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Ezekiel the Crazy Prophet

I returned to work on Sunday from a lovely two week stay-cation.  It was lovely.  I spent the two weeks knitting, watching Netflix, and going to protests, because this is the Year of Our Lord 2017 and the world doesn’t improve because I’ve decided to take time off of work.

It was quite a Megan vacation.

I also spent a fair amount of time up in St. Joseph, where I went to the Glore Psychiatric Museum (which I highly recommend.  If you’ve never seen Barbie and Ken act out a medieval witch burning, have you ever even been alive?***)

I forget how helpful vacations are until I take one, and then I recall that irritation is, in fact, not my natural state, and motivation does, in fact, return with the proper amount of rest.

Oh, that everyone were afforded vacations in this world.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

September 9,10, 2017

Ordinary Time, Proper

Ezekiel 33:7-11

 

Of the Hebrew prophets, you can construct a sort of scale of social acceptability.  On one end, you have the nice guys:  your Micahs, your Isaiahs, even your Amoses.  Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees–and while no one knows exactly what that entails, you’d probably be safe inviting him to dinner.  In the middle, you’ve got people like Jonah, Jeremiah–folks inclined to do some inappropriate yelling at some awkward times, at People who Should Not be Yelled At, but they didn’t DO anything horribly embarrassing.

Then, on the far end, you have Ezekiel.  Ezekiel belongs on the ‘special’ end of that prophet spectrum.  He is one of those prophets who wasn’t just concerned with preaching the word of God; he also undertook specific actions that were symbolic of what God was doing in the world.  So his prophetic work was two-fold.  (Hosea was another one of these, and it’s how he ended up married to a lady of questionable morals, and saddled his children with long and unfortunate names.)  

The downside of engaging in lofty symbolic acts all the time is that they make a person look insane.  Ezekiel lived and worked at the same time as Jeremiah, so clearly a lot was going on, and his acts had a flair for the…shall we say, desperate?  He ate a chunk of the scripture parchment, to illustrate that the word of God was sweeter than honey.  He lay for 390 days before a brick to reenact the siege of Jerusalem. He cut off his hair with a sword and burned a third of it in the city center.  

Basically, he was the town weirdo.  If you saw him pacing down the street, you crossed to the other side.  In life, he was probaby a fairly offputting dude.  

But I tell you what–he lived in some anxious and troubling times.  Ezekiel was one of the first wave of exiles from Jerusalem to be carried off in the Babylonian invasion.  He, and the rest of his comrades, had been rounded up and dumped in a foreign land with no language skills, no friends, no rights–cut off from their family and friends.  Meanwhile, the Babylonian army was destroying the homes they had been snatched from.  The prevailing sense was that God had abandoned his people for their sins, or–that somehow the gods of Babylon had proven stronger than the God of Israel.  And there didn’t seem to be much evidence to the contrary, because all the exiles could see was one disaster unfolding on top of another.  Stacking up like firewood.

That sort of dire situation can make people do some pretty unlikely things.  When people are surrounded by disaster like that–unrelenting, unending bad news on all sides, with seemingly no hope of an end–it becomes hard to hold on to ‘normal’ behavior or beliefs.  

Our tendency, in such situations, is to fall back into fear, and into the most knee-jerk patterns of belief.  God has abandoned us!  Evil has overtaken us!  God is punishing us! The most primal, the oldest thought patterns we have tend to surface around great and implacable disasters, and it’s because of this sort of base level fear that rises up when we feel overwhelmed and under siege.

For Ezekiel’s society, it comes out in the form of an old belief that God was smiting them for their sins.  (Thankfully, this is a belief that no one ever mentions during natural disasters nowadays…..)  The exiles, in their exhaustion and in their panic, believed that they must have done SOMETHING to bring this upon themselves, and so God was now going to destroy them in their wickedness.  The whole people were convinced.  Even though–nothing they knew of God to this point would suggest that God worked that way.  

{This happens on an individual level too.  I have chronic migraines, and in college I had a particularly nasty one, which lasted for a few weeks with no relief.  By the third week, I had come to think of the pain in my head, that pulsing, throbbing thing as a demon–as I prayed for relief.  The whole time, mind you, I KNEW that this was ridiculous.  I knew that the world didn’t work that way, and that what was happening was a neuro-biological process.  But in those moments, I was tired, and I was in pain, and I just wanted it to stop.  }

So up steps Ezekiel, who informs the people that while they, like everyone else, have gone astray–it is not the will of God that they perish.  “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways.  For why will you die, O house of Israel?”  

God never wants the destruction of anyone.  God wants to give us a second chance so we can do better and learn.  God does not send disasters upon us to teach us “lessons”, or to punish us.  God does not do that, God does not work like that–it is our own fear and human nature that makes us think that in these times of peril.  

Because, after all, wouldn’t it feel slightly better if we could blame disasters on God?  That way, we could take comfort, cold though it might be, that we were morally superior to those afflicted.  And we could promise ourselves that if we just prayed hard enough, if we just did X, Y, and Z, then we wouldn’t be the next to suffer.  And if we are the ones afflicted, then that same fear can turn us inwards, make us blame ourselves for our own evil–robbing us of the chance to reach out for help.  

In times like these, when we have deadly hurricanes stacking up along the coast like planes around O’Hare, and threats of war coming from overseas, and upsetting decisions coming from our leaders, people are doing some odd things.  There are religious leaders out there announcing God’s wrath is upon us for various reasons.  There are other people trying to deny that anything at all unusual is occurring.  

Overall, the anxiety in our world is reaching a fever pitch.  And that tone of fear can be seen and felt in so many aspects of life right now.  The same old fear-based beliefs that rose to the surface during Ezekiel’s time are coming up again now.  What if God has abandoned us?  What if we are being punished?  What if evil has overtaken us?  

When you are tired, and when there is so much anxiety in the air, those thoughts are harder to push back against, because they can be so easy to believe.  So, when you feel those thoughts crowding into your head, remember Ezekiel, and his crazy antics.  Remember the lengths he went to to convince the despondent exiles of God’s undying love and presence with them.  

Here was a man who threw away dignity and common sense to illustrate in word and deed just how much God loved and stood by his people–even in the darkest and most anxious of times.  

Maybe we are called, in our own anxious times, to be Ezekiels for this time and place.  Maybe we are called to act extravagantly to illustrate just how committed God is to our human flourishing, in defiance of those voices who would doubt it.  Maybe we have been sent to throw caution to the wind and stretch out our hands and live largely so that all can see and believe, through us, that God loves all people, and does not abandon us to anything–not even fear.  

 

Amen.  

***Half the museum is the preserved psychiatric state hospital as it was in the mid 1960s, with the practices and equipment explained.  The other half are recreations built by patients from the 1960s to explain mental illness treatments through time.  One such recreation is something entitled the “Bath of Surprise”, in which the medieval person would be lured up onto a platform, then SURPRISE! dumped through a trapdoor into a pool of water.  The plaque noted that the treatment had a low success rate, but patients did seem to be calmer.  This display is helpfully illustrated by a department store mannequin seated in a wooden tub, covered in blue paint.   NOT TO BE MISSED.

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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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