"Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God."
Sermon for Exaudi Sunday : The Sunday after the Ascension 5/24/20
When You Add It All Up
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Some people believe that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel. That is so probably because the Old Testament contains the most concise and explicit summary of the Law, the Ten Commandments, and the New Testament reveals with such clarity and simplicity the Gospel. But the Gospel is woven throughout the Old Testament, and the Law is clearly stated throughout the New Testament. The first Gospel promise is in Genesis 3:15, and the Law is nowhere clearer or more demanding than in the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Scripture reveals both Law and Gospel.
Our text is merely seven verses long. Nevertheless, there is clear and brutally frank Law in it, and the sweetest Gospel promises. God speaks a harsh truth about the people of ancient Israel, and, I suspect, more than just a little truth about us. Then He makes sweet promises to them, and to us. He speaks about Baptism, and about conversion, and about Pentecost, and about saving us. So, when you add it all up, God is speaking to us, through Ezekiel. Our theme, then, is, "When You Add It All Up."
Ezekiel is profound preaching of the Law. God says through Ezekiel that He had to destroy Israel and drive His people into exile. It was part of the covenant which they broke egregiously. God says, in effect, that if He had permitted them to continue without striking and punishing them, He would have become an accomplice – He would share in their sin.
Ezekiel even describes the sins in the chapters surrounding our text. He says that the priests were bringing Idols into the house of God and sacrificing to them at the altar of God. He accuses the unfaithful and uncaring religious leaders and teachers of fleecing the flock and growing fat at their expense, without ever feeding them or caring for them or protecting them from the wolves. That meant they took advantage of the people without serving them with the truth or protecting them from all that is false in the world's religions that surrounded them. He said it like this, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered."
God wasn't talking about real sheep, but people. He wasn't talking about real food, but the Word. He wasn't talking about real wool, but the offerings of the people. He wasn't talking about real beasts of the field as predators on His people, but false teachers, and the false religions around them.
God also charges the people themselves. He speaks of the fat sheep and the lean. Listen to a few verses from Ezekiel 34: "And as for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet? And as for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet, and they must drink what you foul with your feet!'" Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another."
What God is referring to is the domination of one child of God by another – the rich against the poor, the strong personalities over against the weak, the aggressive or powerful over against the timid or the mild. They were taking advantage of one another. They were manipulating one another. They were getting what they wanted out of their religion, and closing the doors to others without regard for their needs. They were taking advantage as though their religion was theirs and for them alone, and as though they had no responsibility toward each other.
Ezekiel tells them that because of them, the name of God is blasphemed among the heathen. People mocked their religion and mocked their God because of the behavior of the Israelites. "And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight."
When you add it all up, the children of Israel were acting like the heathen around them, and worse than the heathen. Because of their behavior, their lack of religiousness, their lack of faithfulness, the name of God was profaned. It was made into something common and dirty – like a curse word – rather than something holy and precious and to be treated with respect. It was because of their unfaithfulness and lack of sincere religion, that God destroyed Israel and drove them into exile under Nebuchadnezzar.
I shudder to draw comparisons. Christians are mocked and their God is ridiculed because of what Christians do and say, what they permit and what they deny. Lutherans are the butt of jokes and Lutheranism is shamefully mocked and our faith is caricatured grotesquely because of Lutherans. We often seem neither to trust God nor appreciate our own faith. Too often we do not live as the children of a holy God, or as those who must stand before the righteous Judge of all mankind. We treat morality as temporary and changeable. We often treat worship as disposable. Far too often, you treat the treasures of the Sacraments as optional and meaningless and merely human acts with no real power or significance. We treat each other like dirt. Lutheranism is profaned among the unbelievers because of Lutherans.
And what about Immanuel? How are we seen in the community? Are we viewed as the home of sound doctrine and holy people? Is this congregation seen as the place to go – or the place to flee from? I am not talking about how you look at Immanuel, but what you communicate to your friends and neighbors. How does the community see us? Are we the home of God's holy people who live in Christian love with one another, or is the name of God profaned because of us? What they see is what you show them and what you tell them – not what you see. When you add it all up, our faith and our faithfulness, or lack of it, is what people see and hear. How they evaluate Immanuel and Lutherans, and sometimes Christians as a whole depends entirely on what you show them and tell them.
In our text, God says that He will prove Himself holy by how He will deal with His people. Ezekiel writes, "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God."
What He is talking about is the Gospel. God gathers His people, cleanses them with water, creates a new heart within them, pours out His Spirit upon them, and gives them a land to live in. That is the Gospel. The gathering of His people is the Church. The sprinkling with clean water is Baptism. The cleansing from all our filthiness is the forgiveness of sins purchased on the cross at the price of the pains and suffering and death of the very Son of God. It is our sins that are our idols – or we make idols of ourselves. When God calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts and makes us His people, He gives us the new heart, taking our stony and sinful hearts and giving us the hearts of tender flesh, hearts that can love, and forgive, one another. He pours out His Spirit through Word and Sacrament and teaches us to love Him and do His Will by forgiveness and grace.
When you add it all up, what God would have us known for is not our quarrels or our friendliness, but for His grace and love in Jesus Christ. God made His name holy among the nations by the rescue and salvation of His people Israel. What God would have us known for is Jesus Christ, that He died on the cross for us, and that we have been redeemed and made holy by His blood and by His love. God would make His name holy among us and the people we live in the midst of by Baptism, and by our cheerful and willing witness to His goodness grace and love in Jesus Christ. He would have us be known for living out the forgiveness He has won for us, and His name made holy through us -- His holiness demonstrated through our faith, our love for one another, and our faithfulness to Him. When you add it all up, God would have us known less for what we do, and more for what He has done for us in love.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)