PENTECOST 17, A – October 1, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Ezek. 18:1-4, 25-32; Phil. 2:1-4, 14-18; Matt. 21:23-27

    “Behold,” declares the Lord God, “all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine.” Ezek. 18

 

A few weeks ago my family and I vacationed on Nantucket, an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of MA. As I sat outside at night, spread out before me were 1,000’s upon 1,000’s of stars, and even the Milky Way galaxy. What an amazing sight! “Praise the Lord!” says Ps. 147. “He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power! His understanding is beyond measure.” How true! Great is our Lord, and greatly to be praised!

 Now, how do I get from Nantucket and the stars, and God’s greatness, to you sitting here in these pews? You know, a couple of days ago I thought I knew exactly what to say in this sermon, but then the more I wrote the more I deleted. Rightly speaking for God, proclaiming His authority along with His goodness and mercy, is hard. But, that’s not just my problem. You don’t have to stand up here, but you also have to rightly speak for God, with both your words and your life. Boy, is that hard!

 Authority is at the heart of our readings today. In Ezekiel 18 we hear Israel disagreeing with God’s authority to judge. Jesus is challenged, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Struggling with authority is as old as the Garden of Eden.

 God is the ultimate authority. The stars are one of many things that reveal this. But, God’s greatness is not only seen in the stars. It is above all seen in you and me. We human beings are the crown of His creation! Even more than He is involved with the stars, in not only creating but also naming and guiding them, does He wish to be involved in your life. He wishes to name you and guide you.

 “Behold, all souls are mine,” God says in Ezek. 18. God is in your life and over your life. Your life comes from Him, and you will return to Him. “I will judge you, every one according to his ways,” He says. He sets the rules, and His ways are just.

 Ok, so much for God saying this. How do you show that you not only believe this but are happy with this? Well, certainly a good and faithful life shows this. God says in Ezekiel 18, “When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die.” Showing that God has authority over your life means following His commandments every day. This is as important as eating is every day!

Ø  It’s today that matters. You won’t get out of a speeding ticket by telling a police officer, “But I drove the speed limit yesterday!” Even so, you must honor God with your life every day!

 But of course, we sin daily; and your Lord knows this even better than you do. But here is where you can really show that God’s authority over your life is a blessing. What do you do when you are confronted with your sin? A common response is blaming others, or even God, and trying to dodge the responsibility for doing wrong. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ez. 18) Why do we do this? Well, we don’t want to be punished, or perhaps looked down upon and so suffer some other consequence.

 Know this about God: He exercises His authority for us, to save us. This is what we see especially in Jesus, the Son of God who shares in the Father’s eternal essence and nature. God sent Him into the flesh for us. Jesus humbled Himself for us sinners.

Ø  He dealt compassionately with everyone, even with His enemies. Even though they rejected His authority and talked with Him primarily to trip Him up and get Him to say something that showed Him to be in opposition to God or to the Roman government, He patiently talked with them.

Ø  And above all, Jesus humbled Himself to bear the accountability for our sins and be punished for them. “The soul who sins shall die,” God warns; and Jesus became that soul. He died under God’s judgment when He bore our sins in His body on the cross.

God sent Him for this, to die for your sins and save you from their judgment.

 Do you want to honor and praise this great God? Confess yourself a sinner before Him and look to Him for His mercy in Christ, for the generous forgiveness He gives in Him. “The Lord lifts up the humble,” Ps. 147 says. He wants to be the God of the humble, of the sinner. Do you want to honor and praise your Savior? He became flesh and gave His life to forgive your sins and be your Savior. Humbly bow before Him and confess your sins, that you might hear His voice of forgiveness. Humbly bow before Him and open your mouth to receive His body which was crucified and His blood which was shed for your forgiveness! “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” God says. “So turn, and live.” Looking to Him as a God of forgiveness and so humbling yourself by confessing your sins is the truest praise, the highest and most God-pleasing expression of faith!

 After doing this, you can then praise Him with your life of good works; of Christ’s works. Paul puts it this way in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Will humbling yourself in this way before others make any difference? Well, one of the members of the congregation which received this letter had been Paul’s jailer. Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison in Philippi for preaching Christ. The jailer had even put their feet into stocks. They responded by praying and singing hymns. During the night there was an earthquake, and the doors of the prison broke open. When the jailer saw this he was going to kill himself, for he figured his prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out, “Don’t! We are all here!” The man fell before him and cried, “What must I do to be saved?” He must have heard their prayers and hymns, and he certainly saw their mercy in not running away. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” Paul responded. The jailer took them to his home and tended to their wounds, and Paul baptized him and his family. God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus saved them, and God was praised by them.

 Jesus says that when you are in heaven you will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [your] Father.” (Matt. 13:43) As you humbly confess your sins, look to Him as a God of forgiveness in Christ, and then humbly live that forgiveness, you “shine as lights in the world” right now, Paul says in Philippians 2. God’s greatness and authority is rightly seen and praised in the stars that fill the skies. May He above all be seen and praised for the forgiveness that shines into, and then forth from, our lives! In the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.