Questions and Reflections

Category: Ezekiel

Rattling Bones

Ezekiel is having a moment today. In our first reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14), "the hand of the Lord" sets him down in the middle of a valley. Ezekiel is having a vision which might be happening only in his mind. For him, this could be a very vivid dream. But I like to make this story real. I see God physically grabbing Ezekiel by the hair and carrying him into this valley full of dried bones. When he lands, I imagine his feet touching the bones. The bones rustle, clang, and clatter as he kicks them around. His religious concern about being unclean is overwhelmed by the sheer number of bones he sees. The visual overload he is experiencing would stop him from even processing what is going on. In that moment, he wouldn't know what to say. His brain would just shut down. He could do nothing but look and see. And, in the process, he would be as still and dry as the bones around him. 

God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Prophesy is more than a prediction of the future. Prophecy is a life-giving word for right now. The words Ezekiel shares are words of promise. As he speaks, life takes hold, even among old bones. The bones start to move. The bones start to rattle. And if I was there with Ezekiel, I would be terrified. It's sometimes easier to stay among dry bones than to see those bones rattled. It's sometimes easier to stay with the status quo or keep things the way they are than to see the chaos and unpredictability that rattling can bring about. As the bones rattle, fear grows. But the rattling of bones is not the end of the story. Change happens. The bones turn into something new. As the vision evolves, God's own breath comes into view. 

When Ezekiel experienced this vision, he was living through  the destruction of Jerusalem. Waves and waves of people were being deported from the city. The Babylonians would burn God's Temple to the ground. The dry bones Ezekiel sees are not only metaphorical. They point to a community feeling hopeless because their sense of who they are is coming undone. Their world felt like it was coming to an end. But God promises God's presence even when conflict, loss, and fear are all we feel. God's Word makes a difference. And the final chapter of the story God is writing is a story that includes hope, life, love, and us. 


Keep Reading >>

A reflection on Ezekiel: God the Shepherd

The First Reading is Ezekiel 34:11-16.

Today's first reading comes after the prophet Ezekiel condemns the false shepherds (i.e. leaders) of Judah. God's word labels the kings and queens of Jerusalem as false because they do not do what a shepherd does. A shepherd takes care of the sheep but Ezekiel's contemporaries do not. The leaders take for themselves, giving their sheep nothing. They feed themselves but not those who need it. They do not strengthen the weak, take care of the injured, heal the sick, or bring back those who have strayed. Instead, with force and fear, they rule over others. The sheep (i.e. the people) become "food for all the wild animals." The people are scattered and alone. No one sees them, except for God. 

God promises the people around Ezekiel that God is their shepherd. God will do what the leaders did not do. God will heal the sick, feed everyone, seek out those far away, and bring everyone home. God will reconcile God's people to God's promises. God invites the people to experience a promise others will make but only God can fulfill it.

But If we remember where Ezekiel is when this word from God comes to him, we see God making an extraordinary claim. Ezekiel is in Babylon, preaching and teaching among the exiles. Everyone is far from home. God's House, and their city are gone, are gone. In a culture where wars were more than just nation against nation but gods vs gods, the destruction of Jerusalem appears to show God being defeated. Babylon's gods won so how can God claim to be Israel's shepherd? 

This question is at the heart of the experience of the Exiles. They expected a certain amount of material success since they were God's people. But with Jerusalem destroyed, that expectation is gone. Faith, without material support (i.e. wealth, prestige, fame, etc) can feel like we're doing faith wrong. 

But it's telling that God, in this passage, doesn't promise wealth. God doesn't say that God's people will end up as rock stars or high priced CEO's. God promises relationship. Faith isn't about things; faith is about being connected to the source of everything. God makes a promise to people feeling isolated and alone that God sees them, loves them, and will not give up on them. God's people have God's presence and no one, not even the gods and military might of Babylon, can take that away from them.


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Ezekiel meeting God

The First Reading is Ezekiel 1:1, 4-9,13-15,18-21,22,26-28. 

When you first met God, did you have a vision like Ezekiel? I’ll admit that I did not. Instead of seeing winged creatures, a giant throne, and an image of the divine full of fire, my experience of Jesus was quieter. When I reflect on my faith journey, I first noticed Jesus in the love of my extended family, through the testimony of friends and strangers, and in the beauty of art, music, and laughter. I met Jesus through the everyday occurrences of the ordinary. The prophet Ezekiel, however, has a different experience.

Ezekiel, like the book of Revelation, is a book filled with images because the prophet speaks through pictures. His prophetic activity probably started around 593 BCE (BC), prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Like Jeremiah, he talked about the coming destruction of the Temple and the Exile. Unlike Jeremiah, however, Ezekiel survives and continues to preach through the early part of the Exile. The population of Jerusalem is in Babylon yet God’s words still come to them.

Ezekiel begins with an image of God. The description of winged creatures and a chariot bring to mind the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. God is not confined to any one place but is completely other-worldly. God cannot be tamed and is, instead, “holy beyond our understanding and control” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009). When God appears to Ezekiel, Ezekiel can only see a glimpse of God’s outline and glory. The flames, winds, and fantastic creatures are a reminder that we are not as powerful as we think we are. God can go anywhere and moves seamlessly in any direction. God isn’t trapped in a linear experience of time. God isn’t limited to human expectations or controls. Instead, Ezekiel reminds us that God is God and we are not. 



Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Ezekiel 34

This text from Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 is God’s reminder that we are always at the front of God’s mind even if God isn’t on the front of ours.

The former bishop of the New Jersey Synod said something like this recently at a preaching workshop on Advent but I believe our Old Testament reading from today says something very similar. This is the last Sunday of the church year. Not long ago, it gain its own name: Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. Scripture lessons were picked to lift up the presence of Christ in our lives and to challenge us by asking who (or what) really structures how we live our life. 

In this piece from Ezekiel, God takes the initiative to search for God’s own people. This can easily be seen as a radical act on God’s part. So much of our approach to spirituality and faith can appear to be centered on ourselves. We ask questions about what we believe, what we stand for, and what feeds our souls. These questions are powerful and necessary to sustain our faith journey. But God turns this around. No longer is God asking for the people to turn towards God, God is now actively going to God’s people. God isn’t asking God’s people to be perfect before God reaches down to them. God comes to God’s people after calamity and during suffering. God comes to care for God’s people. And God does this because that is just what God does. 

The language of covenant and promise are all over this piece of Ezekiel because God is a God of promise. These promises are not made because we are wonderful but because God is love. God comes to meet us in baptism, in the words of scripture, in our prayers, and in holy communion to share with us that God’s promises are true promises that we cannot make broken. God cares for us. God comes to break injustice. God comes to renew, restore, and resurrect. God’s story is that we are always on God’s mind even if, during our busy lives, God isn’t always on ours.


Keep Reading >>