A few weeks ago, while recovering from my foot incident, I attempted to catch up on the sermons that I've been missing from the church I've attended in the last few years. While I am still many weeks behind in the online sermon archive, I listened to a message from early September that felt just as real as if it was spoken just for me right then and there. Since then, the message has kinda been stalking me, and creeping into my mind throughout the emotional roller coaster of my past few weeks.
This particular sermon of interest was starting off a short series on the book of Ezekiel, which seeks to capture all of the joys and obscurities of this random prophetic Old Testament book. By the time the story reaches Ezekiel 11, the Israelites have been driven off of their promised land and are left displaced and posession-less in the territory of their oppressor. Up until this point, the book has been one bummer after another, and the Israelites are pretty much at the end of their luck. Then, all of a sudden, God bursts into the situation and says, “Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone...I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 11:16, 19].
I'm really struck by the inclusive language that God uses here. It's not just “I'm going to do stuff for you individually,” but instead, “you're all going to be in this together.” And he's not just like, “Well, have a a nice trip as I fling you to different corners of the world,” but instead, “hey, I'll be there too and make sure you have what you need.” When it comes to hearts of flesh instead of stone, God promises not to remove the hard, disappointing, gross, depressing or painful parts of our lives, but rather equip us with what we need to make it through. It seems counter-intuitive that something soft and cushy would be tougher than what's solid and hard. But my pastor pointed out that we need hearts that are rubbery and maliable, so that they'll bounce back after God throws us into challenging situations...like being scattered among the countries.
My pastor described that when God talks about giving his people an “undivided heart,” he really means creating a community with one unified vision. This struck me after all the work that my MCC team here is Mozambique has been doing lately. Much of our tangible work and energy has been spent on creating vision statements, articulating our mission and outlining what it will take to get ourselves and our partner organizations to where we want to be. But then I started thinking again about the earlier point of the need for fleshy hearts and flexible characters when it comes to all these new challenges. As I started thinking about the past two months, I'm realizing all of the ways that we've been emotionally and physically tossed around. Since this time in August, we've had MCC Moz team members with homesickness and stomach sickness, fevers and sunburns. There have been rolled ankles, broken fingers, bruises and cuts. We've shared clinic visits, emotional breakdowns, prayers and the worries following a nighttime fainting spell and a closed head injury. But at the same time, we're all miraculously still here. The canoes didn't tip over, the chapas didn't crash, the planes worked as they were supposed to and the cars got us home in one piece. And through it all, we're together, unified in the realization that this work isn't easy, that the food isn't always good, that we have more nagging questions than relieving answers and that we're all at various levels of emotional disarray. But at least it's not just my heart bouncing around or my solitary feeling of displacement. God's doing a lot of work here, and I have quite the sneaky suspicion that he's starting by making our hearts just a little more squishy.