Archives for November 2015

Psalm 128; Daniel 5:17–6:18; 2 John

Psalm 128: This psalm celebrates a peaceful domesticity that belongs to “all who fear the Lord/ who walk in His ways.” (1) Life includes work and its rewards: “When you eat of the toil pf your hands,/ happy are you, and it is good for you.” (2) While the image is one of horticulture (“toil of your hands”) I think the line easily suggests the benefits of the all kinds of work–again, the theology of vocation. Particularly striking is the line, “it is good for you,” i.e, work is what we have been meant to do from tending the garden in Eden to the present day: occupation keeps us healthy and centered.

In that patriarchal society that did not believe in an afterlife, it was progeny–the idea that our spirit lives on in our children and grandchildren– that that brought a kind of immortality. So, the primary purpose of the wife was to bear children: “Your wife is like a fruitful vine/ in the recesses of your house.” (3a). “In the recesses of your house” indicates that the role of the wife was strictly non-public–a custom continued to this day in the Muslim community. The “fruitful vine” produces offspring: “your children like young olive trees around your table.” (3b). [I like the mixed metaphor: a vine produces olive trees…]

In Israel, it was productive work, a tranquil domestic life, and children that were the sure sign of God’s favor: “Look, for it is thus/ that the man is blessed who fears the Lord.” (4).

The psalm ends with with two blessings. The first is for peace: “…and may you see Jerusalem’s good/ all the days of your life.” The second is one that resonates so clearly with me–and one which I have received so beautifully: “And may you see children of your children.” (6) There is no question that the richest most unexpected blessing of these latter years of my life is my grandchildren. Amidst the turmoil and evil rampant in the world may they receive the same blessing that I have.

Daniel 5:17–6:18: Before Daniel interprets the writing on the wall, he reviews the course of Belshazzar’s father, Nebuchadnezzar, who “when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him.” (5:20) But through being brought low, Nebuchadnezzar “learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will.” (21).

Unlike the father, the son has “not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! ” (22) Instead, in a perfect statement that describes the core values of 21st century American society, “You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.: (23).  Daniel then interprets the writing and “That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed.” (30). Darius the Mede takes over the kingdom.

This story of course is the lesson of pride and the consequences of truly believing that what we have accomplished we have done strictly on our own. And yet, this is the very theme of the American dream.

Under the new administration, Daniel continues to shine and “distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom.” (6:3). Jealousy prevails that Daniel will become prime minister and similar to what happens in Esther, and then with Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, a law is passed demanding sole obeisance to the king or it’s off to the lions’ den.  Which due to Daniel’s persistent faith in God is exactly where he finds himself.

What’s fascinating about this story–and what we really didn’t get from Sunday School– is that this episode is more about King Darius than Daniel. First Darius tries to stall: “When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him.” (14) But when this fails, Darius effectively prays to God: “The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” (16) And the king is consumed by worry: “the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.” (18)

In his heart of hearts, Darius realizes what Nebuchadnezzar came to realize (and Belshazzar did not): There is that famous God-shaped vacuum in every human heart–even among kings. Deep down, Darius knows that there is a God greater than he.  As I suspect any person who honestly examines himself away from the trappings of society will discover for himself.

2 John: This very short epistle is in fact a personal letter from John “to the elect lady and her children” (1a) As usual, love exudes from John’s every pore: “whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” (1b, 2)

Notice how love is always about truth. This is the theme of this letter. John is “overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.” (4). But John’s unspoken message is that someone may be drifting astray as he defines true love as obedience to God: “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.” (6)

One suspects that this woman is possibly coming under the influence of an apostate, who is preaching that Christ is only spirit and not human (the heresy of Docetism): “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” (7)

He then issues a warning that is the key to differentiating between orthodox Christian faith and belief systems (Mormons, the prosperity gospel, are examples) that add to the core Gospel that Christ preached: “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God.” (9a) While “whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (9b) He almost begs the lady, “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching.” (10)

In fact, I think this letter is so short and ends so abruptly because John’s concern for her is so great that he feels compelled to take up this problem in person: “I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (12).

The lesson for us is crystalline: love and truth are completely intertwined. We cannot have love without truth. And we cannot add our own stuff to the core of what Christ preached.

Psalm 127; Daniel 4:19–5:16; 1 John 5:6–21

Psalm 127: The first half of this psalm beautifully describes how God must be deeply integrated into our projects and our labor–or our efforts will be useless:
If the Lord does not build a house,
in vain do its builders labor on it.
If the Lord does not watch over a town,
in vain does the watchman look out. (1)

One of the aspects of Lutheran theology, which has not been discussed at Saint Matthew for many years, is the theology of vocation: the idea that no matter what our work is or what we do for a career, it is the Lord’s work. This psalm speaks directly to that idea. When I was a high school senior at another church there was a clear divide between “secular” work (and college) and “sacred” work (and college). The judgement was clear: if you went into “full time Christian work,” your life had greater purpose and was more pleasing to God. But this psalm makes it wonderfully clear that all out work is sacred if we hew to God.

It also speaks to the dangers of overwork: “In vain you who rise early, sit late,/ eaters of misery’s bread.” (2a) I remember one guy early in my career who came in early and always made a point of staying until after his boss went home. Yet, he was disorganized and never able to get very much done. There is true wisdom in the line, “So much He gives to His loved ones in sleep.” (2b) In our hurry-up society that thinks we must be productive at all time, we forget one of God’s greatest gifts, indeed a command: rest from labor. It is sleep that brings us the energy and clear-headedness essential to the well-lived life.

The second half of the psalm seems tacked on to the first half as it changes the subject, reflecting on the wonders of having sons. (Sorry, ladies.): “Look, the estate of the Lord is sons,/ reward is the fruit of the womb. It’s a reflection of that long-ago society that valued sons above daughters, primarily for their martial abilities: “Like arrows in the warrior’s hand,/ thus are sons born in youth./ Happy the man/ who fill his quiver with them.” (3,4). True, I suppose. My son is a wonderful, talented man and I am immensely proud of him. But there is little sweeter in life than being the father of a daughter.

Daniel 4:19–5:16: Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but not without some trepidation: “Then Daniel, who was called Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while. His thoughts terrified him.” (4:19) for he knew its grim meaning. But encouraged by the king, Daniel reveals that the dream means the king will become mentally ill: “You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven,” (25a) for seven years. But this is not a random disease, Daniel tells him, it is God’s lesson in humility. He did not become king out of his own brilliance and effort. Nebuchadnezzar will be ill until “you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will.” (25b) Sometimes we must be forced to learn humility through disease as well. I remember thinking I was doing pretty well on my own accomplishments. Then came cancer.

The king eventually recovers and speaks in the first person, praising God: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven,

for all his works are truth,
    and his ways are justice;
and he is able to bring low
    those who walk in pride.” (37)

Even kings and leaders must always remember that they, too, have been created a little lower than the angels–as we all must remember. But now in a society that feels God to be superfluous, we are awash in little Nebuchadnezzars. And some day they, too, will learn humility.

Learning humility is at the core of the famous story that follows. A drunken Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, defiles the holy “vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.” (5:3). Like many people today, they think the God of Israel is meaningless and irrelevant to them. But “ Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace,” (5) Understandably, “the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” (6). As usual, the official magicians and seers cannot interpret the writing. Court officials remember Daniel and call him out of retirement. Daniel is called and is promised “a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.” (16). What will Daniel say?

1 John 5:6–21: John makes it clear that water and blood are the essential qualities of Jesus Christ: “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.” (6) For me this speaks directly to the two sacraments of the Lutheran church: the water of baptism and the blood that was shed, which we celebrate in communion.

We also encounter the Trinity here: “And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.” (7,8) Although God’s name is not mentioned, there can be no confusion about who “the three” are.  John makes it clear that true belief in God requires true belief in who Jesus is and in Jesus’ divinity: “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.” (10)

And like the famous passage in his Gospel, “I am the way, the truth, the life,” we encounter another “hard passage” here: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (12) It’s hard to theologize around this rather clear statement. And this is effectively where the core theology of this epistle ends.

However, to make sure we get his key points, John attaches an epilogue, which contains one of the most famous verses in the epistle of famous verses: “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (14). Unlike the psalmist who often wonders if God is hearing him, we are assured that through the power of Jesu Christ we are indeed heard: “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.” (15)

We live in the clear assurance that even when we are convinced God is absent and not listening to our cries, that is not the case. We are indeed heard. What’s difficult is accepting that even though we have been heard, God’s response may be far off or not be the one we wished for. But as Paul promises, “all things work together for God to those who love God.”

Psalm 126; Daniel 3:19–4:18; 1 John 4:16b–5:5

Psalm 126: This psalm, written in captivity, looks forward to the restoration of Israel, anticipating the joy of that day: “When the Lord restores Zion’s fortunes,/ we should be like dreamers./Then will our mouth fill with laughter/ and our tongue with glad song.” (1,2a) It is difficult to imagine a more apt description of pure, unfettered joy. And for us in the here and now, it is the joy that we can experience in and through Jesus Christ. This also must be one of the verses that inspired the Westminster Catechism that says we are to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

The psalmist goes on to tell us the singular source of this joy: “Great things has the Lord done with these./ Great things has the Lord done with us.” (2b) One senses that the intensity of the joy here transcends mere words. And so with us: in the end, God is the source of true joy. Oh, we may feel happiness arising from human experience and relationships. But pure unadulterated joy comes straight from God. Notice, too, that joy is both external: what God has done with “these things,” which here is doubtless the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. But it is also an internal personal joy: “great things the Lord has done with us.” More than just a passing emotion, joy is truly transformative.

The latter half of this psalm speaks of this anticipatory transformation form sorrow into joy in agricultural metaphor: “They who sow in tears/ in glad song will reap.” (5) We who “walk along and weeps/ the bearer of the seed-bag” will one day “surely come in with glad song/ bearing his sheaves.” (6) In other words, even if we are in sorrow now, God promises us joy to come.

Daniel 3:19–4:18: The fiery furnace is so much more than a mere Sunday school story.  We have always assumed that the fourth person is the pre-incarnate Christ, although Nebuchadnezzar identifies this person as an angel, who is not subject to the ordinary laws of physics.

I think it’s significant that it is Nebuchadnezzar himself who sees the fourth man in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The miracle of the furnace causes him to realize that for the people who believe in this “God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” that he is not quite the greatest human who had ever lived after all, his enormous self-statue of gold notwithstanding. There is a moment of humility there. The king is each of us. His statue of gold is the metaphor for our self image and for self-esteem run amok. The furnace is our attempt to deny God and attempt to destroy this relentless sense that there is Someone greater than we. We can consign the three men who represent our “God-shaped vacuum” into the furnace, but the effort will always be futile. God cannot be quenched.

When we really truly look inside ourselves in honest self examination, we come to realize that there is a fourth person there: the Holy Spirit. Will we be like Nebuchadnezzar and admit that there is someone greater than ourself and turn off the furnace?

The second half of this reading is Nebuchadnezzar’s other great dream: the tree at the center of the earth that “grew great and strong,/ its top reached to heaven,” (4:11) But “there was a holy watcher, coming down from heaven.” (13) that comes and chops it down. And worse, the person at the center of this dream will have “his mind be changed from that of a human,/ and let the mind of an animal be given to him.” (16) Moreover, this is a judgement: “The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers,/the decision is given by order of the holy ones,” (17a) The king commands Daniel to interpret it.

I’m struck by the term, “watchers.” The clear message here is that we are under observation. No matter how much we display ourselves in public (social media!) or how desperately we attempt to hide or actions, our actions are know in heaven. There is no reason to assume that the watchers only watched Nebuchadnezzar. If God knows the actions of a single sparrow, we must assume God is watching us. The question is, would a deeper awareness of this “watching” change my behavior? I think it should.

1 John 4:16b–5:5: John just cannot stop talking about God’s love. It envelops his entire being. And in this world that seems more dangerous and disordered than ever, he gives us perhaps his greatest take on God’s love: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (4:18)  Last evening we heard form an Israeli and a Palestinian who both made it clear that the greatest barrier to the reconciliation of those two nations is fear. Only after mutual fear is diminished can we hope for any coming together or resolution of that long, long conflict.  I think we forget just how deeply fear can rule our own lives: fear of insufficient resources; fear of disease; fear of other tribes and races; fear of those who are unlike us. The list is endless.

But until love casts out our fear we are incapable of truly loving our bothers and sisters. And here’s the real challenge that John lays at our feet: “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (20) That seems awfully clear. And awfully difficult. We cannot truly love God without truly demonstrating that love to those around us. And this is not just an option; it’s a commandment: “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (21)

So, the next time I make a judgement about someone I know, or also someone I don’t know–or an entire group of people, I do not have the right to love God without first loving those persons. And that is perhaps the most difficult task of all. It’s so much easer to claim to love a God I cannot see than to love the person down the street or the Muslim across the world. Which of course was Jesus’ point in Matthew 25 when he distinguishes between the sheep and the goats.

Psalm 125; Daniel 2:34–3:18; 1 John 4:1–16a

Psalm 125: In this simile, “Those who trust in the Lord/ are like Mount Zion never shaken,/ settled forever.” (1) the opening verse of this psalm suggests a longing for Mount Zion, and the hope that like Mount Zion, the people of Israel will one day also be “settled forever.”  Alter suggests that this psalm may have been written during the exhilic period.  We can almost feel the psalmist’s  fond remembrance as he recalls, “Jerusalem, mountains around it.” (2) And that once again, “the Lord is around His people/ now and forevermore.”

As always, there is the strong bifurcation between the righteous and the wicked: “For the rod of wickedness will not rest/ on the portion of the righteous.” (2: 3a) And that thus spared the “rod of wickedness,” the “righteous [will] not set their hands to wrongdoing.” (3b) And therefore, since the righteous folks have avoided wrongdoing, God will bestow his favor on them: “Do good, O Lord, to the good/ and to the upright in their hearts.” (4)

And to preserve symmetry, he also asks that “those who bend to crookedness,/ may the Lord take them off with the wrongdoers.”  (5) What’s interesting here is that there seems to be a distinction between those “bending” or inclined to do wrong and full-blown wrongdoers. There’s no room for even an inclination to “crookedness,” those who bend are already in the other camp. To be considered righteous, one cannot stray even for a moment from the strait and narrow. Once again, we can see where the Pharisees found justification for their unrelenting rigidity.

It seems to me that the effort to be righteous on our own leads too quickly to self-righteousness.

Daniel 2:1–3:18: King Nebuchadnezzar has a series of bizarre dreams and he demands an interpretation on pain of death for the court magicians and seers. For their failure or unwillingness to interpret his dreams he court prophets are condemned by an angry king, who has “commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed.” (2:12) Daniel bravely steps up. Of course he has a direct line to God as “the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” (19)

In another sign of his courage which arises form his complete trust in God, he tells the king that “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries,” (27, 28) And that it is God himself, “who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days.” (28b) So, the dream is predictive of events to come. Moreover, Daniel humbly observes that “this mystery has not been revealed to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being,” (30) So, he commences with the interpretation of what has to be the most complicated–and controversial–dream in the Bible.

First, Daniel tells the king what his dream was: the huge statute whose body parts are made up of different substances. Each substance of decreasing value–gold, silver, bronze, iron and the famous feet of clay. Each metal stands for a kingdom–and Nebuchadnezzar, represented by gold, being the greatest, naturally. Each subsequent kingdom will be sequentially inferior. Books have been written about this dream, with some interpreters seeing the “iron” part as Rome, and then I even recall one interpreter asserting that the empire “will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.” being a united Europe. Which given recent events amy not be all that outlandish a theory.

As for my sense of this God-given interpretation through Daniel, it’s no question that it’s a wonderful story. But I really have to let it go at that. The lesson is that Daniel was connected so closely to God that he effectively became God’s messenger–just as the prophets before him had.

We come now to the famous story of the men in the fiery furnace. The king commissions a statue of himself –made of gold, naturally–and then issues a decree that everyone in the kingdom, including the Jewish exiles bow down and worship it. There is this wonderfully alliterative, almost musical passage (that I used to read  aloud each year when there were Easter Vigils at Saint Matthew.) The music is played and everyone has to bow down.

But Daniel’s three companions do not bow down and the boldly tell the king that they have faith that God will deliver them from the fiery furnace, but even if not, they are willing to die because “be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (3:18)

I’m struck here that even though they have faith that God will rescue them, they also know that if God does not will rescue for them, they are nonetheless willing to die. That is the operating definition of unconditional faith; the faith of the martyrs. Were I ever called into such an awful situation would I be willing to die for my faith?

1 John 4:1–16a: John advises us that skepticism is perfectly acceptable, especially when we’re hearing others preach: “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1) This of course, is discernment. Too often we are captivated by an eloquent speaker who promises great things only to be led astray. Discernment seems a lost art these day. Not just in the church, but in politics as well.

We come to John’s great passage on love and to the absolute center of God’s love, the greatest loving act in all history:  “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (9) John makes it crystal clear that this loving act of sending his son was not the result of our love for God. Quite the contrary. It is nothing that we did. God did it all: “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (10)

However, this incredible act of love must have consequences. Our true response can be only one thing: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (11).  In fact it is this love that makes up for none of us having actually seen God. All it takes is one thing: “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (12)

And then perhaps the greatest equation–what the mathematicians call an ‘identity’– of all: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” The secret to knowing and having God abide in us is incredibly simple and incredibly difficult.  What a challenge! Why is it so hard to love one another? Because our self-centered wills keep getting in the way.

Psalm 123; Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21; 1 John 3:1–10

Psalm 123: This short psalm of supplication brims with poignance. First, the image of slaves looking up beseeching their masters: “Look, like the eyes of slaves to their masters.” (2a) forces us to acknowledge that slaves were human beings. [One wonders how slaveowners glided over the verses without a second thought.] The second line evokes a much deeper one-to-one intimacy: “Look, like the eyes of a slavegirl to her mistress,” (2b). With this image in our mind we are almost surprised by the next line that so clearly describes the relationship between God our master and we his slaves: “so are our eyes to the Lord our God/ until he grants us grace.” (2c)

The central plea of the slam is “Grant us grace, Lord, grant us grace, for we are sorely sated with scorn.” (3) Here, I believe “grace” is not so much the theological definition of “unmerited favor” but simple relief from the present dreadful situation. Like slaves, the supplicants are seen by their superiors as worthless, less than human, “sated with scorn.”

The last verse drives home this sense of the hopelessness of a slave enduring the unendurable: “Sorely has our being been sated/ with the contempt of the smug,/ the scorn of the haughty.” (4) It’s worth noting that the suffering is caused by an attitude of smug and scornful superiority, not a specific action such as slander. I think the challenge of this psalm is that we need to reflect on it from the point of view of the haughty, not of the slaves, because that is too often our own attitude. How many people have I made feel slave-like because of smug superiority. Even to the point where I have made them feel worthless, driven to pray to God for relief?

Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21: Ezekiel’s grand description of the new and Restored Israel outlines the specific apportioning of land to the twelve tribes and finally to the city at the center of this new nation. [Surely John, as he wrote Revelation, was deeply aware of this city, which is far grander than even Ezekiel’s and not built with human hands.]

The last verse of this remarkable book finally reveals the name of this enormous city and it is not Jerusalem. “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There.” (48:35). Which to me, is the theme of the book: God is indeed “there,” but only if, like Israel, we would turn away from our self-centeredness and sins and realize that God is standing right there, ready to receive us into his arms.

The shift from the dream-like yet highly detailed descriptions that comprise the last chapters of Ezekiel to the crystalline history of the opening of the book of Daniel is abrupt. Like a good journalist, our author [Daniel? I’m skeptical about that] uses the very first verse to give us the when, “the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah;” the who, “King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon;” and the what, “came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power,” (1, 2a) The remainder of the book will be devoted to the “why.”

The scene shifts to Babylon and we are introduced to four remarkable people, “ Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace.” (4) Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “from the tribe of Judah,” (6) are smart, handsome, skilled. Nebuchadnezzar has clearly chosen well. (And leads me to believe this book’s author was also form Judah.)

Daniel (and I presume the others) “resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” Daniel asks the palace master to be allowed the heathy vegetarian diet and water instead of wine  rather than the “royal rations of food and wine.” And after a ten day trial, “it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.” (15) This raises two observations. First, this is the great biblical example of the benefits of a healthy diet. Second, notice that it is better to be “fatter than all the young men.”

The four young men are not only more physically fit than their peers, they are smarter and wiser because “God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.” (17) After three years they are “stationed in the king’s court. [and] In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them.”  (20) Our author has clearly established their superiority in every way. The stage is set for the exciting dramas to come.

1 John 3:1–10: John holds out an exciting promise as he continues his essay about how the end is very near. The most important thing to remember, he is telling us is “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1) God’s love is the foundation, the root of everything.

And because “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” All we know is that since we were created in the image of God, “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (2)  For me, that is a promise that when we see God it will be a grand “Aha” moment–something that we never imagined, yet at the same time something that is perfectly logical. It will be like coming out of a black and white world into vibrant color that we had never imagined possible.

But there is a big requirement here. This can happen only if we are children of God and not children of sin: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” (6) Just to make sure we get his point, John repeats himself, “Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (8a) But wait. Aren’t we all sinners? Does than mean we’re cut off from this great promise?

That’s where Jesus comes in: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (8b) This is not just at the end of time, but through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is able to destroy the works of the devil. This is not just Jesus coming at the end of history, but how Jesus deals with our persistent daily sinning. We confess and are forgive one by one, one day at a time. That’s why confession is so urgently crucial.

We must always remember that without confession and forgiveness, “all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.” (10) I think this is a verse that could have led Martin Luther to say that we are baptized anew each day. Whatever it is, love is the basis of our life as children of God.

 

Psalm 122; Ezekiel 47:13–48:22; 1 John 2:18–29

Psalm 122: This song was doubtless sung by pilgrims coming to the temple –“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”– as they came from the countryside and arrived at the gates of Jerusalem: “Our feet were standing/ in your gates, Jerusalem.” (2) The arriving pilgrims are almost awestruck by Jerusalem and its walls: “Jerusalem is built like a town/ that is joined fast together,/ where the tribes go up.” (3,4a)

As we know form the Gospels, virtually every Jew came to Jerusalem for important events and festivals, especially Passover: An ordinance it is for Israel/ to acclaim the name of the Lord.” (4b) Jerusalem is not only the center of spiritual worship, it is also the center of the judiciary and of political power: “For there the thrones of judgement stand,/ the thrones of the house of David.” (5)

Then we encounter two verses that have terrible resonance with events happening right now in Jerusalem:
Pray for Jerusalem’s weal.
May your lovers rest tranquil!
May there be well-being within your ramparts,
tranquility in your palaces. (6,7)

As has historically been true from the time this psalm was written around 600 BCE to the present day, Jerusalem is the very epicenter of  anything but lovers resting tranquilly of of “well-being within your ramparts.” But that is not to say we shouldn’t sing these verses with the psalmist. IN fact, this psalm effectively commands us to pray for peace in Jerusalem: “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,/ let me seek your good.” (9) Let us pray that men and women of good will from both sides of the divide eventually prevail over hatred and blood eye-for-eye revenge.

Ezekiel 47:13–48:22: These final chapters of this extraordinary book deal with, of all things, dividing the land of restored Israel among the 12 tribes. It is in effect God’s recreation in minute detail of the Promised Land. And should that time ever have come to pass, the blueprints for Restored Israel are right here in Ezekiel.

Alas, these plans were never became reality. But that is not to diminish their value. For example, we encounter what I think are profound instructions: “You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the Lord God.” In other words, those who are not of Jewish blood become citizens. 

These verses work at least at two levels. First, it is instruction to modern Israel that non-Jews will live in equality with Jews. But that implicitly requires the aliens to acknowledge that the land belongs to Israel. That of course has not come to pass.

Second, I think it’s a hint of the church to come. That we Gentiles will be allotted an inheritance right along side God’s chosen people. Which is is exactly what Jesus Christ did for all of us. Certainly the vision of the very early church–Peter and Paul–was that the church would include both Jew and Gentile on equal terms. But again, human will intervened and that glorious vision did not come to pass–as the final chapters of Acts describe so vividly.

So, the end of Ezekiel describes what could have been. But never was. And we humans have only ourselves to blame.

1 John 2:18–29: I suspect this section is a little visited part of John’s letter. It speaks of the Antichrists which apparently have overrun the church, which to John is a clear indication that Jesus’ second coming is imminent: “so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.” (18) The real tragedy is that these apostates began in the church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.” (19)

John clearly defines the theology of the Antichrist: “This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” (22b) which I take to mean that the Antichrist cannot accept that Jesus was truly the Word, the Son of God. John also implicitly refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he expresses confidence in his listeners that they will remain faithful because “the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (27) In other words, apostasy arises when the Holy Spirit is not present and it becomes a human-only project.

John’s directions are clear for his listeners and for us: “abide in him [Christ], so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.” (28). Only then will our faith and confidence flourish. Jesus is our sustenance.

 

Psalm 121; Ezekiel 46:1–47:12; 1 John 2:12–17

Psalm 121: This well known psalm opens with the beautiful almost poignant question, “I lift my eyes to the mountains”/ from where does my help come?” The next verse, which is the answer, reminds me of the power of reading or chanting psalms responsively. The answer comes immediately in the second verse: “My help is from the Lord,/ maker of heaven and earth.” (2)

Taking the unusual form of dialog, it’s as if another person–a priest perhaps?–answers the pilgrim: “He does not let your foot stumble./ Your guard does not slumber.” (3). We can be sure of God’s protection, both from physical harm (“foot stumble”) and harm from enemies (the guard).  To make sure we understand the scope of God’s protection, the psalm opens out to include all Israel under God’s watchful and protective eye: “Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep,/ Israel’s guard.” (4)

Now the camera zooms back in to a single person: “The Lord is your guard,/ the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” (5) We can imagine that in that desert climate, where the sun beats down fiercely, that shade was a welcome companion to the traveler. So it is with God , who shades us from harm.  In fact, God protects us “by day [so] the sun does not strike you,” and also by night: “nor the moon by night.” Being shaded from the moon, especially the full moon, was important in those civilizations that believed the moon could lead too easily to madness (lunacy).

Now, the bold statement: “The Lord guards you from all harm,/ He guards your life.” (7) And it’s not just a temporary protection, but “The Lord guards your going and coming,/ now and forevermore.” (8) One might argue that we are indeed harmed during our journey through life and that some harm can be fatal. But I don’t think that’s the entire point here. The reality that this Psalm communicates so beautifully is exactly that of Psalm 23: God protects us through the darkest times and darkest valleys. But that does not make us impregnable. The reality is is that God is always at our side.

Ezekiel 46:1–47:12: Chapter 46 goes “pure Leviticus” on us as we read the new rules and regulations around festivals and sacrifices that will occur in and around the new temple, including such minutiae as  “whoever enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate.” (46:9)

There are legal rules as well: “If the prince makes a gift to any of his sons out of his inheritance, it shall belong to his sons, it is their holding by inheritance.” (46:16) But if the prince wills his inheritance to his servant, “it shall be his to the year of liberty; then it shall revert to the prince.” (17)

There is a final tour of the temple that goes through, of all places, “the kitchens where those who serve at the temple shall boil the sacrifices of the people.” (24). Who knew? But when you think about it, kitchens were a practcal necessity to deal with all those carcasses.

Ezekiel’s tour guide brings him back outside the temple, where a river has appeared and “the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.” (47:1) The river gets deeper and deeper, as the man measures it every thousand cubits until  “it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed.” (5) Because it flows form the sanctuary it becomes a river teeming with life: “Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there.” (9) and “it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds,” (10).

In John 7, where Jesus speaks of “living water,” there is no question in my mind that most of his listeners would recall this river image from Ezekiel 46. And the Pharisees would also understand that Jesus was positioning himself as the replacement of this great temple that Ezekiel described. We’re also reminded of the time the disciples spent and unsuccessful night fishing, only to be told by Jesus to spread their nets on the other side.

And of course, water and rivers lead inexorably to baptism. And that through baptism, we are like the trees by the river, whose “leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.” (12) Our life comes through Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:12–17: John becomes poet or hymn writer addressing everyone as he singles out “little children,” fathers, “young people,” . If we omit the “I am writing to you…” phrases in this poem we have the Gospel message itself:
“because your sins are forgiven on account of his name

 because you know him who is from the beginning.”

 because you have conquered the evil one.”

“because you know the Father.”

because you are strong
       and the word of God abides in you,
         and you have overcome the evil one.” (12-14)

Notice that John emphasizes the “evil one.” For John, the evil one is all too easy to encounter in everyday life and he advises us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (15) This is not where we find “the love of the Father.” Indeed, “all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (16)

And yet, that is exactly where we look first. We look to fulfill our desires, and our world is exactly like John’s: full of temptations that seem to speak to our desires, but our true desire–the deepest desire of our being, our very existence, is to be loved by someone greater than us. I think every human being desires transcendence, but we look for it in all the wrong places: sex and increasingly, pornography (desire of the flesh”); things (“desire of the yes”); wealth and power (“pride in riches”). But it’s all purely transitory: “the world and its desire are passing away,” (17a) Permanence comes from only one source: “those who do the will of God live forever.” (17b)

But I would submit that until we acknowledge our own mortality, realizing that eternal life is only through Jesus Christ to God the Father, most of us will till seek after what the writer of Ecclesiastes calls “vanity.” But we will ultimatley seek in vain.

Psalm 120; Ezekiel 44:28–45:25; 1 John 1:5–2:11

 Psalm 120: Alter informs us that this is the first of fifteen “songs of ascents,” which could mean anything from a song sung as a pilgrim ascends to the temple mount in Jerusalem to a musical term referring to an increase in pitch as it is sung.

However, there’s no ambiguity about the subject matter of this psalm. the psalmist is calling out to God, who indeed answers, because he has been the victim of slander: “Lord, save my life form lying lips,/ form a tongue of deceit.” (2) As usual, it is speech that is a harmful weapon–as it still is. He asks rhetorically, how does slanderous speech–which certainly hurts the hearer–contribute to the well-being of the speaker? “What can it give you, what can it add,/ a tongue of deceit.” (3)  To slander make  someone may bring a temporary rush of having cut deeply and wounded someone. And if it’s a clever, biting remark, it can even make one feel intellectually superior. But that feeling fades quickly. All that’s been accomplished is to tear someone down to no larger purpose other than to bring dialog to a screeching halt.

We hear slanderous remarks and accusations everywhere around us–especially during presidential campaigns where enemies take the tiniest pieces of trivia out of someone’s past and try to blow it up into something meaningful and hurtful. Slander as a political strategy is even more egregious than “mere slander.”

There is little doubt that slander is deeply injurious, like “A warrior’s honed arrows/ with wood broom coals.” (4) And in the end, the entire atmosphere of discourse becomes poisoned. Like the psalmist, “Long has [our] whole being dwelt among those who hate peace.” (6) We see this every day in the Middle East between Palestinian and Jew, as both sides slander each other, saying with the psalmist, “I am for peace, but when I speak,/ they are for war.” (7) Tragic words indeed because no nothing can be said that will not be regarded as slanderous on both sides.

Ezekiel 44:28–45:25: This portion of Ezekiel could be termed “Leviticus Revised” as new rules and practices are defined. A giant “holy districts” measuring “twenty-five thousand cubits long and twenty thousand cubits wide; [which] shall be holy throughout its entire extent” (45:1) are to be set aside for “for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and approach the Lord to minister to him.” That’s about 40 square miles. Another 25,000 x 5,000 cubit area “shall be for the Levites who minister at the temple, as their holding for cities to live in.” (45:5) Then all of Israel will be restored.

But there is one condition. God will be living among Israel and God says, “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of my people, says the Lord God.” (45:9)

Ezekiel then outlines a new system of weights and measures: “honest balances, an honest ephah, and an honest bath.” (45:10) which is an attempt to remove corruption and retsore honest economics. He goes on to describe the nature of “burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the festivals, the new moons, and the sabbaths,” (45:17). But something remain unaltered: “ In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall celebrate the festival of the passover, and for seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.” (45:21).

So what are we to make of all these practical instructions regarding a restored Israel? Well, it’s not the devil that’s in the details, but God himself. God continues to be involved in his creation. It’s also as if God is starting over with Israel; that the Covenant will be restored. But only if it “puts away violence and oppression and do what is just and right.” In the end, God demands justice. And we humans just can’t seem to deliver that by ourselves. Did this new Temple and this new Israel ever get built in the size and glory Ezekiel has described? Alas, we know the answer. Ezekiel’s blueprints remain just that.

1 John 1:5–2:11: John asserts “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1:5) And it’s clear what he means by darkness: sin in the sense of separation from God. We are fooling ourselves if we are in sin and think we are walking in the light: “we lie and do not do what is true;” (6). In modern terms, John os dealing with the issue of denial: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (8). And in that most famous verse, John tells us there is a very simple way out of this denial: “ If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (9) And just to make sure we get the point about denial, John bookends this verse of confession with the ominous point once again that our denial makes Christ himself a liar: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (10) In short, sin separates us. Confession is the only way back into relationship with Jesus.

How do we avoid this separation in sin? The answer is quite simple: obedience. “Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.” (2:3) And worse, if we say we know Jesus saying ““I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist.” (4) When one reflects on this, this is quite harsh because it says that pretending–hypocrisy–is an enormous and egregious sin. And it is probably the one that we practice the most.

Especially in our relationships with others: “Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” (9) John rephrases Jesus’ command in this new context: “Whoever loves a brother or sister  lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” (10). But unlike jesus, John reminds us again of the consequences of pretending to carry out Jesus command: “But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” (11) For John it’s completely binary: we are either in the light of love of the darkness of hypocrisy. As much as we would like there to be, there is no middle ground.

 

Psalm 119:169–176; Ezekiel 43:22–44:27; 2 Peter 3:14–1 John 1:4

Psalm 119:169–176: We come (at last!) to the final eight verses of this psalm that has celebrated God’s word, law, precepts, decrees, utterances, and statutes in every conceivable manner.

Once again we see the priority of speech as the psalmist imagines a spoken conversation between God and himself. The psalmist comes before God in humility as he speaks: “Let my supplication come before You” (170a) in anticipation of God’s reply: “as befits Your utterance save me.” (170b). Supplication becomes worship, but as is always the case in this psalm, gratitude circles around one thing only: “Let my lips utter praise,/ for You taught me Your statutes.” (171) His worship is literally speaking God’s law: “Let my tongue speak out Your utterance,/ for all Your commands are just.” (172)

From worship he returns to supplication but again with the singular justification that having followed God’s law he is in relationship with God: “May Your hand become my help,/ for Your decrees I have chosen.” (173) Indeed, God’s law appears to be the sole source of his pleasure: “I desired Your rescue, O Lord,/ and Your teaching is my delight.” (174) In the final verse we see humility but as has always been the case, a reminder that he has followed God’s law to the letter: “I have wandered like a lost sheep./ Seek Your servant, for Your commands I did not forget.” (176)

As we have remarked many times through these reflections this psalm is at once praise for Gd’s law and its many benefits that it brings. But is is also constricted. One finishes the psalm with the feeling that this singular focus on knowing and following God’s law also means that much about life has been missed. As a child of the New Covenant I have come to realize, that in the end, a relationship with God is founded on love, not just the law. And that in the person of Jesus Christ I have experienced grace, not just endless obedience in the hope that God will hear me.

Ezekiel 43:22–44:27: In a reprise of Leviticus, Ezekiel receives specific instructions about the nature of the sacrifices to be made on this giant altar. We learn that there is one gate of the temple that “shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.” (44:2)  It is reserved. “ Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before theLord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.” (44:3) From our New Covenental perspective I wonder if this is a presaging for the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. As I recall, the east gate of Temple Mount (or what was the east gate) remains shut to this day.

Then tehre seems to be a dilemmas about who the priests of this temple will be. First, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh… shall enter my sanctuary.” (44:9) But the Levites, the priestly clan aren’t qualified either: “the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment.” (44:10) because “they ministered to them before their idols and made the house of Israel stumble into iniquity,” (44:12). Nevertheless, absent an alternative, they become the administrators and custodians: “Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its chores, all that is to be done in it.” (44:14)

But who will be qualified to go before God into the Holy of Holies?  Happily, there is one family of Levites that has been faithful: “the levitical priests, the descendants of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me.” (44:15) They are the only ones who can approach God: “ It is they who shall enter my sanctuary, it is they who shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.” (44:16). They will be teachers–“They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (44:23)– and judges: “In a controversy they shall act as judges, and they shall decide it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes regarding all my appointed festivals, and they shall keep my sabbaths holy.” (44:24)

For us Christians, this presages the reality that in the end, Jesus is the only one qualified to go before God, and who himself becomes the sacrifice. That one sacrifice eliminates not only the need for a temple, but all of its complexities about who is clean enough to come before God. Here, Zadok’s family was qualified, but it’s clear that God faces a dilemma about the sacrificial system in that so few are qualified to come before him. What happens if Zadok’s family dies out?

We have a hint in this chapter that God must be thinking at a new type of Covenant is going to be required. And of course it turns out that the super-temple envisioned here in Ezekiel is superfluous. The sacrifice of his only son does it all in one fell swoop.

2 Peter 3:14–1 John 1:4: In one few places outside Acts we have evidence that Peter and Paul have resolved their argument: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.” (3:15, 16)  Peter points out that “There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (16b) He must have been referring to Romans that was as confusing to members of the early church as it they are to us!

Peter’s final words are an encouragement that have rung down through the ages to us right here: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (18)

I like how the Moravians have concatenated the end of Peter and the beginning of 1 John. It’s as if we are in the room with Peter and John. Peter has ceased speaking, sits down and now John stands up to address us…

John, as in his eponymous Gospel, opens at pre-history: “We declare to you what was from the beginning.” But now he reminds us of his bona fides as a witness of all these events: “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” (2) almost as if he is in a court of law: “this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us” (2)

John is compelled to write what he has witnessed. Not our of duty, but in that famous line, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (4)

Which is also a reason I write these reflections day in and day out. They are not a duty, but a source of joy.

Psalm 119:161–168; Ezekiel 42:10–43:21; 2 Peter 3:1–13

 Psalm 119:161–168: In this penultimate section of this by now endless psalm, our psalmist seems to be wrapping things up by recapitulating its key themes.

  • He’s been/being pursued by his enemies; “Princes pursued me without cause.” (161a).
  • God’s word is his highest calling and his greatest joy: “I rejoice over Your utterance/ as one who finds great spoils.” (162)
  • He rejects the temptation to do evil in the pursuit of the good: “Lies I have hated, despised./ Your teaching I have loved.” (163)
  • He reminds God how diligently (obsessively?) he has worshipped God: “Seven times daily I praised You/ because of Your righteous laws.” (164)
  • Those who follow God’s law lead the best possible life: “Great well-being to the lovers of Your teaching,/ and no stumbling block for them.” (165)
  • He asks God to deliver him form his enemies because he has been so diligent in obeying God’s law: “I yearned for Your rescue, O Lord,/ and Your commands I performed.” (166)
  • In the end it is out of his love for the law that he follows the law: “I observed Your precepts/ and loved them very much.” (167) And to emphasize that love, he repeats himself: “I observed Your decrees and Your precepts,/ for all my ways are before You.” (168)

But we dare not mock the psalmist’s sincerity nor his example. If one were to precisely follow the Law, he laws out a clear path. As I have mentioned before, I’m sure the Pharisees of Jesus’ time knew every aspect of this psalm and attempted to follow it as best they could. And even though we live in the grace of Jesus Christ, this is a pretty good example of what obedience looks like. But in the end, as we well know, a relationship cannot be built on following laws; it must be founded in love.

Ezekiel 42:10–43:21: The temple tour ends up at the “holy chambers, where the priests who approach the Lord shall eat the most holy offerings; there they shall deposit the most holy offerings—the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering—for the place is holy.” (42:13) Everything about it, including the priest’s vestments is holy.

They then go outside where the perimeter is measured. This visionary temple is truly huge: 500 cubits or about 750 feet (2 1/2 football fields) on each side. Then there’s a 500 cubit open space “to make a separation between the holy and the common.” (42:20).  If we’re ever looking for an example of what “holy” as “separate” means, we have Ezekiel’s enormous temple.

Up to this point, the temple has been vacant. But in a new vision, Ezekiel sees God off in the distance “coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory.” (43:2) And God enters the temple and as “the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of theLord filled the temple.” (43:5)  In surely what is the apotheosis of the grand restoration of Israel, God takes up residence there: “He said to me: Mortal, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among the people of Israel forever.” (43:7a) But God will remain on the condition that “The house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their whoring,” (43:7b)

God commands Ezekiel to communicate this grand vision of the Temple and God taking up residence in it to Israel. If Israel will but repent and if this temple is built, God will come reside permanently with them.  The reading ends with a description of a grand altar, 18 feet on a side, whose “steps shall face east.” God then provides a description of “the ordinances for the altar,” specifying that “you shall give to the levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, says the Lord God, a bull for a sin offering.” (43:19)

So what are we to make of this grand vision of a restored temple in which God takes up permanent residence if only Israel will repent? I think it is the logical conclusion of the Old Covenant. Although God is God over all creation, Israel is his home among his chosen people. Ezekiel is telling them that they can once again enjoy the glory of the Solomonic age if only they would repent. This is the apotheosis of the Old Testament God. Who, by living in a temple, seems far more constricted and small than the God of creation. But for Ezekiel, this is the God who really mattered.

2 Peter 3:1–13: Peter now focuses on the great promise of the Lord’s return.  [And in one of those interesting coincidences(?) with Ezekiel’s description of God’s return to Israel.] Peter reminds the folks that the world has been destroyed once by flood, but this time it will be by fire brought on by God’s judgement on the wicked: “But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.” (7)

Obviously, people around Peter have been growing impatient. They are done with suffering and just want Christ to return. Now, please. Peter makes the observation that the church has been holding on to ever since as it awaits the end of history: “do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” (8)

The reason for this seeming delay is a good one: “ The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (10) And, oh by the way, unlike those expecting the “Rapture” with Jesus descending down from heaven for all the world to see, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” (10). So, stop predicting the end of the world, people!

Even though the world will end in fire–a blaze of in glory, if you will, something far better will replace it: “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (13) And that is the promise we cling to today in a culture that seems to be going down the drain.