Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Trinity 3 - Ezekiel 17:22-24

So when did you stop being Church?

I’m serious. When did you stop being the Church? I know it happened, some time ago. I don’t know when, or who is most responsible, but I know that this congregation gave up on being the Church. You sold out. You chose something else. You became a club, or a religious institution, and a sub-culture – I don’t know what – but you became it. You chose to be it instead of the Church. It's easy enough to do. All it takes is to be completely selfish by thinking of this place as your right, as your “church.”

In our text for today from the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord is pretty clear about how things work in His Church. He takes it and He plants it and He builds it and it becomes great, noble. It bears His fruit. Like the parable of the mustard seed, the Church is the greatest of all trees, and from the world around everyone comes to it and there alone they find sanctuary, hope, and a haven from their woes and tribulations. It’s a great and beautiful thing, this Church of God's, this flourishing, healthy, active miracle.

But it seems there’s something of that missing here, in this place, doesn’t it? We don’t look so hot. We look tired, beat up, burned out. I wonder why. I suppose we can blame our location, or other congregations who haven’t treated us fairly, or the problems at the district or with the Synod. I suppose we can point the finger out at others and away from our own comfortable bellies, and we can accuse the entire world of being set up against us. After all, the culture oes grow more pagan by the day, hostile to the faith, and people my age are too busy forwarding thier careers and playing with expensive toys to listen to much good reason. And the boomers, and everyone in between, seems pretty darn content to run the world so long as they can take two vacations a year. Yes, we will point the finger at anyone and anything to give a reason why this congregation appears to be failing. We will point the finger anywhere except the one place it ought to be pointed first: me...and by that I do mean you.

There is only one person in the world who could do this to the Church. There is only one person with the power and control to cut off branches of the people of God. Listen to Ezekiel again: I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree... [I] dry up the green tree.... I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

Punishment comes from God. And when the Church is punished, as we have been, as we are being, then there is only one reason for it. Our God has seen us in our gluttonous, lazy, self-contented, luke-warm unbelief - he has seen that we have forgotten who we really are - and he has ordained from on high that we who have thought so highly of ourselves are to be brought low, to be pushed down, crushed, withered, broken and finished off, because that is what he has sworn from ancient times that he will do to people like us.

So when did you stop being the Church? What idol was it that lured you away from your identity, not just by yourself, but with an entire congregation of the baptized? What made you think that you were safe to live however you pleased so long as you kept Sunday morning mostly sacrosanct at least for an hour and a half?

What idol have you set up in this place? The building? The budget? The Christian community? The savings acount? The old pastors? The new pastor? Who did you set up in place of God?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I know that it has happened. It happens so easily. We turn our heart from the Lord if only for a second and suddenly we don't even realize how long we've been standing in jeopardy, because we are so blind to the rotten fruit we create that we can't even comprehend what has happened. But there we stand, under judgment. There we stand, and if God is merciful there we find His wrath bearing down on us with such a vengeance that it wakes us up before it's too late.

Is it too late here? Is it too late to repent? Is it too late to cry out, “O Lord, have mercy on us, sinners?” Is it too late to come back to this font, this table, this place of proclamation and there find life? Is it too late to be raised up from where we have been brought low?

No. It is never too late to repent. Not until the last trumpet sounds and the archangel shouts. Not until the font sits waterless and the bread and wine cannot be found. Not until the preaching Office stands empty altogether. For let me tell you the answer that God has sent me to give to your predicament:

Thus says the Lord God: "I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar ... and I myself will plant it on a high...mountain...and [it will] bear fruit.... And under it …in the shade of its branches birds of every kind will nest.

That is God’s promise to His Church, and for all of your efforts to back your way out the door, you haven’t stopped being the Church yet. How do I know? The Lord sent me here to prove it to you. He sent me here to preach to you the reality that is as simple as the water in that font and the bread and wine on that table. It’s as simple as this pastor in this Office and the word coming out of my mouth telling you that Jesus Christ is the mustard seed. Jesus Christ is the tree that is greater than any other tree. And it is His name, His proclamation, His planting that will bear fruit. It is Jesus Christ who will grow His Church.

For on a mountain long ago on the heights of Israel, the tree of Jesus Christ was planted with iron spikes and a hard hammer. Tender baby born in a manger, finest of all the shoots of the cedars of the sons of men, highest Lord of heaven and earth, He was brought low. He was made dry so that he cried out in thirst. He was killed. And this was done because you were not Church but it was his desire to make you so. So he died, carrying that sin of the world on his shoulders, carrying your self-reliant pride and contented worldly-security, your idols and your unbeliefs.

And low though he was under that weight, dry though he was, His story, our history, does not end there. He was not left low, but was lifted up. He was not left dry, but sprouted anew. His withered body, His broken body, the body of Christ has since become the source of life.

And for that reason the Church will never perish, for her dear Lord defends her, guides her, sustains her and cherishes her to the end. Though there are those that hate her, both the heathen without and the false brethren within, against both foe and traitors alike, she shall prevail because the Church is the planting of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

This is the Word of the Lord! This is the proclamation that I have been sent to give to you. It does not guarantee that this congregation will grow. It does not bring with it the certainty of a comfortable lifestyle, a balanced budget, an active sunday school and a fun-loving community. In fact, it holds no guarantees at all except one, but what a guarantee: Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and as surely as your are baptized into his name, when that trumpet calls and the angel shouts, you too, will be lifted up, made green and caused to flourish, forever and ever, because that is what it means to be the Church.

The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Amen.


Anonymous said...

A very challenging message. this is maybe for our church as we seek the Lord. We have so many clubs that drain the energy from us and no shepherding. We have gone cold in our hearts, the love has gone because of business.
Thank you for this message, I for one need to give myself to God for His spirit to search my heart to see if there be any wickedness in me. Praise God.

RevFisk said...

Wow. What a throwback. The first sermon I ever preached.

He will find wickedness in you, and then, he will shower you with the blood of Christ as the imputation of righteousness, unearned, received by faith in what he has done. You stand in Him!

RevFisk said...

Wow. What a throwback. The first sermon I ever preached.

He will find wickedness in you, and then, he will shower you with the blood of Christ as the imputation of righteousness, unearned, received by faith in what he has done. You stand in Him!

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