Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 19 - Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32

19th Sunday after Pentecost – September 25th 2005
Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
“The Blame Game”

I. Introduction –
In a 1966 speech, Robert F. Kennedy said, "There is a Chinese curse which says, "May he live in interesting times."

The prophet Ezekiel lived in interesting times. He had witnessed the siege of the Holy City, Jerusalem. He watched the Babylonians breach the city walls. He saw them burn and destroy the city, and the temple. And he was among those carried off into exile. Living in Babylon, far away from his homeland, Ezekiel received the call of a prophet, and a message from God for those exiled Jews. Interesting times.

The question was, why did this happen? It’s the same question any time disaster comes our way, “why me?” or “why us?”. Is God being just? Many of the Jews rightly saw that the destruction of their homeland and temple was God’s judgment for sin. But whose sin? Just who was to blame? Amidst all the swirling questions, God sends the prophet Ezekiel with the words we read today. The soul that sins, dies. So repent and live!

We Christians have much to learn from Ezekiel’s reminders. For we too can play the blame game. And we too are called to repent, and live, in Christ.

II. The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far…
There has been much talk about “blame” in the wake of the recent hurricane disasters, and especially with Katrina. Who is to blame for this disaster? The President, the Federal Government, the State or Local officials, the Mayor, the people of New Orleans themselves, Mother Nature, or God? Or some combination of the above? We like to pin blame, don’t we?

But who is to blame for the messes of our lives? Here we like to blame others too. The boss is a jerk, my spouse doesn’t listen to me, the kids were driving me crazy, the devil made me do it. We point the finger of blame at just about everyone but ourselves.

That’s what the Jews were doing in Ezekiel’s day. That’s what the proverb about the fathers eating sour grapes means. They were blaming the generation before them for the woes of today. We can relate to that. From the psychologist who queries, “so tell me about your mother”, to the “lack of a father figure” warnings, parents are certainly given blame for much of what is wrong in our lives. Perhaps you heard the recent story of a disgruntled child suing her parents for “wrongful birth”. Now that’s taking it to an extreme!

To be sure, what we do has an effect on other people, perhaps especially our children. But are we, and were the Jews back then, right to blame the generation before for the troubles of today?

What about when it comes to sin itself? Here’s a case where the apple never falls far from the tree. For we inherit our very sinful nature from mom and dad. “In sin did my mother conceive me”. Like father, like son. Can we blame them for our sinful state?

And can we then, ultimately, blame the inventors of blame themselves, Adam and Eve? “It wasn’t me, Lord, it was the woman you gave me” “No Lord, it was the serpent who tempted me, and I ate”.

In a sense I thin k we can blame them. In a sense, we are still paying for the sin of Adam and Eve. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even when that tree is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Even when the fruit of that tree was sin and death. But we can blame them only in one sense. We can see the root causes of our sinfulness in the Garden, but the guilt and responsibility are not so easy to shake. For God tells us so…

III. The Soul Who Sins…
Ezekiel speaks so clearly the word of God, “The soul who sins is the one who will die…” In other words, each of us is responsible to God for our own sin. This, the Jews likely didn’t want to hear. This is hard for us to hear too.

It’s so much easier and self-justifying to blame others for our sin. But it is difficult to look at ourselves. To examine our own faults, failings, to admit our own guilt and blame. To say, “Lord, I have no excuse for what I have done. It is my sin, my own sin, my own most grievous sin. No one else to blame, just me.”

It isn’t God who is unjust here, it is us! We want the punishment to go to someone else. We want another to get the blame. But God, in his law, rightly targets each of us for the sin we commit, and leave us with no escape from the punishment we deserve. Well, only one escape. It is not to blame or make excuses. It is not to rationalize or justify our sin. We can’t hide from God either. There is only one way for wicked people like us to be rid of our guilt and sin. And that way God gives us: Repent, and live!

IV. Repent and Live!

A simple definition of repentance is “turning” or “turning around”. It means not hanging on to your sins for dear life, but admitting that you are wrong, and that no one else is to blame. It means standing humbly before God and saying, “I messed up”. So God invites us to do, when he calls us to “repent and live!” So we begin our worship – confessing sins of thought, word and deed, done and undone.

But for God’s people, true repentance also implies faith. And faith means Jesus. Ezekiel and the Jews knew that God was a merciful God who forgave sins – they just weren’t so clear on the why and how. God told them he didn’t desire death for them – that he takes “no pleasure in the death of anyone”. Here is not the angry judge of the Old Testament so often depicted. He wants them to repent and live. But we know why and how God can say, “repent and live”. We know the Savior by name, Jesus Christ.

It is he, Jesus, who takes away our blame. He takes it on himself. He becomes the “fall guy” for our sin – taking the blame for all of us. And we are free and in the clear.

This is no cosmic shell game. He isn’t fooling God with a switcheroo. This is God’s plan. That Jesus stands in our place, or rather, hangs on our cross, and becomes for all men the “soul that sins” and dies. Therefore the soul that sins, our soul, does not die.

Repentance means trusting Jesus who has done all this for us. After all, why would we confess our sins to a God who wouldn’t forgive them anyway? We can only “repent and live” because of the one who died and lives again, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

And notice, repentance means life! Forgiveness is assumed here, but that is the process – repentance, forgiveness, life! Not just eternal life in Heaven some day (but that too!). Life begins now, here, on earth – a new heart and new spirit. Like the Psalmist says, “Create in me a clean heart Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…”.

Life with God begins the moment we come to faith. When the water touches our head and the word reaches our ear. For in the New Testament, repentance is also connected with Baptism – “repent and be baptized, for the forgiveness of your sins!”

Life which is renewed each time we repent and receive the forgiveness Christ brings. Each time we hear His words of absolution, each time we eat His Holy Meal.

“Repent and Live!” means more than just “feel bad, be sorry, and have a nice day.” It is a summary of God’s plan for us all. It is shorthand for salvation in Jesus Christ. It sums up the grace and love and mercy of a God who does not want death but brings life – and does so in the most profound ways. From Ezekiel’s day to ours, the call goes out from God the same. Can you hear it? “repent and live!” In Jesus Christ, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Though we are affected by each other’s actions, each of us is ultimately responsible to God for our own sin. We are not caught in a hopeless web of sin, for God calls us to repent and live, in Jesus Christ.

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