Sermon given at Isham & Orlingbury 10.7.16
Readings: OT/Epistle Ezekiel 18: 27-32
Gospel Luke 10: 25-37
Ezekiel was born into a family of priests and he knew about Jeremiah’s prophetic words. When Ezekiel was a young trainee priest of 25 yrs he was among the elite of Jerusalem who were carted off by the Babylonians to exile in Mesopotamia, 100’s of miles away from Jerusalem. 5 years after that deportation God began to use Ezekiel to speak God’s words to the exiles.
Another 5 years later Jeremiah’s prophecy came true – the Temple, the Palace and much of Jerusalem was burnt down and another wave of people were sent into exile. The first wave of exiles would have been shocked by this second wave – not only did they bring news of Jerusalem’s destruction but the people would have been emaciated from long months of siege and starvation followed by a horrendously long journey. So it’s to a shocked and completely humiliated and discouraged people that Ezekiel speaks – and tries to bring them some kind of meaning, comfort and hope.
The only reason for the existence of priestly families was for them to point people to Yahweh, to God – so Ezekiel would always have had God at the centre of his life. God’s dramatic intervention in his life, the vision when God called Ezekiel to be his prophetic voice-piece, ensured that from then onwards Ezekiel was so passionate about God that he was able to see and understand things from God’s viewpoint more than others could.
He sees that sin is grotesque, gruesome and disgusting. It perverts and pollutes. And the worst sin of all is idolatry, worshipping something other than God. There was so much idolatry in Israel, even within the Temple, that in the end it drove God out of the temple – the glory of God could no longer bear to reside there. But it hovers just off-stage, longing to return.
When things go wrong for us humans, our first reaction is often to blame something other than ourselves – that damn computer!! Or the wretched government! Or those people who’ve upset or annoyed us. Anybody other than ourselves!! When the Israelites were sent into exile they blamed everyone else – even God! God’s not being fair, they cried!
Ezekiel has to work hard to get them to acknowledge that they’ve not been exactly whiter than white themselves – and perhaps their own sin has played a part in their misfortunes!! He keeps hammering on that God IS just, God does play fair!
There’s plenty in the OT to show that God loves us, pities us, has compassion and mercy on us, grieves over our wilful waywardness, longs for our return, rejoices in our restoration, celebrates our homecoming – and there’s plenty in the OT to show that God has immense wisdom, goodness and POWER! God’s glory is very great!
Ezekiel cannot bear the idea of God being mocked. Israel was mocking God by ignoring his laws and keeping on sinning. Other nations were mocking God by saying that if Israelites were captives their God must be useless!
So the logic of Ezekiel’s thinking is this:
- Humans respect and honour goodness, wisdom and power.
- People look for a God who will rescue and protect them from evil and harm, and enable them to flourish.
- To prove that he is God of entire world and engage the respect and honour of the whole world, God MUST be seen to save his people.
- So – there IS hope for the Israelites
- But they MUST turn to God and wholeheartedly trust and obey him.
Ezekiel probably couldn’t know quite HOW God was going to save his people – he lived 100’s of years before Christ – but he trusts God TO save his people – and therefore gives them hope.
To honour someone is to acknowledge their attributes and to show them respect by following their advice! Ezekiel sees that repentance cannot be half-hearted. “Repent … and get a new heart and a new spirit.” When we’re fully turned towards God, when we REALLY want to do God’s will, we see and understand better what God wants us to do about any particular situation – and in doing so we will both honour God AND find life ourselves.
As God used Ezekiel in his time, so today God sometimes uses people or events to challenge us about just how fully we ARE turned towards God – perhaps our thinking about a particular aspect of life is a bit skewed towards our own self-interest without us being aware of that! Sometimes God wants to open our eyes a bit wider so we can see and understand his perspective a little better.
God wants the best for us – and that means the best for the people around us too! No man is an island …!!