Lent 4 – Justice

Ezekiel 47: 1-12

So… What is the difference between a stagnant pond and a living lake?  There are many correct answers, I’m sure, but the one I’m thinking of is this:  water flows out of a living lake.  In a stagnant pond, water only flows in.

When Karen and I were hosting a tour group in the Holy Land years ago, our guide put it this way.  He talked about the parable of two bodies of water.  An image and parable of the church, as he put it.  There is the Sea of Galilee – a living lake, with fish (and a lively fishing industry), surrounded by verdant land, vineyards and olive groves… It’s lovely, a bit like the Okanagan.  Water flows into the Sea of Galilee from the Golan Heights and from what used to be Caesarea Philippi, and water flows out in the Jordan River.  Contrast the other body of water in Jesus’ homeland:  the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is a forbidding, desolate area.  Nothing particularly lives in the dead sea, no fish, and nothing much lives around the dead sea.  Harsh, dry, barren.  Water from the Jordan flows into the Dead, but nothing flows out.  The Dead Sea holds on to everything that flows in – and that’s what kills it.  A parable of the church, said our guide.

When we say, here, “God is here for everyone,” I’m pretty sure we don’t mean “you’ve got to come in here in order to find God.”  When we say in our mission statement, “We journey… and find God” I’m pretty sure we don’t mean that finding God here is the end of the journey.  That once we find God we’ve arrived.

Our reading this morning is a bit obscure, though it is picked up in a few other places in Scripture.  I think this is a brilliant, beautiful vision for the church.  In Ezekiel’s vision, the church, the Temple, is like the Sea of Galilee – it has an outflow.  Just a trickle, mind you, but the living waters don’t just pool in the Temple, in the church, like the Dead Sea.  They flow through.

A trickle of water, just a trickle – after all, the church is small, and the world is big – a trickle of water runs out from near the altar, and runs out the east side of the Temple.  Just a trickle, running out of the Temple and into the world.  A little bit of living water, a little bit of grace, a little bit of gospel maybe, a little bit of love, a little bit of compassion – you get the idea.

And the angel that is showing the vision to Ezekiel measures off a half a kilometre or so.  Where does that get us?  To the East Village perhaps?  The Beltline?  West Village?  Half a kilometre away, you’d think the trickle would have dried up.  But no – it’s bigger.  It’s an ankle-deep stream now.  How is that?  That the living waters gather strength, not in here, but out there?

The angel measures off another half-kilometre.  Maybe, to stretch it a bit, out to the industrial areas, and some of the residential suburbs.  Out there the waters have gathered still more strength, the stream is knee deep.   Another thousand cubits, maybe out to the farmlands, the ranchlands, the parklands, the oilfields – and the river is even stronger.  Waist deep.  Another thousand cubits and it is a great river, one that can’t be crossed.  “Mortal,” says the angel, “are you paying attention to this?”

mountain stream with trees

Are we?  Are we paying attention to how the living waters here are gathering strength out there?

Well, then the angel directs Ezekiel’s attention to the riverbanks.  And Ezekiel sees that the trickle that has become a river has turned the world fertile.  There are fish in the river, there are trees on the banks, trees that bear fruit every month and whose leaves can be used for healing.  The river is turning the world whole, the river is turning the world whole – and in case you don’t get it, when this river flows into the Dead Sea it makes it alive again.

We say we find God in justice.

Ezekiel shows us a vision of a trickle of water that comes from the sanctuary, flowing out into the world, making the world whole and healthy and alive.  Are we paying attention?  Are we paying attention to how the gospel we celebrate in here comes alive when it gets out there?   Are we truly finding God in the transformation of the world, the mending of the world, the acting out of justice and compassion?

Maybe the river gathers strength in the rising up of the First Nations.  Maybe our current economic woes are birth pains, birth pains of a new and more sustainable economy.  Maybe our current church struggles are nothing worse than puddling water, water that just needs to flow out.  Maybe you see much more clearly than I:  where is the water rising?  Where is the living water bringing wholeness and new life to the world?  To Calgary?  To the downtown?

Here’s your practice for the week:

Look outside the church, and find at least one place where the living water is rising – and write me a note or an e-mail to tell me about it.

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