Sunday, May 8, 2016
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - Exaudi: Ez 36:22-28
Last weekend was the Marion Whirlwind soccer tournament. There are two seasons in the Marion recreation soccer league. There is a fall season and a spring season. Towards the end of the season, like other youth sports, all stars are selected and the all star team plays in a several tournaments.
Marion hosts its tournament every year in the spring – usually at the end of April. No doubt you know the saying, “April showers bring May flowers.” You know what else April showers also bring? – muddy soccer fields. Several times it has rained quite heavily around the time of the tournament and then during play. When hundreds of kids and adults walk back and forth over the same soaked ground you get mud – lots of it. The players end up soaked and covered in mud. The spectators end up wet with muddy shoes.
This past weekend it rained. It wasn’t the worst we have seen, but it did make everything very wet and muddy. As Amy and I were watching Michael’s team play, we noticed one little boy who was thoroughly enjoying the conditions. Behind where we were sitting there was a boy who had found a depression in the ground that was filled with mud. He sat down in the midst of the mud as he played with toys that he had brought. He jumped up and down in the mud, and then plopped down into it. It was obvious that he was having a great time.
Amy and I enjoyed watching the little boy. He looked so cute as he thoroughly enjoyed the mud and became absolutely filthy. Of course, one of the reasons we were able to enjoy the sight so much was because he was not our child. We did not have to worry about getting him into our vehicle without soiling the interior. We did not have to worry about taking him home and giving him a bath to wash off all that mud. We did not have to worry about washing those mud encrusted clothes.
In our Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel, the prophet describes how God is going to sprinkle clean water on Israel. He is going to wash away all of their uncleanness. And he is going to do more than that. He is going to give them a new heart and put his Spirit within them. As we continue to rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection during Eastertide and look toward the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, God’s Word comforts us with the knowledge that he has done both of these things for us through the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel wrote in the sixth century B.C. in Babylonia. He had been taken into exile there as part of a group of Judahites who were forced to leave their home in 597 BC by the Babylonians. Ezekiel lived at the end – the nation had degenerated into idolatry. They had even brought pagan gods into the temple in Jerusalem. Earlier in this book, God compared Judah to a whore who lusted after the Babylonians and publically fornicated, revealing her own nakedness. It’s not a pretty picture.
In a dramatic vision, Ezekiel saw Yahweh’s glory – his perceptible presence – depart from the temple. God had abandoned the people to their own sin and was bringing judgment. It arrived in 587 when God used the Babylonians to sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple and take the rest of the population into exile.
Ezekiel is a fascinating book because the first thirty three chapters all confront Judah’s sin and threaten judgment. They are all Law. Then, near the end of chapter thirty three a man who has escaped from Jerusalem comes to Ezekiel and says, “The city has been struck down.” And from this point on, everything in the book is about hope and restoration. It is Gospel.
The last fifteen chapters talk about how God will return Judah to their own land. But like the prophet Isaiah who lived some one hundred thirty years earlier, the return from exile is not just about returning to the land of Judah in the sixth century B.C. This rescue and return is described in language that goes so far beyond a simple trip back to a piece of land. Instead we find that the return from exile is a type. It is an action by God that points forward to something even bigger. It points forward to the end time salvation that God is going to provide.
Yahweh says at the beginning of our text, “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.”
Yahweh was Israel’s God. Yet the nation had acted like he wasn’t. God had used the Babylonians to punish his people, yet to the world the defeat of Yahweh’s nation made Yahweh look like he was weak and nothing. In all of this they had profaned God’s name.
Of course, you aren’t all that different. You haven’t set up a golden statue in your living room or sacrificed a child by fire to Molech, but you have dearly held false gods. You have your idols. They come in the form of money and sports; sex and gadgets; and so many other things that you treat as most important and most valuable.
Because of baptism you bear God’s name. And what do you then do? Luther says in the Small Catechism: “But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to the God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.” How easy it is to forget that you bear God’s name as you think and do and say whatever you want.
In our text God says he is going to act on behalf of his people. He is not going to do so because they have deserved it. Instead, he is going to act because it is true to his own character. Yahweh promises that he is going to bring them back to their own land. He did this in 538 B.C. after the Persians under King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and allowed the people to go home.
Yet in these last chapters of Ezekiel we find that the prophet is talking about more than just a return to the land. God describes the return of the people as resurrection from the dead. He says that his servant David will be the king over them. He shows Ezekiel a new temple with water flowing out of it that fills the land and makes the trees grow and bear fruit.
In our text God says, “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.” God says that he will make them clean from all their sin.
God provided the answer to all sin when the descendant of King David, Jesus Christ, died on the cross. He received God’s wrath against all sin in your place. And then on the third day he rose from the dead. He has not only provided forgiveness, but he has also begun the new life of the resurrection as the Spirit raised him from the dead.
Our God applied this forgiveness to you in Holy Baptism. There he washed away the filth of your sin as he sprinkled you with clean water. When you were baptized, you were clothed with Christ. Now when God looks at you, he no longer sees your sin. Instead, he sees Christ and his righteousness.
But in our text we learn that God has done more than just get you off the hook from the sin you have committed. He has acted to change you. We hear, “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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
At Easter we saw how the Holy Spirit raised Jesus Christ from the dead. The new life of the resurrection of the Last Day began with our Lord. Next week on Pentecost we will see the risen and ascended Lord pour forth the Holy Spirit upon his Church in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy about the last days.
Because of these events, you are living in the last days. And God has indeed given you a new heart and put his Spirit in you to cause you to walk in God’s ways. This too happened in baptism. There you are born again of water and the Spirit. There you received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit has done this you are a new creation in Christ.
That’s the “now” of God’s saving work in your life. It is true. It has meaning for the way you live. It means that God’s Spirit provides the resource by which you can live in Christ – by which you can do and say those things that are true to God’s will. It is the Spirit of Christ who is in you and helps you to live in the ways of Jesus: ways of love and service toward others.
Now there is certainly still a “not yet.” We call it the old man – all the ways that sin still clings to you and hinders you from living in the ways of Jesus. This too is real. The problem is that we often tend to think of this as our “default mode.” It becomes easy to expect that we are going to fail; to expect that we will sin. This is self serving because much of sin is selfish. But more than that it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who expect to fail, probably will.
But here’s the thing. The Spirit of Christ is more powerful than sin. How do I know this? Because the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. The Spirit overcame sin’s mightiest and final outcome – death.
The Spirit has given you new life – a life grounded in baptism and now sustained through the Means of Grace. But you are not a robot in this, guided by the Spirit with no intention or effort on your part. When it comes to creating faith, you can do nothing. But when it comes to living in the faith you do cooperate with the Spirit. He leads and you need to follow his leading. It needs to be goal for you in life. It needs to be something for which you expend effort.
Will you fail? Yes. It’s going to happen. The devil, the world and your own sinful nature are tough opponents. But when it does, you return to two foundational truths. First, you return to the fact that in repentance and faith you are forgiven. After all … you are baptized! God has washed away your uncleanness in baptism and he has clothed you with Christ.
And second you return to the fact that the Holy Spirit is in you. He has given you a new heart and is present to cause you to walk in the ways of Christ. He is in you and is more powerful than Satan, sin and death. After all, he raised Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day.