Human one, I’ve made you a lookout for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from me, deliver my warning. f I declare that the wicked will die but you don’t warn them, if you say nothing to warn them from their wicked ways so that they might live, they will die because of their guilt, but I will hold you accountable for their deaths. – Ezekiel 3:17-18 (CEB)
I’m continuing my study of Ezekiel. After Ezekiel’s overwhelming initial vision, he is commissioned by God to be a prophet. I appreciate that God makes it clear that Ezekiel’s role is to speak the words God gives him. Ezekiel doesn’t have any responsibility for whether the people listen. I like the word “lookout” in the Common English Bible translation. Ezekiel is called both to look out for Israel but he’s also called to say, “Look out!”
Those of us called to be pastors, evangelists, or prophets have a hard time taking God at God’s word on this. In my most trusting moments, I may believe that I am faithful when I hear the word and speak it. But it’s sort of like telling people you’ll pray for them. We say it, but do we really think we’re doing anything? (I’m often a Failure at Prayer, although I’m pretty good at praying for other people.)
In the same way, I can speak a word or a message but it’s hard to believe that’s enough. You see, I measure my effectiveness at the speaking the message by the response of others in their actions. When there is no response, I wonder whether I got it right. When there is no change, I doubt my call.
But God says this is not my burden or my responsibility.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. – Romans 12:3 (NIV)
As someone who likes to be a catalyst for change and challenge the status quo, it is difficult preach, teach and proclaim to a world that often doesn’t seem to care. Even in the Church, the one delivering the message can be seen as an idealist and out of touch with how the world really works.
But I think that’s my job.
Yes, I’m an idealist – but only the extent it is God’s ideal that I believe in. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have hope where there can be no hope; we believe that God brings life from death. But I do understand the way the world works – often all to well, because I struggle with transformation in all the daily aspects of my life. I realize that the message I share is not consistent with culture and economy (and too often my life). I know that to heed God’s word, we must be willing to turn the other cheek, be defrauded, be enemies of Empire, and accept persecution and even death. I would prefer to just have the milk and honey and a cup that runneth over.
Throughout the centuries, the words of the prophets can be summarized as act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). This encompasses both our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. By walking humbly, I accept responsibility for sharing the message God gives me – and by allowing others to choose how they will respond to this message. Walking humbly means that I am honest about my own difficulties in responding with trust and faithfulness as the world tries to pull me in other directions. And it means walking with others, supporting them, and trusting God that God still speaks life into being.
Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend. – Isaiah 55:10 (CEB)