but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love
and your faithfulness.
Ezekiel is called by God to speak to Jerusalem as it faced its fall to Babylon, to speak to a people who had lived in a kingdom in a land promised to them by God, and who had lost it.
How are any of us, living at any point in history, supposed to learn survival lessons? Ezekiel reminds us that God uses prophets, sentinels, to warn us of dangers, "Tell those people that I don't want their destruction. Tell them to turn back, to repent."
Bad things do happen to good people. But, let us remember that sometimes, bad things happen to good people who did bad things. And, let us remember, that if we are going to remain bound together in order to serve God more effectively, then we have to be responsible to one another.
God sent Ezekiel as a sentinel to warn people of danger. God sends each of us to speak--and to listen.
Look back in earlier chapters of Ezekiel to see the kinds of sins he was talking about. For example, "You wore expensive clothes and ate expensive meals but did not aid the poor and needed," (16:1-49). What is lawful and right, according to Ezekiel, includes caring for the poor and hungry (18:5-13).
A shepherd is committed to the care and safety of the flock. Ezekiel writes to a people in exile, a people who have lost their homes, who are wandering, who need protection, who need to be rescued.
Look back at the earlier verses in this chapter. Israel's human shepherds had been feeding themselves rather than the sheep. They had not looked after the needs of the weak or injured. They had not searched for the strays.
They deserved to be scattered. But, scattering the shepherds means scattering the sheep. God declares, "I will rescue the sheep."
"I will seek the lost," God promises. "I will strengthen the weak."
Consider who will benefit from the attention of the Lord God, the true shepherd.
Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd has another duty, protecting the weak from predators. "The fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice."
The world may think that the well-fed and strong are those that have received God's blessings. Ezekiel might ask whether they have usurped the blessings that were intended for all of God's flock.
When we read in Ezekiel about the coming judgment, do we read Final Judgment? That is, do we think these pronouncements are only about going to heaven or hell?
Consider that the judgment of the powerful and the consequent setting-aright is God's word to us of what our life on this earth would be like if we would just do what God has always wanted us to do.
Ezekiel says, "Your leaders have cared about themselves not their people. I am going to give you a new leader, a leader who will protect you, a leader that will carry out my will."
Even though they were not able to live out the promises and gifts, God continued to care for these people. God sent other shepherds, another Shepherd, and continues to be our Shepherd. And shepherds need assistant shepherds; all of us are accountable for all the sheep.
"Let mutual love continue," this week's passage from Hebrews begins. I'm assuming that the word "continue" connotes that this congregation already has achieved mutual care. The next instruction is "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers..." They can love each other, and they are also required to love some new people, people they aren't used to, people that may not automatically know what they're supposed to do in each circumstance.
How are we supposed to interpret this prescription? Who should be included in the category "stranger"? How would we show hospitality to someone in our country that we did not invite in?
The letter continues with its instructions: Remember those in prison. And not just remember, empathize. Are we allowed to limit this just to people who are imprisoned for certain beliefs rather than have to think about the other prisoners, those who we think really should be put somewhere out of sight.
Then the message comes home--literally. "You married people, stay faithful."
And, in this time of economic difficulty, what do we do with the command to keep our lives free from love of money?
To summarize, care for strangers, prisoners, spouses, but don't obsess so much about money. After all, God is with us and will help us through it all.
Thomas Long in his commentary on Hebrews, says about verses 15-16:
We do not make, of course, the same sacrifice that Jesus offer; his was "once for all" (10:10). Our sacrifices are praising God, confessing God, name in public, doing works of mercy, and sharing what we have with others--in other words, right out there in public view we are to worship, evangelize, empathetically serve the needy and exercise generosity to others. Such "sacrifices are pleasing to God", which is one of the marks of faith.Psalm 115:1-18
The crucible is for silver,
and the furnace is for gold,
so a person is tested by being praised.
Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
along with crushed grain,
but the folly will not be driven out.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct our attention to those in need, the weak, the injured, the strayed. Give us the will to extend our care to them. Amen.