1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God an they will be my children.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
16The word of the LORD came to me; 17Mortal, when the house of Israel lived on their own soil, they defiled it with their ways and their deeds; their conduct in my sight was like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual period. 18So I poured out my weather upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed among the countries; in accordance with their conduct I judged them. 20But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them “These are the people the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.” 21But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned amount he nations to which they came.
22Therefore, say to the house of Israel, Thus says the LORD GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
We are in exile.
We’ve seen our friends and neighbors swept away by forces that are beyond our control, and we too have be carried off.
We’ve seen the collapse of the traditional institutions of our religion. The temple, once the focus of our national culture, is in ruins, and its glory is only a memory. Our religion is a remnant, finding its life on the margins rather than the center.
The landscape we grew up in, the home we though was forever, has changed. We don’t recognize where we are anymore. We are in exile.
We’ve been here for a while.
Living in the aftermath of catastrophe, of the collapse of all our assumptions, we’re starting to put the pieces back together. Our lives are starting to make sense again. We’re processing the trauma and moving forward with some semblance of trust that tomorrow will indeed come. Our lives may still be lived in desperation, but having been in exile a little while, it’s at least a quiet desperation. Despair is set aside and hope can be entertained once again.
And into that portrait, Ezekiel speaks of a coming restoration. Ezekiel puts our exile into the ongoing story of God. Jeremiah helped us hold on to God in the midst of the collapse of our world. Isaiah helps us to see that the LORD alone is God. Ezekiel shows us that our exile is meant to bring us home to the holiness of God.
The prophet speaks: “The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Mortal, when the house of Israel lived on their own soil, they defiled it with their ways and their deeds.” Even living in what we thought we the glory days, we were already estranged from God. Our uncleanness shone through our actions. “So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood they had shed upon the land, and for the idols with which they had defiled it.” Violence and idolatry, trusting the power of our own hands and forgetting the power of God, we were estranged long before we were in exile. “Sin is not just failure to conform to a moral code but a falling short of the glory of God. That the object of existence is...the acknowledgment of God as he is with all its ramifications - can never be sufficiently emphasized.” The mission of the covenant community is to show all nations that the LORD is God, but we did not do that, so God sent us into exile.
“I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; in accordance with their conduct and their deeds I judged them.” We’re in exile, have been for a while now. We worked hard to earn our place in this exile. Though the landscape has changed, the mission of the covenant community, to proclaim that the LORD is God, continues. Our exile teaches us not to trust in our own power, or in any political ideology. Those are the violence and the idolatries that earned us this exile. Our exile is not only punishment, it’s the beginning of the coming restoration. “The exilic experience itself makes restoration possible because it is during the exile that the people come to a truer understanding of [the LORD’s] power and wisdom.” By exiling us far from our comfort zones, God brings us closer to himself.
That newfound intimacy, however, is not enough. The covenant community is growing closer to God, but the rest of the nations don’t understand. “When they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’” The other nations see a people in captivity, and assume that the LORD couldn’t protect them. The same exile that leads us closer to God also leads those who still worship their own strength to believe that the LORD is weak.
We know, of course, that the LORD is mighty, powerful, sovereign over all creation. We know that there is no God but God. We know that the LORD’s steadfast love endures forever. We know that the name of the LORD is holy. Yet our exile is making God look bad among the nations to which we came. “But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations to which they came.” Ezekiel puts forth a bold promise: Exile is not forever. There is a coming restoration. Once again, the LORD GOD is about to act.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the LORD GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.”
These two verses are my favorite in all of scripture. They remind me that it’s not all about me. We have the tradition of God forgives us out of love in other places, but here in Ezekiel, it’s not about us “This nuance of motivation is important, because it exhibits in the Ezekiel tradition a very different Yahwistic grounding for Israel’s future, a hope rooted not in love but in holiness.” We are not the focus of our religion. The LORD is. We can have faith while the temple lies in ruins in Jerusalem, because we know the LORD is holy. We can have faith while we are in exile, because we know that the LORD can work anywhere God chooses. We can face the new landscape laid out in front of us, because the mission of the covenant community is based on God, not on our comfort. Even though we are not up to the task at hand, we can still work on it, because it’s not about our ability, but the LORD’s.
Story of Tim Fossett’s assignment on Prufrock
The coming restoration is not a return to normalcy. The old days may have been grand, but they were broken. We grew to love worship our institutions rather than the God who institutes. We serve our own interests and comforts, rather than the God who comforts the those who mourn. We proclaimed our own glory, instead of the glory of the LORD our God. If we look through more than our nostalgia, we can see the brokenness of the good old days. God isn’t interested in restoring brokenness, God’s coming restoration is to holiness, and to the goodness God intended from the beginning. The end of the age will wrap right around to the beginning. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” says the Lord. There is a coming restoration, and our exile in an ongoing part of restoring us to right relationship, so that we can glorify God and enjoy him forever.
The covenant community has a special role to play in all that process. It’s not because we are special, or holy, or somehow superior to the nations to which God has sent us. After all, everywhere we go we seem to profane the holy name of the LORD. Yet even though we are not up to the task, God is going to work through us anyway. “The nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the LORD GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” Through you, through me, through the house of Israel, and through the Church of Jesus Christ, God is at work through sinners like us so that all the nations will know that the LORD is God.