Beloved Members and Friends of St. Martin’s,
This weekend’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures is from the prophet Ezekiel. Specifically, it was addressing the belief common in ancient Israel that when a calamity befell the Israelites, it was due to their lack of faithfulness to God. Specifically, in answer to the question, “Why was our nation conquered and our leaders sent in captivity into exile?” Most of the priests and leaders taught that it was because God was punishing them for their lack of faith and fidelity.
Instead, Ezekiel here specifically denies this quid pro quo kind of system of consequences. In response to the speculation that their sins have caused them to suffer, God instead instructs the prophet to tell them this: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
The problem with this teaching is that it doesn't line up with reality. Unfortunately we know many people who act in terrible ways and yet come out unscathed, while many good people live lives of kindness and compassion, and bad things still befall them. Sometimes bad things happen that are outside of our control--for instance the terrible earthquake that struck Morocco just a day ago, with so far 1000 people confirmed dead. Earthquakes are simply natural processes; there is no calculus of punishment behind them.
However, there is a word here for us that is VITAL for all of us, and especially this parish to hear: when what has happened in the past has not worked out, it is time to acknowledge that, and change, starting with your expectations. Past is NOT prologue.
There is a very wise saying I first heard when I was little: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That’s what this short excerpt from Ezekiel reminds me of. And that especially holds true for expectations: if you believe something bad will happen, bad things are all you will see, and the good will go unrecognized. If you believe there will not be enough, no matter how much you have, you will only see shortfalls and feel the fear and uncertainty that those feed. This is true for our own lives, our parish life, and the state of Christianity in general.
This parish has untold gifts and depths and ministries, and we have the ability to invest in them and make them flourish. And the world needs those gifts only we can bring. That is the HEART of faith itself, the kind that turns mountains into molehills. And the time to begin to embrace that change is now, and see the amazing things that are within our reach for the future.