Ezekiel is called by God to be a prophet calling out for God’s way to a community whom God likens to a “rebellious house”. God promises Ezekiel will not be harmed by the people who hate his message, whose rejecting response God likens to scorpions and briers.
All in all, I have to imagine such promises were not the buoy of hope Ezekiel wanted in his call message. In essence, God is telling Ezekiel that Ezekiel must speak out for God, truth, and justice among a people who will largely not listen to and reject his message. God is not calling Ezekiel to succeed in earthly terms. In fact, God tells Ezekiel that “you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” so that they may know God has provided a prophet among their people.
To me these words are like a bucket of cold water on my child-like hopes that God is wanting me to be a success in human terms. Instead of this God is calling me to be faithful to God’s calling, doing the work God has given me and sharing the words God gives me regardless as to whether society receives it well, knowing God’s concern is faithfulness.
I’ve been there, of course, when the work I felt God call me to do didn’t bring material success but instead, if anything, sacrifice. Though in one sense a discouraging reality check, this text is also a reminder: even those times I saw no fruit borne, I cannot throw up my hands and declare it a failure if I was faithful.
After all, in his lifetime Ezekiel looked like a failure. Yet whose prophet’s words were remembered after Ezekiel’s death and were proven true over the test of time? Ezekiel’s were and now are part of Holy Scripture honored by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Similarly, to all human appearances, when Jesus was crucified He was a failed Messiah. Yet today his message continues to transform lives.
I look too at other’s who were called to speak hard truths that seemed to fall on death ears at first. I remember the Grimke sisters in the 1800s who, together with Sojourner Truth, travelled the US preaching a two-fold message – the message of human liberation, that holding people in slavery was evil and must be stopped; and that women are as equally called and gifted as men to lead in society and the church. By and large these women were laughed at and reviled. Yet look – though we continue to have problems with injustice, at least in theory today our society accepts all people ought to be treated equally regardless of race and gender. Slavery is abolished, and women work in leadership in our communities and churches.
I think of Martin Luther King who spoke of a dream of racial equality. He was considered a radical, a socialist, a rabble-rouser to be feared. Yet now streets and community centers are named after him. Though we have yet to fulfill his dream of full racial equality and face threats to the civil rights he fought to make available, as a whole we believe that vision is true and know in our hearts it must be fulfilled.
Likewise, in the late 1960’s, a man named Troy came out of an attempt at suicide, a suicide flowing from being rejected by his family, his church, & his community for being gay hearing the promise “I love you and have never rejected you. Tell those like you I love them too” which he took to be the voice of God. He began to work as a minister who fully welcomed gay people like himself as loved and welcomed by God, while also organizing demonstrations to fight for fair and equal treatment. He was laughed at, scorned, and mocked. But now Rev. Troy Perry’s work has launched not only the Metropolitan Community Churches and related ministries, but inspired a movement in mainline churches like my own denomination to fully embrace LGBT people. It helped lay the groundwork we saw coming to fruition in the recent Supreme Court decision to include same-gender couples in the franchise of marriage. Though his fight for full equality is not done yet, now the hard work of being a prophet to his people is bearing fruit the world can see.
This gives me hope. Sometimes I feel my efforts are shaky, with little impact. Also I see important work to be done to better the world and can despair it cannot be done.
Yet I look up and see prophets in our time, like Rev. Dr. William Barber speaking up against systemic injustice in my home state and even names most won’t know in churches I’m associated with who also join in their way in the struggle.
I feel a reminder in my soul – be faithful. Raise a voice. Put your hand to the plow, unworried about the outcome. And I will bring fruit in time, even if you do not live to see it.
May we all have such faithfulness.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie,
Your progressive redneck preacher,