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HOLY KEYS: A NEW HEART

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 12 May 24

A Sermon on Ezekiel 36:22-28 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Ezekiel 36:22-28  English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

22 “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 the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 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. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 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. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

HOLY KEYS: A NEW HEART

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

He Gathers

Some people never learn. Some never even want to know. Some live in complete denial of whom they were created to be. Is it possible to change that script? Yes, God can.

My father smoked himself to death. I watched it happen. I saw him take his last gurgling breath. I have never felt so helpless in my life. And I kept smoking for most of the next nine years.

My brother drank himself to death. This past Ascension day, it was 32 years since he died at age 46, miraculous that he had lasted that long after years and years of self-abuse. I couldn’t watch it happen. The night before Mother’s Day our Mama saw her firstborn take his last breath. But, for another fourteen years, I didn’t stop drinking, sometimes heavily when I was sad or forlorn.

It’s bizarre how an otherwise intelligent person can take in observable, measurable data and still persist in denial of that which is soul-killing, accumulating a bucket full of sorrow drop by drop.

Perhaps you’ve heard J.R.R. Tolkien’s phrase: not everyone who wanders is lost. But a lot of wanderers are indeed lost and do not know it. More than a few go from experience to experience and say it’s joie de vivre (the joy of being alive). It’s hard to admit to being all about me. It’s difficult to say the words, “I was wrong” or even “I am wrong.” It’s hardest of all to say, “God, help me”; “Lord, save me”; “Jesus, Master, deliver me.” Why? Changing the script is the death of me.

In 721 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and made up of ten of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob: Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. The prophets, Amos and Hosea, had warned the kings, the priests, and the people that breaking covenant with God would result in defeat and death. Tragically, they did not listen.

The southern kingdom of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, the home of the Temple where God put His name, and with its kings descended from David: did not learn. Most of its kings did not listen to God or to the prophets whom He sent. Most did not even want to know. Most lived in complete denial of whom they were created to be and of what God had called them to be. Judah fell to the Chaldean empire, with its capital in Babylon; Judah’s entire leadership class was carried into exile through two deportations. No more Jerusalem. No more Temple. No more king. No more living in the Promised Land. Tragically, the oldest were in exile for seventy years.

The Lord GOD called Ezekiel, a priest, to be His prophet. The Spirit of the living God fell on and even inhabited Ezekiel, who, then, spoke God’s Word of promise to the lost, the shattered, the unholy, the clueless, the helpless, finally, to those who, at last, understood the truth about themselves. Only, the thrice holy God could graciously gather them to Himself and change them.

God the Holy Spirit gathers. He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies (makes holy). God can.

He Sprinkles

Some people never learn. Some never even want to know. Some live in complete denial of whom they were created to be.

When it’s all about me, and that’s been reinforced throughout one’s life, a person can live from day to day, year to year, with a kind of hopelessness that says: that’s just the way it is. When it’s all about me, and that’s been reinforced throughout one’s life, a person can live from day to day, year to year, with the sense: that’s just the way I am. When it’s all about me, and that’s been reinforced throughout one’s life, a person can live from day to day, year to year, with a strong sense of entitlement, you know: that’s how it ought to be because I am most special of all.

We are not born randomly. We are not born innocent despite how much our family may love us. We are not born with the ability to save ourselves. We are born sinful and unclean, in bondage to sin, death, and evil, and unable to free ourselves. Even when we do not have a name for the restlessness within us, we yearn for God, because He has hardwired that into us. And we can chase after a lot of idols (people, things, dreams, goals) and even think we’ve arrived at contentment like the rich fool who, in the Lord Jesus’ parable, built bigger and bigger barns (Luke 12:16ff). And, one may never learn, because not wanting to know, and denying God, the time for mercy has expired… not through God’s unwillingness but through one’s own refusal to listen and learn.

God’s people had suffered the logical consequences of having other gods, of chasing idols, of having closed their ears and hardened their hearts. They were unclean and needed a bath. They were in need of a new heart and a new spirit. They could not do that for themselves. God could.

Everyone needs God to save them and deliver them. The God, who is a community within Himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) wants none to be lost, none to remain ignorant, unknowing, and in denial of whom He created us to be. The Father sent the Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to be both truly God and truly human, because that is the only way He could save us. There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood. Jesus, truly God and truly human, came to be the spotless, precious Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for my sins and yours and those of the whole world. He died in my place and yours, for my sins and yours, in order that we might become who we were created to be in the first place. Jesus is the new Adam, the firstborn from the dead, and when we are sprinkled with water in Holy Baptism, we are joined to His saving death and glorious resurrection. His Father says, “You are my beloved child for Jesus’ sake.” The Father pours out His Holy Spirit upon us through His Son, and we are made a new creation.

He Gives

The resolutely hard-hearted never learn. The resolutely close-minded do not even want to know. Those resolutely stuck in denial of whom God has created them to be are like Sisyphus in Hades, who could never get that great stone up the hill before it rolled back down again and again.

But those to whom the Holy Spirit has shown their hard-heartedness. And those to whom the Holy Spirit has shown their wrong-headedness. And those to whom the Holy Spirit has poured the Light of Christ into their darkness. Yes, those whose sins have been washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ: They have learned, have come to know, and indeed no longer deny that it is only the sheer grace and mercy of God the Father in Jesus Christ that has made them new through no effort or merit of their own. If you are not baptized, please talk with me.

The old sinner inside each of us lingers until we draw our final breath in our mortal flesh. Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh never weary of trying to deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins (Lord’s Prayer, The Sixth Petition). This is why the Holy Spirit gathers us by the Word of God, The Father sprinkles us and claims us as His children, and the Son gives us His own Body and most precious Blood to eat and drink that we may grow more and more into His likeness. For we were created to be a servant people who love God and neighbor by serving and so be wholly His.

Dear ones, this world is passing away day after day. And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). We are Easter people. We are people of irrepressible hope. We do not look to earthly princes to save us. They cannot. We do not delude ourselves that we can build the kingdom of God on earth. We cannot. We will not try to make God’s story conform to human stories that leave us in the center that belongs to God alone. No. No. No.

In Holy Baptism, God gives us new hearts and a new Spirit. Caught between what is and what will be, the baptized pray David’s words: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). As the Holy Keys announce to us the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, we trust God’s promise. We will be made new with all things at the last. The old will pass away. Then, we, at last, face to face will join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven eternally praising the one God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy…Hosanna in the Highest!”

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Keys: A New Heart

Praying

“Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens so that he might fill all creation with his presence: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; 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, 1340).

Listening

Ezekiel 36:22 “…but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations…”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “If we are lax, we should be afraid and humble our thinking with the thought of that judgment that cannot be bribed. Let us tremble at the approach of that dread day and the thought that our actions provoke blasphemy against God” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Ezekiel, 118).

Ezekiel 36:23 “And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name… profaned among the nations.”

St. Clement [1st century Bishop of Rome, Italy]: “You brought into being the everlasting structure of the world by what you did. You, Lord, made the earth. You who are faithful in all generations, righteous in judgment, marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating, prudent in making creation endure, visibly good, kind to those who trust in you” (118).

Ezekiel 36:25 “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses…”

St. Jerome (Late 4th – early 5th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “Careful consideration should be given to what a new heart and a new spirit is given when the water [of Holy Baptism] has been poured and sprinkled” (118).

Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “But the grace of God is always good and brings about a good will in a person who before was possessed of an evil will. It is by this grace, too, that this same good will, once it begins to exist, is expanded and made so strong that it is able to fulfill whatever of God’s commandments it wishes, whenever it does so with a strong and perfect will” (118-119).

Ezekiel 36:28 “You shall dwell in the land … and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

St. Augustine: “God promises that he will cause them to do those things that he commands to be done. Nor indeed does he here overlook the merits, but rather the evil deeds, of those to whom he shows that he will return good things for evil, by the very fact that he causes them to have good works from that point on, when he causes them to carry out the divine commands” (119).

Reflecting

Do I come to the services of God’s house trusting that there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation freely given me in the Word and Sacraments?

Learning

Table of Duties

Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service

What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors

“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17) (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child, youth, and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the responsibilities of the laypersons to their pastor(s). Pay attention to the particulars of Paul’s instruction to Timothy and the Church in Corinth and Galatia, and to the anonymous sermon to the Hebrews. Discuss not only the importance of financial support for the Church’s ministry but also of receiving from pastors the care of souls. This discussion could take place at mealtime over several days. Be sure to pray for the pastors who serve this congregation.
  4. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but always 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.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year 2, Week of Easter 7).
  5. If you are already a confirmed Lutheran, please consider attending the New Member Orientation on Saturday, May 25, from 9 – 11:30 a.m. To register, please email: dcapozio@stmatthewsch.org

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.”