11 October 2020

Book: Ezekiel

We are Humble

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

James Northcote was an English portrait artist who painted around 2000 portraits in his lifetime, but he also published a book of Fables. In it he tells the story of a man idleness far more than working. He would complain that he would work by the sweat of his brow to get his food. Because his station in life was so difficult. The man would blame Adam for eating the forbidden fruit when he was surrounded by every gratification of his desires. 

One day he was out in his Lord’s field working and as usually he was murmuring and complaining under his breath. His Lord overheard him complaining and said to him, “This is your day, because no longer will you have to complain, but you can now enjoy a life of ease and all of your desires will be fulfilled.” And so the man lived in the manor and every day a multiple course meal was provided for him. 

But every day among the dishes was one small dish that was covered. The Lord told the man that under no uncertain terms that he was not to open the dish, and if he did he would be sent back to work. For a while the man complied, but then he could no longer resist. He gently lifted up the cover and out jumped a mouse. And before the man could grab the mouse and return it to the dish, the mouse ran out of his reach. 

Of course, the Lord found out and swiftly sent him back to the fields but said, “Do not curse Adam anymore, but know that it is your own act which has doomed you to labor. And as you have brought it on yourself, never blame those actions on others, which if you were in their situation you probably would have done it too.”

Can’t you almost hear that man quoting the proverb of the Israelites, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? They used the proverbs as to say they were paying the consequences of the previous generations actions. The prophet was speaking to Israel in the early days of the Babylonian captivity. This was the first wave of exiles taken from Jerusalem, including King Jehoiachin. These exiles were in a strange land, among strange people, with no access to the temple. And they thought they were getting a raw deal.

In their minds it was their parents who committed grievous sins, who cheated and stole from one another, who took advantage of the poor and who were unjust, and worse of all they were idolaters. It was their parents who should have suffered the pains of being lead 900 miles from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was their parents who should have suffered the pains of being resettled among enemies. It was their parents who should have faced the prospect of death in a foreign land. This, to them, was anything but justice. This was inequity. This was God’s arbitrary application of his own anger.

It’s not as if that generation in exile were actually without sin, in fact in the verses between verse 4 and very 25, God calls them out for the kinds of sins that they have committed and they are the exact same kind of sins their parents committed. Idolatry, sins of the flesh, taking advantage of the poor, and injustice. And I can almost hear how the Israelites cast their blame too. They either blind themselves to their own sins by focusing on the sins of the previous generation, or they did see their sins and they chalked it up to getting caught in a cycle of sin.

Living in sin while shifting blame is an extraordinarily dangerous way to live.

Professor, writer, TED talker Brené Brown tells a story about how she should be a member of Blamers Anonymous. It was in the morning and she was drinking a cup of coffee while wearing a pink sweater and a white pair of pants. She drops the mug. The mug shatters and coffee splatters all over her. And as soon as that mug she blames her husband. “Dang it, Steve,” she said. Her husband plays water polo with a group of friends and the previous evening he went out to play and she had asked him to be home by 10pm because she can’t fall asleep until he’s home and he didn’t get home until around 10:30. She went to bed later than she thought and so that mug she was drinking was her second cup of coffee which she wouldn’t have need if she had gone to bed if Steve had gotten home at 10.

So when something bad happens do you ever find yourself looking for whose fault it is? The Israelites had a communal view of life, they could let themselves off the hook for their personal sin because they were a part of a greater community that had been chosen by God. We however live in an individualistic society, and so you would think that we would be much more comfortable with taking personal accountability and yet we aren’t. Of course we could blame Adam and simply say we are learning from him when he tried shifting blame in the very beginning, “It was the woman you gave from me.” But because we are individualistic, accepting blame could tarnish the view both that I have of myself and that others have of me.

We’re really good at finding places to cast blame. “It’s my parents fault I turned out like this. They were too hard on me. They didn’t discipline me enough. They didn’t show me affection. They spoiled me.”

Or maybe it’s the environment we were raised in, “It was my hometown community. It was my friends. It was the school I went to. The taught me to behave this way. It’s the other parents I found myself around. It’s not my fault.”

Or maybe we chalk it up to our identity, “This is just who I am. Everyone knows me as the sassy mom. Everyone thinks I’m a jerk anyway.”

But here’s what makes blaming incredibly dangerous: it is opposite of repentance. Repentance is acknowledging your personal sin, confessing to God your personal sin, and turning away from your personal sin. Blaming fails to acknowledge sin, sin leads to death, and so blaming can kill us.

“If a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.”

Imagine you are walking on along a road and the road seems nice. In fact you were directed to go down that road by someone. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and the trees are beautiful. It seems lovely, but the road gets more and more rocky and instead of being bright the trees crowd in and it’s dark and ominous but you keep going all the while cursing the one who told you to go that way. The road is leading you to your destruction and you keep walking down it, what God is doing today is calling you back. Turn back to me! Come back!

“Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” Taking personal responsibility for my personal sin does take a new kind of attitude, it takes a new kind of will, a new kind of disposition and I am not sure about you but I don’t always see that kind of attitude, will, and disposition in myself.

God calls you back today precisely because he does not want you to meet your downfall, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” God is just and he deals with us individually, but he is not without care. He is not without love. He cares enough to make you aware of your sin, to call you back from it, but he also cares enough to work repentance in your heart.

If God does not desire the death of the wicked then he must do something about it and he does. In the place of your blame shifting he has cast onto you and attributed to you the righteousness of his own son. He took from you your own personal sin and he took the blame for them. In the place of the death you faced for your own personal sin, he credits to you the life of his own son. You will not die. 

If God does not desire the death of the wicked then he must do something about it. And he does. Near the end of the book of Ezekiel God says to his people, “25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” God has taken your unrepentant heart and cleaned it and made it alive. He has taken your unrepentant heart and has given you a desire to take acceptance for your sin, to confess your sin, to turn from your sin, but most of all to trust in his promise of forgiveness.

But he also gives you his Spirit and it is his Spirit who is mightily at work in you strengthening you and softening your heart and opening your eyes to the will of your Sovereign God.