Out of the Depths – Lent 5 2017

The Vision of Ezekiel, Francisco_Collantes (1630)

Lent 5 2017
Rev. Doug Floyd
Ezekiel 37:1-4, Psalm 130, Romans 6:15-23, John 11:18-44

“Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Bob Dylan[1]

Ezekiel lives among an alien people with alien gods. Seized from his homeland, he and 11,000 other captive Israelites are taken to a land without promise.  Born to be a priest he will never see the Temple again. He will never go home.

Born in the age of King Josiah, he was most likely part of a priestly family dedicated to the renewal of the covenant, of the people of God. After King Josiah’s death, the people turned back to false gods and suffered the judgment of God, falling captive to Babylon. Though a righteous man, Ezekiel himself will fall into this same judgment.

He becomes a voice of the Lord to the people living in darkness. He is a watchman on the wall in the place of exile. While his fellow exiles expect to return home soon, Ezekiel has seen the writing on the wall. He prophecies the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Ezekiel will do some very strange things in response to the call of God. At different times, he is transported in the Spirit realm. He lays on one side for 390 days and on the other side for 40 days. He cuts off his hair and beard and burns some of it, strike some of it on the ground and throws some of it to the wind.  He cooks with animal dung. He is bound with ropes and his mouth is stuck to the roof of his mouth. He draws a picture of Jerusalem in the dirt and built siege around the city. When his wife dies, the Lord does not allow him to mourn her death.

I hear some of the anguish Ezekiel may have known in the words of Bob Dylan,

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

But actually, the Psalmist reveals the hidden cry of the prophets. So I might better get a sense of the death-like existence of Ezekiel by rehearsing the words of Psalm 130.

          Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!

          O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my pleas for mercy! Ps 130:1–2, ESV

This word “depths” carries the sense of sinking in the dark waters of the ocean. Psalm 69 reads, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, Where the floods overflow me.” The Psalmist feels the terror of drowning in dark waters, of being forgotten by the Lord on high, of being abandoned in the place of the dead. From the very edge of death, O Lord, hear my voice. Hope seems lost. I am sinking into the darkness. O Lord, hear my lest I die in the place of abandonment. Like the Psalmist, Ezekiel knows this place of abandonment, of sinking into the darkness. The Spirit of God opens Ezekiel’s eyes to the dark sins of Judah, the perverse heart of the people. Ezekiel must not only expose this wickedness before the people, he must proclaim, “All hope is lost. Jerusalem will not be saved. A Fire is coming and it will consume, destroy the land of promise.”

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

Mary and Martha know this cry. Their beloved brother lies in the tomb. Though Jesus healed many, he didn’t heal Lazarus. Now he has sunk down into the place of the dead. His voice is silenced. Yet, they bear the grief directly.

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

There are places in this world, there are people in this city, who feel forsaken, abandoned, lost to all hope. We bear their cry on our lips,

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

We ourselves may know these places of loss, sadness, mourning. Of struggles with no clear answer. Of feeling forgotten. Of feeling alone. Of deep grief that lingers in the soul.

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

These words resound among the 20 million starving people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, an northeast Nigeria.

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

At the very heart of creation, an ache, a cry, a longing for redemption.

O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  Ps 130:2.

The idolatry of the Children of Israel raises as a stench before the Holy God. He proclaims judgment on the lips of Ezekiel.

11″Thus says the Lord GOD, “Clap your hand, stamp your foot and say, “Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, which will fall by sword, famine and plague!

12″He who is far off will die by the plague, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die by the famine. Thus will I spend My wrath on them.

13″Then you will know that I am the LORD, when their slain are among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the tops of the mountains, under every green tree and under every leafy oak — the places where they offered soothing aroma to all their idols. 14″So throughout all their habitations I will stretch out My hand against them and make the land more desolate and waste than the wilderness toward Diblah; thus they will know that I am the LORD.”‘” Ezek 6:11-14

Ezekiel beholds the breath of God blowing His people into the four winds, scattering them to the nations, annihilating them….And yet, even here in the place of absolute destruction and judgment, hope is not lost. The Psalmist sings,

          If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
          But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.  Ps 130:3–4.

Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and all the prophets of God look to God for mercy, for hope, for the promise of restoration.

5       I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6       my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. Ps 130:5–6.

Come Lord. Remember your covenant. Remember your steadfast Lord. Watch and wait O my soul for the goodness of God. There is hope because God has not forsaken His people even in the place of the dead,

7       O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8       And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. Ps 130:7–8

Our God redeems. Forgives. Speaks that which is not as though were. He calls upon Ezekiel to cry out, to call out to the four winds. Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Eze 37:9–10).

The nation that lay dead in the bowels of Babylon, “recalled to life.” The voice of God shaking through the voice of Ezekiel thunders and calls the dead, the forgotten, the forsaken, the abandoned. The Lord calls His children home. He gathers them up into His love.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus calling Lazarus back from the place of the dead. He has come to gather up His lost children unto Himself. And now over the next two weeks we follow him to Jerusalem, as He walks toward the place of the skull, the place of abandonment, the place of no hope. He is descending into the cry of His people,

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

He is descending into the very cry of creation.

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

He goes down to the place of the dead to raise up His people and His creation into glory. Even today, He is still gathering, calling, raising us to newness of life. He is the cry of our hearts,

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

Psalm 130 has been a beloved penitential prayer of the church. Known as De Profundis, it expresses the ache of the heart crying out of the depths. GK Chesterton wrote a song entitled Gloria in Profundis. In the very depths of creation, he beholds the glory of God. In one part he writes,

Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.
Glory to God in the Lowest

In this Lenten season, we sing out “Glory to God in the Lowest.” He has not forsaken the abandoned, those starving, those lost in sin, He has not forsaken our culture or our world. We celebrate His redeeming grace, the raised Israel from deadness of exile and is raising us together in Christ to worship Him.

As we look about our nation and see the confusion and conflict and anguish, we must learn to look even lower, the depths of the grace of God and even higher to the heights of His love. We cry out for our friends and family, for our city and state, for our nation and our world. We cry out with the saints across the ages,

Out of the depths, I cry to you O Lord. Hear my cry!

And we know He is faithful.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Ro 8:38–39.

[1] Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet” from Time Out of Mind, Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music

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