Rebellious Hearts for God

Mary Magdala Community

Rebellious Hearts for God©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

“Mere mortal, I am sending you to a rebellious people.” Ezekiel 2:3


The Prophet Ezekiel hears God’s call to preach – not to some general, nondescript population. He is to preach to the rebellious ones, those whose hearts are attached to godless things. These hearts are well practiced in doing what pleases them, what fills them with the things of this world. Ezekiel must preach to these rebels. He has a call to speak to rebellious hearts that are against God.

So, God equips Ezekiel with one message, “Hear the Word of God,” as if all will change once the prophet shows up with his one-liner. We’re all pretty clear that this is not how change happened among the Israelites in exile. Just read your Bible – the details are instructive.

However, without going into that detail, I do have one question. After the rebellious ones have a change of heart do we really think that all their skills of critique, of criticism, of focusing on what the heart desires will just disappear? Is the only choice to meekly transform from rebellion to docility? Or is it more the case that the rebellious heart against God becomes the rebellious heart for God?

Doesn’t God also call us to rebel – to critique, to criticize, to focus on all that blocks the work of God?  Aren’t we intelligent enough to do this on our own and in communion with our rebel companions, not being told what to think? Let’s look at two opportunities that we rebels for God have staring us in the face. They are unity and freedom – fitting challenges or so one would think, on this July 4 weekend.

First, unity. A rebellion for unity can be found in an unexpected place. It is Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” now celebrating 50 years since its first appearance (November 21, 1964). In #13, paragraph 4 we read about unity among humanity.

“All (people) are called to this catholic unity which prefigures and promotes universal peace. And in different ways to it belong, or are related: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all (hu)mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”

What makes this sentence come alive for me is how differently we now see this coming to unity. Fifty years ago we seemed to treat each group identified here as though each one existed in a separate box. There is the box of Catholic faithful, the box of all believers in Christ, and the box of all the rest of humankind. Somehow universal unity would happen when the best and biggest box was built. Also, back then not a few folks simply assumed that the best and biggest box was the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church.

However, we have moved from boxes to spectrums. We all live on the spectrum where one blends into the other in the land of porous boundaries. The walls of the boxes have melted away, dissolving into the spectrum of all possible approaches to unity among us. Unity is bigger than the biggest box. We are all on the spectrum with alternative approaches to unity. Now our critique and focus on this sentence makes it possible for us to read it with the understanding that the small “c” in catholic (read, universal) comes by way of equal partners who are on the spectrum rebelling against institutions and who act for unity. This unity values all members of the human race, criticizes and rejects racism, and all other “isms.” Our focus now is on the creative force that makes our life possible, entitled, and united with all creatures and creation before God.

We are all on the spectrum that criticizes institutions and focuses on universal unity. We are, in this, rebels for God, the One who makes creatures and all creation in the divine image. Recently, I heard from a High School classmate who was very excited when I told him about our Mary of Magdala Community with our communal sharing and celebration of the priesthood of all.   One of his comments was, “I’m keeping my faith, just losing my religion.” Aren’t we all on that path which constitutes living on the spectrum?

Second, the rebel for God loves freedom. The independence of each person gives that person the best chance to make real the possibility of who she/he is. This freedom should be valued in such a way that a rebellious heart for God seeks the fulfillment of all creation’s freedom.

This freedom criticizes and rejects the greed among us that impoverishes, even imprisons, too many people. This freedom focuses on the choice to communally and collectively show that each life is a social life. Today’s Gospel tells of the power, though in this case a negative one, of social life. Remember, it was the lack of faith by the people that prevented Jesus’ message and ministry to take hold. Nazareth, it seems, was full of rebellious hearts against God.

I was accused recently of being a lefty propagandizer. Can you imagine?

I have been advised to stop criticizing and focus on what has made our country great – this Christian nation.

So, I went back to the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. In these founding documents of our nation I found no mention of Jesus Christ. There is, though, mention of a Judge and of Providence.

The Declaration of Independence, in particular, remains enlightening 239 years on. It stands as an assurance to all rebels for God that freedom is a collective enterprise. We read in it a list of critiques against British tyranny, that iconic model of accumulated power and wealth. The list, written by Thomas Jefferson, includes itemizing the barriers to freedom that the American communities and individuals experienced as well as the assertion of the right to overthrow such a tyranny.

As stimulating as the first words of the Declaration are ….. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” the ending words are what help me focus today on the power of freedom that is marked by mutual and communal support. Read these ending words in light of these thoughts on unity and freedom, read them in light of our own time’s scandal of concentrated wealth and power resulting in the curtailment, even the denial, of basic rights. These words written by Jefferson and subscribed to by the signers ring true to the focus that “One is free when All are free.”

The end of our Declaration of Independence says, “We pledge our lives, our fortunes, our Sacred Honor.”

Imagine, now, in the first ¼ of the 21st century pledging our fortunes for the sake of the freedom of all.

We rebels for God, who pursue unity and freedom, acknowledge that our faith is informed by our community, our national ideals, yes, even our collective enterprises. Such rebels take to heart the prophet’s message, “Hear the Word of God” and they keep it.

Vatican II reminds us this is the way to peace.


(We closed our worship with this poem by Wendell Berry from his collection, “Sabbaths.” The poem is ninth in the collection and is subtitled, “(Sunday, July 4).”

It might help knowing that Wendell, being a good ol’ Kentucky boy, uses the image of mining light of the world’s ancient buried days to refer to coal which is the result of living matter once having grown in the light, was then buried for eons only to be extracted and burned to become poisonous in the air.

(Sunday, July 4)


“Hail to the forest born again,

that by neglect, the American benevolence,

has returned to semi-virginity, graceful

in the putrid air, the corrosive rain,

the ash-fall of Heaven-invading fire —

our time’s genius to mine the light

of the world’s ancient buried days

to make it poisonous in the air.

Light and greed together make a smudge

that stifles and blinds. But here

the light of Heaven’s sun descends,

stained and mingled with its forms,

heavy trunk and limb, light leaf and wing,

that we must pray for clarity to see,

not raw sources, symbols, worded powers,

but fellow presences, independent, called

out of nothing by no word of ours,

Blessed, here with us.



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