Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations. ...You just heard an extended metaphor that surprises its hearers with its vulgarity. Because of the shock, the hearers recognize how heinous their sins are.
You were naked and bare. ... I passed by you and saw you, and behold, [fn] you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord GOD. Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you," declares the Lord GOD. But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. ...
Then it came about after all your wickedness ('Woe, woe to you!' declares the Lord GOD), that you built yourself a shrine and made yourself a high place in every square. You built yourself a high place at the top of every street and made your beauty abominable, and you spread your legs to every passer-by to multiply your harlotry. ...
How languishing is your heart," declares the Lord GOD, "while you do all these things, the actions of a bold-faced harlot. When you built your shrine at the beginning of every street and made your high place in every square, in disdaining money, you were not like a harlot. You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all harlots, but you give your gifts to all your lovers to bribe them to come to you from every direction for your harlotries. Thus you are different from those women in your harlotries, in that no one plays the harlot [fn] as you do, because you give money and no money is given you; thus you are different." Therefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD.
I want to tell you another story, a story inspired by this one and in a similar vein. This story is also vulgar, mimicking Ezekiel's style to emphasize some of our heinous sins, at least, I know it reflects some of my heinous sins. I also play around with gender. Whereas the Bible might devalue women by portraying polygamy, I will portray polygamy and polyandry, which is the practice of having multiple male partners. In Ezekiel, the God character is seen sexually accosting a young, naked girl. In my story, the God character does some equally odd things, but only to portray God's radical character, not to portray God as a person of vice.
Listen for the metaphor. Listen for the surprises. Disagree or agree with any messages you might find. Accept the story not as perfect, but as the result of a young man wrestling with God and the church. After I tell the story, I'm going to ask you to wrestle with or against me. I hope we can debrief and talk as a group after the story. Be prepared to interact. Listen not just to fill out the evaluation, but to interact with the text and communally create meaning.
To recap, part of this sermon, is talking about the story.
A young man was backpacking in the mountains. He was enraptured by the beauty of the trees and the songs of the birds. He meandered along the path, his mind wandering as much as his feet.
Then he saw a most unexpected thing: a young, naked woman. She stood there, unashamed, as if she had been left in the woods naked for a long time. She stood still, off the beaten path, shivering with cold, and red from sunburn.
He took any extra clothes he had and put them over her. She jumped when she felt his hands through the coat he wrapped around her shoulders. It was awkward clothing her, trying not to touch her inappropriately. She offered little help, as if she longed for his touch.
He looked deep into her eyes, captured by them for what seemed like an eternity, for in her eyes, he saw eternity, although she looked no older than 21. Her eyes communicated fear, as if she had not seen or interacted with a human in a long time. And her eyes spoke trust and love, too, knowing, somehow, that she would be his, for she knew he loved her when he clothed her and laid out food for her.
With the food out, he took her hands inside his with intent to lead her to the food. He began to ask for her name when the jacket over her shoulders came undone, showing again her breasts. He paused and went to close the jacket once more, but as he gazed once again into her fearful, loving, eternal eyes, his hands instead went inside the jacket. He gracefully caressed her bosom as her arms wrapped around his body. They embraced. He warmed her body with his and they became one in the woods, proclaiming their love in the marriage act in front of creation. Like David and Jonathan, they swore their love unto to each other and entered into a covenant. And so the man became the woman's and the woman became the man's (Ez. 16:8), each of them the other's beloved.
When finished, she ate and he led her down the mountain. He bathed her and soothed her burns by rubbing them with ointment, by rubbing her with ointment. He put perfume on her and adorned her with the most beautiful jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, rings on her hands, rings in her ears, and a ring in her nose. He combed her hair and paid for a manicure, a pedicure--a full makeover.
She was beautiful from the start and he wonderfully complemented that beauty with things made by hand. He wrote stories about her, he wrote psalms about her, he wrote wise sayings and attributed the wisdom to her, for it was she who inspired everything he wrote, she who out of her very being breathed the words into his heart. He sang to her. He worshipped the very ground she walked on.
Because she lived some of her life as the least of peoples, the two never forgot to bless the unfortunate. Together, they blessed the world, preaching good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to those who desired it, freedom to the oppressed, and jubilee to all. In their blessing each other, they became a blessing to the world, serving all others in their public lives and servicing each other in private.
He bought her a car and he carried her wherever she thought they should go. When arriving at a destination, they relied heavily on the kindness of strangers and friends. They weren't quite homeless, but, unlike birds and foxes, they had no place to rest their heads, no place to call their own, except their love for each other and their love for the world.
One day he decided she should have a home, a sort of sanctuary erected in her honor. She was touched by his desire to set aside a sacred space for her, but she could not be bound by four walls. So he built her another home, this one a summer home by the beach. And then another for weekends in the mountains. A fall home in New England. A condo in the Bahamas. A homeless shelter in the Bronx. A hut in Africa. The list went on and on. Nothing was too good or too wild for his love.
After a while, many of the homes began to look similar: brick on the outside, painted windows, and white on the inside. Even when the two weren't present, he hired people to officiate ceremonies in honor of his love. The people would sing the songs he wrote about her, read the letters he wrote to her, and learn from the wisdom she inspired. They all desired a lover like her.
Somewhere in the building of these houses and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the house parties, the woman left the man. Her beauty was lost amidst the accoutrements and the pillars and spires that reached towards heaven. The man forgot her when he wasn't in her house and he was promiscuous in his own home, having frequent banquets and orgies of the most detestable sorts. When alone, he either brooded over his disdain for others or sang his own praises in a masturbatory fashion.
He used to love and serve her and others all day, every day, exploring all senses of those words. Then he would visit her daily, before slowing down to a few times a week with daily calls. He blessed himself more than he blessed others, sometimes blessing himself at the expense of others. He no longer wrote her love letters or Psalms. He presumed his earlier texts were enough and he re-read and studied them, as if they could take the place of his love and service.
When she left, he never noticed. He still visited her house, praising her name and studying their past love, but every trace of love left his heart long before the appearance of love became habit.
As much as he did or did not think about her, as much as he did or did not worship her, as much as he did or did not speak to her, she wasn't there. He grew accustom to her face and when it was gone, he imagined it was there. He remembered the ecstasy in his spirit and convinced his subconscious to duplicate the emotion in a way he could neither understand nor explain. It was indescribable to him. It was real to him, if only a façade. He felt this fakeness more than he understood it. Amidst this rote pretense of orgasmic love, he traveled from lover to lover. Prideful and ignorant, he searched for what he could not name: the unspeakable name of his beloved.
He didn't even know she was gone.
She left lost and confused. She was a strong woman, having spent much of her life on her own. But she had been with him for so long and she loved him so much. She didn't know what to do without him. Hurt that he didn't even know she was gone, she bounced from relationship to relationship, never selling herself short and always remembering him.
She began to travel in less-than-reputable circles. She began to sell herself and then, worse, she began to pay people to take her. Her legs opened to anyone. If they would love her, then she would enter into relationship with them and bless them and make them a blessing to others. As she again became the least of people, she still lived to bless people and turn them into blessings. And she did so, over and over, with men and women. When one became faithful to only her, she still turned for others, never filling the void left by him, but always trying. The hurt she experienced with him happened over and over again as different people built different houses, many of them claiming to be her sole lover. But so many of them she left, because they ceased to loved her. Those who stayed became monogamous and accepting of her polyandry, of her freely giving blessings of love, of her many covenants with many people.
And she truly loved these other men and women, in every sense of the word. She learned she was full of love for everyone who would love her, never running out of love to give to them, love to give to everyone, as if her body were broken and her blood spilt for many, but miraculously multiplying to satisfy the appetites of anyone who would take their fill.
She became her own woman, a woman the first man only once knew, but had since forgotten.
One day their paths crossed again, serendipitously, providentially. He had turned to depression and making love, but never giving or receiving love. He stumbled towards her on the street one night in the same way he stumbled to any promiscuous man or woman. He became callous to loving, having no expectations to find what he was looking for in her.
He didn't recognize her, for she was beautiful in a way he could never have imagined, a beauty beyond what he and his preconceived notions could understand, a beauty found in prostitutes, drug dealers, the socially awkward, the differently abled, the sinners of every shape and kind--a beauty found in people he continually refused to love.
She refused to take the money he offered her. She smiled and, as she did so often, she tried to explain it was not he who found her, but she who found him, she who lost him, but had been looking for him in the love-making of every man and woman since he became lost. She who stood on the street corner calling for love, for his love (Prov. 8). It was for him that her red light shone.
He stood, dazed. He didn't know she was, who had left, or that he or she was ever lost. He thought he had come to her. How could she have been looking for him? He didn't know what was going on. At least, not until she began to love him once again.
When he felt her touch, he remembered. When he tasted her lips once again, he knew. When his hands caressed her breasts and her hands swept up his thigh, he once again was lost and found in his lust for this one woman.
He cried after they made love and she wiped away his tears with her hair, washing him with the aroma of love and forgiveness. She loved him though he had forgotten her. Without even knowing he lost her, he found her once again. Their old covenant was remembered and renewed alongside another, new covenant. He accepted her multiple lovers and he repented of his matrimonial sins, becoming monogamous, loving only her, entering into community with her lovers, people with whom he never thought she could make covenants, people he never thought he or she could enjoy. He received them as his brothers and sisters and was ashamed of his sins, ashamed that he could not receive them in community as equal lovers of his beloved.
She once again became his God and he once again became part of her people. They work together for their love and for their love of others. He worships the ground she walks on, recognizing her beauty wherever he sees it, be it in one of her houses, in the rain, in sorrow, in joy, or reflected in the eyes of one of her lovers, in the eyes of any and every other human being.
I just shared a pretty extreme, extended metaphor. What do you think? What can you hear from a story of harlotry, if anything? What can you glean from God playing the harlot? From God having multiple sexual partners, both male and female? In Ezekiel's story, Israel trusts in the beauty God gave her, while in our story, the church trusts in the beauty he gives God;i n one situation, Israel leaves God, whereas in the other the God leaves the church--which scenario do you fear most in your life? in the life of your church?
Behold, everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb concerning you, saying, 'Like mother, like daughter.' You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and children. You are also the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. Now your older sister is Samaria, who lives north of you with her daughters; and your younger sister, who lives south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Yet you have not merely walked in their ways or done according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you acted more corruptly in all your conduct than they. ...
Nevertheless, I will restore their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and along with them your own captivity, in order that you may bear your humiliation and feel ashamed for all that you have done when you become a consolation to them. Your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to their former state, and you with your daughters will also return to your former state. ...
You have borne the penalty of your lewdness and abominations," the LORD declares. For thus says the Lord GOD, "I will also do with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath by breaking the covenant. Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger; and I will give them to you as daughters, but not because of your covenant. Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done," the Lord GOD declares.