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Prayer for Purity
A Monday Meditation by Pastor Baker
March 16, 2009

Certain elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me: 3 Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling-block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them? 4 Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling-block before them, and yet come to the prophet-I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols, 5 in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols. 6 Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. 7 For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts and placing their iniquity as a stumbling-block before them, and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him, I the Lord will answer them myself. 8 I will set my face against them; I will make them a sign and a byword and cut them off from the midst of my people; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 14:1-8
Are there things in your heart that you don't want others to see? 

Anglicans call it the Collect for Purity. Other communions, including The United Methodist Church, use it as an opening prayer in the standard order of worship. It begins with: "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden.[1]" It is a prayer that begins with a soul-piercing confession about God's omniscience: God sees all. God does not just see our deeds and actions; God sees into the deep recesses of every human heart, the place that resides beyond the sight of human eyes and human observation. The place we often hide from others and occasionally even from ourselves; the closely guarded vault of every thought, desire, inclination, and ambition.

God sees all. The prophet Ezekiel learned this truth at the ancient equivalent of the church council meeting. It was right in the middle of this gathering with some of the leading elders of Israel, that the agenda get interrupted with a word from the Lord to the prophet: "Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them" (14:3). Who else but God could know such a thing? Beware of this God. Walk into the church's monthly board meeting and you may encounter a little more than the reading of last month's minutes and a few ministry reports from various committees. God's soul-piercing word may show up when we least expect it.

It is important to remember that the convicting and convincing power of God's word against human sin and idolatry is not the last word, not for Ezekiel's elders, and certainly not for us. Words that lead to the possibility of new life and transformation were quick to follow: "Repent and turn from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations" (14:6). It is true that humanity should fear the Lord who "sees all", but it is equally important to remember that God also "loves all" and desires that all be saved.

Perhaps this is why the Collect for Purity does not end with the acknowledgement of God's omniscience and ability to see everything, but continues with this petition: "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name. Amen." It is a fearfully wonderful thing that God knows more about us then we know about ourselves. What is even more amazing is that despite our repeated rebellion, disobedience, and idolatry, God continues to extend grace, love, and forgiveness to all who will receive it. Beware of this God. The next time you walk into something as seemingly benign as a monthly church meeting, you may encounter more than you bargained for. 
 
PRAYER: Lord, cleanse the thoughts of my heart so that I might truly love and worship you. Amen.

[1] UMH, p. 6

Reconciliation United Methodist Church
A Church for All People
PO Box 52326 / Durham, NC / 277 17 / www.rumcdurham.org / 919.286.5722