7/8/2018 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is Ezekiel 2:1-5.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There you are – in the middle of a busy street or in the aisle at the grocery store. You are in a hurry – when suddenly, out of the blue, you feel a touch on your shoulder. Turing around, you see a familiar face aglow with excitement. Then you hear the words, “I have been trying to catch you.”
I dare say that none of us has escaped such a moment. First there’s that chill that overcomes us because of the unexpected intrusion into our personal space. Then comes the surprise and relief, followed by the shared excitement. Peter Marshall uses this type of unexpected event to describe what happens when we find that God is chasing us and then stopping us in our tracks by “a tap on the shoulder.”
Now, Ezekiel is an ordinary man who knows himself as a mere mortal, but this doesn’t stop God from tapping him on the shoulder, empowering him to serve and sending him out to do God’s will. For Ezekiel, the tap comes when he is about 30 years old – that is a little past midlife in his world. It comes in a tense period of time, a time when people had turned away from God when they needed God’s help the most.
It is during this time of uncertainty and unfaithfulness that God intrudes upon Ezekiel’s life and calls him to be his messenger. The task given to him by God, by any standards, is not easy for he is to go to the rebellious people of Israel and proclaim the words of God that will challenge them to change the way they are living. The words which Ezekiel is to speak are life giving and life changing words, words to be listened to and obeyed without question. And yet the people will not want to hear them.
In order to help these hardnosed people to open their ears to God’s message, Ezekiel will begin by reminding them of all that God has done for them. It is God who freed them from their bondage in Egypt. It is God who gave them this fertile and fruitful land. It is God who delivered them from their enemies over and over again by sending them judges and kings to lead them. It is God who never forsook them even when they turned away. And it is God who is now sending Ezekiel to them to warn them of the consequences of their infidelity in the hope that they might change their ways and remember that God is Lord. Ezekiel is not responsible for the results of his words as he cannot change people’s hearts. As a prophet, he is only responsible for delivering the message. And deliver the message, he does.
Over the course of time, Ezekiel does gain some standing among his audience, but his position is much like that of soon forgotten comedian, Rodney Dangerfield who always complained that he got no respect. Sure, people love to come and hear Ezekiel’s prophecies as if they were performances for their entertainment and amusement – just like they loved to listen to Jesus and receive what he gives them. But, the words are not taken seriously. And in the end, the results are disastrous for the stiff-necked people who refuse change.
Change is part of life. The question is whether or not we are honest with ourselves and will embrace a new way of doing things. My friend Carol sees change as a positive thing. So, this weekend as she is showing her dog in Canada, she asked some friends who were sitting ring side to evaluate what she was doing. Her friends watched intensely and when she left the ring, they told her what they saw and how she could improve her handling technique. That evening she practiced their suggestions and when she walked in the ring yesterday, she did so with renewed confidence and better handling skills.
Change requires openness and practice. It doesn’t come easy. And yet the end results are worth it. But the people who hear Ezekiel are unwilling to look honestly at their lives and are unwilling to change. And so, in the end, the people go into exile.
My friends, God still sends his messengers into the world today to remind us of all that he has done and all he promises to do. God still sends his messengers into the world to proclaim his grace and to call people to lives of faithful obedience. God still sends his messengers into the world armed with words of hope, words of warning, words of guidance, words that proclaim him as Lord, words of change. God still taps on the shoulders of ordinary people and empowers them to go out into the world to deliver his message. But are ears today any more receptive than those of long ago?
The inability to get the message across seems like a pretty good reason to toss in the towel and give up on people. Yet, the Lord does not give up. He continues to send ordinary people like Ezekiel and compels them to speak – as the Lord taps on shoulders, fills them with the spirit and lays before them a task. Called and empowered by God, they can do nothing else but speak.
Our God gives each of us a tap, infuses us with the spirit and sends us on our way. We may sluff it off or make excuses as to why we cannot do his bidding, but God does not give up tapping on the shoulders even when we fail to respond. God, in his tenacity, taps and empowers, guides and sends us as his messenger out into the world.
So what shall we do? Shall we open our ears to listen to the words of God proclaimed by finite, fallible human beings, and look at ourselves honestly? Shall we respond to God’s unexpected tap on our shoulders with excitement or brush it off as an unwelcomed intrusion? Shall we live faithfully, go willingly, and proclaim unfailingly, remembering that God is indeed Lord? Or shall we prepare ourselves for the consequences of an unwillingness to change?
Our God is there for us. Our God does not ask something from us without supporting us. Our God is faithful, and will stand by us even if others should fall away. For, our God is indeed Lord. Believe and trust in the Lord! And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.