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Like probably many of you, I have lots of “friends” on Facebook. Some of them are my actual friends. Some are professional colleagues. And some are people I met once long ago, but don’t really know well.
But there is another group of “friends” most of us have who are actually family members. And I have a number of “interesting” family members who are my friends on Facebook. And as the political season heats up in the run-up to the election, some of them post things which are WAY out on the right. Others post things which are WAY out on the left. Sometimes, they argue with each other. And almost always, I think they’re both wrong!
But they are my family. And because they’re family, deep down I know that there’s something much more basic than whether they’re right or wrong about something. I know them as family and so I know they’re nuts! And it’s pointless to argue with them! And so I don’t! I just stay out of it. (Many of us have at least a couple of family members like this!)
And yet, when I read this passage from Ezekiel today, I wondered if that was the right approach. After all, isn’t Ezekiel supposed to speak up and tell people they’re wrong? And don’t a lot of Christians think that it’s our job to run around and tell sinners to repent?
Actually, that’s NOT really what’s happening here, even though I’ve known a lot of people who have read passages like this in that way. And you probably have, too.
But here’s the thing: Ezekiel is a prophet. And the job of a prophet is to speak God’s word to the people. In fact, in this passage, God likens the job of a prophet to the job of a sentinel – a guy who stood watch on the wall of a city and warned the inhabitants of coming danger from the outside.
But the job of a prophet isn’t to run around and look for defects in other peoples’ lives and then harangue them for it, like some kind of ancient internet troll. Instead, the job of the prophet was to:
- Listen for God’s Word… (that is, to stay focused on what God was saying to him rather than what other people were doing…)
- Speak what God told him to speak… (that is, to do the job God gave him to do, which was different from the jobs God gave other people to do; and to speak about what God told him to speak about, which might not be what was in the headlines at the moment…)
- Be willing to do his job, even if it didn’t seem to change anything… (Ezekiel is simply told to speak, not to keep arguing; he’s given no promise that people will listen, let alone change; and he’s told that, however unlikely it seems, God’s will is for life not death, and God will figure out a way to bring that about…)
The job God gave to Ezekiel – and to many other prophets – was to speak God’s word at a particular time and place, not to run around and berate people. And in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes it clear that one of the jobs of Christians – the “church” – is to bring about reconciliation with one another. All of these things that sound like legal prescriptions for dealing with a dispute actually have one goal – “to regain” the other. It’s not to win the argument or to get your own way.
And so the job God gives to each of us may be different than Ezekiel’s. But like Ezekiel, to do any job God gives us to do, it’s important for each of us, also to:
- Listen for God’s Word in your life – what is God calling you to do, not somebody else … (I had a professor in Seminary who used to tell us that the question isn’t “did God really say this?”, but, “Did God say it to YOU?”; What is God saying to you? How is that happening? And how can you intentionally focus on what God is saying to you rather than simply focusing on the outrage of what others are doing around you…(often, prophets seemed to do that simply by watching little thing that were going on around them; and by being willing to listen and reflect on what they’d heard; and by getting involved in the life of their community…)
- Do what God asks you to do – even if it doesn’t sound as flashy or exciting as what somebody else is doing; I think part of the reason people want to imitate what they think Ezekiel is doing is because telling others they’re wrong seems more fun and exciting than figuring out how to serve God in ways that don’t get you attention…(although Ezekiel would probably be the first to tell us his job was NOT fun or exciting in good ways…!)
- Trust that Jesus will save the world. It’s never your job or mine to save the world. Jesus promises to do that, and he’s very good at it! But it is our job to bear witness to that salvation in our daily lives. And it is our job participate in that salvation. But it’s also very freeing to remember that the salvation of the whole world depends on God and not on us…!
I can’t tell you exactly what job God is calling you to do on any particular day. It’s often hard for me to figure that out for myself. But I am sure that each of us has a job to do.
And my job may be different from Ezekiel’s and different from yours. It may be that my job is to make sure I vote, rather than argue with people about their political opinions. It may be that my job is to wear my mask to protect others, instead of getting into fights with people in the store who aren’t wearing theirs. It may be that my job is to do things that promote justice and equality, even when my actions seem small and unable to change the world.
I don’t always know exactly what my job is. But I do know that God is calling each of us to participate in, and bear witness to, the life and salvation that God has brought about – and is even now bringing about – through Jesus.
Our jobs may or may not involve telling people they’re right or wrong. But like Ezekiel, part of our job is always going to involve paying deeper attention to what God is saying in our lives. Part of our job is always going to involve being willing to do what God is asking us to do, even if it doesn’t seem fun or exciting. And most of all, our jobs will always mean doing whatever we do while trusting God instead of ourselves.