“The Boiling Pot”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
August 6, 2017
University Baptist Church
At the end of the service last week, worship leader Deidre Druk pulled a piece of paper from the grab bag which read, “I would like to hear a sermon about the boiling pot in Ezekiel 24.” Thanks, John ;). One of the advantages of doing this grab bag series is that it eschews the greatest hits of the Bible that appear in the common lectionary. It pushes us to be more Biblically literate and at the same time respectful of the variety of ideas contained in this holy book.
Ezekiel was an apocalyptic prophet writing during a time of chaos for the Hebrew people. He gives this allegorical oracle as a judgment about the way people approach the world. On the surface, it looks like a Good Housekeeping recipe for a winter soup. The scripture even comes with a sanitary tip: While we can make a wonderful stew, we should make sure the pot is clean before preparing it.
I look forward to making maple syrup every spring. I gather the wood all year. Collecting branches that go down in the neighborhood, taking donations of downed limbs. Chopping and stacking it for the spring.
I collect the milk jugs, cutting a hole just across from the handle so they will hold on the spiles. I’ll drill 17 holes in the 6 trees and start collecting the sap.
Eventually, the sap gets put on these big pots to boil. They boil for 8-15 hours, depending on the amount of sap and the amount of energy on their tenders.
At the end of the season, the pots are black on the outside and crusted on the inside with scalded sugar and other impurities. Once the weather gets warm enough, I spend about 4 hours scrubbing coolers and pots, trying to get the sediment and scum off the pots. I know that if don’t the next year’s batch will hold all of those impurities. It’s a tedious, but essential part of the process.
Ezekiel says that the pots not only need to be dumped out, but they need to be cleaned out.
I wrote a letter to the editor of the Star Tribune the other day. It was about the President’s latest move to curtail legal immigration. He said only bring people in who speak English and who can help business. I spoke about the troubles our Nicaraguan guests had getting their visas to visit in this new administration. I encouraged us to not be fearful of outsiders, but to learn from them. I said something about them holding up a mirror to us and implied that we ought to like the image in that mirror.
I checked the on-line comments and one said, “The country needs to slow down its immigration. So many tight knit enclaves of immigrants where little English is spoken. Are we not supposed to be a melting pot? Currently we are a curdled mess. “
Utah Phillips said that the problem with the melting pot is that the folks on the bottom get burned, the scum rises to the top. Plus the middle is kinda bland. I prefer a good stew any day, where you can celebrate the individual contributions as they add flavor to the mixture. Think of a good summer minestrone with fresh tomatoes, crunchy green beans, fresh carrots, some sweet corn, some kale, basil, maybe some beets for flavor and color. Yum.
Ezekiel says for us to make a stew with our offerings to God. But don’t make empty offerings. Your offerings need to mean something.
But let’s look a little closer at the boiling pot story.
The scripture says to record the date because it is the date of the destruction of the temple.
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the atom bomb dropping on Hiroshima. Since that time, there have been thousands more bombs with greater capabilities created with the idea that they will never be used. But if all you have is a hammer, then everything starts looking like a nail.
The siege of Jerusalem happened because an invading army wanted their land. They decided if they could kill their god then they could subdue the people. So they set fire to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and carried off the sacred vessels as the spoils of war. The boiling pot metaphorically describes the destruction. I think of the conquerors who invaded this land, who destroyed the villages and killed the leaders of the indigenous people, replacing their ancient religions with the ones brought to them by the settlers or invaders.
The book of Ezekiel is written after the invasion to a devastated people who have lost nearly everything. They are told that they played a part in their own demise.
Look at what gets thrown into the pot. The choicest meats. The thigh and the shoulder and the best bones. This could have meant the rulers, the religious authorities, the priests, the kings. Put them all in the pot. The pot, by the way is Jerusalem. The walls of the pot are the walls of the city. The walls trap them inside. Imprisoned by their own self-serving idolatry.
The president and company are touting a new immigration policy that seeks to keep out the scum—or so they say. I think the walls keep some of the scum in.
Ezekiel says that the pot is rusty. It is full of impurities—abominations. Sin, injustice, meanness, trusting in money more than God. Merit over mercy. Profits over protection.
Our current president addressed police officers and encouraged them to use more force, not less, especially when it comes to high stress situations. This shoot first ask questions later that has ended the lives of Philando Castillo, Justine Damond, and countless others.
Just yesterday, a mosque was bombed in Bloomington. When the President at an October campaign rally said Somali Muslims were dangerous, it should come as no surprise that violence against Muslims is the result. It’s part of what is tarnishing the stew. There have been 14 bias crimes against Muslims in the Twin Cities already this year.
The wood for the fire are the armaments of the Babylonians. The dreaded Nebuchadnezzar. The fuel of the fire could very well be the military industrial complex, let alone the arms in our streets. Imagine if we spent a fraction of what we spend on the arms race, on health care, or education or the arts. Ezekiel is saying we are being cooked by our own collusion with the mindset of evil.
At what point does the pot boil over? When does it become too full of abominations? How many lies spoil the stew?
The wrath of God is meted out to the whole city of Jerusalem for the idolatry of some. Look at how the cooked meat gets tossed aside. It doesn’t matter who is the best or the worst, it will all be dumped out—sent to exile. Ezekiel said that the only way to purify the city once again is to destroy it. That’s how bad it had gotten.
The pot is then going to be burned red hot until it is clean again.
Ezekiel was written after the siege as a way to make sense of it. The indestructible city reduced to rubble, the throne of the living God desecrated. Ezekiel is calling on us to change our ways before it happens again.
Once the siege happens, implies Ezekiel, it’s too late. Take yourself out of the abomination beforehand. That’s really the only hope.
What are the signs we have lost our way?
We put up with consumerism in the guise of Christianity.
We tolerate lying.
We go along to get along.
We make excuses for excessive force in law enforcement.
We have religious figures to give sanction to the sin of excess.
We say, “peace, peace” when there is no peace and “fear, fear” when there is little to fear.
God was willing to sacrifice God’s own dwelling in order to purify the people. That’s how bad it got.
So the question for us is, how can we purify ourselves before it gets so bad that the world implodes by the weight of our collective sin?
What steps can we take to move away from our self-destructive paths?
What ways can we take to move in a counter-cultural direction?
We have already done some things by becoming a sanctuary congregation.
We have already done this by being a welcoming and affirming congregation.
We have already done this by offering our grand old building as a center for community engagement and activism.
We have already done this by welcoming members of our sister church to partner with us.
We have already done this by celebrating beauty in music and in prayer.
We have already done this by supporting one another in our darkest moments.
But we might have more to do.
We might need to find ways to challenge students and others to take a new look at religion and justice as two sides of the same coin.
We might need to find new ways to advocate on behalf of the voiceless and the forgotten.
We might need to continue to break down the prison industrial complex and its bed-mate the military industrial complex.
But better than that, we ought to be motivated by a hope for a better world. Remember that the Ezekiel who spoke about the boiling pot, also spoke about new life being breathed into the valley of dry bones.
We exist as the church to breathe life into long dormant and powerful resources of compassion, mercy, love and justice. We hold the story of redemption and renewal in our very walls and in our bones. We have seen too many people burned in the pots of their own destruction. We are here to offer a way out. We are here to douse the flames of destruction and to create a pleasing stew for everyone to enjoy. Thanks be to God.
You know, it’s real easy to point the finger at the evildoers and say that they are the reason for our hardship. That is important, but it’s more important to highlight the good people who offer a different and better narrative. So, I’d like to end this sermon on a more hopeful note thanks to the songwriting of Elmer Beal:
When it seems that everyone is worried for themselves,
Buying plans for fallout shelters, stocking up the shelves,
Living in the fast lane, and staying high at night,
Thinking that by accident we'll blow out all the lights;
Look, now, at the potter whose wheel is spinning 'round,
Shaping with her hands the past and future from the ground:
Cups that will be filled and drunk, so warm in wintertime,
Plates and bowls for dinner served with candlelight and wine:
She believes, she believes,
By her work it's so easy to see
That the future is more than the following day,
It's fashioned securely in the clay.
Look now at the farmer working in his field,
Hoping that the sun and rain will guarantee his yield.
Like the seed the wind has blown to unfamiliar ground,
He waits to see what fate will bring as each year rolls around.
Elsewhere, there are lovers in a warm embrace,
Happy with their plans to carry on the human race.
Now the baby cries and wonders if it's all alone;
Softly, voices reassure: there'll always be a home.
So, if you had been worried that tomorrow wouldn't come,
Look to see the ones whose lives are following the sun.
And the hope that springs so clearly from the work they do
Will spread a little further when it finds a place in you.
We believe, we believe,
By our work it's so easy to see
That the future is more than the following day,
It's fashioned securely in the clay.