Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Call Ezekiel 2:1-3:4

Below is the text for tomorrow's message at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. It asks us to consider what it means to hear God's call, to respond, and to entrust the results to God. It also offers a powerful picture of God's means to sustain us in the fulfilling of God's call.

We found ourselves in a picturesque estate in the rural countryside of a Western European country. When you looked that the grand house from the outside it was huge in scale and profound in its architecture. Just the sight of it made you stop and look. But I do not think I was prepared for how cold and damp a building like that could be. We were there in the early Fall – too late for the warmth of summer, and too early for them to choose to turn on the heat. But, what I remember most about Beth and my month at a country estate is not the grand house or the beautiful countryside. My memories focus on our reason for being there. We were there to take an intensive training on Islam. The sessions were led by a former Islamic religious scholar. He pushed us hard and every session was spiritually and emotionally draining. The more I understood about the complexities of reaching Muslims, the harder our missions assignment among Muslims in SE Asia appeared. There was a specific moment when I wondered if I was up for the task. I knew that I was called by God to reach a specific Unreached People Group, but the task was so huge, so hard, so daunting. I felt the tension between the joy of the call and the struggle of making it real. I sat there – wondering – praying – asking for God to speak. God laid our passage on my heart. It spoke to me with power that cold, cold morning. I bring it to our worship because I believe it speaks uniquely to us this morning.

We stand between our Experiencing God journey and our return to the regular diversity of worship themes. But, before we move forward I want to pause and hear a Biblical story that tells the story of the call of Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. While the theme is Blackabyesque, Ezekiel’s story paints a very different picture of what it means to hear God and respond with heart and passion. LaJuanda Speegle read our passage for us earlier in our worship service. Let’s dive back in a take a closer look at “The Call.”

Ezekiel’s story actually starts in Chapter One where he uses language like we hear in Daniel and Revelation to describe his encounter with God. His description sounds a bit bizarre until we ask ourselves “what other words would you use to describe the presence of pure and unadulterated purity, holiness, and power?” He finally runs out of words and says; This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Our passage begins; 1 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.

What an incredible picture. Can you imagine being raised to your feet by the hand of God? In my mind’s eye I hear James Earl Jones’ voice for the voice of God. God had Ezekiel’s undivided attention and was ready to speak. I want to invite you into this moment. I want to invite you to have your heart lifted up by the Spirit. I want to invite you to begin to think about a moment when God has spoken to you – or to prepare yourself to hear God’s voice speak into your life.

The voice of God rings out; 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.'

I have had some lousy jobs in my life. I spent a college summer making specialty highway signs alongside a slew of paroled state convicts. I helped install office partitions at a nuclear power plant in the weeks just after they had experienced an emergency shutdown. I have clean out and clean up three huge stores that had been abandoned by a failed grocery store chain. I have had some lousy jobs, but none of them compared to Ezekiel’s job assignment. Ezekiel was the first prophet God commissioned after the people of Israel were taken into captivity in Babylon. They were there because of their obstinate disobedience of God’s way. His message would be to tell them that their beloved Jerusalem that they thought was untouchable was soon to be destroyed. I can only imagine what Ezekiel’s face must have looked like when he heard his divine assignment. I think he must have felt the tension I felt between the joy of the call and the overwhelming nature of the task.

We hear again from God; 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.

I think that these are words that are hard for us to process in a result driven culture. One of the things that I found fascinating in the Experiencing God materials is that every story of someone responding to God’s voice was a success story. God wanted Ezekiel – and us – to hear that we do not have to fear failure or rejection. God made it clear to Ezekiel was that his job was to do what God asked of him – that the results were between the hearers and God. Can you imagine what we could accomplish for and with God is we did not fear rejection or failure? Can you imagine how bold we might become if we realized that our job was to be faithful – and that all the rest was in God’s hands? These words changed my life. They told me to cling to the joy of the call and leave the enormity of the task in the hands of God.

God continues to speak; 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. Ezekiel 3 1 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.

What an incredible picture – God feeding Ezekiel the Word that would sustain him. Margaret Hess describes this beautifully’ “He (Ezekiel) is not to measure the effectiveness of his preaching by the response of the people. The heart of his ability to preach with integrity and authenticity lies in his ability to take the word of God inside himself, and to root his proclamation in the word as it transforms him, Ezekiel, from the inside out.”[i]

For most of us it is hard to imagine doing hard things, uncomfortable things, difficult things, seemingly impossible things for God. This just does not fit in our comfortable lives and our comfortable faith. But, Ezekiel’s call gives us a picture of how we might survive the difficult moments of faith and faithfulness. With broad and colorful strokes Ezekiel’s story depicts what it would look like to be fed by God – for the Word of God to be the sustenance we need to not only survive the challenge but to thrive in it. Many nibble at the Word. We endeavor to do a five minute devotion, to attend an occasional Bible study, to listen to a Sunday school teacher give their take on a passage, or even listen to a sermon like this one. To be honest, we become content nibbling at the crumbs on the edge of the salad bar. If we want to claim the kind of sustenance that will carry us on good days and difficult ones – that leads us to say “yes” to God regardless of our fear of rejection or our fear of failure – then we need to dig in – to devour the Word until our stomachs are full. To dig in – to devour the Word until we discover its sweet and transforming taste. This will move us from casual encounters that sooth us to transforming encounters with God that change us.

We are called to respond to the voice of God and find sustenance in the word of God. We will face opposition and challenges. We may have to deal with rejection or failure. But I bring you good news – the call is not to do rack up religious points or be a prize winning Christian. Our task is to be present, to be faithful, and to trust the results into the hands of God. Our task is to eat the Word that is given us until it fills us, sustains us, and transforms us. It is your turn. What is God saying to you? What is God calling you to do? Are you ready to step out of your comfort to be the presence of Christ in our community and our world? God stands ready to give you all you need to sustain you.

[i] Hess, Margaret B., “Preaching to Deaf Ears,” Christian Century, June 18-25, 1997, p. 587, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation

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