Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 18, 2009

Sermon on Ezekiel 2:3-5

THE JOB DESCRIPTION FOR GOD’S PROPHET

  1. A job that evokes human opposition
  2. A job that executes a divine commission

 Text: Ezekiel 2:3-5

 Introduction

What should the job description of a pastor look like?  Is the pastor supposed to function like the Chief Executive Officer of the congregation, developing a vision and creating a strategy and then making sure that the church officers execute the plan?  Is the pastor the main fundraiser of the congregation, going from member to member and securing their commitment and contributions for the budget and special projects?  Is the pastor a non-elected civic official, the spiritual bridge between the congregation and the community, making public appearances and perhaps offering a prayer or blessing at major civic functions?

What should the job description of a pastor look like?  That is the issue taken up in the First Lesson for today.  While God’s people in the nation of Judah endured their exile in a foreign land, God came to the prophet Ezekiel in today’s First Lesson and called him to be his prophet to his exiled people.  And the job description for this role doesn’t look like most pastoral job descriptions that people would come up with today.  Three verses taken from today’s First Lesson give us the job description for God’s prophet.  This is a job that evokes human opposition, and a job that executes a divine commission.

I.

If you have ever had to confront someone or intervene with them, and if you knew in advance that the person wasn’t going to be receptive and might even be hostile to your message, then you may not have relished the task before you.  I can’t think of too many people who like to confront others, nor can I think of too many people who consider themselves experts at confrontation.  Confrontation usually isn’t fun, but it is often necessary to get someone off a destructive path in their life.

God called Ezekiel to serve as his prophet in today’s First Lesson (Ezekiel 2:1-3:4).  And a major part of that job would involve confrontation.  God 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.  The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” 

Ezekiel was one of many exiled Israelites living in the land of Babylon.  God directed the events of history so that Babylon would conquer and deport the Israelites as punishment for the many, many times they had deserted God.  Old Testament Israel unfortunately had a long and rich history of wandering from and rejecting God.  After the death of Kings David and Solomon, the nation split into two, and the larger, northern nation pretty much abandoned God from the start.  The smaller, southern nation, known as Judah, wavered back and forth between faithfulness to God and rejection of God.  But finally the stench of their sin was too strong, and God let his people be attacked and deported by an enemy nation.

Just the fact that they were living in a foreign land against their will was a daily testimony to their sinful stubbornness.  The exile didn’t seem to change much, at least initially.  In the Hebrew text, God describes the Israelites as “hard of face” and “strong of heart.”  If you have a “hard face,” it means you are stubborn.  If you have a strong heart versus a soft heart, it also means you are stubborn.  God’s punishment wasn’t sinking through the people’s hearts and minds.  And so it was Ezekiel’s job to speak God’s admonishments to these people.  Does that sound like a job that will face opposition?  You bet!

Last week Wednesday marked the eighth anniversary of my installation as the pastor here at Gloria Dei.  I didn’t think much about it, although my wife reminded me last week that the fifteenth marked eight years here in Belmont (though it hardly seems that long!).  I came out here as a 26-year-old kid from a nice northern suburb of Milwaukee.  Life there was safe and simple.  I was glad to return to California after a good experience during my vicar (intern) year in Los Angeles.  But 25 years in the Midwest and a semi-sheltered internship could not fully prepare me for life in the Bay area.

After finishing the seminary, we moved to Belmont.  And just six days after my ordination service, I realized that I was serving a very different community.  The father of a seventeen-year-old high school student called me.  His son was involved in a six-week summer camp at a college in San Francisco.  As a minor, he wasn’t allowed to travel very far on his own, and so his father asked if I would visit him.  Of course!  I drove up there, met this nice young man, took him out to lunch, returned to his temporary college quarters, had a personal devotion and the Lord’s Supper, and then headed on my way.  But it was during lunch that I realized that I was in a very different world now.  You see, two young men eating lunch together in San Francisco suggests something, and that was the assumption of the waiter who – how shall I put this mildly? – expressed some interest in us, his customers.  That’s when it struck me.  Compare the moral standards of Scripture to the standards and assumptions of the area where I was called to serve.  It was pretty obvious: Opposition was going to be the norm, not the exception.  I confess to my shame that it took me a long time to be able to say what needed to be said in a wide variety of situations.  And while I’ve grown in that ability over eight years, I hope you’ll keep praying for me, because facing opposition is part of the pastor’s job description, and it’s something for which I need God’s help.

Sometimes the opposition to the church comes outside the church.  But doesn’t opposition also come from within the church?  And if it comes from within the church, what does it say about us who are within the church?  It’s fine if the pastor condemns homosexuality or abortion or some other vice that the Scriptures forbid and that I’m not guilty of.  But what happens when the pastor speaks about something that hits close to home?  What happens when the pastor condemns my sin – my greed, my poor stewardship, my lust, my sexual immorality, my arrogance, my self-centeredness, my gossip, my rejection of God’s Word?  Suddenly we become master creators of the exception clause that mysteriously exempts us from guilt for the very sins we are guilty of.  And suddenly, the source of human opposition to God’s prophet is not from outside the church, but inside our own hell-bound, idolatrous sinful nature.

II.

When someone confronts sin, we hope for repentance.  But confronting sin is often met with opposition and defensiveness.  Why is that?  I will venture to say that one reason for the defensiveness is because the guilty party knows that what he or she is doing is wrong.  If the accusation was just a bunch of hot air, you’d ignore it.  But when it’s true, your sinful nature wants to defend it.  And if your sinful nature wants to defend it, doesn’t that suggest recognition that there is truth behind the confrontation?  Doesn’t that suggest that God’s Word is rightly behind the confrontation?

This is how God made that very point to Ezekiel:  “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’  And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.”  God’s messengers have not failed if they are faced with opposition.  While we would prefer to see repentance and not opposition, the fact is that opposition may be a sign of pastoral faithfulness.  Opposition might be a sign of faithfulness because many people internally recognize that God’s Word is right even when it tells them that they are wrong, and even if they become defensive.  Repentance and forgiveness is always the goal and always our prayer, but if God’s pastors and people proclaim his law faithfully, then they will have properly executed their divine commission no matter what the final result is.

A certain pastor once had a difficult confrontation to make.  He and one of the elders met with a man needing discipline in the congregation.  Together they gently but firmly confronted the man with his repeated and unrepentant sin.  They went so far as to remind him that if he continued in his unrepentant ways, he would wind up in hell.  The man’s response was quite sad.  He said, “I know this is wrong, but I’ll take that risk.”  How sad to hear him say, “I’ll take that risk.”  How revealing to hear him say, “I know this is wrong.”  By that statement, he acknowledged that God’s Word said his behavior was wrong.  He acknowledged that the Christian men speaking to him were correct because they were speaking God’s Word and will.  It is just as God told Ezekiel, “Whether they listen or fail to listen…they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

Fortunately, the stories don’t always end that way.  God’s law has a way to chip away at stubborn, strong, stony hearts.  Coming face to face with the reality of our sin can stop us from continuing our sinful sham and can lead us to see that we need someone else to put away our sin.  And that is when God’s pastors and his people have the greatest job you could ever imagine.

When God’s pastors and his people point out sin, they are executing their divine commission.  And when that divine commission leads sinful souls to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me,” then God’s pastors and people can carry out the second and most important part of their divine commission.  On the night after his resurrection, the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22b-23).  And the divinely commissioned apostle Paul once wrote, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

I hope you are here this morning seeking God’s forgiveness.  I hope you have come here today knowing that your sinful life and God’s holy standards couldn’t clash more.  Because to you, I say what God says.  To you I say that Jesus Christ was given over to death for your sins.  To you I say that Jesus Christ was raised to life for your acquittal before God.  To you I say that God has forgiven you in Christ, washed away your sins in his blood, and released you from hell by his resurrection.  To you I say that your sins have been drowned in the font and that your forgiveness will be delivered yet again at the altar.

When I say these things to you, it really isn’t me saying it.  When any pastor or any fellow Christian tells you that your sins are forgiven in Christ, it really isn’t the person telling you that.  God is telling you that.  Jesus is telling you that.  Jesus said, “He who listens to you, listens to me” (Luke 10:16).  Jesus said, “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).  And so if your pastor or a Christian friend announces that you are “loosed” from the guilt of your sin, it really isn’t an ordinary human being telling you that.  Jesus is telling you that you are his forgiven saint.  Jesus is telling you that good news through someone else who comes to you on a divine commission with Christ’s forgiveness.

Conclusion

A former member of our congregation who recently moved from our area sent me a form she picked up from a (non-Lutheran) church that she decided to visit one week.  The form asked the members of this particular church to indicate the kind of pastor they wanted to hire.  The questions ranged from personality and age, to preaching style, to the pastor’s personal beliefs.  On the one hand, it’s good for a church to think about the skills they need in their future pastor.  On the other hand, this form sounded like the pastor was going to fit the job description that the people created, and not the job description God has given in his Word.

God’s job description is clear.  Confrontation is necessary.  Ezekiel faced it in this reading.  Paul faced it in today’s Second Lesson (2 Timothy 3:10-4:5).  Jesus himself faced it in the Gospel for today (Mark 6:1-6).  If the Son of God faced opposition to his work, is it any surprise that his servants should expect the same?  But if the Son of God went forward with his work in spite of opposition, and if Jesus’ saving work brought us the greatest blessings we could ever hope for, is there any doubt that we will move forward with his divine commission to preach the gospel to all creation?  Let’s get to work!  Amen.

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Responses

  1. This hit it right on the head this week… thank you


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