July 14-16, 2012
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Don Sutton
He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. ” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen —for they are a rebellious house —they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” 9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. ….. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.4 He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. (NIV-1984)
Am I alone in this or am I with a lot of company when it comes to tackling tough jobs? On your to-do lists are those things that you work around, procrastinate over, have all kinds of reasons not to do them, and do all kinds of things instead of? …….. Tackling the tough jobs isn’t easy, is it?
Ezekiel’s Tough Job
What do you think of the job that the Lord gave to Ezekiel? “He said: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites (v.3)’ … ‘Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. ‘” God is saying to this young priest, “I want you to be my prophet and proclaim my word to the Jewish captives in Babylon.”
Now in case you’re thinking that preaching to the Jews would be any easy thing – like preaching to a congregation like St. Paul’s – think again. Listen again to how the Lord describes the Jews. In v.3 he calls them rebellious and says, “They revolt against me.” In v. 4 he labels them obstinate and stubborn. The Lord uses terms like briers, thorns and scorpions to describe the people to whom he is sending Ezekiel.
Also consider the message. “9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. ….. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” Ezekiel’s job was not to be “the good cop.” He was to proclaim God’s law.
You see, most of those Jews in Babylon were there as a result of God’s judgment on Judah for their idolatry and rebellion against God. Repeatedly God had called them to repentance but most didn’t turn back to God. So God used the Babylonians as his agents to bring his people to their knees in repentance. In 605 and 597 B.C. the Babylonian king and his armies invaded Judah, both times taking into captivity key people of Judah. But at this point, these exiles are holding out hope that somehow their countrymen back in Judah will throw off the Babylonian oppression and the Jews in exile will return home. God wanted Ezekiel to tell his fellow exiled Jews, “It ain’t going to happen.” God wanted Ezekiel to condemn people for their sins and call them to repentance turning to God for mercy.
So would you call the job the Lord wanted Ezekiel to tackle an easy job or a tough job?
Tough-to-tackle Jobs the Lord Gives Us
Ezekiel is not alone in receiving tough jobs from the Lord the when it comes to sharing messages people might like to hear but need to have. Think about some of the following directives to us Christians:
Mathew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. “
James 5:19-20 – “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (NIV 2011)
16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death (unbelief), he should pray and God will give him life. (1 John 5:16, 17).
Jude 22-23 – “Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. “
Do you understand the tough job the Lord is calling on us to tackle? When we see fellow Christians – especially those of our church family and those of our blood families – who neglect worshiping God, using God’s word and receiving the sacrament, or are living in some other sin and not turning from it whether it’s living together outside of marriage, doing and dealing drugs, a problem with drunkenness and alcoholism, people hating one another and holding grudges, stealing or whatever …. God is saying to us, “Reach out to them in love. Say you’re concerned. Humbly and gently point out their sin. Call them to repentance. Encourage them to turn from their sin to their Savior Jesus.” God is saying to us that when a fellow Christian is caught up in doubt, show mercy to that person and gently encourage that person with the truth of God’s word and the greatness of God’s love.”
This is a tough job and it’s not easy to do, is it? What’s the reality when it comes to tackling it? There are those who do it and do it well. But for many of us doesn’t the job tackle us rather than us tackling the job? To keep peace, to preserve family and friends, to not cause trouble on the job, we say nothing, do nothing and nothing changes. We fail our Lord and those to whom we are to reach out in love.
God’s Mercy on Ezekiel
When Ezekiel saw the Lord in all his glory he fell face down in feelings of unworthiness and fear. He was a sinful man seeing the Holy God. When we think of the Lord and his holiness, his will and his law proclamation of death and damnation on sinners, it is only right that we assume the same position before the Lord at least spiritually speaking.
But when the Lord speaks to Ezekiel, lying face down in fear and feelings of unworthiness, he doesn’t say, “Get out! Get lost!” No he says, “Get up!” But that’s not all. Ezekiel adds, “2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you…”
The Lord God looked with mercy on Ezekiel. He looked ahead in time to see himself in human form … in perfect life … suffering and dying for the sins of all people. He saw himself dead and buried … coming to life, descending into hell to proclaim his victory over death and the devil, showing himself alive to hundreds of people over 40 days, and then ascending to heaven and assuming his place of power and glory. God had mercy on Ezekiel. God the Holy Spirit raised Ezekiel to his feet. God told Ezekiel he had a job. God gave Ezekiel the message to proclaim and through the word he took in, Ezekiel received blessing and strength to do the tough job God had given him.
God’s Mercy on Us
The same Lord who had mercy on Ezekiel has had and still has mercy on you. The way he looked ahead in grace to his saving work for Ezekiel, he now looks back at and has mercy on you. Yes, you and I have failed in so many things in life. We have failed in our reaching out in love to those who need us to that. But Jesus did not fail in serving as our Savior. He was holy and pure – “tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin (Heb. 4:14).” His death paid for our sins. “We have been made holy (declared innocent) through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all (Heb. 10:10).” So the writer to the Hebrews concluded, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14)!
With your sins washed away in Jesus’ blood and enjoying the peace that comes with forgiveness, we have reason and power to serve God even tackling the tough jobs such as talking to erring family, friends and co-workers.
But there are issues, aren’t there? We may feel that we are not equipped and capable to do this. But most of us are. St. Paul wrote in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).” God equips you with his word. You’ve studied it. You’ve memorized the Ten Commandments. You know the gospel. But as with Ezekiel it’s important that we are taking them- spiritually eating them – on a regular basis.
When dealing with an erring brother or sister, what we need to tell them is basically this: “I care about you. So does God. Because I care, I am concerned that you have gotten caught in something that is not godly and not good for you. Remember what God says in ……… Whether you realize it or not, this sin is hurting your faith. In the end it could kill it. God calls you to turn from this sin. Turn to Jesus. He loves you so much he died for your sins. Remember the story of the prodigal son? He wandered. He sinned. But when he returned his father forgave him and welcomed him back. God is waiting to do this with you.”
There are other issues like, “I’ve got to live with the person ….. I’ve got to work with the person. They get touchy if I bring up concerns. They get stubborn. They tell me to mind my own business.” God didn’t let that be an excuse for Ezekiel to keep silent. On the other hand, to lovingly reach out to someone caught in a sin, takes tact. It takes wisdom. It takes patience. Pray for them and pray for the person. Pick your spots. When you share the truth in love give the Spirit time to work. If necessary periodically repeat your concern – maybe instead of doing face to face, write a letter. Remember that our job is to share the word. God’s job is changing the heart.
Finally, if they don’t listen Jesus instructed that we involve another Christian or two to share concerns. If they still don’t listen, Jesus said, “Take it to the church (Matt. 18).” If they don’t listen to the congregation is to declare the person as impenitent and outside the kingdom of God. Why do this? To show love and win them back.
In dealing with a doubting or wavering Christian, to patiently show love and voice concern is very appropriate. Ask questions to assess where the person is at and why. “How do you feel about your relationship with God? What are the challenges you’re feeling.” Try to understand. Don’t judgmental. Encourage with God’s word. Assure the person, “God is faithful. His word is truth. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Be patient. Pray. God hears. God helps. God works where and how we can’t.
The same Spirit that lifted up Ezekiel has lifted you from spiritual death to life and works in you through word and sacrament to give you he power not only to believe in and live for the Lord, but to speak the truth in love to those who need to hear it. Now with the help of the Spirit, tackle the tough jobs when they arise.