God’s Graciously Stubborn Refusal to Give Up

Sermon originally delivered to Calvary Community (Reformed) Church in New Berlin, Wis. 

Text: Ezekiel 2:1-5

 

“Does God ever get too fed up with us?” The question came to me.

As the question was asked, I could see concern, maybe even worry, come across Sharon’s face.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Does God ever get tired of forgiving…and then…just stop?”

It was obvious to me that Sharon had given this some thought. And really, it is an honest question, and likely a question that many of us have asked, want to ask, maybe are asking right now. Because at its core, I think that it is a question that weighs on us.

The state gives you three strikes…even parents can hit a breaking point…but what about God? Does God ever give up on us?

***

Our text this morning brings us to the exile. The time when the Babylonians swept in and burned the city and carried off everyone who was wealthy or had power or status. This way they could keep their defeated peoples weak and relatively powerless, and it makes them much easier for the Babylonians to control. So not everyone was taken off into exile, but many people were left, trying to pick up the pieces of their former lives.

The exile was a pivotal point in the history of the people of God. After this, the people of God will no longer be centered in one place, but rather, scattered across the world. Yes, there was a return, and yes, many did return, but not everyone did. Many stayed where they had put down roots, and they learned what it meant to follow God in a foreign land. But we are not there yet. We have not yet gotten to ways to follow God in a foreign land.

The wound is still raw, the people are still hurting, and similar to how some children feel when they move around Christmastime (how will Santa find me?), I can imagine that there was a similar sentiment amongst the people of God who were taken off into exile. After all, it was not just their home, but it was the promised land…the land that God had promised to their ancestors. This was their inheritance. This land was a sign of God’s promise to them, this was the sign of God’s favor toward them. Even more than that, it was in this place, in the temple, where God actually lived. And for those who were taken off into exile, they were not just taken away from their homes, that would be hard enough, but they were taken away from God, and that must have felt almost unbearable.

It was at this time, that God’s call came to Ezekiel. He was already a priest, and already in the service of God, but it was not just a priest that this people needed right now, they also needed a prophet. They needed someone who would speak God’s words to the people, and someone who could speak the people’s words to God. It was during this difficult time that Ezekiel, himself taken into exile, was called by God to serve God and the people in this new way.

Seeing a strange and magnificent sight, Ezekiel falls on his face, and God says to him, “O mortal, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.” But Ezekiel doesn’t stand up on his own strength, on his own accord, but we are told that a spirit entered him, and set him up on his feet.

The voice, says to him, “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. The descendants are impudent and stubborn…” Not necessarily a great way to begin one’s charge. Chances are that he already knew much of this, after all, he was a priest and had a public role already, but just to be sure that Ezekiel knew what exactly what was going on, God makes it oh-so-clear to him the exact state of the people.

We are told that Ezekiel was told that he is to go to them and speak the word of the Lord GOD, such that whether they hear or refuse to hear, “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

***

I’ve said this before, but I think that it is worth saying, prophecy is not primarily telling the future. Fortune tellers do that. Soothsayers do that. While there is often a future element to the words of the prophets, predicting the future is not primarily what they do. They speak God’s words to the people, and they speak the people’s words to God. The ancient people of God didn’t have a nice book all bound together as we have it. The ancient people may have had a few things written down, but much of the early parts of the scriptures were in oral tradition, and were not written down until now, the exilic period.

So how do they experience God in this foreign land, in this foreign place? The prophets speak God’s words to the people. These people who are rebellious, who have transgressed, these people who are rude and stubborn, it is to these people that God sends Ezekiel, not as punishment, but because these are still God’s people, and even with all of their faults, God is still committed to this people, and God continues to reach out to this people, to embrace this people, to comfort this people, even when this people may not know how to reach back.

This is not just here that we see this story, but all through scripture. Already from the time that Adam and Eve decided that they wanted a snack, and why not that fruit, and they hid, God called out, “Where are you?” through God liberating the ancient people from slavery in Egypt, to God sending prophets to God’s people in exile, to sending Christ to become flesh and dwell among us, to tabernacle among us, to share life with us, God has been reaching out to a rebellious, rude, and stubborn people, people like the ancient people of God, and people like you and me, the modern people of God.

***

Today we celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrate this, it is not simply a somber memory of Jesus’ death, remembrance is part of it, but we cannot forget about communion — are lifted up into heaven in this moment, and we commune with Christ and with all the saints of all times and all places — and hope, when we look forward to the time when restoration and redemption are completed and creation is renewed.

It is in this sacrament that God takes elements of bread from the earth and the fruit of the vine — God works through these things that we can see, and taste and touch, and smell — and through these ordinary elements, confirms and strengthens and feeds our faith, indeed, the sacraments are another example of reaching out to us, rebellious and stubborn as we are. Even when we cannot reach out to God, even when we feel distant from God, even when we feel as though we are separated from God, God reaches out to us, draws us close, and assures us of God’s abiding presence.

***

And it was because of this, that was able to look Sharon in the eyes, and tell her, “No. God never gets fed up with us. No, God never tires of forgiveness. No, God will not withhold forgiveness from those who come to God seeking forgiveness and redemption.”

God has far more patient than you or I or anyone else. God does not have a three-strikes policy. God is even more gracious than you or I could even imagine.

This, sisters and brothers, is the good news. That God is gracious, even when it is not fair. That God’s grace knows no bounds, that God never tires of forgiveness, and that all those who seek grace will receive it.

The people of God then and now, the people of God across the world, and those sitting in this church on the hill are rebellious, rude, stubborn. But this is not the point of this story. This is simply the fact of what is. The point of this story is that God is faithful even amidst our unfaithfulness, that God is gracious even in the face of our undeservedness. That God, too, is perhaps stubborn, to stubborn to give up on God’s people, and God’s commitment to God’s people, even when the people’s commitment wanes.

This is the good news for Sharon, this is the good news for you and me, and this is the good news for the world.

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