Our Peace

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”– a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands– 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (NRSV)

Our Peace

When I went home for lunch earlier this week, my daughter was showing me a Lego treehouse she had built. She showed me the ladder, and the secret hiding place for treasure that you could open and close. She showed me the bed, and all the features of the room she had designed. And she showed me the two Lego people who share the treehouse. Then she told me about how one character gets this half of the treehouse, and the other character gets the other half. It made me chuckle because I was trying to come up with ideas for how to begin this sermon. I thought, ‘That was easy.’

The Lego treehouse mirrored real life for her. Kara and Charlotte share a bedroom. They’ve cordoned off separate corners of the room for some of their doll stuff. When I was a kid, I shared a room with my brother. When we got too annoyed with each other, we would claim territory and mark off sides of the room. Joy and I have a rule in the house, No Toys Upstairs! The kids have the basement, and the boundary for toys is the stairs. They’re not allowed to bring their mess into our living space.

It’s what we do, isn’t it? In Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, the phrase is twice said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the poem, two neighbors meet every year to mend the stone wall that divides their properties. They walk the line, putting fallen stones back into place. But the speaker doesn’t understand the purpose of the wall. When he asks about it, his neighbor merely repeats the line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It’s just something that has to be for no other reason than it has to be. Good fences make good neighbors is actually a proverb that is found in many cultures and languages.

You can see the shift in American culture just by looking at the architecture of the family home. Older homes often have a large front porch where neighbors used to meet and chat. But that has given way to the fenced-in back yard where no one can see inside. The front porch is now a tiny thing just large enough for people to get to the front door. We have a penchant for marking our boundaries and keeping other people on the other side.

One could even argue that the commandments in the Law of Moses acted as a kind of peacekeeping boundary. Perhaps God saw that we need boundaries for self-preservation and protection, and to keep us from unwanted interference in the lives of our neighbors. The commandments, Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, all define boundaries. This is mine. That is yours. Let’s keep our hands to ourselves and to our own stuff, that way we can all get along swimmingly.

Ephesians is an occasional letter. It was written to a specific people about specific stuff on a specific occasion. You may remember that one of the major controversies during Paul’s lifetime was the question about how Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians fit together. They didn’t always mix well in the early days. The city of Antioch in Syria actually had two church congregations: one for Gentiles and one for Jews.

There was even a group of Jews following around in Paul’s footsteps making demands that Gentile Christians become Jews first. Gentiles needed to be circumcised before they could really call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus was a Jew. He was the son of David, a Jewish King. He was the long-expected Jewish Messiah. These folks were called the Judaizers, and Paul got pretty mad at them. They wanted to bring Gentiles onto their side of the fence, but Paul argued that’s not how God’s grace works!

The problems between Gentiles and Jews extended much further back than the first days of the church. It’s a problem that has been around since the beginning of the Law of Moses. The Law formed a boundary. It forbade certain kinds of intermingling between Jews and Gentiles. It’s not surprising that conflict and animosity arose between Gentiles and Jews.

One form of insult that both groups had for the other was to describe each other as atheos. It means without God. But it’s an insult. It doesn’t sound too insulting today because so many people claim to be atheists all the time. But in the ancient world to be described as atheos implied that one was uncivilized. Both Gentiles and Jews accused each other of this.

To the Gentiles, who were often simply referred to as the Greeks, the Jews who rejected the gods and their laws were no better than anarchists. They threatened the civility, uniformity, and well-being of Greco-Roman society itself. To reject the gods is a failure of Roman civic duty. If you don’t honor the gods, they might become angry and go on a killing spree. No one wanted to be on the wrong end of one of Zeus’s lightning bolts just because one ethnic group in a dinky little region of the empire failed to honor the gods like good Roman citizens.

To the Jews, the Gentiles who rejected their God as the One True God, were unenlightened fools who, despite their proud philosophical achievements, knew nothing of the truth. There is one God. The pantheon of gods who know nothing of morality or justice is ridiculous.

Yet, Paul uses this word, atheos, in regard to the Gentiles. He says, “So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called ‘uncircumcised’ by Jews who are physically circumcised. At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God.

Atheos. “No God.” This is an antagonistic, hostile, insulting word. But Paul uses it in order to show the breadth of the separation between Jews and Gentiles. In using this word, Paul is telling the Gentile Christians, you Greeks were wrong about God. The fact that you’ve now accepted Jesus Christ says that you know you were wrong about God. But in Christ, God has made both groups into one. It isn’t a peaceful coexistence and two separate groups, it’s a new thing. It’s essentially a new humanity!

If you’ve read the book of Acts, you know what a huge surprise this was for the early church. None of the Jewish Christians expected the Gentiles to be included in the promise of salvation.

As Gentiles, the message of Paul in Ephesians is meant for us. We’re the ones who were far off, but have now been brought near. We’re the ones who were without hope. We’re the ones who were atheos, without God. This was us. And it’s only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ that we have been included, brought near, folded in.

The cost for this was the blood of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God didn’t just tear down the wall that divided us, but eliminated the hostility behind the wall. God united us into one.

The Good News of the Christian Faith, here in Ephesians, is that reconciliation is not a dream. It’s a present reality that we can live into now. Even if the world is still torn apart by war, conflict, division, and strife, Christ has become our peace. It isn’t only that Christ proclaims peace or makes peace, Christ is our peace.

The irony of our time is that we Christians have forgotten this in so many ways. Battles are fought between Christian groups who each believe their rivals are atheos. At Annual Conference this year we had elections for the upcoming General and Jurisdictional conferences. And people on both sides of issues are talking about separation from each other as the only path forward. Arguments are still breaking out all over social media. It makes me wonder if we Christians know anything about reconciliation and peace at all. Do we really have a clue about what God has accomplished for us?

Paul was probably wondering the same thing when he wrote this part of Ephesians. The tense of the verbs in this text tell us that, for Paul, this reconciliation and peace is an already accomplished fact. You were without Christ. But now you have been brought near. He is our peace. He has made both groups into one. He has broken down the dividing wall. “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity instead of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

The reality of our world in conflict stands in stark contrast to the reality of Christ as our peace. When we proclaim Christ, we are proclaiming peace. There’s no other way around it. Christ is our peace. That’s a message that the world, and probably a lot of Christians, need to hear. Christ is our peace. It’s a done deal.

And yet, there’s a bigger picture within view of Paul’s words here. Jesus came to proclaim peace to those who were far off (meaning we Gentiles) and to those who were near. This way, both groups have access to the Father through the one Spirit. So we’re all citizens of God’s kingdom. We’re all members of God’s household. But more than that, we are God’s home. The peace that is Christ is more than reconciliation between differing groups of people. It’s also reconciliation between us and God. We are no longer atheos. Instead, through Christ, we are a holy temple in the Lord. We are built together spiritually as a dwelling place for God.

In the world, good fences might make good neighbors, but in Christ everything that divides us from one another and from God has been wiped out. It’s a stunning re-imagination, not only of how things ought to be, but of how things are. The church is not a place where parishioners gather together—it’s not a building we come in to. Rather, we, the people of God, have become the very household where God chooses to live. We are the community in which God abides. If God lives in each of us, then there’s no room for division. We forget that human divisions can alienate us from God as well as one another.

What are the walls we’ve built up in our lives? Who are the people with whom we might need to seek reconciliation? What are the things that divide us?

Christ is our peace. Christ has reconciled us to God and to one another. This is the Good News: that we can have genuine love and respect for each other even when we feel like cordoning off a room. In Christ, God has removed the hostility that separates us from each other, and from God. In Christ, we are one.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] unless otherwise noted).

The Fullness Therof

Psalm 24

Of David. A Psalm. 1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; 2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. 3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation. 6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah (NRSV)

The Fullness Thereof

My kids aren’t here today, which means I can talk about them. My wife is visiting her sister in California, so my kids spent the night in Evansville last night. They’re with my parents because, for some reason, I doubted my ability to get myself and three children here by 7:00 a.m., at least with shoes on.

You probably haven’t gotten to know my children yet, since this is only my second Sunday here. They aren’t stubborn, but they are all very strong-willed kids. (There’s a difference between strong-willed and stubborn). And they’re really intelligent. It’ll serve them well as they grow older, but it makes parenting interesting at times.

They’re kids, so they naturally think life revolves around them. They think it’s all about what they want. Kids can have difficulty seeing beyond themselves because they’re still learning how to do that. They’re kids.

Earlier this week I had the kids by myself. And, as I was having them get ready for bed, my ten-year-old, Kara, was presenting an argument about why she should get to stay up later because she’s ten. And she was laying out this really excellent, convincing, argument about peer group bedtime trends, and educational advantages of being allowed to read more. I mean, she practically said, “Daddy, do you want me to be average or do you want me to excel? We can fix this with an extra hour of reading time. And, I’ll be learning about astronomy and the solar system.” I mean, she’s got her own educational plan in place! I think she must have spent hours on Google doing statistical analyses for this whole persuasive argument.

So, I mean, what could I do? I let the kid stay up and read. I made her brother and sister go to bed. They didn’t think it was fair, but I told them, “What? You guys didn’t do the argument thing that she did. Go to bed.”

Then, in the morning, Kara woke up grumpy. She spent the day grumpy. She was short with everyone. She clearly didn’t get enough sleep. So that night, she tried to present her arguments again, but I cut her off. I wasn’t having it. She needed to get some sleep. So she went to bed. Yeah, it was somewhat grudgingly, but she went to bed and fell asleep. She even gave me a hug and kiss and told me, “I love you, Daddy.” And you know what? She’s a lot more pleasant when she gets a good night of rest. She knows I’m taking care of her, and her response is love.

We do stuff like this all the time. We all do. We want our way, so we argue and rationalize. We want our way because we think things should be about us and, just like kids, sometimes we have difficulty seeing beyond our own wants.

And in a way, maybe it is about us. After all, look at what God has done for us. God made the planets and stars for us. We get to call this place, this earth, home. Then, when we messed up, God sent prophets, priests, God’s own Son, and the Holy Spirit all because God loves us. God’s Son died for us in order to save us from the power of sin. God has done a lot of amazing things for us. God has moved toward us in uncountable ways!

One question at hand is our response. It’s essentially the difference between cats and dogs. Dogs look at their owners and think, “Wow, they feed me, they give me water, they give me shelter, they love me and give me a home. They even clean up my poop in the yard so I can romp and play in a clean place. They must be gods!” Cats, on the other hand, think, “Wow, they feed me, they give me water, they give me shelter, the love me and give me a home. They even scoop my poop out of a litter box. I must be a god!

Dogs will do anything to please their owners. They’re even repentant when they’ve done something wrong. If a cat does something wrong, there’s no repentance. They’ll look you in the eye and say, “Yeah, I did that. Clean it up so I can do it again.”

What is our response to the psalmist’s monumental declaration? The earth and everything in it belongs to God, the world and all of its inhabitants belong to the Lord. Psalm 24 speaks of the right relationship between creatures and creator. At its heart, the psalm is about God’s self-revelation, God’s grace-filled movement toward us, and our response to God. When we see and hear all that God has done for our poor souls, what is our response?

Perhaps a better question is, what is the proper response of creatures who recognize that their creator has done all of this for our good?

It’s worship. Our response is worship.

But Christians in this country have developed a strange idea about what worship is and what worship is about. Will Willimon was my worship professor in seminary. He later became a United Methodist bishop. He was Dean of Duke Chapel when I was in school, so he preached just about every Sunday. He once told our class about a time, after service one Sunday, when he was shaking hands with people as they exited the Chapel. One gentleman shook his head as he shook hands with Dr. Willimon. “You know, Pastor, I just didn’t get fed today. I didn’t get anything out of that sermon.”

Now, mind you, Will Willimon is well-known as an excellent preacher. In fact, his name is on a Baylor University study that names the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Willimon stands alongside people like Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Craddock, Gardner C. Taylor, Thomas Long, and Billy Graham. Ever heard of them? But this poor guy walked out of the service lamenting that he didn’t get anything out of worship. To which Professor Willimon responded, somewhat heatedly, “Well, what did you put into it?

I think it was the best response that could have been given. You see, worship isn’t all about us. Worship isn’t something we attend only so we can get something out of it. While it is a means of grace for us, the grace we receive in worship doesn’t always manifest itself as some tangible feeling that wells up inside of us. Sometimes the grace we receive in worship is quiet. Sometimes it’s so soft that we don’t know God has filled us to the brim with the presence of the Spirit.

If we’re only here so we can get something out of it—a feeling, or a nugget to chew on—then I would venture to suggest we aren’t worshipping as we ought. How often are we like the man leaving Duke Chapel who complained to Will Willimon? How often do we come to worship, not with God in mind, but the week we’ve had? How many times have we left worship worried, not if we have given God the worship God deserves, but if we have been spiritually fed? How often have we made worship about us; about what we’ve been able to get out of it instead of what we’ve given?

Worship isn’t all about us. Worship is something we, as the creature, give to God who is the creator. Worship is our response to God’s goodness toward us, and our response simply because of who God is. We give God our worship, not because God needs us to give it, but because we need to give it. We need to worship God. Worship is the single most important thing we do as Christian people.

Yes, mission and service are important. We’re called to feed, clothe, and shelter people. We’re called to provide safety, education, and healthcare. We’re called to share our resources with others. We need to do these things. But it is worship that shapes us as people. It’s worship that molds us into the kind of people who are drawn to offer food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. It’s worship that forms us into people who are able to love others as Jesus loves, and that means loving even enemies.

Psalm 24’s words remind us of our creatureliness. We are wholly dependent upon God’s gifts to us. Everything we have in our possession, every molecule of oxygen we breathe is a gift to us from the One God who founded the earth on the seas and established it on the rivers. Everything belongs to God, even the stuff we claim to own.

Leviticus 25:23 puts forth a very different idea from our Western land laws. God says, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine: with me you are but aliens and tenants.” We are stewards, not owners. This could easily be a stewardship sermon. I say that because our giving—our giving of our tithes and offerings is also a response of worship. Are we giving to God what we ought to give? There’s more to right worship than singing the hymns with gusto. Worship requires something of us.

The psalmist asks the question, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy sanctuary?” And the answer the psalmist gives is a little intimidating at first glance. “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.”

(I’ve always wanted to ask the psalmist if it’s okay to swear honestly. Ah, it’s a different kind of swearing there).

But this is liturgical, it’s something that would have been used in a communal worship setting like this. So it has more to do with the faithfulness of the community than with individual or private matters. Yet, we should still examine ourselves and how we have lived our lives to this moment of worship. A little self-examination is something we ought to do as we come into the presence of God to offer our worship.

Jesus suggested it rather strongly in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24). If you look at the order of Word and Table 1 or 2 on page 8 or page 12 in the hymnal, this is why we confess our sins, then pass the peace before the offering in our United Methodist worship liturgy. We examine ourselves and confess, then we’re given the opportunity to offer peace to those who may have something against us.

The final verses of Psalm 24 reaffirm that worship ought to be about God. The phrase “King of Glory” is used five times here, and it’s only found in this psalm. It’s actually somewhat subversive. If this psalm was used in a worship procession to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, as some scholars believe, then the identification of the Lord as the King of Glory means that it isn’t David, or Solomon, or Jeroboam, or Uzziah, or Josiah, or Ahaz, or any other king of Israel or Judah. It is the Lord who rules all that is. It is the Lord who is worthy of our praise, our worship, our trust, and our loyalty. It is in worship, when we direct our heart, mind, and soul toward the God who rules all-in-all, that we find our place and our right-relationship with God and neighbor. This is where we find blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of our salvation.

Worship isn’t all about us. It’s a response to God’s movement toward us. It’s about what we give back to God, and how we respond to the God of the Universe, the King of Glory, the Ruler of all creation.

Yeah, we can get something out of it. I’m certain we always get more out of worship than we realize. That’s just how generous God is. But before we think about what we’re getting out of it, Psalm 24 reminds us to think about what we’re putting in.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

(Scripture quotation are from the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] unless otherwise noted).

Ezekiel’s Commissioning

Ezekiel 2:1-5

1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. (NRSV)

Ezekiel’s Commissioning

Well, the lectionary kind of got me here. There’s nothing like starting off with a text like this on your first Sunday, right? What Fun!

Ezekiel’s commissioning as a prophet isn’t exactly an easy word to hear or to proclaim. But I’m the one who chose this text from the lectionary because I like to preach on the Old Testament. So we can ultimately call this a self-inflicted dilemma.

Ezekiel is one of my favorite books along with Amos. The Prophets fascinate me. Prophets, essentially, speak on God’s behalf. Biblical prophets are not, what we think of in the more modern sense, predictors of the future. Sometimes the prophets said things like, “If you don’t change, bad things are going to happen,” and they did. Sometimes they said, “God will restore and heal our people,” and God did. But prophets were not primarily concerned with predicting the future. The role of Prophets is, first and foremost, to call God’s people to faithfulness. Prophets speak God’s word to God’s people. Prophets point out social injustices and religious inconsistencies. Prophets call God’s people to repent. Prophets point out truths that have gone unnoticed or unrecognized. A great example of what a modern-day prophet would look like is Martin Luther King, Jr. He pointed out stuff that wasn’t right, and pointed the way forward to what ought to be. That’s what prophets do.

Prophets don’t speak of their own accord. Prophets are called. But why on earth would God call a person to speak on God’s behalf? What’s the point of having a prophet? The office of the prophet goes back to Moses. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, the Israelites saw and heard God on Sinai, and they were terrified. They said, “Let’s not do that again. Moses, you tell us what God wants us to know, and we’ll go with that. But don’t let us hear God again. If we do, we’ll all die!”

So Moses spoke in God’s stead, and the people… kind of listened. Then, when the questions arose of what would happen when Moses died, God made a plan. God told Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” (Deut. 18:18)

It seems like a risky move, on God’s part, to speak through human beings. We’re kind of weak. Even a little squishy at times. But, for some reason, God chose people to be the normal channel through which God speaks and reveals to the human race. It’s risky because messengers are flawed. And it’s risky because people don’t always listen. Yet, the role of the prophet is to speak, whether the hearers listen or not.

We all know Isaiah’s commissioning story from Isaiah 6. Songs have been written about it. It’s where Isaiah has a vision of God seated on the throne, and God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me!” And we think that’s just such a delightful story. But maybe we wouldn’t think it was so delightful if we actually read past verse 8. In the very next verses, this is what Isaiah was told to do, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”

So what’s the point? What’s the point of speaking on God’s behalf if people aren’t going to listen, if people aren’t going to pay attention and internalize what is spoken? It’s risky for God to speak through human beings. But that’s what God does. Because, despite the sinfulness and corruption of people, there is the potential in every person for faithfulness and obedience. And when that happens, it’s powerful.

So here, God is raising Ezekiel up to be a prophet. But it doesn’t look very promising. Ezekiel collapses, so the Spirit of God picks him up. He can’t stand on his own. He can’t hear on his own. God has to fortify the guy with some spirit so he can do anything. But, while it looks like weakness, that is as it should be.

The really cool thing about this particular prophet, I think, is that Ezekiel was a Temple priest living among the exiles in Babylon and he was called by God to be a prophet. The interesting thing about this situation is that priests and prophets didn’t like each other a lot of times. They were often opposed to each other.

Priests were the ones who maintained the Temple cult. They kept the sacrifices going along with all of the laws and regulations found in the Law of Moses. They kept the rules that God gave to the people. Priests were the ones who said, We have to make this sacrifice on this festival during these certain days. It’s written right here in the book.

Prophets were sometimes the anti-priests. They were the ones who came in and blew up everything the priests were trying to maintain. Prophets were the ones who said things like, “I hate, I despise your festivals!” (Amos 5:21).

And the poor priests would complain, What do you mean God hates our festivals? God is the one who told us to do all this stuff!

And the prophets would respond with things like, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” That’s in the book of Amos, by the way. (Amos 5:24).

Priests led the worship of God according to the official channels and prescriptions of the written word. Prophets were saying the official channels don’t matter if the heart of the people isn’t in their worship. None of it matters if people don’t live rightly in their daily life. Being God’s people involves more than coming to church, so to speak. It also requires justice and righteousness: behavior that is consistent with God’s plan.

Needless to say, there weren’t very many priests who were also prophets. It’s almost like rooting for Duke and Carolina at the same time. There might be a few, but it doesn’t happen very often! And yet, this is who and what Ezekiel is: prophet and priest.

Both of these roles are important for the church. Even the furniture we use in our churches is there for these dual roles of prophet and priest. A lot of churches have a pulpit and a lectern. The lectern is where Scripture is read. That’s the place for priestly speech. The pulpit is where the word is preached and expounded. It’s the place for prophetic speech. Ordained pastors have both priestly and prophetic roles. We read Scripture in worship, we preside over the sacraments, and at weddings and funerals. We visit the sick and pray over them. These are priestly functions. But we also preach. Preaching is a prophetic function. Ezekiel is a paradigm for ordained pastors who act as both priest and prophet.

The interesting thing for us is that what was once limited to certain people in the Old Testament has been expanded to everyone in the Post-Pentecost world. The church—and when I say church I mean people. The church is not a building. It’s people. The church is both the speaker and the receiver of proclamation. Our words and our actions are to be a prophetic witness, a prophetic proclamation to the world in which we live. When we seek justice for the oppressed and live righteousness. When we love even our enemies and work for reconciliation and peace we are, in a real sense, preaching God’s word to the world.

We are all commissioned to ministry by our baptism. This is our ordination into the priesthood of all believers. We’re all called to serve. We’re all called to priests and prophets in our every day. God still calls and sets apart people for ordained ministry, but we’re all called to serve in priestly and prophetic roles. We’re all called to proclaim.

And yet sometimes, for whatever reason, we are the ones who need to receive proclamation. We’re fallible people. We mess up. We lose hope. We get things wrong. Sometimes we’re the ones by the River Chebar in Babylon. Sometimes we’re the ones who feel helpless, or who are experiencing a kind of exile. Sometimes the words of the exiled Jews in Psalm 137 sound familiar to us: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”

I’ve had to look to Ezekiel several times in my ministry for encouragement. Sometimes I was the one who hung up my harp and wondered how I could continue to sing. The task of ministry and service to which we Christians are called is not easy. It can be especially disheartening in a world where we count and tabulate stuff in order to measure success.

Students are measured by test scores and classroom grades. We measure everything from our cholesterol and blood-glucose, to our investments and savings accounts. Every area of our lives is counted, tracked, and compared to averages and standards in order to measure this fleeting thing we call “success.” We want to know, we want to be able to see, that our efforts are making a difference. And so we measure.

I understand there’s a place for such measuring, but our call to faithfulness is different. Ezekiel was sent, not to a foreign people whose language and speech are difficult, but to the house of Israel: to a nation of impudent and stubborn rebels. It’s his own people in his own home. He was told, “You will say to them, ‘The Lord God proclaims.’ Whether they listen or whether they refuse… they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

Like Ezekiel, our job is to speak. Our job is to proclaim with words and with actions, with living and with loving, whether people listen or not. It’s not about measuring. It’s about being faithful. We speak because we’ve been called. We proclaim because we’ve been sent. And it doesn’t have to be to a far-away place where language and speech are difficult. It might be right here among our own people, in our own city, in our own home. God knows that we can’t control whether or not others listen. We can only control how we speak and how we live.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

(Scripture quotation are from the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] unless otherwise noted).