Visions of G@d

A Devotional in Remembrance of 9/11

by Safiyah Fosua, Guest Preacher

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Safiyah Fosua is the director of invitational preaching ministries for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church and former missionary to Ghana. This message is herein published with the permission of the author.

 

Preview devotional books by Safiyah Fosua

Jesus and Prayer Mother Wit: 365 Meditations for African-American Women

 

Ezekiel 1:1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month (It was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3 the word of Yahweh came to the priest Ezekiel, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of Yahweh was on him there.

 

In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

Have you ever endured an event so distressing that it restarted your clock?

Something such as . . .

The year that the basement flooded?

Or the year that our family lost the farm?

 

Notice that the prophet did not use Jewish names for the month Abib or Shebat. Nor did he reckon time from the year of the Exodus as his ancestors frequently had done. Something had happened in the lives of Ezekiel and his people that forced him to employ a new numbering system tied to an event that had stopped time and started it all over for him and for his people.

 

In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

Have you ever been forced to go through a situation so intense that it made you forget all the other years that had faithfully marched ahead in your life? Or that made you forget your heritage? Or even the year you were born?

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In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

What kind of event has the capacity to restart a person's historical clock? Perhaps your memories include the year of the big World War or the year that the stock market crashed. Maybe, for you, your clock hovers around the year that all the planes in America were grounded for days when hijacked planes took down the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in DC.

 

What was it that reset Ezekiel's clock? Ezekiel was one of the exiles from the Babylonian deportation. The Babylonians exiled the people of Judah in several major waves in ending in 587 B.C. Daniel was taken with the first group, and Ezekiel was thought to have been carried away with the second group, along with king Jehoiachin. Picture the horrifying sight of a captive king with an entourage of the best and brightest young men of his day in a era when women were not considered a threat to any nation.

 

Ezekiel had been carried away with his king. Since that time, he had been counting the days.

 

In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

Have you ever been in a situation where you were just counting the days?

 

Perhaps some of you can remember being without water. I am not talking about two days without water because the pipes froze in winter. I am talking about being without water because something, somewhere (about which you will never receive an explanation) has happened and the water main is off again. I can remember, as a missionary, being without water for hours that frequently stretched into days. By the third day without water, you have emptied most of the pots and barrels that you normally use to store water for such occasions. By the sixth day, you find yourself leaving a little water in the basin when you wash your hands just in case you need it later. All along, you have been using any wastewater from the dishes or the bucket bath that you had to share with another person to flush the toilet. By the seventh day, it is not uncommon to go begging to your missionary neighbors or to hit the streets looking to hire the services of a water truck, while secretly hoping it comes after the driver has been paid. By the tenth day, when the water finally comes, you are dirty, exhausted, and frighteningly conditioned to being without water.

 

Ezekiel was counting the days!

 

In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

Ezekiel was among the exiles by the River Chebar. Scholars are not unanimous about its location. Some think it may have been the Habor, one of the major rivers in Babylon. Others think it was the site of one of Nebuchadnezzer's magnificent canals that was built by forced labor. Imagine that! It was horrible enough that these people had been forcibly exiled and perhaps resettled near the river. It is an entirely different story to visualize them digging a canal.

 

In this context, the despairing words of Psalm 137 become even more painful to hear:

 

By the rivers of Babylon

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there

we hung up our harps.

For there our captors

asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How could we sing the Lord's song

in a foreign land?

(Psalm 137:1-4, NRSV)

 

In a sense, their lament was a song. They were singing the blues. As a child, I often thought of the blues as misery set to music. The blues singer frequently took an unspeakable situation, the chords of which resonated in many hearts, and made music. Somehow it seemed that the melodic telling and retelling of these offenses made them more bearable. Perhaps the offenses listed in Psalm 137 became more bearable with each telling. The mood however, was clear; the people bemoaned their condition.

 

What songs do you sing to bemoan a bad situation? I am told that in the Congo, the people sing ma-ma-ma-ma-ma when someone dies. This is not so different from the person who says, or sings, my-my-my-my-my! Maybe your family just says ummph-ummph-ummph. What do any of us do when something happens that is so big that it shakes our world, displaces or uproots us, restarts our clocks, and makes us aware of little else beside itself? What did Ezekiel do?

 

Ezekiel's testimony is encouraging: "I was among the exiles by the river Chebar (or the Chebar canal) and I SAW THE LORD!" In the same place that others sang laments, Ezekiel saw visions from God. Was he crazy, or was he insightful? Brazilian author Rubem Alves has suggested that faith is daring to dance to the melody of the future. Ezekiel danced to visions of God in the midst of the most trouble anyone he knew had ever experienced. Notice that in the worst possible time, he saw the most fantastic vision that perhaps anyone had ever seen.

 

His vision started with a cloud and brightness and a glowing fire. They were familiar with the cloud by day and the fire that glowed by night in the exodus.

 

A stormy wind came out of the north (Ezekiel 1:4).

 

We are familiar with wind and fire from the Day of Pentecost. Ezekiel saw one of the most fantastic creatures that anyone had ever seen. It had straight legs with smooth feet like a calf's. The creature had a human form and four faces, each one of them different. There were wings and hands and movement by the Spirit. Can't you see Ezekiel struggling to share this vision with his friends and with any who would listen?

 

And then they moved!

And this side of its face looked like an eagle's!!

And did I tell you they had wings?

 

We live in a world that is hungry for visions of God. We have just endured the worst tragedy that our country has ever seen. Americans have endured something so terrible that it reset our clocks 9-1-1. Since then, everything in our immediate world has been shaken. How can we see God in the midst of our pain? Helen Keller once said the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision. What vision is God offering to us in these post-9/11 years? What vision do we have to share with others?

 

May I suggest that the present condition of the world is either the worst thing that has ever happened here or the greatest opportunity that the church has ever had?

 

On the eleventh of September 2001, I was putting on my shoes when the world changed. I saw the live telecast of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center Tower. Caroline, the church secretary, and I watched in horror as the events of that day unfolded. Exhausted news reporters gasped as a number of people jumped from the tower before it went down making sounds that continue to haunt many who were there. But, thanks be to God, I was also told by my colleagues in ministry that pastors in United Methodist churches, along with the pastors of other churches located in Lower and Middle Manhattan, put on their clergy robes, opened the church doors, and took to the streets to offer hurting people a needed vision of God! They comforted many who had escaped the rubble, prayed with people in the community, and opened their sanctuaries for prayer. Not much later, church members and caring volunteers appeared with water and sandwiches and blankets and supplies for people who were displaced. God's people served as a visual reminder that God was there, even in the midst of such a terrible tragedy.

 

As we plan for ministry in these post-9/11 years, may I suggest that our task goes beyond that of dealing with the domino effects that continue to touch the lives of our parishioners? Reflecting upon the spontaneous reaction of our New York City colleagues, how shall we, both lay and clergy, continue to offer a fresh, vibrant, vision of God to our neighbors who, lately, have seen only pain?

 

In the fourth month

On the fifth day

Of the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

 

In the first year after the WTC towers came tumbling down . . .

In the year that the stock markets began to fail and many of our daughters and sons were unemployed . . .

In the years after 9/11 . . .

 

To restate an earlier observation, 9/11 was a great tragedy; yet it continues to present unbelievable opportunities for the church. What shall we do?

 

Will we hang our harps by the willows, substituting laments for praises?

 

Or will we work to offer the world a fresh vision of God?

 

Amen.

 

Copyright 2002 The General Board of Discipleship. Used with permission.