Sunday, July 8, 2018

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Mark 6:1-13

The children are impudent and stiff-hearted: I am sending you to them; and you shall tell them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh.

I am working on a study for my Sunday School class about the Book of Revelation. My days have been filled with plenty of reading. I’ve researched online, googling certain themes and reading through the pages that come up in response. I’ve also read a couple of commentaries. All this I have added to my years of personal study on the subject matter. In the process I realized that I should be more familiar with the Book of Daniel, and I’m so glad that I have pursued that tangent because it has been very helpful. The parallels between Daniel and Revelation do not stand with just the visions they both saw, but with the message to the churches they tell. “You will experience difficult times, but I, the LORD, am with you. Go and speak the Gospel without fear. Some will hear and believe. Others will not. Don’t worry about them; be obedient to my Word and trust that I will deal with them in my time and in my way.” This is a message we all need to hear, especially when it seems like our world is falling apart around us.

One of the difficulties of online research is that you come across a lot of information that is not trustworthy. I’m very careful when I read through a study to make sure I know the background of the writer. I can usually tell in an instant if I should even bother. I have avoided the sites that put too much emphasis on the terrifying images in Revelation or that try to make the Book of Revelation a timeline of the end times. Now, I’m not avoiding the reality of what the end times will be, but I know that there is a more important message to the Church about what will happen. We don’t really need to know when it will happen if we are properly prepared to meet our Lord.

The problem with most of those sites is that they are certain that they have been given some special knowledge of what will happen. They have identified the players and they know that it will play out in a specific way at a specific time. They are absolutely sure that it will be soon, that they will be proven right. They hear the words of God to Ezekiel, “They, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house), yet shall know that there has been a prophet among them,” and believe it was meant for them.

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh,” they loudly proclaim. I saw a lot of self-proclaimed prophets during the time I was ministering in the online chat rooms. This statement is supposed to make the hearers tremble in their shoes as if in the “prophet” will be made credible just in the speaking of the words. All too often, those who focus on the end times see themselves as vessels of warning. “Believe what I say or you will die!” However, the message they give is not one which the Lord would actually send. They think that just by claiming God as the source of their words that they make it true. Unfortunately, it is very easy for a false prophet to proclaim to be God’s mouthpiece, but that doesn’t mean that we should believe everything we hear. You’ve heard it said, “It is on the Internet, so it must be true.” Well, believe me; it isn’t all true.

There are some who think that success will prove a prophet is real. What is success? Do they have a bestselling book that has been read by millions? A popular TV ministry? Does gold dust fall on their meetings? Success, worldly success, does not guarantee what they speak is true. As a matter of fact, many of the popular “prophets” actually preach a message that is less than real.

The Corinthians were plagued by false prophets who boasted about so many things. The false prophets made claims about God which were in direct opposition to the things that Paul had taught the believers in that city. As we saw last week, it was apparent that the Corinthians were turning back to the Way as Paul had taught, rejecting the false prophets and believing the true Gospel. Paul wanted to build a strong foundation for those Christians.

False prophets would come and go. They would always be a problem, even until this day. Perhaps it is even worse today because they can reach such a huge audience either online or on television. Millions of people can find their information and if they are not truly grounded in God’s Word, they will not recognize the twist that the false prophets use to conceal their deception. “Thus says the Lord Yahweh,” does not mean that we should take that prophet’s word as His.

We should be prepared to listen, however, because God can use even the most unexpected vessels to proclaim His Word. He can even use you and me.

The problem is that many struggle with an image problem. We change, but those who know us best don’t understand the changes. I have made connections with many of people with whom I went to school. Some of those people were not really my friends way back when; some were even bullies who picked on me. I remember, but a lot of water has run under the bridge in the past few decades. Many are now people of faith, somewhat surprising to those of us who remember their youthful antics. I still wonder whenever I see them talking of ministry or mission trips. Who are these people? Where did they find that kind of commitment to Jesus?

I watched a show the other day about a family in trouble. The son married a woman that his parents and siblings did not like. Over and over again they said, “We want our son/brother back.” He was a grown man with a wife and child. He had gone to college and was a corporate executive. He was never going to be the boy that they knew when he was young. Yet, they blamed the wife; they said she changed him, calling her manipulative and oppressive. They gave him no credit for making a success of his life, they wanted him to be the person they thought he should be.

They say you can’t go home again. We can go home again for a visit, so the statement is not true in the most literal sense. Yet, have you ever run into an old friend with whom you have been out of touch? Are they surprised to discover what has become of your life? If I asked your family to describe you today, what might they say? I think my brother still sees me as an eleven year old with pigtails, despite the fact that my children are grown. Even though our family and friends have grown up and matured, they remember us as we were when we last spent time together. We are no different, expecting everything to be exactly the same in our home, neighborhood and family. We are often amazed at the changes.

We doubt that we can speak for God, or that we could be God’s mouthpiece, especially among those who know us best. It happened to Jesus. He went home, but the people knew Jesus as He was as a boy and a young man. They knew He was a carpenter’s son, not someone who had been trained as a teacher or priest. What could a carpenter or a carpenter’s son teach them about the scriptures? What could He know about God? How was this ordinary man who was “one of us” do the things He was claiming to do? How could the son of Mary and Joseph heal? I am sure they heard the stories of the miracles He was doing, but probably thought they were exaggerations or fairy tales. He could not, or would not, heal in that town because they had no faith. In the end it was Jesus’ own people who put Him on a cross.

This world has always been counter to that which God intends. This world will always battle against Christian faith, even to the point of putting us on a cross beside our Lord Jesus. He told us that we would be hated as He was hated. He told us not to be afraid, for He has overcome the world. Even when we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world, whether words on a piece of paper or the blade of a sword, we must always have hope. God is in control; He won the war even though we are still fighting the battles. What we need to do is learn how to fight that battle with grace and mercy. We have been called to take God’s Word to our family, friends, neighbors, enemies and the strangers in our midst. We can’t believe that we have anything to say, but God says He will put His Word in our mouths.

Sadly, even when we do speak for God, many will not hear. The people didn’t hear Ezekiel. They didn’t believe the message because it wasn’t the message they wanted to hear. They wanted acceptance, peace and love, not a call to repentance. They wanted to do things their own way. Other prophets promised them good things; Ezekiel warned them what would happen if they continued to reject God. Which message would you rather hear? The false prophets give the people what they want, that’s how they can be successful in the world. Yet, we learn over and over again in the scriptures, the true prophets of God may face difficulty, but God proves them true when His Word comes to fulfillment. Those who interpret the Book of Revelation may be correct, but we will not really know until the Day of the LORD.

Real prophets aren’t given any guarantees. In today’s passage, Ezekiel is told that the people who hear the message will probably not even listen. When it comes to God’s prophets, however, it doesn’t matter whether they hear or refuse to hear: God will cause His word to be known. It won’t take a powerful person, or someone highly respected. The prophet won’t enjoy popularity or receive the respect of the hearers. As a matter of fact, the prophet will probably be spit upon, beaten and threatened. But God’s Word gets through, is heard, even if the listeners do not realize it at the moment. In the end, God will prove His prophets to the world.

This world has always been counter to that which God intends. This world will always battle against Christian faith, even to the point of putting us on a cross beside our Lord Jesus. He told us that we would be hated as He was hated. He told us not to be afraid, for He has overcome the world. Even when we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world, we must always have hope. God is in control; He won the war even though we are still fighting the battles. What we need to do is learn how to fight that battle with grace and mercy. That’s what we truly learn from the apocalyptic scriptures.

At first the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, but then they began to doubt. He didn’t waste His time in His hometown. Instead, He went to other towns to share the message of God’s kingdom. Along the way He sent the disciples out to do the same thing, but He warned them that the same thing would happen to them. They would also be rejected. The people to whom they were sent, at least some of them, would wonder how these fishermen and other ordinary men could be speaking about God’s kingdom. They haven’t been trained. They have no authority. And because the people did not believe, they had no power in those towns. “Shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them,” Jesus said. It wasn’t worth wasting their time. In the end, they would know that a prophet had spoken.

Why would things be any different for us? If Jesus, Paul and Ezekiel were sent into a world where they would face persecution, rejection, failure and doubt, why do we think we will have any more success? If they suffered because they spoke God’s Word, why do we think we’ll be embraced with open arms? Why have we decided that it is better to give the people what they want so that we can fill the pews than to give them what they really need and let God deal with their lack of faith?

The psalmist must have known what it was like to face difficult times. He seeks mercy from God, for the people endured much ridicule from the proud and contempt from the arrogant. Yet, he sings a song of praise, looking toward God for mercy from the response of those who refuse to hear. We are not promised an easy life when we live in faith. We are called to speak God’s Word into the world and it is likely we will face rejection and ridicule.

This week we heard call stories about people who were promised that the people to whom they were sent would not listen. Ezekiel faced people who were like impudent and stiff-hearted children. The Corinthians were interested in those who were successful, thinking they must be right because they were powerful and charismatic. Paul reminded them that God’s grace is more powerful than human power, especially in the weakness of His chosen. Even Jesus faced rejection from His own people. Why should we expect to do any better? Yet we can live in the words of the psalmist, looking to God for our strength because while the world holds us in contempt, God has mercy on us. He sends us out, like the disciples, so that we can speak His Good News to the world, and even when they refuse to believe, we can trust that they will know that God's Word has been spoken in their midst and that God will accomplish His will in their lives.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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