The Lord is There

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 48.35
“And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

Reflection: The Lord is There
By John Tillman

All the architectural details and the descriptions of artistic embellishments in the temple, lead to one final detail that would have excited Ezekiel’s exiled audience. “The name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” 

We might at first be confused. Ezekiel, after all, has been transported in a vision back to Israel to “a high mountain”. The city is Jerusalem, right? Why would God change the name of the city?

Names in the scripture are vitally important and God often changes someone’s or something’s name when significant happens. He adds to Abram and Sarai’s names, making them Abraham and Sarah indicating their closeness to his Spirit. He changes Jacob’s name to Israel, going from a negative of grasping for status to a positive of holding tight to God. Names tell a story. The name God gives this city is a truth that the exiles needed and a truth that we need today. Where God’s people are, God is there. Where God is worshiped, God is there.

God’s presence, in a theological sense, is a given. He’s omnipresent. Even if we wanted to flee from God’s presence we could not. But in a spiritual and psychological sense, we need reminders. 

Some of those reminders can be physical. In a church building, the architecture of the space or the architecture of the liturgy can remind us. In a familiar spot—a favorite chair, the kitchen table, our seat on the bus, a bench in the park—familiarity and history can remind us. A physical activity or posture—kneeling, closing our eyes, raising our hands, dancing, singing, hiking, running, or stretching—can remind us.

We can even remind ourselves of God’s presence through specific mental exercises, such as the Prayer of Examen or Christian meditation practices.

Whether through physical or mental means, remind yourself regularly that God is with you. The temple Ezekiel describes was never built. Jesus, however, builds his temple in and through us. The City and Temple with the name “the Lord is there” is the church and wherever Christians are gathered, Jesus is among us.

Wherever you go, as a Christian, you take with you the spirit of the city of God. Practice remembering that “the Lord is there.” Walk like it. Talk like it. Treat people like the God who loves them is standing with you. Because he is.

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 48(Listen 6:15)
2 Timothy 3(Listen 2:21

Read more about Time Tested Devotion
Pray the Examen regularly and it will tutor you in practicing the presence of God.

Read more about The Practice of Meditation — Tea
The tea analogy is helpful to explain the contrast between Christian meditation and other meditative practices.

Shall We Gather at the River?

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 47:1, 12
1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 
12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

Reflection: Shall We Gather at the River?
By Erin Newton

Ezekiel’s vision of the new Temple is confusing. Scholars have spent years researching the final chapters of Ezekiel. Truly, the reality of the Temple is a research rabbit trail for another day.

Some of the features of the Temple reveal a deeper meaning of the text. One of these features is the river that flows from the Temple threshold. The prophet follows the streams as they flow deeper and deeper across the land.

On its banks are trees of all kinds. They bear fruit year-round. The leaves are a source of medicine. Where the river meets the salt water, it transforms into a fresh habitat for schools of fish. It is paradise once again.

The river flows from the place of God’s presence, the Temple. This same place where the blood of sacrificial goats, lambs, and bulls had flowed in a meager attempt to reconcile a broken relationship. Blood had often flowed across the threshold, signaling the death of a sacrificial animal. But now, the thresholds drip with life-giving water.

The river holds numerous fish of various kinds. Once, the Nile River was plagued and turned into blood, uninhabitable for any living creature. It became a place of death and brought devastation upon the people. But now, this river teems with life and fishermen will spread their nets from the shore.

The river is lined with all kinds of fruit trees that never cease to provide fruit. There was once a tree in the Garden that caused the downfall of humanity. The fruit that brought death. Fruit that broke the relationship between humanity and God, as well as humanity with itself. But now, this river feeds life-giving water to the trees that never go out of season. It is always spring, and never winter.

And when the land is divided, everyone is included. This Paradise, fed from the fruit and water of life, is divided among twelve tribes. More importantly, the foreigners are allotted land on equal footing as the chosen people. Paradise is open to all of God’s people.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod;
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river…

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. — Psalm 43.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 47(Listen 4:08)
2 Timothy 2(Listen 3:17)

Read more about Christ our Temple, River, and City
Christ himself is our temple. He is the gate, the doorway, through which we enter to worship.

Read more about Hope Among the Traumatized
The living water Jesus and Ezekiel described should flow from us…a river that brings to life…

Warning for Princes

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 45.9
9 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Mark 7.13
13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.

Reflection: Warning for Princes
By John Tillman

The regulations for the nation of Israel don’t line up with forms of government we know today. (And are not intended to recommend a form of government.) The agrarian economy meant that people’s most valuable resource was the land. Their connection to it, even in the city, was far more vital than ours today. The land was originally distributed not by who was the wealthiest but by tribe and family groups.

Ezekiel, after describing the new temple, describes the land that will belong to the people and “the prince.” This prince is strongly warned against violence and greed. He is to do what is just and right. He is not to “dispossess” the people.

There were already many regulations in the levitical law to prevent families from losing their land. However, warnings like this one (and many others in scripture) clue us in that people being dispossessed was a frequent problem. Many “princes” and other leaders became wealthy by seizing up the land of their kinsmen and keeping it.

When Jesus debated with religious leaders, he pointed out that they constantly found ways to negate God’s laws with their traditions. (Mark 7.10-13) For example, everything the religious leaders did to dispossess widows of their homes was “legal.” (Mark 12.38-43) Everything they did to profit off of the sale of animals in the temple was “legal.” (Matthew 21.12-14; Jeremiah 7.9-11) Jesus described what they did to widows as “devouring” and what they did in the temple as “robbery.” These legal acts, he described in violent terms.

Let us remember that it is possible to violate the heart of God’s law while keeping to the letter of it. This should not make us careless about the law, but more careful of our hearts. Ezekiel’s readers likely thought, “We’ll never make the mistakes our parents’ generation did.” Yet, generations later, Jesus chided them for doing exactly that. (Matthew 23.30-39)

These warnings for “princes” are not just for kings. The prophets commonly use “princes” to refer to any leader regardless of their royal lineage. We are these princes and we are just as vulnerable to corruption as they were.

As we guard our own hearts from greed, let us also warn others. There are those who dispossess the poor of what little wealth, dignity, and voice they have. In the name of Jesus, our prince, we can speak up against oppression and do what is just and right.

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.
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.23-24

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 45 (Listen 4:50) 
2 Peter 3 (Listen 3:21)

Read more about Leaders Against Oppression
May we grasp power fearfully and with humility, understanding that God’s first concern with power is that it must not be abused.

Read more about Ahab and David
God can break through and will have mercy whenever there is true repentance.

From The Most Holy Place

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 41.4
He said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.”

Reflection: From The Most Holy Place
By John Tillman

Ezekiel is led on a tour of a temple by “a man whose appearance is like bronze.” (Ezekiel 40.3-4) He matches the appearance of angelic beings or of Jesus when he appears in visions. The man leads Ezekiel around the outer buildings, then up to the portico and into the main hall. (Ezekiel 40.48-49) From there the door of the most holy place is measured and Ezekiel is led inside.

The man tells Ezekiel that what he sees is to be reported to the Israelites in exile. No one in Israel, other than the high priest, would ever see this room, but Ezekiel and his readers, including us, are ushered in. “This is the Most Holy Place.” 

Ezekiel’s temple is neither past nor future. (It does not match Solomon’s, Nehemiah’s, or John’s from Revelation.) It existed as a beautiful hope for the exiles he was writing to. This vision is also for us today. This is part of our beautiful hope. There is a temple, not made by human hands. It exists and will exist. In it we will always be with the Lord. Its doors will all be open to us. We will access “the most holy place” and directly experience the creator of our universe.

But there is another hope. A present hope. An inner hope.

The same Spirit that makes the most holy place holy has been sent to “tabernacle” within us. Each Christian filled with the Holy Spirit possesses, in our inner being, a “most holy place.” The man with the appearance of bronze escorted Ezekiel into this temple, even though his body was in exile in Babylon. No matter where we find ourselves in exile, we are escorted by Jesus into God’s presence.

In this place, we can pray, repent, and be cleansed. In this place, we can find worship, wisdom, and the work God calls us to. From the most holy place we are sent to proclaim truth, enact justice, and announce God’s mercy. 

After priests entered the holy of holies, they exited announcing that the sacrifice had been made and God had blotted out the sins of his people. Every time we exit our times of worship and prayer, we can enter the world of our exile, repeating this message. God has blotted out the sin of his people. With repentance, forgiveness is available to all who will receive it.

Proclaim this message today.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. — Psalm 106.1

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 41 (Listen 4:40) 
1 Peter 4 (Listen 2:50)

Read more about A Temple for Exiles
Watching this new, improved temple being measured must have been an incredibly moving experience for Ezekiel.

Read more about Christ our Temple, River, and City
Christ himself is our temple. He is the gate, the doorway, through which we enter to worship.

Repurposed Weapons

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 39.9-10
9 Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up—the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel.

From John: Today voters in the United States go to the polls in mid-term elections amid concerns of violence either at the polls or afterward when results are known. We continue to pray that Christians would distinguish ourselves as people of peace in contrast to the world and that the results of elections would be clear, legal, and accepted by all candidates and parties without violent speech or actions. We repost today this reflection on how God can and will repurpose the weapons wielded by violent people.

Reflection: Repurposed Weapons
By John Tillman

Ezekiel describes a future war against God’s people that is ended through supernatural means and has an unlikely outcome.

John, in Revelation (Revelation 20.7-11), makes direct reference to this earlier prophecy from Ezekiel, revealing that it is Satan that deceives Gog and Magog, leading them in warfare to their destruction. (Revelation 20.9)

This apocalyptic prophecy is full of poetic symbolism without a simple, decipherable, literal interpretation. An interesting detail is that the weapons left behind by the fallen enemy army will be used as fuel by God’s people for seven years. 

We don’t often cook over fires anymore and modern weapons would not leave much wood behind but that does not mean this vision is unfulfilled. This image is part of a repeated theme in prophecy that humanity’s tools of warfare and destruction will be remade into implements of peace and cultivation. 

What is intended for evil will be used for good. Wooden weaponry will be fuel for cooking fires. Swords will be beaten into plows. God takes weapons that are intended to end life and turns them into tools that bring life. Look at what he did with the cross. 

The Romans and religious leaders thought the cross would end Jesus’ life. The Roman Empire thought that if crucifying Jesus wasn’t enough, they’d crucify thousands of his followers. But the cross couldn’t end the life of the church any more than it could end the life of Jesus. 

The wooden weapon of the cross became a symbol that fuels hope. Every empire that has opposed it has fallen. Hundreds of Empires since have thought that violence by blade, fire, or bullet could stop the church and the gospel. Yet, every empire that opposes it will fall.  The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God. (Revelation 11.15)

Our world, and Satan who rules it, wants us, like Gog and Magog, to be their weapons. “Used in their wars. Used for their gain.” (Rich Mullins, “Higher Education and the Book of Love”) Tragically, we are often deceived and march to war with them, but in Christ we, who have been weaponized, can be remade, recycled, and repurposed. 

May we no longer be swords and shields but basins and towels. (John 13.5
No longer murderers but nourishers.
No longer aggressors but comforters.
No longer destroyers but cultivators.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 39 (Listen 4:51) 
1 Peter 2 (Listen 3:48)

Read more about Unprecedented Peace
“Beat your plowshares into swords” is not a call for God’s people to answer…God will put an end to war.

Read more about Already But Not Yet
Weapons of war are turned into agricultural tools. It is a transition from death-dealing to life-giving.