Note: This is part of the "Preach it Again!" series, where my congregation chooses which sermon gets revisited. For the original version of this sermon, click here.
1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
22Say to the House of Israel: Thus said the LORD GOD: Not for your sake will I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations to which you have come. 23I will sanctify My great name which has been profaned among the nations - among whom you have caused it to be profaned. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD - declares the LORD GOD - when I manifest my holiness before their eyes through you. 24I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes. 26And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; 27and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules. 28Then you shall dwell in the land which I have given to your fathers; and you shall be my people and I will be your God.
29And when I have delivered you from all your uncleanness, I will summon the grain and make it abundant, and I will not bring famine upon you. 30I will make the fruit of your trees and the crops of your fields abundant, so that you shall never again be humiliated before the nations because of famine. 31Then you shall recall your evil ways and your base conduct, and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abhorrent practices. 32Not for your sake will I act - declares the LORD GOD - take good note! Be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways, O House of Israel!
33Thus said the LORD GOD: When I have cleansed you of all your iniquities, I will people your settlements, and the ruined places shall be rebuilt; 34 and the desolate land, after lying waste in the sight of every passerby, shall again be tilled. 35And men shall say, “That land, once desolate, has become like the garden of Eden; and the cities, once ruined, desolate, and ravaged, are now populated and fortified.” 36And the nations that are left around you shall know that I the LORD have rebuilt the ravaged places and replanted the desolate land. I the LORD have spoken and will act.
37Thus said the Lord God: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of Israel and act for their sake: I will multiply their people like sheep. 38As Jerusalem is filled with sacrificial sheep during her festivals, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. And they shall know that I am the LORD.
This is the Word of The Lord
Thanks Be to God
This text belongs to a people in exile. It belongs to those who have seen their buildings crumble, the crops burned, their people taken captive. This text belongs to those who are scattered and have no home. It belongs to us too. We are people who follow God’s word-made-flesh, so even this strange text is invited into our home.
Ezekiel’s prophetic message gives us the language to describe God’s holiness action in our midst. “Not for your sake will I act, O House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations to which you have come.”
Not what we expected. We want God to act because God loves us, because we’re special to God. But this text tells us that “Not for your sake will I act, O house of Israel, but for my Holy name.” Other passages do uplift the special, loving relationship between God and his people, but this passage insists that special relationships have more to do with God’s greatness than our own very limited goodness.
God tells us that we will be restored from this exile of our own making for the sake of his holy name. God announces that he will shine his light on all nations by acting through us and on our behalf. “I will sanctify My great name which has been profaned among the nations - among whom you have caused it to be profaned. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD - declares the LORD GOD - when I manifest my holiness before their eyes through you.”
Here I am, a young preacher. I read this text, and feel called to preach on it, and I want the sermon to be good. I mean, real good. I want my sermons to be beautifully composed works of literature that testify to where God is acting in the world. God has given me gifts as a writer and as a public speaker, so I want my preaching to be good.
God has given gifts, talents, abilities, to every person in the room. Those gifts may be cooking, or music, or painting, or managing money, or landscaping, or showing hospitality, or teaching. God has graced us with an uncountable number of talents in this family of faith. We want to be good. My struggle is: do I want to be good at what I do because I want to bring glory to the God who gave me these gifts, or do I want it for my own sake.
My answer changes back and forth depending on the day you ask me. My full name is Joseph William Taber IV, and that name comes with a long and rich heritage, but this text tells me that the focus is not about the greatness of my name, or my Dad’s, or Grandaddy’s, or Pappy’s, or the name I passed on to my new son, no longer hypothetical, but a brand new generation inheriting that name. The gifts God has given me, even the gifts that have been passed down through generations, are not about me. They are the ways that God is revealing his holiness through me, so that the peoples to whom I am sent will know that the LORD is God.
It is not for our sake that we are given wealth, or talents, or called to this holy task. God is doing these things so that all the world will know that the LORD is God. The cleansing in this passage, the restoration and rebirth that is promised, the blessings and reasons to be grateful are fruits of a relationship with God. “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules. Then you shall dwell in the land which I have given to your fathers; and you shall be my people and I will be your God.” The LORD will cleanse us and renew us, and enable us to be in relationship with our God, who is dangerously holy. These blessings are showered down on us in ways we could never earn. Yet for the sake of his holy name, God chooses to love us abundantly even when we are unworthy.
God refuses to up on this world he created and these people whom he has called. We know that good things will follow, not for our own benefit, but for the sake of God’s holy name.
We invited this text into our home and it compels us to move a little more slowly past our problems. “Be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways, O House of Israel.” We are so used to hearing that our prayers are heard and answered that it may surprise us to see that this passage reverses that order. God acts, cleansing, restoring, blessing, and then we pray. And our prayer is a confession. Christians have been charged with making disciples of all nations, and yet so many people see the church as a place where they will find only judgment and stuffiness, rather than love and liberation. God has sent us to the nations with a message of hope in the faithfulness of Christ, and we have let that good news get away from us. And God is working through us nevertheless.
As churches in this county decline in numbers, and some even close, we have good news that we do not need to be humiliated by our financial state, or by memberships that are smaller than they were ten years ago, or by the ways the culture has shifted around us. Just as the exiled Israelites heard a message of hope in the restoration of their orchards and fields, we can look with hope to the future of the Church, knowing that God is already transforming it, and us within it. With that gracious hope in mind, we can respond to what God has already begun here. We can confess our sins in earnest, knowing that even when we completely miss the mark, God will still work through us. We can tolerate being ashamed and humiliated by our mistakes because we know that when we “recall [our] evil ways and [our] base conduct,” when we “loathe [ourselves] for [our] iniquities and [our] abhorrent practices” because we know that our mistakes and imperfection will not stop God’s action in the world.
God’s cleansing does not wait for us to wash ourselves, God’s redemption does not wait for us to be worthy. God’s restoration does not wait for us to be ready. Our lack of preparedness that shows God’s light all the brighter. God’s strength is show most clearly in our weakness, and when that strength is shown, “the nations that are left around you shall know that I the LORD have rebuilt the ravaged places and replanted the desolate land.”
God’s action has already begun, and our cleansing and redemption are already accomplished through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. God is already at work through Christ’s Church, through the Protestant church, through the PC(USA), through the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, through the Gastonia Area Presbyterians, through the Presbyterian Church of Lowell, and through each member in it. We are transformed by God’s gracious action and are united by Christ. Our worship of God, our growth in faith, and the way we show God’s love to everyone is not for our own sake, but is for Christ’s sake.
So now all who see how we are changed will know, as the passage states, that the LORD is God. Because the LORD has spoken and acted. It is for Christ’s sake that in baptism we are sprinkled with clean water and our uncleanness is washed away. It is for Christ’s sake that our iniquities are cleansed and we who had not born fruit are made to produce again. It is for Christ’s sake that our homes and our lives are rebuilt. It is for Christ’s sake that we are made holy again, set apart as a people of God.
And we will find, as we live and move and have our being for Christ’s sake, that God also responds to us and acts for our sake, multiplying our people like sheep. We will see our blessings as God works through us for Christ’s sake, and will glorify and enjoy the free gift of God’s grace, and we too shall know that Jesus is Lord forevermore.