Sunday, 11 October 2020

In too Deep - Ezekiel 8

 In chapter 8 Ezekiel has another vision where he is carried off and shown various things. In this case to the temple of Jerusalem, but what he is shown is not good. For a start there is the idol of Asherah set up in the temple area (see 2 Kings 21:7). He is shown the elders (who should know better) worshipping other gods, with carvings of unclean animals (the primitive gods of the Egyptians), and more ...

In verses 7 & 8 there is the hole in the wall that he is told to dig through and look - seeing wicked things. The point of the hole is that it is about 'things done in secret', stuff in our lives others don't know about (a modern day example would be pornography obsession), but of course the reality is that God does see. The vision comes to a climax in verse 16 with worshippers standing, backs to the temple, worshipping the sun. In other words worshipping creation as if god, but also having turned their back  on God.

It is summed up in verse 16 as 'utterly horrible'. The 'branch to nose' could be translated 'stench to God's nose', i.e. it stinks! The result is verse 17 'fill the land with violence' - they also lost their moral compass, and so no wonder in v18 they call on God but He won't hear. The bottom line is that they were in too deep, too engrossed in culture with its foreign gods.

But a curiosity is that in v4 before Ezekiel in the temple area was the glory of God - right in the same place as all this bad stuff going on. It raises the question: can the presence of God really co-exist with all this horrible idolatry and yuk? The people had embraced other gods - hence the exile and the doom passages in Ezekiel - but can the glory of God remain? Well the answer is no - in chapter 10 the glory will depart.

Let us therefore look at ourselves, in our culture today. We might not have images of unclean reptiles, but what images do we hold to and let dominate our lives? It could be success at any cost, the accumulation of stuff or things. Or our tech - tech is great, until it ends up controlling us rather than being a utility. Our culture has in fact plenty of its own false gods. How should we then read Ezekiel and react?

Two mistakes people make are as follows. One is isolation - Christians cut themselves off from society, to keep well away from the bad. The other is to simply mix in Christian faith with everything else (kind of adding Jesus alongside all the other gods). The latter is technically known as 'syncretism'. Both mistakes are problematic, and not the genuine call of Jesus on our lives: we are called to live in our context with a Christian distinctive, to be 'in the world but not of it'. In practice it will be different for different believers. We have turned off watching a film only 10 to 15 minutes in, because we figured it was not wholesome. Others will debate, for example, whether going to a nightclub is healthy or not.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthian believers says (chapter 6): 'You have freedom in Christ, but the body is not meant for sexual immorality'. He then writes 'Shall I go with a prostitute?' and answers 'No way!'. He uses sexual morality as an example of a greater principle. For sure in terms of sexual morality itself any of sleeping around, having an affair, or using prostitutes are damaging. Yet it is also poignant on another level: Ezekiel (and elsewhere in the older part of the Bible) have 'prostitution' as a key image or metaphor for people turning to other gods. So we should ask ourselves: do we want to prostitute ourselves (for example) to the god of consumerism or materialism?

In addition, Paul writes in the same chapter that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This links back to a few weeks ago where we considered how each of us, in Christ, becomes a place where heaven and earth meet. So that forces us back to our question: Can the presence of God really co-exist with all this horrible idolatry and yuk? As Christians we are not perfect, yet by grace God fills us with the Holy Spirit ... so to some degree they do co-exist. Yet will the Holy Spirit want to co-exist indefinitely, no matter the level of yuk? If we go to the extent of turning our backs on God, surely there is a risk of the Spirit departing (as Ezekiel saw the glory depart)? And if there is no longer any glory, then there cannot be any enduring witness by us.

Lets think now about others - people who are nested in the trappings of consumerism, materialism or whatever. Our call is to be like Jesus, i.e. incarnational, to enter their culture in order to redeem people in it. That will mean carefully critiquing: calling out from what is bad. But that doesn't necessarily mean yanking someone out completely. Instead it means enabling people to worship using appropriate forms from their own culture, e.g. in London among youth gangs you might encourage them in careful use of rap music etc., but you will counsel them to give up carrying knives!

This is the stuff of cross-cultural mission: which is valid for us reaching youth, 20-30s, in fact equally valid as we are church scattered across the city, with a witness to diverse people enabled through us taking initiative. In each case we must pay attention to the host culture and dynamics of where people are at, looking for how their lives can be transformed and redeemed. The bottom line is the call for them to follow Jesus.

This season of pandemic restrictions actually helps us in this regard. For it forces us to take 'scattered church' much more seriously - we cannot do whole church gatherings (because of space), so we have to think differently. It is a refining period for us: both as individuals, as groups of believers, and as church. Hence the key question and challenge:

[IN]:  How is God refining us?

Challenge: Evaluate what to keep, and what to leave behind

At Countess Free Church we are taking seriously that we are a church in mission across the city. That forces us to ask what kind of people does God want us to be? Are we true temples of the Holy Spirit? In other words are we places where the glory of God can reside, not compromised by our own yuk that tends to turn us away?

Can we be a people (even a scattered people) where heaven and earth meet, who can reach across, calling people to Jesus, calling out from that which is unhealthy, calling for transforming and redeeming of their lives and culture.

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