Proper 9 (14), Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
4 July 2021
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Imagine you are the prophet Ezekiel and God sends you to a people not your own to speak the word of the Lord.
Ezekiel was from Judah and God sent Ezekiel to prophesy in Israel. Yet the thing that really gets me is in verse five, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know there has been a prophet among them.”
For how long do we have to speak to people who refuse to hear, who refuse to listen, and who reject our speech?
Pastors are relatively fortunate that they are given space to speak, in fact they are expected to speak, to people who usually are their own. And even when pastors speak in a way that is not welcome, they are still welcome in their community.
Yet here you have Ezekiel go to a people he does not know to tell them what they do not want to hear. I do not envy Ezekiel, save for the Spirit of the Lord who entered him and put him on his feet.
We live in an increasingly polarized world in which people speak to strangers via the internet, often descending into vitriol and hate, not only unable to listen to one another but unwilling.
Now, that is not what the Lord had in mind when the Lord spoke to Ezekiel. Ezekiel was not to be deaf to the people he was to speak to. He was to take his cue from the Spirit of the Lord, not speak what he wanted to speak (think of the story of Jonah who did not like what God was not going to do, for he wanted to see his enemies suffer), but to speak the word of the Lord.
It takes a lot of prayer, contemplation, and humility to speak the word the Lord, to silence one’s own voice enough to be able to hear the word of the Lord.
And when we don’t, it’s easy to simply assume that the reason people do not pay attention to my speech is because they are out of tune with God, not me. Over the years I have known many conservative Christians who assumed that if they weren’t listened to, or if their plans failed, that it had nothing to to with them, but was the result of the work of the enemy, which saved them from introspection and a prayer that probed the heart of God and our own heart, too.
But you don’t have to be a conservative Christian to think that when people don’t heed your words that it has nothing to do with you. Our world is becoming increasingly polarized, making it more and more difficult to speak with people who hold a different point of view, and more difficult yet is hearing those who hold convictions opposed to our own.
We have always been reluctant to do the more difficult things, and we have always congregated with those who we deem to have things in common with. But that’s not how we learn things, widen our horizon, understand those who are different from us. But even our political institutions and politicians in their desire to maintain power rather often reduce legitimate debate to talking points, not unlike the memorized textbook answers East German teenagers contributed to what was supposed to have been a political discussion when we met in Erfurt in 1983. And it is fateful when political parties court those who speak of Western alienation and thus give it credence instead of acknowedging that the carbon economy is coming to an end, and as the fires in Lytton and elsewhere show us, needs to come to an end.
Our neighbours south of the border no longer have a lunatic in the White House, yet it is not improbable that the last president may return. The Republican party has become a party of conspiracies and extremist, which robs the country of an actual opposition and I am not the first person to say that it is conceivable that within the next ten years the United States may break apart and that a civil war is possible.
How does one get to where we are today? Whistle-blower Edward Snowden, in a recent article in The Guardian writes that we talk about conspiracy theories in order to avoid talking about conspiracy practices, which are often too daunting, too threatening, too total. He describes these practices as an economy we do not control but that controls us, the advance of the surveillance state, the redrawing of district lines (speaking from a US perspective). Snowden defines conspiracy theories as those with which citizens explain to themselves their immiseration, their disfranchisement, their lack of power, and even their lack of will.1
I think that Snowden is basically correct. He is also not the first to speak of disenfranchisement. Beyond that, we remember that Ezekiel was sent to speak to all, whether they listen or do not listen. Ezekiel was not sent only to people like him, of the same conviction, persuasion, or socioeconomic status. The same is true for the disciples and for the church. Yes, it is easier to preach to the choir, to preach to the converted, and perhaps demean the rest with comments online, but that is not the mission of the church, and it is not the mission of Ezekiel.
As the politics of our time become more polarized and confrontational, I am not suggesting the church should not speak the truth about economic justice, about colonialism, about the care of creation, about racism, and so forth.
What I am suggesting, and I think that both our Gospel reading and our passage from Ezekiel imply it, is that amidst all truth-telling the church must engage in (and truth-telling is never easy), the church must continue to love the enemy, not only preach peace but live peace, be careful in its speech to speak to truth but to speak it in love, which includes the love of our enemy. This, I think, is the contribution the church of our time is called to make. People may listen or they may not. But God has entrusted us with both a mission and with God’s peace.