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.

Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 19.1
“Take up a lament concerning the princes of Israel…”

Ezekiel 18.31-32
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Reflection: Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)
By John Tillman

God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. Neither should his followers.

Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah sang songs of lament and loss to people who wished to sing songs of war and triumph. When people want war and triumph at any cost, telling the truth is seen as weakness, or worse, as treason.

Their relationship to those in power, including the kings in Jerusalem, was tenuous. Your life will always be in danger when you aren’t telling the powerful what they want to hear.

But despite their words of judgment to the kings and rulers of Judah and Israel, both men deeply loved their country, their kings, and the people. In this section, Ezekiel takes up a lament for the “princes of Israel.” 

The first of the two lions is most likely Jehoahaz, who was carried off in chains to Egypt by Pharaoh. The second is either Jehoiachin or Zedekiah, both of whom ended their lives in captivity in exile.

Part of what we learn from this lament is to not be like these young leaders who became abusive and prideful. Scripture tells us they “did evil in the sight of the Lord” and Ezekiel describes them as “man eaters.” Staying humble and using power responsibly is a worthy lesson.

But the surprising lesson is that even wicked kings are worthy of lament when they fall. No matter what we may think of leaders’ foolish decisions or reckless waste, their fall and failure will mean pain and suffering for many. The removal of a bad leader is often like the lancing of a boil or a surgery to remove cancer. There is pain, suffering, mess, scarring, and there is often still a chance that the patient will not recover.

Eventually, Jerusalem’s true king would come to her. After many lions, many blood-spillers, many deceivers, many charlatans, her true king would come. He would come as a lamb, not a lion, riding on a lowly donkey, daring the rocks to cry, “Hosanna!” He would come to her Temple with zeal, scattering the trappings of greed in place of prayer.

Whether leaders fall from governmental office, from corporate throne rooms, or from the pulpits of our churches, their fall hurts more people than just themselves. The kingdom suffers.

May we lament fallen leaders, confessing their sins and ours, as we await and serve our true King.

Divine Hours 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

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 19  (Listen – 2:12)
Psalm 64-65 (Listen – 2:39)

Read more about Seeking Righteousness
What happens to good people when they don’t live under good leaders?

Read more about Praising Christ’s Righteousness
If anything, human institutions magnify the failures of individual leaders. How pitiful a situation we would be in if our salvation relied on human institutions.

Sinless Descendants

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 18.1-3, 29-31
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: 

         “ ‘The parents eat sour grapes, 
         and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. 

29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! 

Reflection: Sinless Descendants

By John Tillman

Western individualists love when God says he will not punish righteous children for the sins of unrighteous parents but we ignore what is happening around these verses and what they mean.

“The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” (Ezekiel 18.2; Jeremiah 31.29) was a proverb quoted by people complaining that God was treating them unfairly.

They felt they were righteous and should not suffer for their parents’ sins. In the same way, many today deny any connection or responsibility for crimes of previous generations. 

So, what happened to these people attempting to deny the sins “from the past” that they supposedly were innocent of? They died or went into exile for their sins. This shows that although they claimed to be blameless, they were not. God says to them, “Is it not your ways that are unjust.” 

They failed to recognize the connection between their parents’ sins and their own actions.

They weren’t innocent of their parents’ sins because they were perpetuating them. 

Jesus attacked this kind of argument from the Pharisees, who said that they, if they had been alive, would not have killed the prophets. Jesus told them directly that what they said was a lie and that they did share the same sin as the previous generations. That sin came to fruition when they put him to death.

God’s description of the righteous son (Ezekiel 18.14-17) is not a case study of an actual person. Such a son, who rejects the sins of previous generations did not exist in Ezekiel’s time and does not in ours either. This passage is a hypothetical narrative—an example created by God to defend his righteousness.

Jesus is the true sinless son sent by God to enact his righteousness. Jesus is the only sinless son who fully rejected the evil of his earthly fathers before him. He is the sinless son who chose to die not for his own sin but for the sins of all who would call upon him.

Jesus takes the cup of our sour grapes from us, drinking it so that we don’t have to. Today is the day to which Ezekiel and Jeremiah referred, when the cycle of sin can be broken. If we drop our denials, and look to the sinless son, we can be set free from our own sins and the sins of the past.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he shows us his mercy, — Psalm 123.1-3

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

Today’s Readings

Ezekiel 18  (Listen – 5:26)
Psalm 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)

Read more about Model of an Exile
May we confront and be humbled by difficult truths about our sins.
May we be comforted by Christ who bears our sins.

Read more about Have Mercy
We think of sins as individual actions but that is only one dimension of sin.

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