What is Success?

Ezekiel 2:1-5. 7th Sunday After Pentecost.

Rev. David Domanski

7/7/20244 min read

Most of us are hesitant prophets. Most of us are glad we’re not Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah or (oh, no, not him!) Jonah—to whom God came right up and said, “You’re on. You’re it. You’re going to speak for me.” We’re glad we can keep a somewhat lower profile, maybe even hide from God, keep quiet. The reason may be that we’re not sure we’d measure up. We figure we couldn’t succeed, that people would laugh at us or reject us.

In our text this morning, God came to a similarly hesitant prophet, Ezekiel, with a message to speak, but also with a word of comfort for him and for us. And in Ezekiel’s call, God even tells us, “Don’t worry, I call every one of My prophets to a different standard of success.

When we think about the word, “success,” we become aware that our understanding of what success means is shaped by the culture around us that measures success in a variety of ways: One of the most important ways to measure success today in the age of social media is: Popularity On some social media platforms, we literally “like” people to support them in their quest for online success. These “likes” then elevate some online personalities to internet Fame—another way we measure success in the world. And even if an online personality doesn’t have too many “likes” or doesn’t achieve fame, other online users may honor or respect an online peer, and that respect may count as a mark of success too. Liking someone online may lead to fame and/or honor, and it pretty much works the same in the real world, not just on the internet.

In the church, we often use the world’s way of measuring success: If people “like” us, we seek increased Church attendance. We build new buildings or improve the ones we’ve got to attract more people and attempt to achieve local fame. We look at our yearly giving totals to figure out if we’re “doing well.” And we may seek the respect and recognition of other congregations in our community. It’s so tempting for us to use the world’s measures of success to evaluate ourselves that we seldom think about what God says success is.

But each of our lessons for today proclaim that God measures success differently. In our Old Testament Reading, God tells Ezekiel that success is measured in terms of the prophet’s faithful proclamation of God’s Word, not the people’s acceptance of that Word. In our Gospel lesson we see that the most successful and faithful prophet of all, Jesus, experiences rejection by the people of His hometown. And finally, in our Epistle, Paul learns to rest in the grace of God and to count on God’s power, not on his own weakness. Paul is tempted to fall into the trap of measuring his value by the world’s measures of success, but God reminds Paul and all of us that God counts success in us fulfilling our vocation, as part of the plan of God to redeem the world.

So as we consider this morning what will make us successful in God’s eyes as His speaker and representative about the wonderful grace of Jesus, we will reflect on Ezekiel and Jesus and how they served God’s Word and became successful in their missions.

It is always important for us to recall that God’s only desire for all of us is that we know and believe in the salvation of Jesus Christ given to us through the forgiveness of sins. God desires that all would be saved. And God called Ezekiel to speak so that His sinful people might repent and be saved (vv 1, 3). God prepared Ezekiel to succeed, giving him His Spirit and His Word (vv 2, 4). We know from history that not many would listen to Ezekiel (v 5), but the prophet was nonetheless successful as he faithfully preached God’s saving Word to the people. We are responsible to God by acting faithfully, and God is ultimately responsible for the work of saving lost souls. So, even though few repented in Ezekiel’s days, he was a complete success by God’s standards, and he left the results of his preaching up to God.

It was no different than how God measured success in Jesus’s life. The people of Jesus’ day were ready to measure the success of God’s Messiah by how successful He was in winning their political freedom from the Romans. And by those human standards, Jesus would be considered a failure, killed by those Romans and by His own. But in this greatest of worldly failures, the cross, God’s greatest and ultimate success is achieved, for through it, God accomplished His plan to redeem you and me.

The chief symbol of Christ’s cross has become our symbol of success, around which the whole Christian Church around the world and across the ages rallies. The cross stands as a reminder: Of God’s plan to forgive and save. Of God’s success in saving us. Of our calling to share the Good News with others. And … as a sign of our weakness and God’s strength.

So what is success? How do you measure success in your life? How do we measure success in our life together as a congregation? God’s Word redefines success and replaces the world’s standards with His. But God’s Word also comforts us with the knowledge that our success depends on God, not on us. As Jesus, John the Baptizer, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Moses before us, may we proclaim God’s salvation faithfully, and God will grant us His success. Amen.