The Shepherd that Seeks

The Shepherd that Seeks

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 The Prophet Ezekiel by Michelangelo (1510) Today we hear from Ezekiel, a smart and kind of strange prophet from the late 6th century.  That was a tough time to be an Israelite, because it was the period of the exile.  The Northern Kingdom had been kicked out of their share of the Promised Land since 722 BC, when the Assyrians came to power.  For the Southern Kingdom this exile is a fresher wound; the Babylonians took Jerusalem in 587 BC.  Ezekiel lived in that southern kingdom… lived in the past tense, because now he’s been forcibly deported 600 miles east to modern-day Iraq. Ezekiel has a message for God’s exiled people: God is searching for you. Ezekiel the prophet uses the image of the shepherd to explain this phenomenon.  “I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out,” Ezekiel says for God (34:11).  Imagine the sigh of relief this must have given the Israelites, to hear that God will find them and bring them home. Yes, it’d surely give them relief… if they could make it through the first 33 chapters of Ezekiel’s message. Chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel is a message of doom on a people who worshipped other gods not only near God’s temple, but in God’s temple.  Ezekiel’s vision is of God’s presence leaving that temple.  He compares Israel to an unfaithful spouse.  After all that – like an angry man ready to snap at the next person who comes into view – Ezekiel spends chapters 25 through 32 judging the surrounding nations. No one gets off the hook.  Mistakes have been...
Remembering God When Things are Good

Remembering God When Things are Good

Deuteronomy 8:10-20 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:10). Easier said than done, I think. I speak as one with authority, because today’s Scripture is preparing the Israelites to go from the wilderness into civilized life… and if you know me at all, you know I’ve spent my fair share of time in the wilderness.  As a backpacker, I’ve made my bed in a sleeping bag under a tarp.  I’ve packed up and walked and designated a new plot of land as “home” each night.  I haven’t survived on manna, but I have lived on the food I could carry:  dry goods and simple meals where “add boiling water” is the bulk of the recipe. In the wilderness you learn to ration… or you go hungry.  Then sometimes you do ration and you still go hungry.  You’re hungry for something besides granola bars and dry ramen noodles.  You’re thirsty for something besides plain lukewarm water. All this hunger and thirst and rationing leads a person to daydream about leaving the wilderness. Which is a funny thing about backpacking.  When I get to go on a hiking trip, I look forward to it for months.  And then, when I’m actually out in the wilderness… after about day 2 all I can think about are my creature comforts back home. I’m not totally convinced, but I think it’s possible that the main reason I like backpacking is the glorious moment when I step off the trail and into a climate-controlled vehicle… the triumphant ride back to...
How to be a house that serves the LORD

How to be a house that serves the LORD

Joshua 24:14-25 Joshua is old.  He is about to die. He has time for a farewell speech, though.  It’s a good speech, reviewing everything God has done for Israel:  setting them free from Egypt; leading them through the wilderness; bringing them to this promised land; allowing them to defeat bigger armies with bigger soldiers.  I can picture the people getting pumped up remembering all those victories. Then the trip down memory lane builds to a challenge: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:14-15). The people have a choice.  Neither God nor Joshua is going to make them serve God.  They can choose to go serve other gods, if they want. Joshua just made that good speech, though, so the people are prime for this kind of commitment.  Their hearts full of inspiration make the right answer obvious.  “We will serve the LORD!” the people say. “You better mean it,” Joshua says (my paraphrase).  “God won’t put up with unfaithfulness.” “We won’t be unfaithful – we will serve the LORD!” the people say. So they say. And so we say – in the moment.  It’s easy when we’re in church or at some retreat.  The right answer is...

Crossing Over

Joshua 3:7-17 Israel has been waiting for this promise to be kept. Ever since the twelve spies scouted the Promised Land out; and ten of them doubted it was possible to take this land for themselves – so God gave them 40 more years to think about it (Numbers 13-14). Ever since they made a golden calf to worship, and God got mad, and threatened to not go along with them at all (Exodus 32-33). Ever since they wondered how they’d have enough to eat or enough to drink to even survive the journey – and God provided (Exodus 16-17). Ever since they were backed up at the Red Sea trying to get out of Egypt – and God parted the waters so they could pass (Exodus 14). Ever since Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh with twelve plagues (Exodus 7-12). Ever since they were slaves in Egypt and they cried out to God for help, and God heard their cry and called Moses (Exodus 2-3). Ever since all that, Israel has been waiting to make it to the Promised Land. And here they are:  crossing the Jordan River. There are few things as delicious as a long-awaited moment now arrived.  Like Christmas morning come for children, or retirement day come for adults.  After 40 years (and then some) of anticipation, the Israelites are finally here. Now that they’re walking across the Jordan and into what will become their permanent home, now that they’re celebrating and we’re celebrating with them, it’s easy to forget just how long they waited to get here. Forty years… and then some. Because before the...