The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 September 2023
A Sermon on Ezekiel 33:7-11 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Ezekiel 33:7-11 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Is-rael, thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away be-cause of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
HOLY COMMUNION: DELIVERS
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our Rational Lies
There is no safe space anywhere in this life… especially in this church. People have been walking out the door of this church since the first day I walked in, because I refuse to lie to you about who and what you are and who and what I am. You and I are sinners who are going to die, be-cause that’s the only way God can get through our thick skulls that He is God and we are not.
There is not one person in here who is not going to die, at the very least, biologically. Despite the number of gray hairs on my head and in this room, there is no guarantee that anyone here has more than right now. I learned as a 27-year-old chaplain in a major metropolitan trauma center that we are all living on borrowed time. Young. Old. Black. White. Brown. Male. Female. Straight. Gay. Christian. Atheist. Republican. Democrat. Socialist. Independent. Rich. Poor. You’ve got right now. Listen or don’t listen. You’re on borrowed time. No safe place for you.
In churches, lecture halls, bars, boats, restaurants, mansions, hovels, condos, hotels, at this very moment, people are living rational lies. People are telling each other and telling themselves rational lies. And the worst of it is the breaking of the 2nd commandment by calling God what is not God and by calling upon gods that can never be God: telling rational lies about being OK.
God sent Ezekiel, a 6th century BC priest, to tell the truth to the exiled, deposed political and spiritual leaders from Jerusalem who were captives in Babylon because they had told and lived rational lies. And it was about to get uglier, because the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem. Judahites were all captives in Babylon, because they had feared, loved, and trusted other gods.
God’s Honest Truth
The LORD God told Ezekiel that he had to speak God’s hard Word of judgment. If Ezekiel did not warn God’s people to turn from their wicked ways, God would hold Ezekiel responsible. If Ezekiel called God’s people to repent and they didn’t, then God would deliver Ezekiel.
But, we may lie to ourselves that this is a different God than the One that Christians call upon. Knowing what we know about Ezekiel’s captive audience, we may say: “Now, wait a minute. These people are victims. They need to be affirmed. They need to be comforted. God wouldn’t do what this says. Ezekiel must be really mean. Maybe he has psychological problems, anger is-sues, in need of deep therapy. Maybe Ezekiel is just projecting onto God his own stuff.”
No. There is no safe space anywhere in this life, and until we accept God’s honest Truth about ourselves, He cannot help us. All the remaking of God in our own image or remaking people and things into our gods… none of this can change that we are all actual sinners who must die. Tell yourself pretty lies, seek out preachers and teachers to tell you pretty lies, the clock is ticking.
The Crucified God
The truest words spoken by this church are said on Good Friday when we sing: “I crucified Thee.” Centuries of blaming Jews as Christ-killers is a rational lie told by sinners projecting their guilt onto the Lord Jesus’ own kinsmen. No. I crucified Jesus. You crucified Jesus when we all feared, loved, and trusted other gods, people, things, yes, mostly the poor, miserable sinner in the mirror. We can spend thousands of dollars on therapy and never get better. We can gain the whole world and lose our souls. Indeed, it was a mercy that God’s people lost everything in which they had trusted and came face to face with God’s honest Truth, because He couldn’t help them until they could no longer tell each other and themselves rational lies… and believe them.
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and you are wicked and so am I. We can retreat to our so-called safe spaces. Yes, professional liars in polo shirts and clerical collars can turn Jesus into the Affirmer-in-chief, the Liberator of the oppressed, and a mirror image of themselves. But they are wicked, and the blood of those who die in iniquity because of their lies will be on their heads. For God sent His Son Jesus to be born of the Virgin Mary in order to save sinners. But if you and I cannot admit we are wicked, we are sinners, we are sick unto death, and we have told and lived rational lies, then the LORD Jesus cannot befriend those pretending they are well.
The very real problem of Judah in Babylon was they were cut off from the Temple where blood sacrifices were offered for their sins. There has never been forgiveness of sins without blood sac-rifices. That is why God so loved the wicked that He sent His Sinless Son, His perfectly obedient Son, to die in the place of the wicked. I crucified Jesus. You crucified Jesus. Listen up. No mat-ter how many times people may pray the sinner’s prayer, no one’s sins are covered with the Blood of Jesus until he or she has been baptized with water into Jesus’ death and resurrection!
The Medicine of Immortality
We’ve been focusing on Holy Communion all year long as one of the seven marks of Christ’s Church. The first Christians understood that as they daily shared the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul all repeat the LORD Jesus’ command to eat and drink His Body and Blood in the Host and the Cup for the forgiveness of sins. Our LORD Jesus says clearly in John’s Gospel: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life within you” (6:53). Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and a disciple of John the Beloved Disciple, called the Holy Communion “the Medicine of Immortality,” be-cause receiving Jesus in the Host and Cup we share in the eternal life and love He has shared eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Ignatius may have been one of the children that Jesus held in His arms. As an old man, Ignatius was arrested, taken to Rome, and fed to lions in the Coliseum in 108 AD. Having consumed the Medicine of Immortality, he was not afraid to die.
For the person who has taught or been taught that Holy Communion is not essential to worship, or that it’s just a representation and not really Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood, we can only ask why that person doesn’t believe Jesus, His Word, and the Church’s witness across space and time especially from the earliest martyred eyewitnesses of Jesus? They died rather than to give up the one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, and one God and Father of us all.
God’s honest Truth about you and me is that we are terminally ill, the wicked in need of daily repentance, and sinners in need of saving. Even if you’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, gotten com-pletely immersed in Baptism as a youth or an adult, confessed your sins in worship and even if you have received an ecstatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit: none of that experience changes one bit that you are living in the Babylon of your sins and will die because of them. Everyone needs Jesus always and especially at the hour of his death. Jesus has given to His Church on earth the command to receive Him often, because we need Jesus who is the Medicine of Immortality pre-sent in the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper. That’s His promise. Trust Him or don’t.
We learned this week in Crossways Bible Study that when you get Jesus wrong, you get ethics wrong. But when you know you are terminally ill, wicked in need of daily repentance, and a sin-ner in need of saving not once but at the hour of your death, then you can’t keep on believing rational lies. Receiving Jesus, the Medicine of Immortality, as the Friend of sinners means that you do more than remember what Jesus once did two thousand years ago on the cross.
Rather, receiving Jesus in the Host and Cup means Jesus goes with you into the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus goes with you into the desert where Satan tempts you with his lies. Jesus goes with you into the dark Gethsemane of doubt and fear. Jesus goes with you so that He may live in you and give you power to daily renounce the devil, his works, and his ways. Jesus goes with you to deliver you from sin, death, and the devil. That’s how Holy Communion delivers, because Jesus delivers when you receive Him with a hungry heart and confessing your sins. So that, as Jesus goes with you, you will go out to live as He lives. You will strive to (say it with me): pray daily, worship weekly, read the Bible, serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s, be in rela-tionship to encourage spiritual growth in others, and give of time, talents, and resources. For hav-ing been crucified with Him in Baptism your life is no longer your own. So, then, let the wicked repent and say, “Amen.”
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Communion: Delivers
“O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy
Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 620-621).
Ezekiel 33:7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel …”
St. Jerome [Late 4th – early 5th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: The watchman of the house of Israel can be understood as king or a prophet; the watchman of the church can be under-stood as to be the bishop or the presbyter who has been chosen by the people, in the reading of the Scriptures, recognizing and foreseeing what the future will hold, proclaiming to the people and correcting what is wrong” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Ezekiel, 99).
Ezekiel 33:8 “…and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way…”
St. John of Damascus [Late 7th – early 8th Arab monastic and theologian]: “I see the church … its cornerstone being Christ his Son, tossed on an angry sea, beaten by rushing waves, shaken and troubled by the assaults of evil spirits. Impious people seek to rend asunder the seamless robe of Christ and to cut his body in pieces: his body, which is the Word of God and the ancient tradition of the church. Therefore, I think it unreasonable to keep silence and hold my tongue” (99).
Ezekiel 33:11 “… As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…”
St. Caesarius [Late 5th – early 6th century Bishop of Arles, France]: “Let your charity believe devoutly and firmly that God never abandons a person unless he is first deserted by him. Although a person may have committed serious sins once, twice, and a third time, God still looks for him” (101).
Ezekiel 33:11 “… turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
St. Benedict [Late 5th – early 6th century founder of western monasticism in Nursia, Italy]: “We must prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions. What is not possi-ble to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace” (101).
Ezekiel 33:11 “…turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
St. John of Damascus: “For the wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him in the day that he turns from his wickedness. If he acts righteously and walks in the statues of life, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins that he committed shall be remembered against him. Because he has made the decree of righteousness, he shall live by it.” (101).
1. Do I sincerely repent daily of my sins and ask the Father to forgive, strengthen, and renew me through the gift of His Son’s true Body and most precious Blood in the Host and the Cup?
The Ten Commandments
AS THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD SHOLD TEACH THEM IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD.
The Second Commandment
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
“We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
• Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
• Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
• Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s. New Sunday School classes for all ages continue this morning. The Crossways Bible Study continues this week with Unit 52 (of 60) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 10 a.m. Newcomers and visitors welcome.
• Practice every day saying the second commandment and its explanation. Rehearse it with others in your household or with a Christian friend over the phone. Discuss what it is that God wants.
• Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily lectionary readings are on p.184 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 15 Pentecost).
• If you are already a confirmed Lutheran adult or have previously completed our New Dis-ciples Class for those new to the Lutheran church, please consider attending the New Mem-ber Orientation on Saturday, September 23, at 9 a.m. To register: email@example.com
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”