Ezekiel 22

This is an early exile group in Babylon, and Ezekiel is a source of God-given news about Jerusalem. It’s all bad.

This chapter has a brutal picture of a corrupt society. The powerful are depicted as a savage bunch of wild animals that tear people and social order apart to satisfy their appetites.

The priesthood is painted as whitewashing the greed and self dealing of the powerful for the own advantage, with no care for the average people.

The test of a society is it’s treatment of the vulnerable: poor, needy and foreigners. Jerusalem’s are robbed, extorted and denied justice.

We have these things called lobbyists. Persuading the government who are supposed to represent us to instead serve the interests of the coal lobby, or the stock market. Inequality is tangibly rising in so many Western democracies. More and more people are locked out of home ownership. The picture of Jerusalem might be worse in some ways, but we have some pretty big ills.

There’s a messianic word at the end about someone who could stand in the gap between Jerusalem and God’s wrath.

So we get away with it? Now Jesus is here? What is the accountability? This question fuels my addiction to U.S. politics. How long, lord, how long?

Matthew 7

Swallow your pride. God’s will be done. Switch off your worry. That was the thrust of Jesus’ sermon so far.

Today’s third part of the sermon on the mount is full of warning and promise. It’s for those who have heard or started to hear, God’s truth.

Even if you only have an inkling, some fragment of it that excites your spiritual longing; ask, seek and knock until you find more. Be seeking and doing God’s will.

It will be much easier not to. Many don’t, most in fact. And since the first step is swallowing your pride, don’t expect them to admit it. You’ll encounter false prophets and false disciples.

You’ll need brilliant discernment. We are all sinners, only God can judge – work on your own sin rather than judging others for theirs.

But be aware and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are presenting as the answer but don’t want to do God’s will.

Look at their fruit… more than their theology? Words are easier to fake than actions I suppose. And think carefully. They hear gods truth but it’s like pearls being given to a pig.

At the end of the sermon the people are astonished at Jesus’authority in teaching, so it’s pretty clear for that context these “pig” teachers are their usual teachers. What an insult.

It ends with the wise man building on the rock, which is Jesus’ words. And Jesus words? Seek God’s will.

It’s arguably circular: our work is to build solid houses in rock, and store treasure in heaven based on seeking and doing God’s will. And what is god’s will? That god’s will be done.

But at the heart of it is our inability to be righteous before God, and how that plays out into our life. It’s about honesty before God, and becoming agents, not blockers, of God’s love.

I do feel burdened by worry caused by my own inability to trust God and act. I feel very called on to act, very unequal to task. Give me strength.

Ezekiel 13

These chapters are each a “word of the Lord” and end with “then you you know that I am Lord”, a phrase I associate with an almighty thud, like an anvil falling in a Warner brothers cartoon.

Today’s will be the exposure of false prophets, the ones who are selling comfort and peace.

Those are good things, unless they are works of the imagination that mislead people, give them false hope, are motivated by being invested in the power and wealth structures of the status quo, and lead people to act against their own best interests.

Climate change deniers come to mind, in the modern world.

In the church I suppose wishy washy theology comes to mind, people who know more than they let on about the love of Jesus, because of the gospel’s tendency to divide opinion. There are some prices too high for a positive vibe.

And I don’t say that easily, as someone who values it more than many.

A lot of the chapter is taken up with a wall metaphor. Very apt, considering they lived in a walled city under threat of siege.

God talks about the folly of whitewashing over weaknesses to gain false comfort, rather than acknowledging risk and danger, and actually making a strong wall.

As someone who has always lived in old houses in a termite prone area, I know all about walls that are held together just by paint. It’s amazing how plausible they can look, and how easily they crumble.

I got cathartic with my boss at work yesterday at our regular meeting, and it felt like such a good thing. I’m a conflict avoider, and he’s worse! He wasn’t going to raise it. But I jumped in at the end. We’ve been struggling, and the whitewash of smiley patter just hasn’t been cutting it.

I think we strengthened the wall, I hope so.

Ezekiel 8

Ezekiel sees visions of idolatry in the temple. It’s a condemnation of fake religion, hypocrisy. It’s when your symbols and structures of faith have no actual faith happening in them.

You expect the idolatry to be outside the church, oppositional to it, not in the centre, where God should be.

I came to it off reading an article which linked the current generational distaste for churches with trumpian evangelical politics, drawing parallels to the Protestant revolution and the French revolution.

Why People Hate Religion https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/opinion/trump-religion.html.

It’s way easy, of course, to blend into the mix of everything wrong with Christians everything that you don’t personally like God saying to you.

And politics is an overly simple lens – Christians are more nuanced than progressive-always-good, conservative-always-bad.

I get tired of the attitude from non Christian friends of being able to barely tolerate us feeding some poor people, as long as we never ever say anything gody. It’s about Jesus,ok?

But too many people, for too many reasons, look at the church and see a vision like Ezekiel saw in this chapter. Worshipping lies, money, sex and power.

Job 5

Very conventional wisdom. Eliphaz continues his advice to Job, and it is so familiar. He has this oblique, passive aggressive way of not directly accusing Job of being more of a sinner than he will admit, but just leaving it hanging there.

You know: God’s punishment doesn’t come from nowhere… He is a God of justice… Don’t despise God’s punishment… We should accept God’s discipline and learn from it…

I’ll be interested to see how Job defends himself, because this sort of attack is so slippery. It’s comes from a strong assumption of who Job is, but if Job says ‘what are you saying I’ve done wrong?’ Eliphaz could easily say ‘nothing!’ grrr!

Reminds me of my aunty Joan, bless her, gone now and basically a wonderful person and loads of fun.

But she did have this thing of stopping to deliver little sermons. I’d just switch off as soon as it started, refusing to hear it almost on principle, and just nod and hope it would finish soon, so things could get back to being normal.

Happens with my kids too, sometimes when I try to inject Christianity into the mix. I know it’s clumsy, like a lead balloon as soon as I start talking.

It’s to do with a lack of shared experience. Failure to judge the moment, not salt in season. Just putting Christian platitudes into a random conversation, no matter how accurate and correct, in the absence of a genuine relationship, is empty.

St Paul would say love is the missing element here, Eliphaz has become a banging gong.

I think Eliphaz’s argument is ultimately self protecting too. It so tempting to divide ourselves into victims and comforters, vulnerable and strong. If we can be the advisor, the helper the fixer, the preacher, it protects us from the role of weakling, out of control, broken, foolish.

Jesus became all those things even less deservedly than Job, for us. He was deep down in the weeds, with us, alongside us, sharing it. That’s the example.

Psalm 50

This psalm is by Asaph, who is mentioned in chronicles as a seer as well as a musician. He’s good at singing and cymbals, apparently.

It sent me to the commentary, I found it hard to follow. But they made it quite clear. The people of God are judged for two things: empty ritualism and hypocrisy.

They quoted the preacher Spurgeon. Always a good idea. He said of ritualism ‘what was meant to instruct became their confidence’

So true! For Israel it was the animal sacrifices. They were supposed to consider that the blood shed should have been theirs, and repent of their sin. Learn.

But its so easy to instead think that you have given God something, be it an animal or any other regular duty… Going to church, reading your Bible, taking communion.

As the psalm dramatically points out, God doesn’t need anything, he already owns the cattle on 1000 hills. We need… To acknowledge him, humbly call on him.

Ditto hypocrisy, which is dealt with in the second half of the psalm.

The set up is significant though. It starts with a huge stage, all of Earth witnessing God shining from Zion, fire and tumult announcing his presence. And he judges his people first.

You would think judgement day would be one day when we could be smug. ‘Aha – now the unbelievers are in trouble’ we might think. But our ritualism, our hypocrisy, and the call on us to repent is the judgement held up before the whole earth.

And this judgement day isn’t necessarily at the end of time, it’s just God’s judgement. It’s happening as the song is being sung. The second half of the psalm talks about God being patient, giving us time while he remains silent to repent before we are torn apart (!)

And so it remains. And how misguided, how hypocritical do we often appear to the world. The response is so often to defend ourselves, rather than to show the world what true repentance and mercy looks like.

We have no right to feel smug, our repentance is part of the hope of the whole world.

I’ve had a few things happening but today is not the day, maybe tomorrow’s Psalm I’ll talk about it.

I’m enjoying the Psalms! I’m taking them as devotional moments, meditations. I think I got impatient with them before because they seemed repetitive and the book as a whole wasn’t going anywhere. But sometimes repetition is good, like coffee. I never ask ‘what does today’s coffee add to yesterday’s coffee?’ Psalms is more of a series of coffee breaks than a journey.

2 Chronicles 11

A sad political chapter. Israel divides along religious lines.

Everyone who wants to worship in the temple joins the two tribes who occupy the South, including all the Levite/ priest tribe.

The rest set up an alternative religion in the North.

They worship a calf, the folk religion from the wilderness years after the flight from Egypt.

There must have been festering political unrest from Solomon’s time.

It nearly erupts into civil war, but the word of a man of God averts it. It’s the only reference to God, as opposed to religion, in the chapter.

The southern king fortifies various towns anyway.

Working in a Christian organisation, it’s the case that it’s easy for politics to dominate a lot of the time. It’s important to keep connected to God, and in that balance the fairness to those who don’t necessarily believe.

We despair over the decline in the church, but even at this high point of an identity as the people of God, 9 out of 12 tribes were largely unconvinced.

Jesus had an 11 out of 12 hit rate in his followers.  The betrayal by Judas was evil, but also was used in the plan.

It’s the way it is.

Jeremiah 23

Lest we fear that the talk in the last chapters of God running out of patience with the house of David contradicts the other prophets, here is a messianic message.

David’s house will re-sprout.

Jeremiah groups the leaders of Israel together as “shepherds” -Kings, religious leaders, prominent citizens and government officials, all shepherds. David’s profession before he was king.

They’ve had bad ones, they’ll have good ones again.

He speaks of the gathering of the dispersed Jews. This will be a redemption that surpasses the escape from Egypt. And it will come from the line of David…

But for now… Jeremiah complains about bad practitioners of his own profession, bad prophets. They make him nauseated, is viscerally disturbing and mentally incomprehensible to him how describe and abusive of their power they are being.

And their message? One of comfort, sweetness, telling them everything will be ok. Telling them to follow their heart and find peace.

Sounds like a lot of churches I know. Sounds like me when I don’t want to be a wet blanket on a positive philosophical vibe with my non Christian friends.

Speaking truthfully though Jeremiah, God compares himself to a violent whirlwind.

Then to a harvester throwing away the chaff, to a hammer shattering a rock and to fire, burning and purifying.

How little will The sweet dishonest dreams the false prophets sell mean then.

On third thoughts they also remind me of advertising and PR companies.

He speaks of how they run to spread the false messages.

He wonders how they think they can get away with it… Do they think God’s isn’t listening?

Worst of all false prophets are the fake religious ones however. God pleas with them to stop saying they are the “Oracle of the Lord”. This will earn them everlasting shame.

Now I am a professional Christian it is particularly a warning to me. The lies these people are telling are false comfort, the most tempting lie of all for Christians.

Jeremiah 9

Starts with a lament of the staggering falsehood of the people. He says their tongues are like arrows they shoot at each other. No one can trust each other.

God asks rhetorical questions about whether he has any choice but to judge them. He says he’ll soon be lamenting empty mountains and fields, because the people will be gone.

But the extreme message is not about rubbing in how bad it will be, there is still the hope of repentance. He calls upon professional mourner women to reflect on earth the tears in heaven.

He calls on the people to love justice as God does.to boast of knowing God, not earthly riches wisdom etc. To love with their heart, not though external shows. Their hearts are just as uncircumcised as any of the surrounding nations, the denial of their special chosen status.

The lifetime patterns of working with a degree of cynicism, of playing the game, are hard to break. I mean, my Christian work place is still full of sinful people, tis the nature of mankind.

But I’ve been taking a somewhat uncircumcised heart to work, I pray that I will boast in understanding the god of steadfast righteousness, love and justice.

Jeremiah 5

Picking up the theme that the southern kingdom of Judah is no better, maybe actually worse than the northern kingdom Israel because of their hypocrisy.

In Kings, it seems like the southern is better because at least some of their Kings follow God, where none of the northern kings do. But this is about the people.

It’s a picture of people hardened by prosperity and indulgence, incapable of spiritual responses. They are completly indifferent to the poor.

It includes hypothetical dialogue by the people saying that God will never do anything.

God talks about them being ripped apart like being attacked by a lion.

So ends the condemnation of both kingdoms. and most terribly the priests and prophets who act at direction of the corrupt.

When spiritual leaders become enablers of ignoring God, things are in a bad way.