This story is full of what people could see and how it affected them. The pharisees jealous of the numbers Jesus was attracting, the woman who saw the differences between Jews and Samaritans, the disciples who saw something out of the ordinary. Compare all this to what Jesus saw.
This vision was a reminder that God had not forgotten his people or decided to withhold his mercy. It was a promise that one day there would be a life outside of exile. It’s worth noting that in this vision Ezekiel is being shown a life centred around God, life which is watered by the streams that flow through the temple, life that comes from God. This is the hope in which we come to God this morning, hope that regardless of who we are, or what’s going in in our lives, and I know for some of us life’s hard. Covid worries, job worries, family worries. I’ve talked to people who’ve told me they never imagined life would be like this. The hope of Ezekiel is the promise of a new life, a new heaven, a new earth. It is the hope of a new beginning when we come to Christ because we know the mess of the past will be left behind.
It’s among these dry bones, in the dark tunnel, during the hopelessness, darkness; in the midst of the sin in our lives that eats us up inside that God said this to Ezekiel, and please to anyone who feels like this, listen carefully. ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a new heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
Last week we talked about how Jesus expected his church to care for the sick, visit those in prison and feed the hungry. The role of the shepherd was to point to how the spiritual life of Jerusalem, how corporate and individual worship had gone astray. Idols, greed, lack of adherence to the law of God – the shepherd was to draw the people back to God and away from those things that would only bring harm. They failed in every respect.
No matter who we are, regardless if we are part of God’s church or his people, God is concerned about how we treat one another – especially his people and those who depend on God as their defender and shield. The nations Ezekiel prophesied against took advantage of Israel’s predicament – the Babylonian exile. They gloated over Israel’s fall; rejoiced in their misery; rushed to betray them.
As we look around our world and ask the question where is God in all of this? I wonder is God asking us in return, never mind where I am – where are you in all of this? Is the God you are looking for the God of scripture or some other god we’ve imagined or would like to be real. A god who’s always there for us, who does what we ask of him but in reality, leaves us alone the rest of the time allowing us to live our lives however we want and is actually quite happy with this arrangement. This is not the god of scripture
Today is our first Sunday back in Moneydig Church. I wonder how do we feel about this? How do we see or understand the fact we’re back? Is it an opportunity, a second chance or simply the continuation of what has always been?
Folks, where do we find meaning? There has been a lot of talk this week about exam results. Young people not getting the results they expected, worrying they won’t have the future they hoped for. Do we place to much meaning in exams? Do we try to find meaning in the freedoms we fight for? Freedom to march; to marry; live as we want. What have these freedoms cost us? Do these freedoms help us to find meaning in life? Jesus said he is the vine. Apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) The only place we can find meaning for life is in Jesus Christ, everything else is ultimately useless, fit for burning.
As we read chapters 12, 13 and 14 it isn’t a new vision we’re presented with but a play for Ezekiel to act out. Ezekiel’s play was for the benefit of those already exiled in Babylon with him. It was a play about the fate of Jerusalem and its people, from the king, to the lowliest servant. The exiles were being told what would happen in Jerusalem so as they would get into their head that God was serious about the punishment he was promising to bring forward.
As Ezekiel cried out to God so he heard something wonderful. God promised that even for those in Exile; even in his anger; in his perfect justice and judgement, God would still care for his people. He would be a sanctuary. God promised Ezekiel that he would bring his people back not only to Jerusalem, but to that special covenantal relationship with God. ‘They will be my people, and I will be their God.’ (11:20)