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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 July 2006

Sermon for Pentecost 7

Normally, I don’t write out my sermons. However, I find it a good practice to occasionally check my preparation by setting words to paper — or monitor and hard drive. Since I’ll be at the Higher Things conference The Feast this week and won’t be answering questions online (just in a Day One sectional with the Lutheran youth in Colorado Springs), I thought that I would post this, instead. God willing, I’ll be back in a fortnight or less.

Thus Says the Lord God
Ezekiel 2:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text for today’s message is the appointed Old Testament reading from the second chapter of Ezekiel:

He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (ESV)

Dear friends in Christ, we can barely imagine how Ezekiel was feeling. He’d been carried off into captivity in Babylon and was living among Israel’s exiles. In the first chapter, the Lord revealed Himself to the prophet in clouds of glory, among the four living creatures, with brilliant light surrounding Him. Ezekiel said, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

Even as he collapsed to the ground, he heard the Lord calling him to stand up and listen to God’s call and instructions. Evidently, he was completely unable to do so on his own — it took the entry of the Holy Spirit to raise Ezekiel to his feet. Standing up, he heard the Lord’s commission to speak the Word to rebellious Israel, truly — as today’s bulletin cartoon notes — a bunch of “self-centered boneheads.” Ezekiel’s words were not to be of his own invention. He would decry Israel’s shameful past and sordid present item by item, saying, “Thus says the Lord God.”

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others of God’s prophets had already warned what was coming. By the time this book begins, Ezekiel and other Israelites had been carried off. Now, the Lord wanted him to tell those in captivity why they were there and explain why He was going to allow Babylon to complete the overthrow of Judea.

The Lord summarized the history of His chosen people: “They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn.” We remember from Scripture how they rebelled during the Exodus, building the golden calf, complaining against the Lord and His prophet Moses, whining about living conditions rather than celebrating their freedom and promised return to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Once across the Jordan, Israel’s sins continued. They doubted God, disobeyed His commands, and imported false gods and shameful religious practices from their neighbors. They wanted to be like everyone else around them, with a king ruling rather than the Lord reigning as their King. The Bible shows us more wicked kings than good and notes countless sins committed even by consecrated priests. False prophets encouraged such behavior and those people who listened to the Word of God were often few and far between.

The Lord almost seems to have adopted an “I don’t care” attitude, since He told Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear ... they will know that a prophet has been among them” However, the Lord did care — He had adopted this rag-tag people back in the days of Abraham for the purpose of fulfilling His promise to send a Savior. Just because His people were faithless was no excuse for their God to act likewise. Therefore, Ezekiel was to call Israel back into a faith relationship that the Lord might keep this promise.

Rebellious people and self-centered boneheads didn’t disappear after Ezekiel’s time. They still lived when Jesus taught in Nazareth, where our Lord “was amazed at their lack of faith.” The resurrection didn’t end this rejection of God’s Word and will. Stephen was stoned, James beheaded, and the Church persecuted. Even within the Church, false teaching and selfish behavior often marred it. The Corinthians misunderstood and scorned the Sacrament. Most of the congregations named in Revelation had serious problems with faith and life.

Subsequent generations and centuries still haven’t seen the disappearance of rebellious people and self-centered boneheads. Look at the history of wars and persecutions. Slavery and slaughter mark much of the time from Christ to modern days. The Church at times neglected sound doctrine, allowing false teaching to take root. Even many who didn’t believe the lies tolerated them, whether because they disliked the pain of struggling for the truth or because they just wanted to get along.

Now we live in a torn and fragmented Christendom. The Gospel of reconciliation is compromised by those who add human works as a condition for salvation. Many deny baptismal regeneration, the real, body-and-blood presence of Christ in His Supper, or the forgiveness God grants through His pastors’ speaking the Absolution. They scoff at the absolutes of God’s Word, rather than humbling themselves when they hear, “Thus says the Lord God.”

We’ve ended up at a time when many see no real need for regular and frequent Communion. Some wait for weeks, months, or even years to baptize their children. They set their own opinions and feelings as judges of God’s Word rather than allowing the Word to judge their opinions and feelings. Where once the Lord’s called prophets were rejected or ignored, now many refuse to listen to His called pastors who proclaim the same message of sin condemned, sin forgiven.

We cannot just look around, pointing fingers at others — God points His own finger at each one of us. Pastors back down from saying and doing what they should because they fear being run off from churches. Parishioners say “Yes and Amen” to the Word of the Lord yet live lives which say, “Amen, but.” Instead of confronting sin in its midst, Christ’s Church on earth all too often ignores or tolerates it. Worried about offending friends and family by practicing Scriptural discipline upon erring members, churches instead offend God by refusing to admonish unrepentant sinners.

We ask God to forgive our trespasses, yet we hold grudges. We decry sinful desires among others but covet the things of our neighbor. Rather than trusting that God will richly provide all that we need, we worry about receiving our daily bread. Instead of responding generously to His love for us, we hold back from freely giving. We complain about declining membership rather than inviting and bringing unchurched or lapsed family members and friends. All to clearly, we see the problems before us and ignore the mighty hand of God which holds them back and keeps them from overwhelming us.

How much does the history of Christendom or the Lutheran Church differ from that of Israel? Is our congregation unlike the synagogues where Christ preached? How different is any of us from anyone living in Bible times? Did not our fathers often transgress against the Lord? Do not their descendants — including all of us — also sin against Him “to this very day”? The question shouldn’t be, “Have we sinned?” Rather, it should be, “What shall we do?”

We find an answer, beginning with, “Thus says the Lord God.”

The almighty and glorious God, before whom even the holy prophets and apostles fell in humility and fear, has provided a way. His Son humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, to die, and to be buried. He dedicated His earthly life and ministry to fulfilling His Father’s will in order to work forgiveness for willful sinners, the likes of which Ezekiel faced ... and the likes of which we face each time we look in the mirror.

Where we doubt, Jesus trusted. Where we compromise, Jesus remained unbendingly faithful. Where we blame others for our problems, Jesus forgave those who troubled Him to death. While others might weigh current opinions or keep on saying and doing what they’ve always done, Thus said our Lord Jesus Christ: “It is written” and “I say unto you.” He never ignored or excused evil — yet He never ran off those who sorrowed over their sins. He welcomed them, ate and drank with them, and forgave them. While the synagogues of His day — and the local congregations of ours — remained content to be insiders’ clubs, He invited the outsiders to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

While much of Ezekiel’s prophecy begins passages of destruction and death by saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” these words also introduce promises of reconciliation and restoration. In chapter 34, the Lord said, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (vv. 11-12)”

In chapter 36, the Lord said, “Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (vv. 22-26)”

The Lord continues to speak this way to His Church. Even though we profane His name by sinning against Him in thought, word, and deed, He declares that He will forgive, redeem, and restore us that we might live in His presence in righteousness and purity forever. Through His Word — delivered by faithful prophets, apostles, and pastors — thus says the Lord God:

Come to Me, you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Your sins are forgiven.

I have called you by name.

I will never leave you or forsake you.

I go to prepare a place for you.

Where I am, there you will be also.

These are the words of the just and holy Father — the Lord who hated sin so absolutely that He gave His only begotten Son up to die that it might be destroyed forever. These are the words of the kind and merciful Son of God — who willingly turned His back on heaven’s glory to become the Savior of the world. These are the words of the wise and wondrous Holy Spirit — who calls, gathers, and enlightens lost sinners by Word and Sacrament, joining us together in one holy, Christian and apostolic Church.

Through Baptism, the Lord has sprinkled the clean water of salvation on us. As He forgives us, so he also gives us new hearts that trust His Word and new spirits that do His will. In Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, the Lord showed new life for spiritually dead Israel, telling them, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. (37:12)” In the reality of Christ’s resurrection, He shows us that we, too, will be raised bodily from the dead and will live in blessing forever.

Our rebellious, self-centered boneheadedness is forgiven. Our shortcomings are more than made up by the redeeming work of Christ. We have purpose and direction as You trust His Word, believe in His Son, and confess Him before the world in all we say and do.

Thus says the Lord God.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Blogger The Homebrewing Lutheran Pastor said...

Excellent sermon, Pastor Snyder. It's also good to read that you usually don't write manuscripts, but sometimes write one to evaluate your sermon prep. It's kind of funny, but I do the same thing.

I've been an admirer of your blog for some time. Keep up the good and faithful work.

Rev. Dan Torkelson (aka The Homebrewing Lutheran Pastor).

17 July, 2006 09:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this wonderful law and gospel sermon. I am forwarding it on to my family.


18 July, 2006 03:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest to the Son of God! Glory be to the Lord Iesous Christos of Nazareth, and to his Father in heaven! Glory be to the Holy Spirit! Glory be to the Trinity, 3 in 1, Father Son and Holy Ghost! Hallelujah!

21 July, 2006 10:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy Holy Holy!!!!!

21 July, 2006 10:15  
Blogger Drew said...

How do I submit questions for your "answers"? I've got some questions regarding the Lutheran position on the believer's eternal security and what it means when a believer sins willfully. Thanks.

Andrew Hall

30 July, 2006 14:32  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

How do I submit questions for your "answers"?

Just send me an email: askthepastor@xrysostom.com.

You might first use the search box at the top of the blog to look for things I've already written regarding some of your topics. I've already commented on eternal security and falling from the Faith (see Losing Salvation and Eternal Guarantee and Losing Your Salvation) and deliberate sins against God (see Cursing at God and The Unforgivable Sin; also, search for the word "wilfully" in this blog).

31 July, 2006 00:30  

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