 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 18 (Listen – 5:26) Psalm 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)
Ezekiel 19 (Listen – 2:12) Psalm 64-65 (Listen – 2:39)

Additional Reading
Read More about Prevailing Prayer in Times of National Trouble
Any mercy is sweet, when obtained by prayer; much more, such as are of advantage to others as well as yourselves.

Read More about When Help Isn’t Help :: Readers’ Choice
“Considering it all joy” does not mean one rejoices in the cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, or destruction. It does not mean there will be no tears or sense of loss. Rather, amidst these constraining circumstances, one can embrace a sense of confidence and peace.

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Last month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals were read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Called to Unmovable Joy :: Readers’ Choice :: TBT

Selected by reader, Tracey Matthews
My broken, human inclination is not to accurately distinguish between true joy and earthly happiness. And how is it that joy can possibly be experienced when things seem terrible? The poets help me here. Christian Wiman suggests that joy is “a flash of eternity that illuminates time”, and Herbert, “Such a light as shows a feast”. Jesus reveals his true, eternal joy that cannot be moved through these flashes of the Holy Spirit, when I remember to be quiet and pay attention. And what a comfort!

Originally posted May, 17 2018 with readings from Isaiah 16 and 1 Peter 4.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. — 1 Peter 4.12-19

Reflection: Called to Unmovable Joy :: Readers’ Choice :: TBT
By John Tillman

In today’s Throwback Thursday poem, George Herbert speaks of the joy and love that will come as we answer Christ’s call to feast with him—a joy that cannot be moved and a love that can’t be parted from us even by suffering or death.

The Call
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in Love.
— George Herbert, from Five Mystical Songs

Peter says that our suffering will lead to joy as the glory of Christ is revealed to us.

The believers Peter wrote to were familiar with being both socially outcast and with being physically attacked. They had been forced to flee under oppression by a combination of those who opposed their religious beliefs and a government which favored the religions it approved of.

Whether we suffer the dis-comforting loss of social status Christianity is experiencing in the United States or the persecutions more common overseas, including physical attacks, imprisonment, and assassinations, our sufferings allow us to participate in the suffering of Christ.

May our sufferings not reveal bitterness and anger in our spirits, but the joy and love of Christ.
May we feast with Christ daily in the Word.
May we be sustained for the work he calls us to.
May the joy and love Christ gives us be unmovable from our hearts.
May we bring others with us to the feast.

*from 5 Mystical Songs, The Call: music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. — Psalm 51.16

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 16 (Listen – 10:36)
Psalm 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

Additional Reading
Read More from George Herbert: Easter Wings :: Throwback Thursday
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store, Though foolishly he lost the same…With thee O let me rise.

Read More from George Herbert: Rise Heart :: Throwback Thursday
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part, And make up our defects with his sweet art.

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Last month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals were read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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