Every time I preach from Ezekiel I think of the song, “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel”. I think I sang the song in an ensemble in middle school, so I can’t imagine why I still remember it. Music is funny like that …
Enjoy the sermon!
Measuring Our Own Faithfulness
A few months ago, the high school youth group and I watched the movie, Faith Like Potatoes. The movie was based on an inspiring true story of a farmer named Angus Buchan who found faith along his journey through life. The movie synopsis reads:
A farmer moves his family to South Africa and suffers a series of seemingly insurmountable losses. Through unlikely friendships and much needed divine intervention, he discovers his life’s true purpose and it sustains his unwavering belief in the power of faith. A moving life journey of a man who, like his potatoes, grows his faith, unseen until the harvest.
The movie was very well done. It was based on the book, Faith Like Potatoes, that Buchan had written about his faith journey. Buchan has also gone on to write several other books and devotionals about what it is like to live and farm fully relying on God’s grace and goodness.
Bruce and I tried our luck at growing potatoes last year. To be quite honest, it was kind of a frustrating process for a Type A person like me. You literally have to plant the potatoes at the beginning of the season and then leave them alone throughout the harvest. You cannot dig them up to see how they are doing; you cannot check them every day and watch them grow. You have to have faith that they are growing under the mounds that you created and wait until the end of the season to see if you have a good crop.
In the movie – and in real life when Angus and his family were living out the story – Angus was at the end of a very difficult harvest. There had been very little rain, nothing was growing, all of the locals were losing money and Angus’ family had suffered some very tragic losses. The only hope that they had left was their potato crop, which they could not see; they did not know what their future held.
The fun / exciting / scary / potentially devastating part of potato farming comes when you go to actually dig your potatoes out of the ground. You have no idea what lies within the dirt; you just start digging and see what you find. At the end of the movie, Angus invited a friend of his to join him in his potato fields for a prayer before they started to dig. They prayed, they took a deep breath and then they started to dig.
Now, technically I am giving away the ending of the movie here (although with a name like ‘Faith Like Potatoes’ I am sure you can all see where this is going), but this is the point in the movie where we begin to understand the metaphor of harvesting potatoes and developing our faith. Even though their future was uncertain, their faith remained strong up until the point where they began to dig. And the potatoes had grown – obviously. They were large and numerous. The harvest was more than anyone could have ever imagined; Angus, his family and the entire community had hope for the future.
Our faith is like growing potatoes. It is hard to measure, hard to see. But it grows – and we reap what we sow in the most unexpected of places.
This was actually my favorite part of the movie when I was watching it with the youth group, because it was at this point when one of them sat up suddenly and said, “Ohhhhhh. Faith is like potatoes. The potatoes aren’t faith-like!” (This actually launched weeks of discussion about what a potato that is faith-like actually looks like, but that is an illustration for another sermon).
Today’s scripture is from the Old Testament, from the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Our reading comes from the beginning of the book; we are listening to the God commissioning the prophet Ezekiel into ministry. “O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you,” God says to Ezekiel. “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.” “The descendants are impudent and stubborn,” God explains. “I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’”
God called Ezekiel to minister to this rebellious nation of Israel. This, in and of itself, is not abnormal – speaking on behalf the divine to a nation in need is something prophets had been called to do for years. The interesting part about Ezekiel’s call, however, was the fact that God told Ezekiel that it did not matter if Israel actually listened to him and changed in his presence. “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house),” God said, “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Now I am no prophet, but I would imagine that this is one of the most difficult ways to be called into the ministry. Ezekiel was called to speak to this nation, to point out their rebellious ways and to rebuke them – but God told Ezekiel from the very beginning that he might not be successful. Can you imagine going into something knowing that you were going to have to work extremely hard and yet not see any progress made? How difficult it must have been for Ezekiel to accept this call to prophesy knowing he would not be able to measure his successes or failures.
The Feasting On The Word commentary series looked into this very notion of measurement in regards to this passage. “Called to Faithfulness,” the subheading read.
We live in a culture obsessed with measurements and statistics. It begins at birth, when a child scarcely out of the womb is weighed and measured, and continues throughout our lives. We measure test scores, cholesterol levels, investments portfolios. We count, we track, and we compare in almost every area of our lives. Often we make these measures because we want to be successful. We want to know that our efforts make a difference.
(The Rev. Leanne Pearce Reed, who is a minister in the Presbyterian Church, wrote the commentary on this passage. While I think her list of what we measure is enormously extensive, I would also like to add measuring baseball statistics and stewardship pledges to my particular context of ministry.)
Rev. Reed continues:
To contemporary ears, then, God’s commission to Ezekiel may sound very strange indeed—for God seems to have a different notion of success. Ezekiel’s call is to speak God’s word to the people of Israel “whether they hear or refuse to hear” (2:5). The people’s response is not Ezekiel’s primary concern. His success will not be measured by the outcome of his preaching. His effectiveness will not be judged on how many people believe him or the number who repent instead of rebel. He will not be judged on whether the temple is raised or lost, whether Jerusalem rises or falls. Rather, Ezekiel is asked to answer God’s call and speak the word of the Lord, no matter what the result.
“Rather, Ezekiel is asked to answer God’s call and speak the word of the Lord, no matter what the result.” What a difficult challenge not only for Ezekiel thousands of years ago, but also for each and every one of us as we read those words again today! “Whether they hear or refuse to hear,” God assures Ezekiel that he needs to continue living out God’s call for him in his life.
How do we measure our own faithfulness? I do believe that, in one way or another, every single one of us is called in the ministry. We are called to minister in churches, in our communities and in the world. We all have different gifts and unique skill sets; God calls each one of us to minister in different ways and places. But how do we measure whether or not we have been successful? How do we know if we have truly lived out God’s call?
I have often said that one of my greatest fears in life is that I will not accomplish what I have been put on this earth to do. It is an interesting concept to mull over – at the end of our lives, how do we measure the success of our own faithfulness? Faithfulness is not a quantifiable measurement; it does not yield interest in a savings account, buy the latest gadgets or acquire a new property. Faithfulness is not something that can be passed down to family members in a will, a statistic that can be compared to someone else’s or a way to define our achievements in life.
We spend our lives carefully measuring things – money, cars, houses, clothes, shoes, gadgets, vacations and more. Even in the church, we spend our time carefully measuring things – membership numbers, worship attendance, stewardship gifts and pledges, youth group and church school sizes, choir members, Facebook page likes, etc. But this passage – God’s call to Ezekiel – reminds us that perhaps the most precious gift at our disposal is something that cannot be measured at all.
Rev. Reed put it perfectly when she said, “Ezekiel’s commission suggests that he may plant seeds, but the harvest is up to God.” She closed the commentary by saying, “The measure of our success does not come from numbers and statistics but from our discernment of that call—and our faithfulness to it.”
I suppose my question, “How do we measure our own faithfulness?” was kind of a trick question. We can’t, really – not in a quantifiable way, anyway. When Angus Buchan planted potatoes, he could not measure his success as the potatoes grew. He had to trust that something was happening beneath the surface of the ground. When we live out our own faithfulness – when we discern God’s call in our lives, when we live out the ministries that that we feel called into and when we try to allow God to speak through us to the people around us – we may never be able to measure that success. We have to trust that God is using us for something we may never see or understand.
One final note:
Ezekiel describes his call to prophesy by saying, “A spirit entered into me and set me on my feet.” He had seen a vision in the prior chapter and when he realized what was happening he fell to the ground. God commanded him to stand, but he could not rise without the aid of a spirit. Ezekiel needed the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel needed God’s help, in order to fulfill the call to prophesy to the people of Israel. This description reminds us that we, as human beings, also need God’s help in order for us to live out God’s call in our lives. We need God’s grace to give us the patience to move forward even if we cannot measure our successes. We need God’s strength to help us rise when we fall. We need God’s love to touch us gently when we cry out in frustration. We need the spirit to enter us and guide us along our journeys of life and faith.
We may not be able to measure our faithfulness the way we measure other things in life. But every single day God is doing truly amazing things through the lives of each and every one of us. Success may never be quantifiable – but God promises that the harvest will be great. And God promises to never leave our side as we live out our calls.
Thanks be to God!