Meaningful Ministry: Not Glee and Gratitude but Rejection and Resentment

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:1-7 (NIV)
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:1-13 (NIV)
Gospel: Mark 6:1-6 (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 895 “Preach You the Word”
  • Hymn: CW 520 “Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
  • Psalm 27C: “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation”
  • Hymn: CW 639 “God Has Spoke by His Prophets”
  • Hymn: CW 900 “Lift High the Cross”
  • Hymn: CW 774 “God Bless Our Native Land”

Pentecost 7             July 7, 2024
Ezekiel 2:1-7            Pastor Wolfe

Christian, stand and speak!

A windstorm, lightning, fire in the sky. Unearthly, angelic creatures flying swiftly beside wheels covered with eyes. Above them an expanse sparkling like ice and a rumbling, rushing roar. And high above all of that someone like a man aglow, ablaze, in a rainbow-like radiance sitting on a sapphire throne.

That’s what Ezekiel saw before his call into ministry. Before the voice of the Lord called him to be his prophet. The Lord called Ezekiel to preach his word directly in a display of unimaginable glory. Ezekiel knew what he was supposed to do, and others who believed his vision knew what Ezekiel had been called to do as well.

My call to serve you as pastor came by phone call and then on ordinary paper – not quite as spectacular. But listen to what the call form you sent me says: “We trust that you will recognize in this CALL the voice of your Lord Jesus Christ.” Though God’s voice didn’t call out to me directly as it did to Ezekiel, his called me through you as you, God’s people.

Many of you came to faith as children, even as infants. A little water, a little Scripture. Or you came to faith when a friend or neighbor shared their hope in Jesus with you. A little conversation. A humble start. No, you didn’t get signs in the sky either, but you are called into ministry just as much as I have been. Maybe you haven’t been called to shepherd God’s flock like a pastor does or called into public ministry to speak God’s Word in the name of other Christians. But you have been called to faith. And that means you have been called to serve. To minister. Peter explained every Christian’s purpose in his first epistle when we wrote that God calls us to faith so that “you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Every Christian declares God’s praises. Every Christian is called to stand and speak God’s Word.

As we begin our series on meaningful ministry and look at this call to Ezekiel we start with one of God’s core purposes for every believer. God calls us to speak his word. Even if the people we speak it to are hard and stubborn. Even if we receive rejection instead of gratitude. As the service introduction suggests, one might expect that people who serve others would be warmly welcomed and appreciated. But that’s not always the case. Not for pastors, not for Ezekiel, and not for you. But do we shrink in the face of opposition? No, we stand.

God addresses Ezekiel first in terms that remind us of our status before God by nature and our status before him by grace. God addresses him as “Son of man.” Now for us that title calls Jesus to mind because he so often used it for himself, but think of what that phrase actually emphasizes. One who is not of God, but of Adam. Standing before God in this awesome vision, Ezekiel must have been painfully aware of how much less he was. How unfit he was to be seeing God in this way. He was dust. Sinful dust!

But the Lord picks him up from that place of fear and gives him strength. This God of power and majesty says to Ezekiel, “’Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”

God came to Ezekiel through his Word, and the Spirit strengthened him and stood him up on his feet through that same Word. Sinner though he was, Ezekiel could stand in the presence of the holy God because the Lord forgave him, as his word promises. It was the Lord who gave Ezekiel the power to speak his Word. It’s the same Lord who gives us the power to do the same.

This is true for every minister today, pastor or member. Pastors are tempted to feel self-important. Like the success and fate of the church depends on us. Asif all of this is built on my gifts and my plans. But it’s not. There’s a prayer by Martin Luther in the room where I put my robe on each week. Part of that “sacristy” prayer, as it’s called, says, “Lord, if you left me to this myself I would surely have ruined it all.” Blunt, but true. Every one of us here is equally unworthy to stand up before God. From the oldest Christian in the room to the most newly baptized infant, from the pastor standing in front to the member who sneaks in the back during the opening hymn, we’re all lost without God’s Word and his grace. None of us could stand before God if Jesus hadn’t laid down in sacrifice for us.

This is off-topic, I suppose, but it’s so important I’m going there anyway. As Christians called to minister and speak God’s Word we have to recognize that our preaching comes from a place of humility. We are no better than those we share God’s Word with. Maybe we haven’t committed exactly the same sins, but our sins are just as offensive to God as theirs. Speaking God’s Word faithfully starts by knowing I can only speak because the Lord has lifted me up in Christ.

So what do we speak about? As we look back to Ezekiel’s call, we remember that God gives us the message. Verses 3 and 4: “[God] said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’

When Ezekiel was to go out and speak he dared not go to his people and tell them his opinion, his thoughts. His task wasn’t to go out in his own name and convince people by his clever arguments and eloquent speech. He was simply to go in God’s name and share what God says. And if he was met with rejection and rebellion against what he said, it didn’t really matter. In verse 5 God says, “Whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious people – they will know that a prophet has been among them.” News flash: most people Ezekiel preached to rejected him. It would have been easy to change the message to make it sound more acceptable. But God calls us to speak, not convince or convert. God wants us to speak, even if his purpose at a given time is to harden an unbelieving heart.

In the call the Lord extended to me through you, you solemnly charge me, “to preach the gospel of our Lord among us in its truth and purity.” The call continues with other specifics, but that one is at the top. The Lord has called me as your pastor to speak his Word faithfully.

When I speak God’s Word to you, I need to be able to say with Ezekiel, “This is what the Lord God says.” I can’t base my sermon on what I think God might have said or what other people say that God says. That’s why I study God’s Word, in the original languages even as much as I can. It’s why you won’t hear me talk about politics or business from the pulpit or in bible study. Here in this place I am called not to tell you what I think, but what God says. That’s faithful preaching. But that doesn’t make ministry easy all the time.

Faithful ministering means telling people the truth even if they don’t want to hear it. And you know what? People don’t always like hearing what they don’t want to hear. Meaning ministry means confronting sin when we see it in each other. As a church, we tend to assign that work to pastors and elders, but I tell you that the message is far better heard and received when it comes from parents to children, and friends to friend. If you’re the pointer-outer of sin, I pray God gives you confidence to speak – not your words or judgment, but God’s words of warning. And if you’re the one being pointed out, then I pray you hear the ministry of your Christian brothers and sisters and turn from your sin and repent.

As much as we might want Christian ministry to be met with glee and gratitude, sin in our world and in the hearts of people will bring us too often rejection and resentment instead. But don’t shy from your ministry as if this was unexpected. The Lord flat-out told Ezekiel, “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” I don’t think people today are any different. But that didn’t stop Ezekiel. And it can’t stop us.

After I had been a pastor a few years I came to appreciate a strange description God gives to Ezekiel in the very next chapter of this same book. God tells Ezekiel, “I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”(Ezek 3:8-9)

Fellow believers called into the most meaningful ministry, God has hardened us for the work at hand. If the culture changes around us, God’s Word still stands true and unchanged. If our friends, our neighbors, our families, reject the truth we speak, we simply look for other opportunities to speak the same truth. In Ezekiel’s ministry, not many believed. But some did. And because he kept speaking, some more did. Our ministries won’t always be welcomed by all, but they will always be welcomed by the One who matters. And the God of all power and strength, of all grace and mercy, will use our ministry to bring peace to some. And even if we don’t save the whole world, your ministry will mean the whole world to some. So start speaking. The truth. The full truth. And nothing but the truth. So help us God. Amen.

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