Oct 1th, 2023 “...get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit…”
May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.
Our readings this morning share a theme of integrity and faithfulness.
In Ezekiel we find the good news that God wants us to live. Ezekiel challenges those who think that they cannot change because of what their parents were and did or who think they cannot reverse their own previous behaviour.
Ezekiel was probably one of the elite who had been deported to Babylon. He was a 6th century prophet who anticipated the final destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Kingdom of Judah. You can imagine that Ezekiel was not a popular man in his own time. But as the scriptures show us time and again - the words of the prophets last far longer than they do!
The prophet Ezekiel was preaching to a congregation in exile. A people who had lost their physical ties to the land of their ancestors. They were a people who had to find a new way to worship their God.
Ezekiel addresses a popular saying that was used to explain general misfortune. And in doing so offers the people in exile a word of grace. Turn from your transgressions. Turn toward God and live. Ezekiel ends this passage with strong words of comfort - he quotes God as saying I have no desire for anyone to die.
Ezekiel differs from other parts of our Hebrew scriptures in that he stress the importance of personal responsibility. In other places the scriptures say that children do suffer for the sins of their parents.
Yesterday marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Today we wear orange to mark that day. We are acknowledging the sins of the past. We remember the residential schools. We remember those who never returned. We acknowledge the abuses of those in power. We mourn for and with our indigenous sisters and brothers.
It seems appropriate to consider these words from Ezekiel.
Sometimes we are very good at blaming someone else for the errors and mistakes committed in the past. Things we would like to detach ourselves from. But this does not help our process of reconciliation.
It would be much easier to say that I have nothing to do with the treatment of indigenous peoples in residential schools. I was not alive, I was not there, I had nothing to do with it.
But this text from Ezekiel is a reminder that we have to resist the temptation to detach ourselves from the sins of the past. We must take the past into account so that we can create a better life in the present and the future.
Ezekiel is rejecting a specific viewpoint on sinful behaviour. This view was that we can blame those who went before us for everything that is happening to us now. This divests us of responsibility for our own actions. The prophet was telling his congregation that each person is responsible for their own choices and no one carries the sins of his or her parents.
“The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”This is the proverb that Ezekiel says must no longer be used by the people of the house of Israel. Its time to change perspective.
It seems that Ezekiel was not successful in his attempt to ban this proverb or popular saying as we find the disciples asking Jesus if the blind man sinned or his parents! So perhaps the saying was still around in Jesus’ time.
Ezekiel is speaking for God in his role of prophet. He is preaching that God wants people to live. That people cannot blame their parents or their parents parents or their parents parents parents or God for the unfairness of life. One must look to ones own actions.
Ezekiel is preaching that even as the members of his congregation looked at themselves they could not ignore the past and neither can we. There must be a relation to what has happened in the past. The present is never disconnected to the past or the future.
Our past is still defining who we are and how we live.
Our faith and our theology should be giving us tools to act ethically, to remember our past while we reshape our present. That is what the prophet Ezekiel wanted for his people.
Ezekiel was not a popular man in his time. But his words have impacted centuries of people and we can find value in them today. We may not use this proverb he was so anxious to ban! But we need to look at ourselves and see how we can change our behaviours that bring hurt and pain and death. We can find better ways to live and to love.
The choices we make are important.
Our scriptures and our faith challenge us to transform. God is always calling us to life - this is the good news found in Ezekiel this morning. Ezekiel tells us that choosing life means to resist the temptation to blame others and to take responsibility for our participation in the history of our lives and our world.
This is where the work of reconciliation can happen.
The choices we make as individuals and in community are important. What will we choose? Will we choose actions and behaviours that harm or will we choose to make better choices for ourselves, for the present and the future?