ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH July 5, 2015
An Encounter with God
Have you ever encountered someone truly rich or famous? Have you ever come upon a celebrity or prominent individual as you walked down the street or at an event? Some of you have perhaps spoken to or spent some time with well-known people. Of course, these are somewhat subjective questions as some may consider the mayor or perhaps local celebrities or athletes famous, while others may only consider established Hollywood actors, world-renowned musicians, or professional athletes as encounters with famous people.
I’ve had my fair share of celebrity encounters in my life. In 2010, I was visiting my brother in Halifax. We were walking the boardwalk down at the harbour when we saw a big crowd near one of the Canadian naval vessels moored at the dock. We stopped, and waited to see what all the commotion was. We were rewarded when we saw Queen Elizabeth walk out onto the deck of the ship. I was maybe 20 yards away and had a good view of her and Prince Philip as they waved to me…or perhaps they were greeting the crowd. This was a huge event, as it was my first encounter with royalty. Okay, maybe just seeing someone from far away doesn’t count as an encounter. Upon further reflection, I’d have to say an encounter requires closer proximity to the individual in question. For example if you go to a sporting event and sit up close to the action, you still don’t really encounter the players. So perhaps I should give a better example of a famous encounter I’ve had.
A couple of summers ago I was taking a summer course in Toronto and on one of my early morning walks to get a coffee, I walked past Doug Maclean who works as a hockey analyst for Sportsnet and is a former NHL executive and coach. I walked right by him on the sidewalk as he was talking on his cellphone. I think he noticed me! Unlike the time with the queen, I was very close to Mr. Maclean, we were literally feet apart as we passed; however, I would say unfortunately, that this too, wouldn’t be considered an encounter. Although we were close in proximity, there lacked an interaction between the two of us. I guess I’m not doing as well with famous encounters as I first believed!
But, I did meet a celebrity once. I know that it was a big deal for me, and a true encounter with someone famous, because it is a memory that has stuck with me over the years, and I know this encounter counts because he is a famous TV personality. Although, I must admit that I had to call mom to verify the details surrounding the encounter. When I was in grade eight, I was chosen along with two other students from my school to appear on the CHEX TV show Campus Quiz. I will always remember the day we went for the taping of the show, and I met the famous host, anchor, and reporter, Graham Hart! It was during this event that I not only saw, but met and spoke to Mr. Hart. Unfortunately, I also remember answering a simple question wrong about how many continents there are…but that’s not important right now! Unlike my other two stories, this was a true encounter with a famous person, or at least someone of local fame.
Okay so perhaps my encounters with famous individuals aren’t as extensive as I once thought! I would have to say, that although I may have been close or in the presence of famous people, I really haven’t had many encounters with them. I believe an encounter has to include a meeting, a form of interaction between individuals, as well as have a lasting effect or memory. Without meeting these two criteria, it might be better to describe my other memories as merely sightings. Ezekiel on the other hand, definitely had an encounter.
This short passage, which we read from the Book of Ezekiel, is interesting. Initially, you might wonder, what message we are to gain from this text and why it’s included in the lectionary. After all, this passage describes God’s commissioning of Ezekiel to be a prophet to Israel. In these verses God is calling Ezekiel to go and speak to the nation of Israel because they have, and continue to rebel against God. God gives Ezekiel the power and authority to speak God’s words to them. But, what does this passage say to us? What can we learn from these verses?
At first glance, this passage appears to give preachers, or those in positions of power in the church, the authority to speak out against the wickedness of the world. Perhaps these verses may even be interpreted as encouragement for ministers or priests to go and preach to their congregations, in attempts to have the people of the church abandon their rebellious or misguided ways. On the other hand, this passage may serve as an example for mission and evangelism. A message imploring Christians to hear the Word of God and then go out in the name of the Lord, preaching to all the rebellious and stubborn people in the world. However, I believe that these are misinterpretations of the text. This passage describes the calling and commissioning of a specific prophet in a specific time. However, this does not mean that the text doesn’t have a meaning or message for us today. As part of the Scriptures and canon of the Church, I believe that there is a reason for it to be included in the Bible. There are two aspects of this story, which are important for us as Christians today. The first is a reminder that at the heart of our faith, we must have an encounter with God. The second aspect is that from our encounter with God we receive our call.
It is unfortunate that the reading from the lectionary doesn’t include at least part of chapter one. It is in this first chapter where we read of the miraculous vision that Ezekiel has of a chariot and the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. It is from seeing this vision, that Ezekiel falls to his face and hears a voice speaking to him. This leads to chapter two, where Ezekiel is on the ground and God is calling him to stand on his feet. We discover however, that Ezekiel cannot do so under his own power. It is in this story where we find Ezekiel’s encounter with God. As God speaks to Ezekiel, a spirit enters into him, and suddenly Ezekiel is able to rise to his feet. This was an intimate and personal encounter with God. This wasn’t just a casual sighting or a passing exchange; God came directly to Ezekiel, first in a vision, and then as the Spirit entering into him. God came to Ezekiel and gave him strength. He gave him the power to set him on his feet. As he stands there, Ezekiel recognizes God is in and with him. He recognizes that it is God speaking directly to him. He could feel the power of the Spirit, and understood the words in which God was speaking to him. This was a divine encounter.
Before God came to him in the form of the Spirit, Ezekiel found himself on the ground, his face touching the dirt in reverence for the glory of the Lord, which surrounded him from the vision he had experienced. For Ezekiel, this was an act of worship, of awe, of obedience; however, his position on the ground was also symbolic in that, in this position Ezekiel could not serve God in the world. One cannot serve the Lord, by lying down with one’s face to the ground. The Spirit lifts Ezekiel to his feet physically and metaphorically, so that Ezekiel was prepared and able to listen and to serve the Lord. In an upright standing position, Ezekiel is ready. He is able to listen to God speak to him, but he is also ready to go wherever God calls him. As he stands there, God calls him to be a prophet and to go and speak to the nation of Israel in the name and power of the Lord.
This story of Ezekiel is important because it reminds us that as Christians and as the Church our faith is built upon an encounter with Christ. This is more than an encounter we might have with a famous individual or a chance encounter with someone we once knew. Our encounters with Christ are much more. They are intimate encounters where we can feel the presence of the Spirit with us, speaking to us, where we can feel the love, the peace, the joy, and the comfort, that only God can give. We may not always experience these encounters in the same way. Our encounters with God may come during Sunday morning worship. They may come as you sing the hymns, listen to the scriptures, the sermon, or as we pray. Encounters of God may come through the act of Holy Communion, Bible studies, small groups, in the quietness of prayer and reflection, individuals, or in unexpected situations or events. Whatever the case, we can encounter God in many ways, and it is through these encounters that we receive strength and encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Just as Ezekiel gained the power to stand, so too we receive energy which helps lift us up so that we can do the work of the Spirit in the world.
Our encounters with God also serve as a time when God gives us our call. It may be something new that God is calling us to do, or it may be a reminder or encouragement to fulfill the call, which the Spirit has already spoken to us. During our encounters with God is important that we listen intently to what God is saying to us. We need to take time to reflect and discover what it is that God is calling us to do. We may not experience our calling like Ezekiel, hearing God’s voice telling him what to do, but through prayer, reading of the Scripture, worship, and listening and talking with others, we can discover God’s calling. As individuals and as the Christian Church, it is important that we listen and take time to discern what is it that God is calling us to do, because in following God’s call we know that the Spirit will be there to help us and that we will have the authority of Jesus with us. Furthermore, through our own encounter with God and following of God’s call, we hope and pray that others may experience a personal, life-fulfilling, and changing encounter with our Risen Saviour. Ame