For Better or For Worse

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 20:32-33, 37
32 “‘You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. 33 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath…
 37 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.

Reflection: For Better or For Worse
By Erin Newton

Israel was bound to God and God to them in covenant. It was a relationship in which God is glorified and the people receive his blessing. It was bound by the immutable word of God himself.

Despite the infidelity of Israel, her idolatry and oppression of the weak, God never released them from that covenant. They chose other gods to worship and corrupted the whole concept of monotheism. Yet through it all, nothing could separate them from God.

In Ezekiel 20, God reminds the people of this bond. The people have openly rejected him and declared their intention to worship something else. They want to punt the faith. “What you have in mind will never happen.”

Can you reject God and flee from his presence? In our minds we think it’s possible. Psalm 139:7-10 echoes the impossibility of departing from God.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Like Israel, we have been covenanted with God. It is the new covenant, sealed by the Spirit, sealed upon our hearts. There is much talk about deconstruction with some defining the term as the rejection of the faith entirely. Yet we see in Ezekiel that when God has given himself in a covenant, it is unmovable.

For Israel, the people needed to deconstruct the way they had been practicing religion. Their so-called worship of God was corrupt and manipulated. Priests and leaders had allowed faith to turn into idolatry.

Israel wanted to move on to some other form of worship not realizing their God had been with them all along. Return to him. That is the message for Israel. God would say the same to us today.

Is our deconstruction leading us to different idols or are we searching for true, undefiled worship? Can we see how God will be with us in our wandering? Through pain, the Israelites will return to the Lord. Refining our faith can be painful. This is a call for us to examine what exactly we are trying to reject.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 20(Listen 9:25)
Colossians 3(Listen 3:09)

Read more about Denying Our Exile
Israel thought it was God’s nation…They confronted anyone who questioned their narrative as unpatriotic.

Read more about Presence is Precious
The presence of God is a gift of grace made available to those who seek it, recognizing it as the precious thing that it is.

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.