Ezekiel 28: 1-18
This seems a very dark passage.
And in many ways it is.
Ezekiel lived in the time when the people of Jerusalem were being taken into exile in Babylon.
There had been various puppet kings in Jerusalem for centuries, that really were there because first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians let them be there. They were allowed to rule that part of the empire but they had to pay tribute to the Empire once a year.
As the Persian Empire took over the Assyrian Empire some in the faraway places felt they would have a better rule.
But some decided that Babylon was far away and they would be too busy trying to stabilise the new Empire to worry about a wee place like Judah.
It was a huge mistake.
The Babylonian Empire formed an army and supplemented it with the armies from neighbouring vassal states like Tyre and Sidon, Ammon and Moab.
How could they pay for such an army?
Through the loot of the area they captured, through selling those they captured as slaves.
The city of Jerusalem was destroyed.
The temple was desecrated, looted and then razed to the ground.
The ruling classes were dispersed.
Everything was a mess.
It was easy to believe that there was no God, or if there was a God that he was powerless and impotent.
Everything was gone.
What do you do when you need understanding?
How could you believe in a God who cared when this had happened to you?
You could go to the Temple...but the temple was destroyed.
You could go to the priests, but the priests were taken away as captives.
So easy to give up.
And then a tiny light shines in the darkness.
Ezekiel had warned the people that disaster was coming, that they had to listen to him.
And people hadn’t and now disaster had come.
But here is the hope.
Ezekiel had seen what was going to happen.
Ezekiel had been honest about what would happen, even when it cost him.
So if theyt should have trusted Ezekiel in the past, then maybe they could trust him now.
And what does he say?
Well weird things.
That God cared for those who oppressed them.
This king of Tyre, it was God who had put him there. It was God who had let him have all his privilege and had greatly blessed him.
And with all those blessings he had abused his power.
He believed that he deserved all the things God had given him and he could do whatever he wanted.
He was like those pop stars that you hear about.
They start off as a lead singer of a band. The band does really well. There is fame, fortune, great lifestyle. And the lead singer believes he is the one that it all revolves round. Then he thinks the band is holding him back so he goes solo and has a few number one hits.
But then the singer believes that they are something else, something above normal humans. And they end up getting arrested for being drunk on a plane and causing a disturbance, usually with the phrase, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’
I have read Ezekiel many times.
It would be easy to read it and get from it that God is saying, ‘Don’t worry about what those people did to you Jerusalem, I will sort them out. What happened to you will be nothing to what will happen to them.’
But I don't’ think that is what is happening here.
I think what is happening here is God is saying, ‘Just as you caused your own downfall by not following my ways, so they too will fall by not following my path for them. So don't worry about them, don't get het up about wanting revenge, just seek my ways and find the path again.’
I think that is God’s message for us today.
Don’t worry about the past, seek God’s path today.
I especially think that is the message for the church.
We are in a bad place just now.
Lack of ministers, everyone wondering what happened to us.
In the time I have been a minister, which is only 28 years, in history that is but a speck in history, the Church of Scotland has gone from having a surplus of ministers to having about half the ministers it needs.
Society has gone from being a predominantly Christian society to having the majority of people having no faith at all.
Now that isn't all my fault.
But it is easy to look at the past as the good old days and wonder how we get back to it.
But I don't think that is what God is asking us to do.
I think God is asking us to go forward in faith and seek something different.
When the people were in exile they developed the synagogue system and through that the faith grew.
It would never have existed if the temple was still there, but new circumstances needed new solutions.
Who knows what the future of the Church of Scotland will be, but it will be different.
But if that is the case for the church, maybe it is also the case for us as individuals as well.
Because I think often in life we are hit with things that radically change our life.
One of my squash partners was diagnosed with cancer.
For a while all he did was look back.
How could this happen to him?
How could he get his life back?
And the weird thing was that as long as he did that he was grieving and falling backwards.
The more he tried to hold onto what was being lost, the more he was falling.
Then he stopped trying to hold on to the past, instead looked at what was possible in the future.
Other opportunities opened to him that he never expected and would never have looked for.
Things that were priorities stopped and he was forced to decide what was really important in his life, who were really important in his life.
Instead of his career and planning pensions, his family became more important and friendships.
The weird thing is, cancer might have been the best thing that happened to him.
Again, just like communion.
To the disciples the last supper was a disaster.
Jesus was telling them that one of them was going to betray him, that they were all going to desert him.
Jesus was going on about his death again.
To them all their plans were going to be destroyed. This was the worst thing that could happen to them.
And yet Jesus was there explaining all of this disaster and telling them that this would end up being the best thing that happened to them.
Maybe the truth is that life is not about what happens to us, it is about whether we are open to God’s plan for us though what happens to us.
Clackmannan Parish Church. Haven’t had a full time minister in nearly 18 months. Probably won’t get another full time minister for about a year. And yet through this, a worship team has been created that will be taking its first full service in about a months’ time.
Will it stretch them...yes.
Are they really nervous...really yes.
Will they grow in their faith through this...oh yes.
And it may never have happened if everything was going well.
All those gifts not allowed to flourish.
All those possibilities not sought.
I don't believe God causes disaster, but I do believe that even in disaster God can work for good.
That was Ezekiel’s message to the people that used to live in Jerusalem.
And I think that’s God message for us tonight.
God did not cause the pain you may be in, but he can work through it, can work in it, to do good...if we let him.