The Church is called to deliver an uncomfortable message. If we look to Peter’s first sermon to the people on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus we will find a key word. Upon being asked “what should we do?” (Acts 2:37), the very first word out of Peter’s mouth is “Repent” (Acts 2:38). This has been a central part of the Church’s message to the world ever since. The word “repent” literally means ‘to have a change of mind’ and the Church is to call people all over the world to have a change of mind in their worldview, and in their ethics. This does not sit well with everybody and needless to say many Christians find this message of repentance to be uncomfrotable. Given that the culture of Canada is slowly but surely slipping away from Judeo-Christian values, a proper call to repentance will become even more uncomfortable for the Church in Canada in the days to come. Perhaps we would rather have a comfortable message, like “every religious worldview is valid,” or “God does not really care about how you live”. But we must go with an honest message, not a comfortable one.
Ezekiel was called to deliver an uncomfortable message as a prophet and there are some things we can learn from his experience. Let us consider the following passage:
You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. 8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:7-10 emphasis mine)
This is going to be uncomfortable! While Biblical scholars debate whether Ezekiel was to literally eat the scroll, or rather if it is meant to be taken figuratively with Ezekiel knowing well the word he is to speak, there is no doubt about one thing. This will be a bitter message. The people will not want to hear it, and no doubt Ezekiel did not want to deliver it. Sounds a bit like the message of repentance the Church is called to deliver today. However, let us read on:
1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. (Ezekiel 2:1-3 emphasis mine)
Bitter words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” end up being as “sweet as honey”? Could it be that the call to repentance is sweet? Let us consider why the scroll is sweet.
“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because apathy is bitter. There is nothing worse than a broken relationship with God. If you don’t believe me, ask Adam and Eve. Our hearts break for people when they experience health troubles and the like, but do our hearts break for people who experience a broken relationship with God? To be unaware of, or without care for, the judgement the lost are facing, and so to not share the good news of God’s love and salvation in Christ would be a bitter thing. To hear the word of woe and so have a broken heart for the lost is sweet indeed.
“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because injustice is bitter. Mention the justice and judgement of God and eyes roll. Yet when a criminal gets off on a technicality we cry out for justice. People naturally tend to have a keen sense of justice, it is part of having a conscience. Throughout the world you can hear cries for justice, it is something humanity yearns for. If you love justice you are really going to love God, for his justice is perfect, more thorough than any legal system, more keen that any judge, more to be trusted than any jury. The scroll is sweet because God’s justice is perfect.
“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because a missed opportunity is bitter. Contrary to what many believe, the prophets of the Old Testament did not share predictions of the future to satisfy curiosity. Rather prophets speak on behalf of God, often pointing to the future so that people could make wise choices in the present. Ezekiel is to bring a message of woe, he is to help the exiled people see that they are now experiencing the consequence of their sin by being in exile. But Ezekiel also will deliver a message of hope, God will remain faithful to His covenant promises. The hearers of Ezekiel’s message, in hearing the bad and the good, have the opportunity to make a good decision regarding their standing with God. The Church, in its prophetic role, is to speak of the coming judgement, and the love and grace of God in Christ, so that people can make the wise decision of facing the future with Christ on their side. In fact Christ has already shown He is on everyone’s side through the cross, but those who reject Him show that they do not want to be on His. It is a bitter thing to miss the opportunity for reconciliation with one’s Maker. To be motivated to think through all the implications of one’s relationship with God is sweet. The scroll is sweet because it speaks of the God-given opportunity to experience grace.
“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because being stuck is bitter. The yucky feeling of regret can lead us to a better place. Over the past three years I have lost 107 pounds. Mind you, I am not 107 pounds lighter for my weight has been up and down like a yoyo and I have gained weight over that time as well. But had I never experienced the yucky feeling of regret I would be well over 300 pounds by now. To be feeling healthier has been sweet. While the evil one can use regret to keep us in a bitter place, the Holy Spirit uses regret to change us and bring us to a sweeter place. The Holy Spirit uses regret to drive people to repentance, to lead people to that place of being unhappy living in sin, and wanting to live in Christ instead. Regret leads people into the arms of God, and there is no sweeter place to be. The scroll is sweet because it unglues people.
The Church has a similar calling in the world as Ezekiel did for God’s people in exile. We are to call people to repentance. Throughout history being a prophet has been an uncomfortable thing, but truly, the message of repentance is very sweet.
(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)