1 [The LORD] 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 ancestors 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 people—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 be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. 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 people; 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 2 (NIV)
Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation with another person where you know that what you must say to the other person will cause him or her to be hurt and/or angry with you? Typically a conversation like this is necessary when someone we love or care about has done us wrong that threatens to destroy our relationship with that person or who we see is headed for certain destruction if the behavior continues. How did you feel about needing to have that conversation? If you are like me, you probably dreaded needing to say hard things to the person you love precisely because you love the person and don’t want to hurt him or her. In fact, depending on who the person is, you might actually be afraid to speak the truth in love to that person because you fear that person’s ire or wrath that will surely come as a result of what you must say. This can lead many of us to not have the hard conversation with the person. We whistle through the graveyard and wish the problem would magically disappear. But if we really love the person, we will go ahead and speak the truth in love to that person because it is the right thing to do
This, of course, is the context for today’s Scripture lesson from Ezekiel. God has called Ezekiel to be God’s prophet to his people Israel in exile. Ezekiel must speak hard things to God’s stubborn and rebellious people and it is going to tick them off royally. Ezekiel is going to have to tell God’s people the unimaginable, that their beloved city of Jerusalem and its Temple is going to be destroyed because of their stubborn rebelliousness toward God. Judgment is coming, unimaginable judgment, and God’s people will not be pleased when they hear it. It’s that old shoot the messenger when we don’t like the message thingy. What then does God do in his call to Ezekiel to be his mouthpiece (i.e., his prophet)? God repeatedly tells Ezekiel not to be afraid because God will equip him for his prophetic task, hard as it may be.
So what can we learn from this poignant and gripping scene from today’s lesson? First, we learn that the God who calls us to do his work equips us for the task. We will not be called to be God’s prophets but God may call us to do some things that will make us terribly unpopular and incur the wrath of others. This can paralyze us with fear and cause us not to obey God’s calling to us. It is precisely when we are confronted with paralyzing fear that we need to remember that the God who calls also equips. He did this for Ezekiel in today’s passage when he sent his Spirit to fill the prophet and help him stand on his own two feet so that he could do the work. Likewise, God sends his Spirit on us to help us do the work he calls us to do.
This is especially important to think about during the current Easter season because as we have seen over the past several weeks, a big part of the Easter hope is the privilege of being God’s Kingdom workers, agents of his New Creation. As we saw yesterday, Christ has ascending into God’s dimension (heaven) and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He has chosen to exercise that authority, in part, by using common folks like you and me to help him bring to bear his love, mercy, and healing power to his broken and hurting world. This can be a daunting task and if we are honest with ourselves, we understand instinctively that we will fail in this call if left to our own devices. But it is the glorious good news of Scripture that God does not work like that. He never calls us without equipping us and this knowledge makes all the difference for us in the way we seek to be obedient to God’s call.
A second lesson we can learn from today’s passage is about the nature and heart of God. At first blush, this story can read like another doom and gloom passage. There’s that nasty old God again, seemingly always mad at his people, eager to smack them down at the first opportunity. But that is a terribly shallow reading of what’s going on in the story (and in Scripture in general). Yes, God has pronounced judgment on his people Israel, but not because he is some mean old ogre. God has called his people Israel to be agents of his redemption and they have failed miserably in doing that, mainly because of their persistent and stubborn pattern of rebellion. They ignore their call and seek out other gods to worship and obey, and God is about to hold them accountable for their actions, not unlike how parents can hold their stubborn and rebellious children to account or society holds criminals to account. We would be wise not to press these analogies too far, but you get the point.
But this isn’t the end of the story. After having Ezekiel pronounce God’s judgment on Israel and after Israel learns that the unthinkable has happened–Jerusalem and its Temple destroyed–God will direct his prophet to offer God’s people comfort and hope. Their rebellion has brought God’s judgment on them but God has not given up on them. Had God given up on his people, he likely never would have had his prophet warn his people about God’s impending judgment on them, especially when God knew that most of them would simply ignore his warnings. Despite that, God continues to reach out to his people to offer them hope and a chance to be reconciled to him, not because they deserve it but because of who God is.
Does that sound like an angry and spiteful God to you? It doesn’t to me, either.
And of course the Good News is that God in Jesus has acted decisively in our history to forever put an end to the intractable problem of human sin and the alienation and exile it causes. The same God who offered his people a chance to escape his judgment and who comforted his rebellious people in their darkest hour continues to reach out to us so that we can find real life and so that God can equip us to be his called out (holy) people.
If you are dealing with paralyzing fear in your life, take heart and hope. God is a God who can take away your fear and equip you for the work he calls you to do. It may be arduous and difficult work, but you will find great satisfaction in doing it because you will have his Spirit to equip you and in so having, you will come to know the Source and Author of all life. In so knowing, you will be reminded that nothing in all creation can separate you for God’s great love for you in Jesus. Nothing. Not your warts and flaws, not sickness or suffering or anything else. You will have a chance to find real meaning and purpose in this life and you will have the sure and certain hope that not even your physical death will separate you from the God of life. Knowing this, what could possibly make you afraid?
Alleluia! Christ is risen (and ascended)! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!