Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon – Ezekiel 17:22-24 – Riddles
Beaver Dam and Pitts Creek Churches
10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 17, 2012
We all love riddles. Riddles are stories with obscure meanings. We hear riddles and try as we might we just can't figure them our ourselves. But once someone explains the riddle to you the meaning is obvious. Let's try one and see what happens. It is on your bulletin insert. “My thunder comes before the lightening. My lightening comes before the clouds. My rain drys all the land it touches. What am I?” (http://www.riddles.com/) Can't figure it out? We will get back to this but first, let's pray.
“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)
The Bible is full of riddles, stories whose meanings are difficult to discern, but once explained they make a lasting impression. Riddles are often used in times of oppression and persecution to conceal what you are writing from those who could hurt you. Jesus loved to speak in riddles. We usually call his riddles, “parables”. Jesus spoke in riddles to communicate to his followers truths that had to be kept secret from the authorities. In the same way the prophet Ezekiel had to speak in riddles to hide what he was saying from the Babylonia occupiers of Jerusalem. Here is one of Ezekiel's riddles.
Ezekiel 17:3 A great eagle, with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to the Lebanon. He took the top of the cedar, 4 broke off its topmost shoot; He carried it to a land of trade, set it in a city of merchants. 5 Then he took a seed from the land, placed it in fertile soil; a plant by abundant waters, he set it like a willow twig. 6 It sprouted and became a vine spreading out, but low; its branches turned toward him, its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine; it brought forth branches, put forth foliage. 7 There was another great eagle, with great wings and much plumage. And see! This vine stretched out its roots toward him; it shot out its branches toward him, so that he might water it. From the bed where it was planted 8 it was transplanted to good soil by abundant waters, so that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine.
So, what does this riddle from Ezekiel mean? An eagle transplants a tree and it prospers in it new location. Then it plants a vine in fertile soil near a source of water. The potential is there for it to grow. Then another eagle appears and the vine expects it to water it. Will this eagle care for the vine or will it let the vine wither and die? Of course it is impossible to solve this riddle unless you know what the eagles, the transplanted tree and the vine represent. The meaning of the riddle is hidden, unless these things are revealed to you. And thankfully God revealed the meaning of the riddle to Ezekiel and Ezekiel wrote it down for us.
The first eagle represented the king of Babylon who came to Jerusalem and conquered the city. The transplanted top of the tree represented the king, his offspring and all the men of Jerusalem who had been taken into exile. The vine represented the remnant left behind and a puppet king who was to rule Jerusalem as a province of Babylon. The second eagle represented the Pharaoh of Egypt who was seen as the savior who would free them from Babylonian oppression. And the riddle asks the question, would the Pharaoh of Egypt save them, or would Jerusalem wither and die? The prophecy of Ezekiel was that Pharaoh would not save them. Asking Egypt for help was futile, and since it broke the covenant between Babylon and Jerusalem the puppet king of Jerusalem who broke the covenant would die. So the future of Jerusalem seemed hopeless. Egypt was powerless to help them. And Babylon felt betrayed and was determined to destroy them. There was no savior coming to rescue them. They were doomed.
Isn't this the way it is for us too. We spend our last nickel and the bills still come. We've spent hours receiving chemotherapy but the cancer keeps returning. We pray for our children over and over but they keep getting in trouble. We try to save ourselves and our loved ones from calamity, but it just doesn't work. We try to be the savior, or find something or someone who will save us. But we find it doesn't work. We need to find a savior who we can count on when the going gets rough. We need a savior we can depend on. But where would we find a savior like that?
I recently met a woman who needed to be saved. Her landlord had sent her a 60 day eviction notice. She had to move. Although she had family in the area no one was able to take her in. She had no money for a security deposit on an apartment and no way of moving her furniture. Her monthly disability check would just cover rent with nothing left over for food. She needed a savior. Members of her church helped her to find an affordable apartment in Snow Hill. And several volunteers from her church came over with a pickup and helped her move. She had found a savior, Jesus Christ working through a small local church.
I also know of a man who was recently released from jail on parole. He's been in jail for a while and his family in West Virginia was struggling. He was required to remain in Pocomoke until the paperwork was finished. He's been here now for weeks, unable to work, and struggling to pay for a hotel room. He needed a savior. As a Christian he knew where to look. He used the phone book and called local churches. A pastor responded and the church fed him and helped out with food and money for the hotel. He also found a savior, Jesus Christ working through a small local church.
The people of Jerusalem found their savior too. Listen to what Ezekiel says.
“Ezekiel 17 22 Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.”
So who is the savior that was coming to save the people of Jerusalem? This is no riddle. Ezekiel speaks plainly. The Lord God was their savior. God promise to preserve a remnant. God promised to restore the nation. And so too for us. It doesn't matter what problems we face, whether they be financial, or heath, or relationship, whatever they are we have a savior. We have someone who will be there with us to comfort and strengthen us. We have someone who will save us. Our savior is Jesus Christ.
But Ezekiel does have another riddle. Listen.
Ezekiel 17: 23b “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. 24 All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD.”
So what could this mean: “every kind of bird” and “all the trees of the field”. To understand this riddle we have to figure this out. Let see. God is planting a tree which we know is a new kingdom. Let's call it God's kingdom. And who might be the subjects of that kingdom? Ezekiel says every bird and all the trees. The key to understanding this riddle is to focus on the words “every” and “all”. The kingdom of God is for everyone, not just the people of Jerusalem. This means that Jesus is the savior of the whole world and everyone in it. And we are a part. God is working though us, the local church, to save those who desperately need a savior.
And to understand this universal aspect of God's new kingdom. Ezekiel has one final riddle.
Ezekiel 17: 24b “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it.”
So there are high and green trees. There are low and dry trees. And these trees will be reversed. Answer the riddle. The low and dry trees are those who need a savior, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the widow, the orphan. In the kingdom of God they will be lifted up. Jesus will save them. And those who oppress them, those who take advantage of others, those who use dishonesty to enrich themselves, these will find themselves brought low and dried up. God's justice will prevail. We have learned from Ezekiel that God will save us from whatever is threatening us through Jesus Christ and work of the local church so that the kingdom of God grows. And we are called as the local church to be the instruments Christ uses to save everyone in our community and in the world.
Finally, let's solve our first riddle. Remember what it said. “My thunder comes before the lightening. My lightening comes before the clouds. My rain drys all the land it touches. What am I?” (http://www.riddles.com/) And the answer is: a volcano. Let's pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for coming to save us. Whatever problems we face we know that you are there to strengthen and comfort us and help us through the church. We pledge to be your body in this world doing your will to save others in your name. Amen.