September 4 – Sermon on Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Crazy.  I want to tell you a story about a person who was crazy.  A person that society said was out of his mind.  He didn’t think correctly.  He saw things that other people didn’t see.  There were periods of time when he stumbled around town, unable to talk, as if his tongue had been sewn to the roof of his mouth.  Other times, he could be found lying around naked in the park, talking about the voices in his head and his fascination with bodily fluids.  People even said that when he was at their house, he would claw at the wall, trying to dig a hole from which he could escape.

Some have called him psychotic.  Others – a paranoid schizophrenic.  Those less familiar with such terms would simply say “He was insane.”  But for us….we call him Ezekiel the prophet.  Our prophet from God.

Before he became a prophet, Ezekiel was a priest in Jerusalem.  He was part of the educated class of leaders among the ancient Israelites.  So when the Babylonians, the great superpower of the day, came to conquer and take over the land of Judah and Jerusalem, Ezekiel was one of the first sent away into exile.  Because that’s what you do when you are trying to take over a country – you remove their leaders, like the Libyan Rebels are trying to remove Gaddafi.

Ezekiel and other Israelite leaders were taken into slavery, sent into exile, into Babylon where they experienced incredible loss. They were taken away from their homes.  From their families.  From their temple.

For ancient Israelites, the temple is the house of God.  It is where God is located.  If you are looking for God, you go to the temple.  It’s God’s place of residence.  But now these Israelites, Ezekiel included, have been taken from their homeland in Jerusalem and sent away into the foreign land of Babylon.   If the house of God is the temple in Jerusalem and they are in Babylon, then these people had never felt more distant from God than they did then. This is what it means to be exiled.  It means experiencing incredible loss and a crisis of faith.  And Ezekiel is one who has been exiled.

Now it wasn’t until 5 years into being exiled that Ezekiel started to see things.  Visions.  It was the beginning of his craziness.  But it was in a vision that God called Ezekiel to be a prophet.  In this vision, a great chariot came from the sky and on it were four ugly creatures.  But as the chariot drew near to Ezekiel, he heard the voice of God say, “I am sending you to the people of Israel…You shall speak my words to them.”  The exiled Israelites have never felt further from God’s presence and now God says to Ezekiel, “I want you to be my voice to them.”

Now here’s where it gets really wild: God hands Ezekiel a scroll.  He hands him a scroll and says, “Open your mouth.  Eat what I give to you.”  On the scroll are the words of God and Ezekiel opens his mouth and he eats it.  He eats the words of God.  You are what you eat, right?  He takes this word of God into his body.  Into his flesh.  It’s like the words of God…became flesh.  We’ve heard that before haven’t we?

So yes, this Ezekiel – he is a crazy person.  He eats scrolls.  He has visions that don’t make any sense.  He wanders around the town naked and talking to himself.  He is a crazy person and yet he has been called to be the mouthpiece of God to people feeling separated from God.  Ezekiel the prophet does crazy things and perhaps that is what we are to learn from him.  That if you are listening to what God is saying to you in your life, sometimes it means behaving in ways that other people would say are crazy.

In our reading for today, God says to Ezekiel, “If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand.”  This is a hard text and it is hard to listen to.  But while this text can be hard to hear, what I can’t seem to get over is that this text seems to say that God cares for those who are wicked.  And not only does God love the wicked, but God is also calling Ezekiel to love the wicked.  God tells Ezekiel to go and speak to them, which means he has to get close to them.  Close enough to hear his voice; close enough to see the whites of their eyes.  God asks Ezekiel to care for the wicked, for as our text says, God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

So who are the wicked people in your life?  Or perhaps a better question is who thinks you are wicked?  And what’s it like to hear that God loves and cares for the wicked and invites us to do the same?   It can seem crazy, can’t it?

But this is what we learn from Ezekiel.  That listening to God in life sometimes means behaving in ways that other people would call crazy.

I don’t know if you have been following the news, but the Libyan Rebels have given Gaddafi a one-week warning.  They have said, “Come out or else we will kill you.”  I wonder how different it would be if they said, “Come out, because we love you.  Come out because God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone and neither do we.”  But they won’t ever do that, right?  That would be crazy.

Three years ago, a doctor in Minnesota made a terrible error in surgery.  He removed the wrong kidney from a patient with cancer.  When a doctor or a nurse makes an error, the hospital’s insurance company generally advises them to keep silent.  The hospital leadership usually does all that it can to protect the organization.  Protect their hospital, protect their doctor, protect their money. “Keep it quiet,” everyone is told.  Which is why it was so profound when this doctor and hospital came forward to the media themselves about the error.[1]  They did not stay quiet, but instead spoke out about their own mistake.  The beautiful thing is that the public received this confession of guilt and error positively and, in fact, the patient decided to continue his care at that same hospital.  But you can imagine what the insurance company said when the hospital told them their plan to admit their mistake and tell the media.  “You’re crazy.  Don’t do it.”

This next Saturday, a bunch of churches across the country are participating in what’s being called “A Living Lutheran Creed Day.”  One of my friends is a part of it and their plan is to make cardboard signs stating something that they believe in about God and then to stand with them on street corners in their neighborhoods.  When I first heard this idea, my initial reaction was to be embarrassed for them.  Really? I thought.  Standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign saying something you believe in?  What if people laugh at you?  What if people think you’re weird?  You’re crazy, I thought.  But the more I read about this idea, the more beautiful it became.  These communities of people are trying to spread a message of abundance and hope in a location that usually shows a message of scarcity and hopelessness.  And so it might be crazy, but as we’ve seen in Ezekiel, God works in the crazy.

Have you ever thought or been told that you were crazy?  Had someone roll their eyes at you for believing in God when there is so much evidence against it?  Wondered why you are here on a Sunday morning when you could be sleeping in?  Been told that it is insane to take in another foster child?  Heard that it was too risky to change the crops you grow, even though it could be better for the world?  If we have never thought or been told that we were crazy, then we might want to ask ourselves if we have heard what God is saying to us.

So look out this week for that which you consider crazy.  It might be in a story someone tells, something you see on TV, or maybe even your own idea. In fact just listen for that word “crazy.”  And when you hear it, ask yourself, “What might God be up to there?”  Because we learn from Ezekiel that if we are listening to God in our lives it might mean doing things that other people –and even we ourselves–would say is crazy. It might mean giving the crazy people in our lives more attention, because through them, it just might be God speaking to us.  Amen.

[1] Tim Thorstenson, “Redemptive Confession: Forgiveness, Trust, and Medical Errors,” Caring Connections, Fall 2009 ,pg. 17-20.