Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 7/5/2015

There’s always cause for reflection anytime we have occasion to bring out some of the historical items from the church as we did last week for the Ishpeming Historical Society event. As I was looking at some of the pictures of previous pastors and also thinking about Ann Gonyea’s ordination coming up next week, one thing I wondered about was if I’m the first second career pastor in Bethany’s 145 years. I’m not sure, but the fact is that second career clergy have now pretty much become the norm rather than the exception. I taught school and coached for 17 years, Ann did a variety of things for many years before answering the call to ordained ministry; our intern Terry who will begin in September has vast previous and ongoing experience in a business that she and her husband own. There are still those who go directly from college to seminary but not as many as there used to be.

What we get today though with Ezekiel is not a second career pastor, but a second career prophet, called to prophesy after having served as a priest in Jerusalem. Fortunately for him though, he didn’t have to go through any kind of an approval process to make the career change, unlike me and Ann and Terry. If he did, when asked by his candidacy committee about his call story he would have had to say, “I had this vision; there was a storm cloud coming from the north and it revealed the likeness of four living beings. They were of human form, but each of them had four faces, and they each had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; they sparkled like burnished bronze.”

It goes on and gets even weirder with a chariot with wheels full of eyes carrying these winged creatures to a throne containing another human form, clothed in the splendor of the glory of the Lord. It’s all right there in chapter one of Ezekiel, the kind of Bible stuff I used to hate but now I kind of like as I get weirder as I get older, but you picture the candidacy committee saying, “Really? And what color is the sky in your world, Ezekiel?” I don’t think he would have survived his initial interview and certainly not his psychological evaluation. Anyone experiencing visions like that would be thought to be a bit off, and that wasn’t his only vision.

Ezekiel had been a priest in Jerusalem but he was one of the ones taken into exile in Babylon when the city was conquered. Several years later, it was in Babylon that he had this vision that preceded his call to a new career, that of a prophet. As a priest, he would have been responsible for overseeing the rites and rituals of the temple, making sure things were done properly, not necessarily an easy calling, but clearly defined, the requirements were all carefully laid out. As a prophet though, he would be called to say difficult things in a difficult situation, to a rebellious, impudent and stubborn people. Ezekiel was probably thinking that being a priest was easier, because with his new call, his new career, in addition to the difficulty there was no guarantee that the people would pay any attention to him, in fact, it was more likely that they wouldn’t.

Some things don’t change very much. Jump ahead to the gospel; when Jesus went to preach in his hometown the locals were impressed at first, but it quickly degenerated into “Who does he think he is? We know him; we know his parents.” They didn’t want to listen to him. When Jesus called and commissioned his disciples (all second career people, by the way) he made it clear that as they went out, some they encountered would refuse to welcome them or hear them. In the second lesson today, St. Paul (was he second career or did he just change teams?) in his letter to the Corinthians mentions the insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities that he experienced in preaching the gospel. And so it goes.

With people like Ann and Terry at beginning points of their ministry it would be nice to tell them that it will all go smoothly, that people will always respond favorably to what they say, that people will flock to their churches even when they speak the difficult, prophetic word. It would be nice to tell them that, but it wouldn’t be true, not that there aren’t reasons to be encouraging about a call to ministry; there are, but disappointment will be part of the mix. You hope it’s not as bad as persecutions and calamities, but there will be disappointment.

Proclaiming the word of God has never been easy, mostly because, when it’s done honestly, it represents a different way to be in the world. To take the commandments of the Old Testament seriously, to take the teachings of Jesus seriously poses challenges to all of us, challenges that often cause us to hear what we want to hear and ignore or make compromises with the rest especially when it calls into question things that we and the prevailing culture value highly.

You wish Jesus didn’t say things that make it sound like family isn’t the most important thing or at least that his definition of family was not the same as ours. You wish he didn’t say things about money that make him sound more like a socialist than a capitalist. You wish he didn’t say things like love and forgive your enemies, those who hate you and persecute you. Hey, don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger! If you preach these things though, there will be disappointment because someone won’t like it; if you don’t preach these things you’re disappointed in yourself for not having the courage to be prophetic.

What’s even more disappointing than being met with disapproval though is being met with indifference. There are those times when one is called to be prophetic and like Ezekiel and others, you find that it isn’t easy. More often though, what we do as followers of Jesus is to proclaim the message that he proclaimed and modeled with his life and death and resurrection. That message is primarily about grace and forgiveness, it’s about hope when there doesn’t seem to be much reason for hope. Our message isn’t about sinners in the hands of an angry God, it’s about forgiven sinners in the hands of a gracious and loving God; it’s positive and hopeful. We proclaim God’s welcome for all people, no exceptions!

What we have is the message the world needs to hear and it’s important to all of us, but for so many others, it’s met with indifference and that is a source of disappointment and not just for those of us who do this for a living. You feel it too; for many it’s personal: “Why don’t my kids find this as meaningful as I do? Why don’t they have the grandchildren in church and Sunday School?” You notice that the pews aren’t as full as they were in the pictures that were on display last Sunday.

But then…the Lord cautioned Ezekiel about “Whether they hear or refuse to hear;” Jesus himself was rejected; the disciples were told, “Don’t take it personally if they refuse to hear you, just move on to the next town,” Paul had his own issues and keep in mind that none of this was called failure; it was just reality and it still is; some will hear, some won’t; that’s the reality, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not disappointing when they don’t.

We’re culturally programmed to think in terms of success and failure, winners and losers, mostly defined by numbers and there are certainly biblical texts that reflect that kind of thinking even if that’s not the case with today’s. But I picture Ezekiel going back to the Lord and saying, “They’re not listening,” and the Lord saying, “No one?” “Well, there are a few.” “Good. Go with that.”

We’ve been given a message to preach and a life to live. The calling is to stay true to the gospel message and to live lives that reflect it, lives that reveal the grace and forgiveness, the compassion and self-giving of Jesus. That’s the part we can control. Worry about what you can do, not what you can’t, and keep doing what you can.

At text study the other day someone mentioned a lesson from the world of car sales, maybe it’s from the world of any kind of sales, another profession that can be fraught with disappointment and rejection, but I thought it kind of summed things up. That lesson is “SWSWSW—Next.” Some will, some won’t, so what; next.

Isn’t that pretty much what the Lord said to Ezekiel?

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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