Psalm 130:5-7 5 My soul waits for God, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, wait for God, for with God there is mercy; with God there is plenteous redemption, and God shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
A byproduct of our habitual consumption is a growing inability to stick with a community beyond what it can give to and do for me. With my focus on me and my happiness and comfort, I’m less obliged to stick with something when the rubber meets the road. Now, I’m not saying that someone should stick with a community that is violent in any way—be it socially, physically, emotionally, or spiritually violent. What I’m saying is that we have a consumer attitude toward our communities; as long as I’m getting what I paid for, or what I want, I’m in. If that changes, I’ll leave. I am irreplaceable, but this community? Replaceable.
The irony here is that if your community is easily replaceable—being able to easily switch one community out for another—you are, too. If you can slip in and out of groups easily, if you’re always on the hunt for something better, then you do not allow yourself any time to cultivate interest in the group or the group to develop interest in you. Remember from the Lent 2 sermon on identity, irreplaceability is hinged on someone or something taking an interest in you, loving you, desiring you, missing you when you’re gone, wanting you to return. As more of our communities fall to consumerism, the more we become lost in the sea of replaceability. In fact, our relationality is further compromised; how relational can we be when our communities are fleeting? And if our relationality is faltering, then so too is our identity because will anyone take an interest in me long enough to stick around? And if that, then we are destabilized because we’re left with only ourselves and our own skepticism where nothing is permanent therefore nothing is permanent.
We’re consuming our communities and nothing seems to satisfy.
Then God said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am God, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, God, have spoken and will act,” says God.
Our prophet is Ezekiel, a prophet and priest of Jerusalem. He lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, he’s a prophet during the exile to Babylon. It’s from this context Ezekiel speaks; it’s to the exiled people, those having lost their land, their temple, their community, Ezekiel brings the living word of God. Ezekiel’s prophecies engage the imagination through the abstract and absurd. In this particular prophecy, Ezekiel speaks from a valley of dry (dead) bones, where God dropped him off. Ezekiel’s story invigorates attention being more than acquired knowledge and “quiet insight”; “It is a startling event: a thunder in the world and a lightning in the soul.” Those who have ears to hear begin listening: What about these dry bones surrounding our prophet who bears the weight of God’s divine hand?
Ezekiel is commanded to speak to the dead bones, to prophecy to them the word of God. An absurd request, but nonetheless Ezekiel does. Ezekiel speaks the promises of God over these dead bones: I will, says God, bring breath to you, add sinew and ligaments, I will put muscle and flesh on you, and I will bring you back to life. As Ezekiel speaks these words promising life, the bones begin to move, come together. As they come together, they are being covered with sinew and flesh just as God promised. What once looked dead and dried up, alienated and isolated, too far gone to be of any good, are now bodies lying before Ezekiel.
Then Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy to the breath, to summon the four winds to come into these new bodies. And he did, and as he did the bodies became animated and living, standing up before Ezekiel. Then God spoke one more time: God promises God’s people will be brought out of death, out of dried-upness, out of alienation and isolation and will be made to be God’s people on God’s land once again. God will raise the dead because God will restore the people of Israel and restore them to each other and to their own land. Life will triumph over death just as restoration triumphs over exile, because God’s word of promise doesn’t fall flat, it does what it intends to do. God holds Israel’s future, it’s not closed off; God isn’t distant but close, as close as breath in an animated body; Israel won’t spend eternity separated from each other, exiled from their community.
Our communities seem to be dissolving right before our eyes; people come and go so quickly. The ties that bind no longer hold; this is one of the reasons why the church is suffering so much right now. The consumerism embedded in the fabric of the church creates a competitive environment between churches as they fight over the same group of people and trying to be unique. Sadly, in so doing they cease to be unique communities because they must offer what everyone else is offering and in at least the same but most likely in more entertaining ways. Pastors compete against pastors, worship leaders against worship leaders, youth leaders against you leaders. In this environment, you can’t risk actually being unique, because you may risk your spot on the field, competing against the others. In this environment, community must be forsaken for the bigger goal: bodies and dollars. But doesn’t this mean sacrificing the beloved of God for numbers? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of being a church when we become just one more spiritual strip mall?
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we oppose this dissolution of community, this threat of consumerism? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for community.
We want community. We want a place where everyone knows our name, sees us, knows us, remembers our birthdays, where we can risk being unique, where we can have our irreplaceability affirmed, where we are needed and where we are missed when we’re not here. I’m crazy enough to think that church was once and can be that place again. Churches came into existence to be small communal events, to share a story and to share a meal, where it was safe to believe and have faith in God incarnate raised again, Christ Jesus; where the Spirit called each person to dare to love like God, daring to love those declared unlovable by the society around them.
Church is where you’re brought alongside that guy you don’t really understand, that lady who never says a word, that person who seems really eager to leave, that kid who likes to hoot and holler during the sermon, that whacky priest in stilettos. In church you’re asked see your similarity with all these various people sitting next to you, people you may not commune with Monday through Friday, but on Sunday you do. Every Sunday each of you sets aside everything making you different and you come to these pews to share in hearing an ancient story, recite and respond with the same words, and confess and receive absolution together. Here we come together and join at the rail, each of us empty handed with each other and with God. Here we are spiritually awakened by the power of God’s spirit and come to terms with our hunger for God.
In our hunger for God, we long for community. In our desire for God we are brought together to feast at God’s table as one body. In this community, we’re brought out of the death of alienation and isolation, and we are brought together; we are summoned out of death and into life with each other. It is here, in the midst of the divine hope and love where I find community with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
(for part 1 click here, part 2 click here, part 3 click here, part 4 click here)
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, JPS Study Bible. 1042. “The book of Ezekiel presents the words of Ezekiel son of Buzi, a prophet and priest, and one of the Jerusalemites exiled to Babylonia with King Jehoiachin in 597 BCE by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24.8–17). Like his older contemporaries Jeremiah, 1, Ezekiel lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 and the early years of the Babylon exile.”
 Abraham K Heschel The Prophets New York, NY: JPS 1962. 444.
 Heschel, Prophets, 444. “‘The hand of God,’ a synonym for the manifestation of His strength and power (Isa. 10:10; 28:2; Deut. 32:36), is the name the prophet uses to describe the urgency, pressure, and compulsion by which he is stunned and overwhelmed. ‘For the Lord spoke thus to me with His strong hand upon me’ (Isa. 8:11). ‘I sat alone, because Thy hand was upon me’ (Jer. 15:17). ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me’ (Ezek. 37:1; 3:14, 24). The prophet very rarely speaks of God’s face; he feels His hand.”
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, 1114. “In its plain-sense meaning, the image symbolizes the restoration of Israel to its own land.”
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, 1042. “He wrestles with the problems posed by the tragedies of Jerusalem’s destruction and the Babylonian exile: Why did God allow the Temple and Jerusalem to be destroyed? why did God allow the people of Israel to be carried away into exile? What future is there for Israel?”