Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ezekiel 1:1,28b,2:1-5 - “God Invites Us Into His Everything”

Pentecost 7 (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, July 20, and Sunday, July 23, 2006

Send men whose eyes have seen the King,
Men in whose ears His sweet words ring;
Send such your lost ones home to bring.

(“Send Now, O Lord, to Every Place,” stanza 2, Mary C. Gates, Lutheran Worship #316)

That hymn builds on the idea of our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel—this idea that God sends out His servants, sends us out because we’ve seen the Lord. Ezekiel had this incredible vision of God, saw the glory of God, and then God sent Ezekiel to go and preach and be a prophet. We sing in that hymn about how we too have been sent by God to tell others about His love and forgiveness. Maybe we didn’t get to see that same kind of incredible vision that Ezekiel saw, but we’ve seen God in His Word, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. We’ve seen the Lord work in our lives through His Holy Spirit, and now God sends us out to be His witnesses, people who can testify, speak, tell others about who God is.

It’s heady stuff. Like Ezekiel, you are witnesses, called and sent to go tell God’s Word. This part of the Church year, the Pentecost season, it’s the Time of the Church, and a lot of the Scriptures readings are about being witnesses, God using us in His mission. It’s all the kind of stuff that could make you conceited, could go straight to your head.

We could focus today on how we’re all Ezekiels, sent by God to speak His Word, but there’s a lot in the passage from Ezekiel to keep us from being conceited. That phrase, “to keep us from being conceited,” comes from our Epistle reading today from 2nd Corinthians. Paul talks about the thorn in his flesh, and whatever it was, this troubling thing in his life was what kept him from being conceited, a reminder that he is weak where God is strong. To keep Ezekiel from being conceited, God shows him that He is the One who has the power and glory. Everything about the call of Ezekiel is also a reminder to keep us from being conceited.

As we look at these reminders of our own humbleness and weakness, there’s a refrain I want to teach you—with hand motions and everything. It goes like this: “We are nothing [out signal]; God is everything [point to the sky, finger in a circle]; God invites us into His everything [bring hands down to chest, then a lifting up motion].” Will you try this with me? We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

How does the passage from Ezekiel lead to this refrain? Well, in good biblical fashion, there are seven ways.

First, Ezekiel sees this incredible vision of God. Read chapter 1 of Ezekiel when you get home. It’s tough stuff to understand, because Ezekiel is trying to explain this vision of God, explain something that there are no words for. That vision knocks Ezekiel down; Ezekiel says he “fell facedown.” That’s the “we are nothing” reminder, knocked down because we just don’t add up to anything compared to God. It’s also the “God is everything” reminder; this vision of God reveals His glory, power, and majesty.

But instead of just being knocked down and left there, God’s Spirit comes and lifts Ezekiel to his feet. Ezekiel was nothing; God is everything; and there was no way that Ezekiel was going to be able to stand up in God’s presence unless God’s Spirit lifted him up. In other words, God invites Ezekiel into His everything.

Ezekiel couldn’t be conceited about seeing this vision of God, because Ezekiel was incredibly aware of his own unworthiness before God and his need for God’s invitation. Same with us: we can’t be conceited about knowing Jesus and the salvation He brings through the cross. Instead, knowing Jesus means, and here join with me on the refrain: We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything. That’s what it means to know Jesus.

Secondly, we see this refrain in the job Ezekiel is given. God sends him to be a prophet, someone who would declare God’s Word to the people. In studying this passage, I saw one book call Ezekiel a “plenipotentiary.” I had to look this word up, and actually, I found out it was used in this year’s National Spelling Bee finals. Anyway, it means “a diplomat who is fully authorized to represent his or her government.” In this case, then, it means that Ezekiel was fully authorized to represent God.

This might sound like something that would’ve made Ezekiel conceited, and if we think of ourselves as plenipotentiaries, fully authorized to represent God, we too might get conceited. But think about it: an ambassador only has as much power and influence that the government back home has. So an ambassador doesn’t have any power himself or herself.

To be a plenipotentiary, to be God’s ambassadors is another reminder of the refrain—say it with me—We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

Third, do you see how God talks to Ezekiel? God always refers to Ezekiel as “son of man.” God is never heard calling Ezekiel by his first name. It’s always this “son of man” title which focuses on how Ezekiel is just a man, a human, a humble, sinful man created by God. In fact, it’s kind of a generic title, like saying, “Hey, guy.” This is certainly a reminder of the refrain, because God is saying that Ezekiel’s name isn’t the important one. The book of Ezekiel in the Bible probably should even be called “Son of Man” to emphasize this. In that same way, we are not the important ones. It’s not the ministry of Ben Squires or Rick Miller; the RYMS Servant Trip wasn’t the ministry of the leaders Beth Groddy, Penny Schneider, Chris Ausprung, or Matt Radke; the things you do to serve God aren’t about you. We’re all just sons of men; we’re all just hey, yous, but God asks us to be a part of His ministry. Which is why we’ve got this refrain today—say it again—We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

The fourth thing here is the kind of surprising thing that happens after Ezekiel gets this incredible vision. If it was just about Ezekiel, he would’ve stayed where he was, stayed to meditate on that vision. He had gotten a chance to see the glory of God, and if it was just about Ezekiel, he may have cloistered himself, closed himself off from the world, and just spent his days thinking about the vision, letting the vision feed his soul. Instead, though, we see that it’s not about Ezekiel, because God sends Ezekiel out to go and speak. God doesn’t let Ezekiel just stay with that vision; God pushes him out, sends him back to the people.

In that same way, if it was just about us, once you heard about Jesus, you might spend all of your days just closed off in a room or a cave or the woods, just spend your days reading God’s Word, meditating, and thinking to yourself about God’s love. But it’s not just about us; it’s about God’s hope to tell all people about His plan of salvation; it’s about other people who also need to know the hope that comes through Jesus.

Ezekiel doesn’t get to stay and think about the vision; we don’t get to stay and think about God’s Word to ourselves; God is sending us out, so again, the refrain rings true: We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

The fifth way the refrain comes up is in the message that Ezekiel is sent to preach; he is sent to tell the people that they are rebellious, obstinate, sinful. God sends Ezekiel to preach a message of judgment. Now, of course, that easily connects up with the first parts of our refrain: We are nothing; God is everything. God’s judgment comes to point out our sinfulness, to show us that we have gone against God who is all pure, all good, all loving, all righteous.

Yet, is there a way that this message also connects up with the third part of the refrain: God invites us into His everything? That’s where we kind of have to take the long view of the book of Ezekiel, because eventually, Ezekiel does get to speak words of hope, words where we see God wanting to save His people. However, even back in our passage from chapter 2, we have to ask ourselves: why does God send a prophet to speak judgment? Is God just trying to say, “I told you so. You’re wrong. Ha ha! You’ll all die now!”? Is that God’s purpose? No, of course not. God sends Ezekiel to speak judgment, because He is hoping that the people will repent, turn away from their sins, come back and see how God is inviting them into His everything, inviting them to have a relationship with Him again.

That’s why God sends us to speak judgment, to talk to people about their sin: it’s part of the invitation into God’s everything. God’s message shows us how we’ve left the path, wandered away from the road that leads to God’s everything, and once you’ve realized you’re on the wrong road, well, now you’re ready to ask for help, to find out how to get back on the right road. That’s where God’s invitation through Jesus comes in—you’re sinful, headed the wrong way, but Jesus forgives your sin, gets you back on a path that leads to God’s everything. So again, say the refrain with me: We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

Sixth of our seven reminders in Ezekiel chapter 2 is that God sends Ezekiel to a people who will not listen. This is actually a comforting thing to tell Ezekiel at the start of his ministry, believe it or not, because Ezekiel now knows from the beginning that no matter what he does, some people aren’t going to listen. God tells Ezekiel to always use the phrase: This is what the Sovereign Lord says. In other words, everything Ezekiel is sent to say is coming from God—not Ezekiel. While that’s a reminder to the people about where the prophet gets his words, it’s also a reminder to Ezekiel—if the people reject his words, they are rejecting God’s Word.

So even when we’re telling people about Jesus, if we get conceited and think it’s about us, then we’re going to be hurt, upset, and mad when people reject us, because we’ll think they’re rejecting us. However, if we are speaking God’s Word, if we are telling people about Jesus according to the Scriptures, then the people aren’t rejecting us; they’re rejecting God. They’re rejecting God’s invitation into His everything. When Ezekiel speaks, or when we speak, we’re testifying to our experience. The refrain is our experience—We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything. If people reject us, they’re rejecting God’s invitation to have that same experience.

Finally, the last way this refrain shows up in Ezekiel is Ezekiel’s name. I know I said that God never uses Ezekiel’s first name, but Ezekiel knew his name and his name is very much like our refrain. Ezekiel means “God is strong” or “God makes strong.” It’s another reminder to Ezekiel that he is not strong on his own. It is God. It’s another thing that kept Ezekiel from being conceited. So that certainly connects with the first parts of the refrain: We are nothing; God is everything; but what about the invitation into God’s everything?

Well, if we jump ahead to Ezekiel chapter 3, God is still telling Ezekiel about his mission as prophet, and God says, “But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as [the people] are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.” God invites Ezekiel into His everything, saying that He will make Ezekiel strong. God has the strength, but He’s not just going to leave Ezekiel to be weak and defenseless and helpless. God is inviting Ezekiel into His strength.

All of you need to take the name of Ezekiel as your own—a reminder that God is strong, God makes strong. Then you’ll remember that on your own, you don’t have strength. Instead, your strength comes from God. So again we’ve got the refrain: We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.

This passage from Ezekiel does indeed prepare us to see ourselves as God’s witnesses. Because we’ve heard God’s Word, been baptized, and received the Lord’s Supper, because of that, we are sent to speak God’s Word. Yet, everything about how God calls us into His mission, everything is a reminder to see that God is the One who has the strength and power.

We’ve seen God, but it is the Spirit who stands us on our feet to go on the mission.

We are plenipotentiaries, fully authorized to represent God, the One who has all the power.

We’re all just sons of men; we’re all just hey, yous, but God asks us to be a part of His ministry.

We don’t get to stay and think about God’s Word to ourselves; God is sending us out to speak.

We’re sent to speak a message of judgment on sin, but also point the way back to God’s everything.

When we speak, we’re testifying to our experience of God bringing us into His everything, and when people reject us, they’re rejecting God.

And you are Ezekiels, God will make you strong, the strength comes from Him alone.

One more time, then, say the refrain with me: We are nothing; God is everything; God invites us into His everything.