17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God who is revealed in Jesus. Amen
I am one who loves words
I believe in the power of language
but I also realize that there are times
when actions speak louder than words,
despite the ability of words
to convey thoughts and feelings, intentions and regrets
so when I want to know about the character of a person,
I look at how they’ve acted
because actions reveal the un-nuanced truth of our lives,
they show just what we’re willing to do,
our priorities and yes even our weaknesses,
they reveal who we are.
The same goes for God.
Over the years,
God spoke a lot to the people,
God made promises,
entered into covenant agreements
and these were the foundation of the relationship
between the people and God,
but what built the relationship
was how God kept the promises,
giving Abraham and Sarah a son,
preserving the people through famine and sibling rivalry
and leading the people from slavery in Egypt into freedom
and eventually to the promised land.
And of course this relationship was a two way street,
sometimes the people kept up their end of the covenant
and sometimes, a lot of times they broke it
and in response
there were consequences
because that is what God promised would happen,
but there was also always a way forward in the relationship,
when the people repented,
realized the error of their ways,
said they were sorry and promised to do better in the future
God forgave them and the relationship continued.
Given a choice
God will always accept repentance and renewal of relationships
over punishment for a transgression,
and just how willing God is to do this
is born out in our human reaction to God’s willingness to forgive
“that’s not fair” we’ve cried throughout the ages
when God has forgiven the repentant
(and of course it’s always not fair when it is someone else, someone we don’t particularly like that God forgives, we tend not to protest God’s forgiveness of ourselves).
We hear this protest in our first reading from Ezekiel,
God is set on forgiving the people who broke the law
but now have turned away from their wickedness
and the other people cry “that’s not fair”
“What is fair?” God responds
“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God, Turn, then, and live”
Again and again throughout history
God chooses forgiveness,
God chooses life,
even when it doesn’t seem fair,
this is who God is, in both word and deed.
Is this how you think of God?
So often when we think of God
we get distracted by big words and ideas
that frankly originated with humans,
omnipotent- all powerful,
omnicient- all knowing,
and when we focus so much on these things
that other people have said about God
and we compare it with what is going on in our lives
it all seems so unfair,
we say with Mary at the tomb of her brother Lazarus,
‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died”
all the while overlooking the fact
that God is right in front of us,
in the form of God’s ultimate action and revelation, Jesus.
If we really want to know God,
what God wants for and from the world and us,
we look to Jesus.
God’s Word turned into action.
In his letter to the Philippians
Paul writes to build up the community
and encourage them to live out their faith,
as part of his encouragement
he quotes an ancient hymn,
describing the actions of God in Jesus,
actions that speak to the truth of who God is
far better than those big words that get thrown around
or any post that you’re supposed to forward on email or facebook.
The hymn goes:
“Christ Jesus. who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
are marked by solidarity and presence
in and with creation through
becoming one of us,
and humility- living in service to others
even to the point of death on the cross.
Our God is not one who is far removed from us
who dictates that future at whim,
our God is alongside us
suffers with us,
forgives us and finds a way forward
even when the future looks bleak
even as bleak as a cross and a tomb.
This is the God that Paul has shared with the Philippians,
and having reminded them of this
he turns their attention to their own lives,
their own actions which reveal their nature
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” he says
this is not to say that Paul expects the Philippians
to earn salvation through their actions,
rather the grace of God demands a response in kind,
inspired by the awe of being in the presence of God,
“for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
And that is awe inspiring,
God is at work in and through you and me,
what we do reveals who God is to other people,
people for whom it is not too late
because with God it is never too late for repentance,
for actions oriented toward God,
actions that are louder than the words we speak.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.