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Knowing What We Are Seeing

April 15, 2018

KNOWING WHAT WE ARE SEEING

April 15, 2018 (Third Sunday of Easter)

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Ezekiel 2:1-7


2He said to me: O mortal,* stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, 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. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

 

One of the joys of parenthood is watching a child learn to recognize people and objects.  Think of the special sensation parents have the first time their child responds to their voice, touch, or when their eyes brighten when a parent enters the room.  Recall how we feel the first times the child says “Mommy” or “Daddy.”  

 

It is important for people to recognize what they see.  We need to be able to recognize people and objects.  We need to not merely be able to see.  We need to be able to identify what we see.  

 

Ezekiel was a priest who was taken into exile in Babylon.  While in Babylon, he sensed the Spirit of God calling him into the different role of prophet.  The passage from Ezekiel 2 is an excerpt from his call from God.  Several important terms stick out.

 

Mortal (or “Son of man” in the KJV) was the term used by the Spirit of God to describe Ezekiel.  It reminded Ezekiel that he was human, not divine.

 

I am sending you…  Those words explain how and why Ezekiel said what he said and did what he did.  Ezekiel understood that he was God’s agent.  

 

I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me…  These words not only identified the audience that Ezekiel was to present messages from God; they also described the moral and ethical character of that audience.  Ezekiel was commissioned as God’s prophet to people who came from where he had lived.  He was not a prophet to strangers, but to people with whom he was culturally and politically related.  He knew their stories.  He shared their sense of separation from home and kinfolk.   

 

Yet, the Spirit of God stressed that Ezekiel’s fellow Israelites were a rebellious house.   They were a nation of rebels… against God:  “…they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.  The descendants are impudent and stubborn.  I am sending you to them,…”   

 

It was important for Ezekiel to know what he would be doing and the moral and ethical character of the people he would be addressing.  Ezekiel needed to know that his society was rebellious.  Ezekiel needed to recognize that he was being intentionally sent to deal with a society of people who had a long and stubborn history of defying the love and justice imperatives of God.  

 

Ezekiel needed to know the truth about the people he was being commissioned to deal with for God.  He was not being sent to God-obeying people.  He was not being sent to God-honoring people.  He was not being sent to God-trusting people.  He was not being sent to repentant people.  Allow me to paraphrase:

 

I’m sending you to people who you might be tempted to consider devout and God-loving.  So let’s get something straight about “your people.”  “Your people” – because they don’t act like they are ‘my people’ – are rebels.  They are a nation of rebels against divine authority.  They are nation of rebels against divine instruction.  They are a nation of rebels against divine correction.  

 

Whenever you see them, whenever you speak to them, and however you deal with them, know that you are dealing with impudent people.  Know that you are dealing with stubborn people.  Know that you are dealing with arrogant people.  Know that you are dealing with wrong-headed and wrong-minded people.  

 

Know that these people didn’t become rebellious due to recent events.  Their ancestors were the same way. Their moral and ethical DNA is disobedient and unloving.  

 

Know that “your people” aren’t rebellious against divine authority and imperatives because of the Babylonian conquest.  They are conquered and displaced as a divine judgment on their rebellious character against divine authority.  

 

Don’t forget who you are and who they are, Ezekiel.  Don’t let the fact that you share history with them mess you up.  You represent me.  These people are rebellious against me!  Know this, always!  You need to know what I know about “your people” so you won’t get messed up when they don’t do right.  

 

Whether these people listen to you or not, know they are a rebellious house.  Whether they act like they are paying attention or not, know they are a rebellious house.  Whether they like you or not, know they are rebellious house.  

 

You need to know this up front and know it at all times.  This knowledge will keep you from going off the deep end.  This knowledge will keep you from thinking your work is for nothing when people don’t heed your messages.  

 

Whether or not they listen to you – remember, Ezekiel, “your people” are a rebellious house – you are my prophet.  Whether or not they like you, when you speak my truth to them they will know that you are my prophet.  

 

The message to Ezekiel is important if we are to understand people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Phillip Randolph.  The world knows Dr. King’s name, but most people do not recognize that of Asa Phillip Randolph.  

 

A. Phillip Randolph – who was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida – devoted his adult life to courageous and non-violent activism for black workers to receive fairness.  He organized the first black labor union – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – in 1925.  Randolph’s threat to lead black workers in a march on Washington, DC to protest racial discrimination in government defense factories stirred President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order that banned racial discrimination in defense factories.  His advocacy for racial justice led President Harry Truman to issue an Executive Order in 1948 that ended racial segregation in the US armed forces. 

 

Mr. Randolph ’s activism for worker justice was part of his prophetic commitment to social justice and human rights.  Because of that activism, there was a March on Washington for Jobs and Justice where a preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Because of that activism, Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were pressured to lead the effort for what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that ended discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex.  Randolph’s activism is one reason a Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and a Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968.  

 

Randolph’s activism and challenge to racial prejudice in the labor movement spurred – and often displeased – white people in the labor union movement.  Yet, Mr. Randolph did not allow that opposition to stop him.  He seemed to know, as Ezekiel came to know, the character of the society he faced.  He knew he was dealing with “a rebellious house.”  

 

We should remember Mr. Randolph as one of God’s prophets for the same reason we cherish the memory of Dr. King.  Mr. Randolph devoted his life to doing justice.  He did not allow fear of opposition or offers of favor to discourage or unsettle him from trying to do justice.   Like Ezekiel, A. Phillip Randolph knew that this society needed to be confronted and challenged about its longstanding history of racism, mistreatment of black workers, and its hypocrisy about justice.  

 

We remember Dr. King and Mr. Randolph as prophets.  But did the nation know them as prophets while they lived? Did the brokers of power, captains of capitalism, and peddlers of influence and influence peddlers of their time know they were dealing with agents of divine truth, love, justice, and peace?

 

Like Dr. King and A. Phillip Randolph, Colin Kapernick is a prophet.  With prophetic tenacity and clarity, he refuses to back down or be silenced about the ongoing and state-sanctioned slaughter of black, brown, red, and poor white people.  He refuses to promise to pretend that the national anthem commands him to be a puppet for imperial racism, imperial violence, and imperial hypocrisy.  Kapernick refuses to “go along to get along” because he knows who he is, and knows that the society in which we live is a nation of rebels against God’s love, rebels against God’s peace,  rebels against God’s justice, rebels against God’s justice, and rebels against God’s truth.  

 

Do we know, like King, Randolph, and Kapernick, know who we are?  Do we know we are God’s prophetic people?  Do we know that the Great Commission is not a directive to peddle “go to Heaven” religion by a command to lead people to become followers of the prophet called Jesus, the prophet of justice, liberation, and compassion for people burdened by all type of oppression?  

 

Do we know what we are seeing?  Do we know who we are?  Do we know who God has called us to be?  Then let’s get about God’s business.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018