When I was on the Western Washington rowing team, we decided to raise funds by hiring ourselves out to be security at the Seahawks stadium. And I got put in charge of door duty. I had to check the bags of everyone coming in and confiscate drugs, booze, weapons, and footballs. I thought that last one was rather odd, why footballs? And I felt absolutely horrible every time I had to tell a ten year old he couldn’t take his beloved football into the stadium and this look of “Why?” came over him. So I turned to our head of security as he was walking by and asked, “Why do I have to tell these kids that they can’t take footballs into the stadium?” And he responded “To protect the game, and to protect them. You never know when some crazy guy is going to get one and just throw it off the top the bleachers.” And as if to confirm what he was saying a minute later, I saw a football in a man’s bag, when I started to explain he couldn’t take it, he suddenly tried to barge in and run into the stadium, clutching it. But the head of security, and several other huge guys took off running after him. The couple that was next in line watched that whole spectacle and then came up with big smile and opened all their bags and purses saying “Everything is in order here officer!”
Being asked to be someone who is in charge of the safety of others is a challenging thing. Not only because of the need of constant diligence and duty, but because it can be hard to actually have to follow through on giving warnings, especially when those you are giving them to do not want to hear them. Such was the case with the prophet Ezekiel, who was called to be a prophet of God to the exiled people of Israel in Babylon; he was called to warn them and the nations of the plans that God had in store, and the consequences for them if they ignored them. God told Ezekiel: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.”
A huge responsibility, but it gets better, and the stakes are raised: An incredibly harsh thing.
Ezekiel himself, along with the people he is supposed to be warning is an exile, ripped away from his country and from a promising future as a priest in the temple of the Lord. He is now living with his people in a concentration camp on the outskirts of Babylon, observing his 30th birthday, the day when he would have been ordained as a priest. Life is already hard enough for him and for his people, just keeping faith in God and continuing to say his prayers alone in such a harsh state alone is already worthy of praise and admiration I would say.
But that is not enough for God. The Lord appears to Ezekiel in a glorious fashion, as a glorious radiant Being carried on the backs of angelic beings, on this sad birth day, and he tells him that he is not only a watchman who must warn the Israelites, but that he is responsible for them if he does not follow through, and warn them. “Their blood, I will require at your hands.”
You cannot help but feel for Ezekiel, who must now turn to people who absolutely do not want to hear what he is about to say and will tell him to just go away, or maybe even mock and deride him. And you cannot but feel sympathy for this man to whom life has already dealt an extremely hard hand, who now has to have this on his consciousness: speak to those who do not want to hear from him, or be held responsible before the Living God. It seems like an unfair and difficult place to be. It has been remarked that the prophets often got the short straw, but Ezekiel chooses to do it, and I imagine he did it not just because it was what this glorious God standing before him told him to do, but because of why: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Because God was reaching out to a people who were dying, drowning in their own sin and rebellion. Because even though they were receiving the just consequences of their actions, God’s heart still yearned for them, even if their actions justified their destruction, God did not desire it. And he had chosen Ezekiel, a man who was also suffering due to the actions of his people, even though he had remained faithful, and called him to be the one who would speak and carry that warning, be the one to proclaim what this sorrowful and merciful God had proclaimed.
It may seem unfair, it may seem that God was uncaring, but to God Himself, it was more unfair for the rest of the people to go on in lives filled with the destruction of their sin. And so Ezekiel, faithful man that he was, was called to action, and much was expected of him.
And so it is with us, Ezekiel’s spiritual descendants, the faithful who have remained loyal in a world that largely chooses its own way over God. Like Ezekiel, we too are trying to live our lives, often burdened and weighed down by the sinfulness of this world in some way or another, while seeking to remain faithful to our God. But like Ezekiel the prophet, we too have been given something profound and wonderful by our God, in the fact that His Holy Spirit resides in our hearts and makes them His Temple, in that we consume the flesh and blood of His Son given to us for our sustenance; but with these things comes responsibility. And like Ezekiel, we are called to action, we are called to serve as a warning to a drowning world that God longs to see saved from destruction.
We have been called to be people of action, not a people that sits still and waits to be saved. It is inherent in the very name “Christian”, which means FOLLOWER of Christ; and to follow, one has to get up and move in the direction of the One who is leading. Being a disciple means ever moving in the footsteps of Christ, and He is an eternal God so those footsteps that we follow are never ending.
But like Ezekiel this means we have great responsibility, and the call to say hard things, warnings that others do not want to hear. But they are necessary. I would know, because I was once the one who was in need of receiving such a hard thing to hear:
When I was getting ready to go to college and eventually law school, I had my whole life laid out ahead of me. I knew what I wanted for my future and I was certain. But what was uncertain was what I believed, what my relationship with God would look like, it had taken a back seat, something that I figured I’d get around to figuring out later at some point. And I remember that father would ask me questions about it, and I’d get frustrated or try to change the topic, but one night during one of those conversations he told me: “To be honest if you were the most successful lawyer in all of Washington but didn’t have faith, I would prefer the you were a McDonald’s burger flipper who did.”
I did not like hearing that. My reaction was less than pleased. But it was necessary for me to hear, because regardless of what I thought about it, I could not forget it, I could not forget that that was what my father said. Success, achievement and hard work, all the things that we are told in this life to strive after and apply ourselves to, did not matter in comparison to my walk with Christ. And I must admit, that was the beginning of me putting all those things in the back seat and letting my faith be the predominant concern of my life.I don’t know if that would have happened had my father not warned me, if my father had not said that hard statement that I really did not want to hear.
Our Lord Jesus often said things that were very hard, things that people did not want to hear. He often said them to those who were closest to Him, like Peter, Mary and His disciples. But He said them because it was for their benefit, because it was always a warning for them, a warning to call them to what was best for them, what God desired for them. And we are called to follow in His footsteps, called to speak out to warn others, to tell them about the salvation waiting for them in the pierced hands of Christ, to speak out and against injustices and wrongs done by others so that they may see the error of their wrongs and repent, or to speak up and raise our voices in prayer for those who are suffering or in need. In other words, we have been called to action, we have been called to speak up rather than remain silent, even if no one wants to hear what it is we have to say.
By this point in time, virtually everyone is aware of the great criticism of the people of Europe who sat by and said nothing as the Nazi leadership carted away the Jews, Roma, and homosexuals to the camps. It has become the classic example of how wicked things happen when good people say and do nothing. But one of the exemptions was the man Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor who had managed to escape the Nazis he had so bitterly opposed. And he was an exile in America, grieving for his people and nation and the sin it was embroiled in. He was invited to continue to serve in ministries here in the United States, but he eventually came to the conclusion that he could not. For back in Germany, his people, including those in the churches, were being led astray, and they needed to be warned. God was calling him to be the watchman who would call out to his people.
So he returned, knowing that most, if not all, would want nothing to do with what he had to say. And he was right, the Nazis eventually executed him. But no one could say that there was not a voice that had called out from a loving God who did not even want the wicked to perish in their sins. And his example continues to serve as a standard in the Church to this day, to not remain silent but to continue to speak, to continue to call out and to continue to warn.
As St. Paul once said “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
My brothers and sisters, we have been called tell the world, to speak up with a voice that has been given to us by God Himself, and to not keep silent. Like Ezekiel, we too may be struggling to stay faithful and go about our busy and sometimes difficult lives, but like him we have been given something profound, we have been given something amazing, the very Son of God, who gave Himself for us, so that you, so that I — wretched sinner that I am, can say “He is mine and I am His.” How can we keep quiet about it? How can we not raise our voices and tell others? How can we not raise our voices and warn others? Warn that they might miss Him, warn that the injustices and wrongs that they commit are against what He desires for them? Or raise our voices in prayer and supplication on their behalf even if they do not listen?
We have been given a voice with which to speak to the rest of the world and tell them. Regardless of who we are, what we do, how rich or poor we are, if we are black or white, male or female, and it cannot be taken from us so let us use it. And even if no one listens, if no one wants to hear it, at least the world will have heard and known that there is a loving God who called out after them who said that He does not even desire the death of the wicked. His nail pierced hands are continually being held out to them. We have the responsibility to not keep silent about it.