September 25, 2011
September 25, 2011
Ms. Terry Edwards, Seminarian
May the words that I speak- and the words that you hear, be from God. Amen
The scriptural thread -that weaves together our lectionary readings is –the concept of authority. A closer look at these readings-gives us the opportunity to see how different communities understood the concept of “authority” and how it affected their lives.
The word “authority” can make us uncomfortable, or not, depending on whether we have any. It brings apprehension when authority means someone holds power or extreme influence over our lives that can affect our well-being. For the Israelites, in our first reading, the concept of the word authority meant control - complete control by an invading force, the Babylonians.
The Babylonians, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Israel, destroying the temple and forcing many of the prominent citizens into exile in Babylon.
Ezekiel, prophet and priest to the Israelites, ministered to this exiled community and had deemed the invading Babylonian forces as “instruments of God”- sent to carry out God’s will. You see, the Israelites were worshiping the gods of their neighbors, eating food offered to idols, and committing acts that made them -in the eyes of God -“an impure and unholy nation”, thus justifying their capture and exile, Ezekiel prophesized. And as Ezekiel decreed, God sent an invading force, the Babylonians, as retribution and judgment for the sins committed by God’s people; for this, Ezekiel said, was the only way that the land could be redeemed and cleansed of their sins.
Nonetheless-Ezekiel, not wanting the Israelites to lose sight of God’s bigger plan -proclaimed that both the Israelites and the Babylonians were under God’s authority. Now Ezekiel-exercising the prophet’s call-proclaimed a vision of God’s people, Israel, as “a valley of dry bones”. And although these “dry bones” appeared lifeless and dead, God could breath life into these bones- Ezekiel prophesied- thereby explaining to the exiles -how living under the authority of God, their whole nation would once again be restored and returned to Israel.
But the exiles were apprehensive about returning to Israel. They were concerned that the authority of the covenantal laws of Israel would require them to be punished for their father’s sins, and their concern was expressed in their repeating the proverb, “ the parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. “No”, responded the LORD. You will not be punished and held responsible for the sinful deeds done by your fathers.
Now this story illustrates how knowing the nature and the aspects of the “authority figure ”will affect the outcome and the relationship you have. Strange as it may sound, the experience of the exile in Babylon gave the Israelites an opportunity to learn anew, about being in a relational covenant with God. The exile in Babylon gave their generation the opportunity to become reacquainted with the ways of God and how to walk in God’s paths again.
As did the first exile community- when the Israel was led out of Egypt by Moses- to become a nation under the One God- the people relearned how God moves in their lives. And the operational word is “move”.
During the first exile, the Israelites- as they moved through the desert had the visual of the pillar of fire leading them – God was on the move- God was where they were, in the desert, on the mountain, in a bush, facing down their enemies; where the people were -God was there also. Even when they built God a temple in the desert- the temple was portable and it went with the people. The temple glowed; a cloud encompassed it; and smoke emanated from it-, “Ah! God is in our mist”, said the people.
The people and their leaders had come to know this moving God and how God always lives among God’s people, dealing with the mundane; the everyday joys and the everyday tribulations of their lives and they had learned what it meant to live with God in their mist and live under the authority of God before they could enter the promise land.
The exiles in Babylon were a people that had believed in the authority of the temple, -build a temple and God will come. Although they were disobedient to God’s law, they reckoned as long as the temple existed- God remained in their mist, in the temple, - no matter what God’s people did or how they lived. Now -the temple no longer existed, the Babylonian army had destroyed it. They reasoned that God had abandoned the temple and that God had abandoned God’s people.
Ezekiel had to teach them, in a foreign land, about the authority of the God of Israel and how God continually wanted to be in relationship with them no matter where they dwelt. They served a faithful God who would allow a recalcitrant and disobedient people to grow and prosper even in exile; and a loving God who would always welcome God’s people home.
Where does our proclamation of the Good News lie today? It lies in the authority of a God that moves with us in this journey called life - showing the way, lighting our path, providing spiritual sustenance for the journey; Our good news is found in a God that finds us- even when we have strayed into foreign lands -and shelters us even in times of exile, wanting and waiting to bring -and to welcome us home.
Good News is found in the authority of Jesus, God’s son, sent to proclaim a new order and usher in the year of the LORD- where the sick would be made well, the lame made to walk, the blind to see and the prisoners set free. The authority that Jesus proclaims rings of compassion and kindness, -love and joy.
Jesus meets all people, excluding none, around a common table, like we do every Sunday. And regardless of background, social status or ethnicity, - a place is made for all -at a table where God welcomes all.