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EZEKIEL AND THE PUBLIC CHURCH: EVERYTHING WILL LIVE WHERE THE RIVER GOES

by Ellen Weber and Jeremy Myers

Throughout this summer as we have gathered folks together around our work, the text from Ezekiel 47 continues to be a way to ground us before we begin. As our work shifts, taking time to remember these words re-grounds us in why public church matters through Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance.

Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 47:1–12, NRSV)

Individual stepping in water that is flowing by the side of a half-wall by the riverside. 1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

3 Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’

Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

Ezekiel’s vision becomes an invitation to follow God’s jubilee as it flows into the world and and makes everything live where it flows. The Public Church Framework (below) provides faith communities with a way to do this, to become blessings for the entire land on which they are rooted rather than existing to serve their own purpose. We are Ezekiel, following the enigmatic divine tour guide along the river as we learn to see the breadth and depth of God’s love flowing away from the temple and into the world.

  1. Accompaniment: Mortal, Have You Seen This? (vs. 1–6a) — The river flows out from the temple and towards the desolate places. We are called out of our temples and our comfort zones to follow this river and to stop and notice how wide and deep it becomes. As we hear our neighbors’ stories, we become aware of how God’s deep and wide love and mercy are at work in their lives. We learn to hear and see so that when we are asked this question – Mortal, have you seen this? – we can answer with a yes. Accompaniment is the practice of learning to see and hear God’s love bringing life to our world.
  2. Interpretation: The Water Will Become Fresh (vs. 6b–8) — As the jubilee river flows it brings fresh water into salt water. This fresh water desalinates the salt water and makes it fresh. The jubilee water dwells in, with, and under the salt water and makes it able to support and create life. The same happens to us as the stream of God’s story flows into the streams of our stories and our neighbors’ stories. God’s story begins to dwell in, with, and under our stories and our realities. This brings hope to stories that were at one time hopeless. Interpretation is the practice of learning how God’s promises (the fresh water) change the way we look at suffering in our world (salt water) and how those sufferings change the way we look at God’s promises.
  3. Discernment: Fishing and Spreading Nets (v. 9–11) The living water brings about diversity and abundance. The fishing is good along this riverside. We have now seen the fullness of this river and we now have some choices to make. Is it time to fish? Is it time to dry our nets? Is this a place to fish? Is this a place to gather salt? There is work to be done along this riverside and we are invited and equipped to do it. Discernment is the practice of learning to hear God’s call and to know when, where, how and why to act on that call.
  4. Proclamation: Fruit for Food, Leaves for Healing (v. 12) — Ezekiel walks the riverside and notices the trees on both sides of the river and the harvest they produce. The trees are growing fruit for food and leaves for healing. The gifts of these trees create a future for God’s people. These trees do not only produce seeds that ensure the future of the trees themselves, they produce leaves and fruit for the world. Proclamation is the practice of producing and presenting our world with our gifts for the sake of the world, not for the sake of our own propagation. Christian faith communities re-engage their neighborhoods with fruit for food and leaves for healing — gifts to be given away that create a future for God’s people.

Water rushing down rocks in a mini water fall

God’s creative, life-giving, jubilee river flows out from the temple and into the world. Our call is not to dam up the river and keep it in the temple. Our call is not to expect our neighbors to come to the temple to experience the life giving water of the river. Our call is to follow the river as it deepens and widens and makes all things live. As we learn to do this — to see, to fish, to spread nets, to grow and harvest fruit for food and leaves for healing — we find ourselves in the midst of innovation. Of co-creating a future for God’s world with God and our neighbor along the riverside. People are not looking for the temple, but they surely are seeking what they can find at the riverside. They are looking for others who are eager to bring the fruit for food and the leaves for healing to their neighbors.

 

What would it look like for you to follow the river of God’s living water out into the neighborhood?

Who are the guides that might accompany you on that journey?

What might happen?

Come join us and find out.