Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Progression

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2012
There is a progression in today’s Gospel reading and it’s the same progression begun in the Garden when God promised to Adam and Eve that He would send them a Savior. The irony is not lost on God, that at the moment of man’s fall into sin, God begins a progression in order to restore man to his previous good and blessed state. While the world seems to be in a constant regression, with natural disasters and individuals and groups of people causing disasters of their own on other people, there is a distinct progression God has been bringing about throughout history. This has absolutely nothing to do with the notion many people have that the human race continues to get better and will continue to accomplish greater and great achievements. This notion really is at the heart of God’s command to have no other gods. The first and foremost god in mind here is not gods of any other religion but of man himself. There’s no doubt we as a human race have achieved remarkable feats and there are many to come. It seems even more clear, though, that mankind continues not to progress, but to regress, going back again and again to that first sin Adam and Eve committed of wanting to be their own god; of feeding the sinful flesh and all its evil desires.

Whether things are getting worse or getting better or staying the same, there is a distinct progress in the midst of it all. God never stops in His relentless carrying out of His salvation work first promised there in the Garden and first begun. The very speaking of the promise was the very first act and work of God in this accomplishing of salvation. His Word has power and that is why even though Adam and Eve were told that in the day they would eat of the fruit of the tree they would surely die, God’s salvation was already in effect. They were not dead but rather given salvation.

Much of the Old Testament is history and in that history we see this progression. How many times must Adam and Eve have told the story to their sons and daughters of that fateful day in the Garden? How often must they have reminded their children of the amazing salvation God promised to them on that day and that in fact had already come into play as they were given mercy by their God whom they had thrown under the bus? Some of the descendents of Adam and Eve and their children were some of the well-known people we know from our being in the Scriptures. Abraham and Noah and David come to mind. There are many others. How often did these people marvel at the grace of God even as they often continued to question God and go their own way over God’s way, going back again and again to the same sin Adam and Eve had committed? Much of the history of the Old Testament reads like a lesson in, Did you learn anything from your ancestors?

Through it all was this progression. God at work in His people, calling them to repentance. Giving them His grace and mercy. Pointing them forward to the Savior He would send. A striking example of this is in today’s Old Testament reading. God sends Ezekiel to the Israelites, God’s very own people, and God calls them nations of rebels, people who have rebelled against Him. His message to them is judgment. He is calling them to repentance. That’s what God does for His people. He loves them and is unwilling to sit by while His people go their own way. That’s why God didn’t abandon Adam and Eve in the Garden when they had abandoned Him. He reached out to them, calling them to repentance, embracing them with His love and forgiveness.

God says to Ezekiel that if he will speak God’s Word to the people, whether or not they will take it to heart they will know that a prophet has been among them. God has continued all along to make known His Word to His people through people who are sinful as they are. When they speak it’s not their own words they speak. It’s not their own opinion. It’s not something new or progressive. It’s the same word of God that was first spoken in the Garden when Adam and Eve desperately needed to hear that God was still for them, would never give up on them, would always love them, would give them a Savior and salvation.

In our day and age we think we’re so far beyond all those in the past. We know more, we’ve achieved more, we’re on the cusp of spectacular things never dreamed of in former times. But who are we kidding? We’re no different than anyone else throughout history. We think we know better than God. Sounds a little bit like all those people who went before us, doesn’t it? We think we’re so advanced. Sounds a little bit like Adam and Eve thought they could be. We never learn. We continue to regress even as God continues His progression of coming to us in His Word and with His salvation.

Paul knew something of being advanced and beyond all others. In many ways he was. But when Jesus came to him to bring him to his senses, Paul realized—well, I’ll just let him do the describing of himself—he realized he was the chief of sinners. He came to see that he was no better than anyone who had gone before him, that he needed salvation as every other person, that his heart and soul were rotten to the core. And in his new life given him by Jesus he realized something else. That in this life on earth there are problems, and hardships, and trials, and that he was very, very weak. His realization of this as a new creation in Christ was that he could, and even should, boast in these weaknesses. As he says in the Epistle reading, a thorn was given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from being too elated. “Three times” he says, “I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This is always the challenge our sinful flesh faces. It is the moment we face every day, and many times throughout each day, where we are met with the Word of God which says we should fear, love, and trust in Him above all things and our sinful flesh says that it’s got way better ideas than that. When God says to us that we should love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, our sinful flesh says that we should do what we think is best, what we feel like doing, what will not impinge on our own desires.

So the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh will appeal to us: we don’t have to step out of our comfort zone and share the Gospel with our neighbor because the relationship there is nice and comfortable just in being good neighbors. We know we’re forgiven and don’t need to spend time each day in reading and pondering the Word of God. Since we have to take care of ourselves, our health, our peace of mind, we shouldn’t place extra burdens on our ourselves when others are in need.

Sound familiar? It should. You know these things to be true in your life. If for some reason none of these actually apply to you, never fear, because the Ten Commandments have you covered. God in His Law pins you to the wall in every corner of your life. You have no better chance of hiding from God than Adam and Eve did.

And it should sound familiar to you in another way as well. You are just like the people Jesus went to in the Gospel reading. God’s description of His people to Ezekiel sound a lot like them, don’t they? And if you are wise enough to hear it, you will see that it’s an apt description of you. It all boils down to this. Who you are, what you have done, how you have continued in the downward spiral as your ancestors in the faith have, means something. It means you need to repent. And it means that Jesus will keep coming to you. Just as He did with those people in our Scripture readings this morning. He continues His progression.

It’s remarkable how Jesus came to those He knew would reject them. God had said to Ezekiel that you need to go to them. Whether they listen to you or not, they’ll know a prophet has been among them. When Jesus came to those who had known Him as the guy who grew up down the street, they refused Him as their Lord. But they knew a prophet had been among them. And there’s another thing. Even though He marveled at their unbelief, even though He went on to the next towns, and continued His Gospel message to others, He nevertheless, and even was the reason, He went to the cross for those very people who rejected Him. He paid for their sins. He died for them, He took in His place what was rightfully theirs—their sin, their guilt, their shame of rejecting Hm.

While we should never think that it’s okay for us to do the same, we should marvel at the fact that we are just like them. And marvel at the fact that Jesus, just as He did for them, went to the cross for us. And knowing this, you can also know that He continues to come to you, calling you to repentance, and forgiving you of your sins. His progression never ceases, He continues on in His progression, always loving you and forgiving you. And when you hear Him as He is proclaimed to you and as He comes to you in His body and blood in His Supper, you will know that He has been among you. Amen.


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