Psalm 89, Ezekiel 1: 1 – 14 and Romans 12: 1 – 21
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 89: 1
Each (of the four living creatures) moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. Ezekiel 1: 12
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12: 1
If you recall last week’s sermon, King Coniah was mentioned as being forcibly taken into exile in Babylon. An alternative version of his name was Jehoiachin, who is mentioned in our reading from Ezekiel. The thirty years mentioned probably relates to the number of years of exile that had elapsed (around 567 BC), but this is not certain. Our reading introduces us to the priest-prophet Ezekiel and reference to the hand of the Lord signifies that God’s Spirit had come upon him, granting him an extensive heavenly vision. Our reading includes only the first phase of this vision, where a great storm comes out of the north, accompanied by lightning. Unlike an ordinary storm, at the heart of it was fire with the appearance of amber. He then sees four living creatures in human form, but each with four faces and four wings. Their faces were that of a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. In chapter 10, verse 15 and 20 they are identified as cherubim – angelic servants or messengers. They were moving about purposefully as the spirit directed, with wings touching. Ezekiel could also see burning coals, like torches, with lightning, as the creatures darted about. Our reading concludes at this point, but the vision carries on with Ezekiel elevated to higher spheres of heaven as chapter one progresses.
The vision imparted to Ezekiel was preparing him to be given his prophetic message. Seeing the living creatures (cherubim) going about their work empowered by the Spirit was an object lesson to Ezekiel. It gave him an insight into the constant activity of heavenly beings working out God’s purposes, which was the role he was about to be commissioned into as a prophet conveying God’s warnings, predictions and instructions. He was about to begin a new sphere in God’s service.
What is the connection between Ezekiel and our reading from Romans 12? Ezekiel was already a priest, but was clearly willing to move into the new task of conveying divine messages of prophecy. His obedience had marked him as suitable. Paul speaks of the spiritual obligation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words, we recognise it is our duty and privilege to lay our lives open to God and be at His disposal. We are prepared to offer our gifts in His service, but need to cast off our alignment to the world’s values (being conformed to this world, verse 2), instead being transformed to God’s values through the renewal of our minds; only then Paul tells us can we discern the will of God.
The chapter continues in verse three with the need for us to make a realistic appraisal of our abilities. This works both ways, neither being conceited with inflated ideas of our gifts, nor having a false modesty that undervalues what we can do. The measure of faith we have enables us to come to an appropriate view, but we should never fall into the trap of false humility that dismisses the individual and unique gifts that God has given each of us. Paul’s argument moves on with the thought of the human body and the various organs it comprises, likening us as equally necessary components of the body of the Church. These gifts are not identical and they differ in public prominence, but all contribute to the healthy functioning and development of the body.
From verse nine onwards Paul seems to be in a hurry, because he produces a long list of instructions, each of which could be turned into a much fuller exposition, and could be the basis of a whole series of sermons. The overriding principle is that we love one another and pursue what is good, even when evil is done to us. In verse 12 he tells us to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. This is sound advice for us as we endeavour to use the faith and gifts we have been given in God’s service.
Like the cherubim we need to act with purpose and in accordance with the direction of the Holy Spirit, and like the prophet Ezekiel we need a message. The opening verse of Psalm 89 is a good starting point: I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.