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.

The Thriving Tree

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 17.22-24
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. 
“ ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ” 

Psalm 60.1-4
1 You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; 
you have been angry—now restore us! 
2 You have shaken the land and torn it open; 
mend its fractures, for it is quaking. 
3 You have shown your people desperate times; 
you have given us wine that makes us stagger. 
4 But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner 
to be unfurled against the bow. 

Reflection: The Thriving Tree
By John Tillman

Biblical authors don’t always explain their visions and parables. Thankfully, Ezekiel explains his visions of trees and eagles.

Nebuchadnezzar, the first eagle, took king Jehoiachin and others into captivity (2 Kings 24.15) and “planted” Zedekiah under Babylonian control. Pharaoh, the second eagle, is who Zedekiah, the “low vine,” entreats for help rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar. “Will it thrive?,” God asks. (Ezekiel 17.9)

Many kings, humbled and seeking God’s face, received miraculous deliverance from their enemies. This was not one of those times. Zedekiah was the opposite of humble.

Refusing to humble himself under the discipline of God, (2 Chronicles 36.12-13) Zedekiah would not accept a reduction in status. He wanted to be a mighty cedar, not a low vine. He wanted the “good old days” back. 

Zedekiah didn’t make his bad decisions alone. A host of religious leaders and yes-men helped. Self-serving false prophets fed Zedekiah’s ego and pride with lies and predictions of great deliverance and salvation.

It doesn’t take too much conjecture to imagine what Zedekiah might have felt and thought. “I’m a descendant of David! God promised to have one of David’s descendants rule forever on this throne. It just can’t be God’s will for me,…I mean…us, to be humiliated like this!” 

Don’t we often look at scripture and our experiences in the same way? “This can’t be what God wants for me! I won’t stand for this kind of treatment! I deserve better! God will vindicate me in this fight!”

Zedekiah’s selfish desires for salvation and a return to power would not be answered because God had already set in motion his long-term plan to save and empower his people. Part of God’s plan to save them was to purify their hearts through exile and suffering. Part of God’s plan to save them was to enact a second Exodus, calling the faithful of his people back from captivity once again.

But God’s ultimate plan was in the tree, the king, only he could plant. (Ezekiel 17.22-25, Jeremiah 23.5-6)

Zedekiah, the king planted by Nebuchadnezzar would fail. Even Nebuchadnezzar would fail in spectacular fashion. Jesus, the king planted by God upon Zion, is the tree that will thrive, bringing all the birds to his shade.

Our path to salvation and restoration follows the steps of the suffering, crucified servant, Jesus. It is only in the shade of Christ’s thriving tree, his cross, that we will thrive.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — 1 Chronicles 16.33
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

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

Read more about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
Our land, our people, our churches, our politics are fractured, God.
We stagger, shaken, fearful, and unsteady.

Read more about Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
Isaiah also shows us the power of accepting suffering as a discipline, while at the same time setting our hope on the future.

Praising Christ’s Righteousness

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 14.13-14
“Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Psalm 55.16-18
As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

From John: The repeated failure of leader after leader after leader who promised to “save” us from various threats makes this post from two years ago more relevant than ever. Within the repeated failure of leaders both religious and political, perhaps we may find a lesson and a judgment against us for continuing to trust in leaders who deceive us more than the God who wishes to free us.

Reflection: Praising Christ’s Righteousness
By John Tillman

We cannot save ourselves. Praise God.

God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.

God specifies that even great men of the past like Noah or Job could not save the country. Neither could the greatest living leader of the Israelites at that time, Daniel. Not even if all three of these men at once were in Israel, could they save it from its destruction.

Praise God we cannot be saved by the righteousness of humans.

Imagine our difficulty finding one trustworthy enough. Imagine hanging our hopes on a great leader, only to watch him or her fall near the end of the race.

Most of us don’t have to imagine it. It has happened. It has happened on the left and on the right. To secular leaders and to Christians. At personal levels and at the highest levels of governmental and institutional power.

Men and women who have betrayed our trust litter the media landscape. Think back over the past year and their faces and headlines will float up from your memory—comedians, judges, police officers, politicians, pastors, writers, journalists. Human leaders who won our trust, but can’t save us.

And the collective effect of humans working together, doesn’t solve the problem. 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. Think of the wide variety of institutions that have failed and continue to fail the people they are meant to help. Banks have failed us. Insurance companies, oil companies, food companies, charities, churches, ministries, and governments have failed us.

Praise God we are free from the delusion that humans and human institutions are infallible.
Praise God that despite the sinfulness of humans and our institutions, we do have a place to put our trust.
Praise God that our salvation does not rely on any person who may turn and betray us or fall into error or sin.
Praise God that we can live in fellowship not because we or “they” are trustworthy, but because we are united in our need for forgiveness and redemption.
Praise God that we can embrace our fellow brothers and sisters with the same mercy that we have been shown.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
God takes his stand in the council of heaven; he gives judgement in the midst of the gods:
“How long will you judge unjustly, and show favor to the wicked?
Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.
They do not know, neither do they understand; they go about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Now I say to you, ‘You are gods, and all of you children of the Most High;
Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.’”
Arise, O God, and rule the earth, for you shall take all nations for your own. — Psalm 82
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 14  (Listen – 4:09)
Psalm 55 (Listen – 2:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 15  (Listen – 1:09), Psalm 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)
Ezekiel 16  (Listen – 10:36), Psalm 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

Read more about Christ—Ruler of Political Leaders
Part of what we say when we say that a structure is God-given is also that God will hold it to account. — NT Wright

Read more about Servants in the Age of Showboats
Truthfully, our emperors have no clothes. They think they are rich, but they are poor, blind, and naked.

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