Pentecost – Proper 6
Ezekiel 17: 22 - 24; Psalm 92: 1-4, 11-14; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17; Mark 4: 26-34
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
According to the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the best way to understand a crisis, is not to see it as something scary, something that produces anxiety, or as the collapse of a dream we once had. All of us have experienced crises in our lives, that moment where things seem to be going fine, and all of a sudden, something happens, our lives come undone, and we feel as if they are out of control.
A crisis event in my life over ten years ago, when doctors explained to my wife and I that our first born son had a brain abnormality. From those doctor’s words forward, our lives took an unexpected turn, but a turn I would not give up for anything. Ten years after that moment, I see that the crisis we experienced was actually a miracle – an uncomfortable miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.
A crisis, Carl Jung suggests, is an opportunity. It is an opportunity because it forces us to look at our lives differently, crises give us no choice but to examine our relationships through a different lens. The mandate of a crisis is that we have to recreate what normal is, and we have to discover the meaning of our lives in the midst of a crisis.
This work is not easy.
Yet my experience of God is that God is most clear, most manifest, during a time of a crisis. Because in those moments, everything we thought was important, suddenly isn’t because we have a moment of blessed clarity in which we see God holding our hand.
Some of us are in crisis right now. Some of us know that we are, and others of us do not know. Regardless, when crisis strikes us how do we make sense of it?
Much of the Bible seems to be written to address this fundamental question. The great prophets of the Jewish tradition wrote pages and pages trying to understand how God could be present in circumstances where it seemed God was so absent. We hear from one of these prophets this morning, Ezekiel. Ezekiel witnessed a crisis – he watched the destruction of the city of Jerusalem with his own eyes. Ezekiel saw the beloved temple in Jerusalem, where God was worshipped, and believed to have been present, completely dismantled and burned by the Babylonian armies. If that was not terror enough, Ezekiel was among those in Israel who were forced into exile in Babylon.
In the beginning of chapter 17, which unfortunately we do not hear this morning, Ezekiel speaks of two great eagles, one of the eagles represents Egypt, and the other eagle represents Babylon, and both of these eagles are circling around a tall cedar tree. In Ezekiel, the tall cedar tree represents Israel, and the two eagles of Babylon and Egypt circling around the tree are symbolic of those two empires who were competing against each other to control Israel. The eagle representing Babylon plucks off a branch close to the top of the tree and carries the branch off to plant it in a foreign land. This branch that was broken off the tree and planted in a foreign land represents those in Israel who were forced away from their homeland to live in exile in Babylon.
In the Jewish cultural mindset, this was a crisis like none other, and yet, as devastating as it was, as painful as it was, it was also a miracle. The Jewish exile forced the people of Israel to understand that their God was not just present in a temple that could be destroyed. They learned through this painful process, that God was present with them everywhere, even if their beloved temple and city lay in ruin. Because they lived far away from their home, they decided that they needed to begin writing down their story so that the next generation would know. And so they began to write, and it was from this experience that the books of the Hebrew Bible, beginning with Genesis, were written. Some scholars suggest today that there would be no Judaism, and therefore no Christianity, without the exile.
What is your exile? What is your crisis? If you are not in a crisis right now, then that probably means you have either just emerged from one, or that you are heading right into one. That might sound kind of depressing to you, but I see it as really good news. In every crisis is an opportunity, and in every crisis, God is present.
I hope none of us feels shame for the public or private crisis we may find ourselves in today. God is with us, as God was with Israel. It doesn’t make the crisis easier or make it go away. But the presence of God does ordain the crisis and makes it holy. If you are in the midst of crisis, know that you standing on holy ground, for God has ordained it so. AMEN.