Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:30-32)
Some Christians have lamented about the coronavirus pandemic, “What have we done to deserve this?” A few have answered that we are being punished for our sinful ways, and the global pandemic is a call to repent. But the God of Israel, the parent of Jesus, and the source of the Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way. Certainly, God calls us to righteousness and to abstain from doing harm to others, but God is not sending plague and affliction upon us. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” Ezekiel reminds us. The “turn, then, and live” is not a threat, but a further invitation to “get yourselves (ourselves) a new heart and a new spirit!”
So, what then is this new heart and spirit? Other prophets offer some excellent interpretation. Jeremiah relates, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (24:7) and, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:3). Joel states, “Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28). Jesus himself tells us, “‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:25-27).
The very Holy Spirit of God is within all who confess Jesus Christ and Lord. The love of God transforms our hearts, moving us from judgment and condemnation to forgiveness and patience. By God’s grace, we are people filled with love and joy, kindness and generosity, mercy and compassion. We are committed to justice, to defending and supporting the poor and marginalized, to feeding the hungry and healing those who suffer. We welcome immigrants and strangers. We visit the prisoner and help them in their redemption and restoration in our communities. We champion all the good that can be done in all the places possible whenever opportunity arises. We are a people of unconditional love and unmerited grace even in the depths of a pandemic because God is working to give us a new heart and new spirit. So my beloved siblings in Christ, turn from doing harm, turn then toward the good, and experience the abundant life God so wants to give.
Prayer: Almighty God, make us new people with new hearts, new spirits, and a new resolve to love all people. Grant us an extra measure of your Holy Spirit that we might be a glory and witness to the world of your amazing grace and beauty. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).