Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Proper 10 of Series B (Ezekiel 2:1-5)

“And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the prophet Ezekiel. Dear friends in Christ, like Isaiah, Ezekiel saw heaven, as we read just a verse before our text: “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around... And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” Ezekiel saw the throne room of God; he saw the power, the glory, the brilliance of Almighty God, and it drove him to the ground in reverence, in worship, in fear. But God didn’t leave him there. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’” This is absolution, this is grace. A sinful man cannot stand before the glory of Almighty God, but Ezekiel is beckoned to stand. “And as He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard Him speaking.” Before Ezekiel can even respond, before he can try to stand on his own, God’s powerful Word does what it says, for the Holy Spirit goes with it. God speaks, and the Word does the work.

What comes next follows the pattern we find again and again in Scripture. Having seen this vision of God, having fallen to the ground in terror and having been absolved, Ezekiel is sent out to preach the Word. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.’” Ezekiel is sent to rebellious people, to those who have revolted against their Creator. Ezekiel is sent to people who have transgression in their genes, a tradition passed down from their fathers. In other words, Ezekiel is sent to people like you and me. Rebellion is the opposite of service, the kind of service that you were created for, service of Almighty God. Do you serve God in all that you do, or do you serve other gods? This is a first commandment issue, for you serve many other gods each and every day: the god of money, the god of work, the god of sports, the god of pleasure, and especially the chief god, yourself. Your gods can be addictive substances, such as alcohol or lust, or even good gifts of Almighty God, such as your family and friends. This transgression against the first commandment then spills into all the other commandments, and you find yourself in rebellion against God in every area of your life, like your parents before you.

And you don’t want to hear about it. You don’t want to hear about how you have transgressed against each and every one of the commandments, how you are living in open rebellion against your Creator. We bristle at the accusations of the Law, and so we shut our ears to them. God knew this would happen, and He warned Ezekiel beforehand: “The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” This is the bigger issue: rebellion is bad enough, but God’s people refuse to receive correction, they stop their ears when the Law speaks through God’s messengers. They despise the preaching of God’s Word. This is a third commandment issue: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Do you or I gladly hear and learn God’s Word from His sent messengers, especially when they point out our sin? Or do we despise preaching and His Word, because it’s inconvenient, because it’s uncomfortable, because it speaks the truth, shining the light on our rebellion? In Ezekiel’s day, prophets were killed by those who didn’t want to hear their message; today we are more subtle, finding another church or no church at all, or simply shutting our ears on Sunday morning.

It’s amazing that God doesn’t give up on us; not only have we rebelled against Him, but we even refuse to receive correction. We should expect God to tell Ezekiel, ‘Don’t bother; you’re wasting your time.’ But instead, in grace, God doesn’t give up on us. He continues to send His messengers to us. They aren’t sent bearing their own authority or their own words, but instead they have been given God’s Word to speak with the authority of that Word. “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” God’s messengers have nothing more, and nothing less to say than the Word of God. God’s messengers have nothing more, and nothing less to do that what they have been authorized to do. That is their task, that is their message. They don’t speak from themselves but only as God has given them to speak. They are bound to the Word of God. That is why pastors dress as they do. The collar and the stole are symbols of servitude, of slavery. They indicate that they are bound to God’s Word, bound to do only what God has authorized them to do. The white robe covers them when they proclaim the Word of Almighty God; it gets them out of the way, demonstrating that they are not to speak their own thoughts and opinions, but instead they must speak what God has authorized them to speak. A little girl once put it best. She said, “See that guy in the black shirt? He’s our pastor. When he puts on his dress, then he’s Jesus.”

Because they speak not their word but God’s Word, the messengers of God don’t have to worry about the results. They have been authorized to speak, and so they must speak, even if you and I refuse to listen. As God told Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” They are not called to be popular, they are not even called to be successful, they are called to be faithful, proclaiming that Word as God has authorized them. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus came into His hometown, preached God’s Word about Himself as the promised Messiah, and was rejected. He told His disciples to expect the same: “If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony to them.” They are called to proclaim the Word that God has given them to proclaim, nothing more and nothing less, and God Himself will be concerned with the results.

The messenger of God can do nothing else, for it is not his word, but God’s; he is only a mouthpiece, an instrument, used to proclaim this Word to specific people in a specific time and place. And even though his hearers, you and me, are rebellious and stubborn, he can trust that the Word will have effect as God sees fit. For it is God’s Word, and God’s Word has power. God’s Word had the power to set Ezekiel upright; God commanded Ezekiel to ‘stand on your feet,’ and before he could move a muscle, the Holy Spirit, which always accompanies the Word, had accomplished it. God’s Word is performative, it makes things happen. God’s Word can break into stubborn hearts and create faith; it can forgive the rebellious of all their sins. It has this power only because it is the Word about Christ; in fact, the Word is Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Word spoken to Ezekiel which has now become man. This Word preaches the Law because it is necessary; our sin must be pointed out. But even more importantly, this Word preaches Christ, the answer to the Law’s accusations. 

For the Word was made flesh to fulfill the Law perfectly, to live the life you could not and to die the death you deserved. The Word has power because it proclaims to you the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; His obedience in the place of your rebellion, even to death, His love in the place of your stubbornness, as He was willing to give up everything for your salvation. He died for those in rebellion against His Father, for those who refuse to listen to Him. He died for you because He had a plan for your stubborn, sinful heart, as God spoke through Ezekiel: “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Only God’s Word has the power to transform your heart, to forgive your sins, because the Word is Christ. Jesus came to transform hearts through the power of His Word, to give you a heart of flesh in place of your heart of stone. We were in rebellion against God in each and every way, but because of Jesus’ death and resurrection in your place God declares, “They shall be my people, and I will be their God.” The Word doesn’t just talk about Christ, it delivers Christ to us, with all that He accomplished for us. The messengers of God are not just authorized to speak the Law to accuse us of our sin; they are authorized to speak the words of forgiveness to remove that sin. And God’s Word does what it says; when the messenger of God speaks His Word of forgiveness to you, you are forgiven. We gladly hear and learn the Word of God, because it is the only Word that can break into your stubborn heart, the only Word that brings forgiveness, the only Word that brings us Jesus, indeed the only Word that is Jesus. That Word is working each and every day, calling you to repentance whenever you fall into rebellion and stubbornness, then pouring out upon you the blood-bought forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. That Word set Ezekiel on his feet, and it transforms you from a rebel to a servant, to a child, to one beloved by your heavenly Father. Your rebellion is forgiven, your stubbornness washed away, for the Word who died for you has entered into you to stand you on your feet before God for eternity. In His holy and precious Name, Amen.

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