9/28/2014 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text for today’s sermon is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A patient lay in bed in the hospital, unable to walk, and accidentally knocked over a cup of water which spilled to the floor beside the patient’s bed. The patient was afraid someone might slip on the water, so he asked a nurse’s aide to mop it up. The patient did not know it, but the hospital policy was that small spills were the responsibility of the nurse’s aides while large spills were to be mopped up by the hospital’s housekeeping group.
The nurse’s aide decided the spill was a large one and she called the housekeeping department. A housekeeper arrived and declared the spill a small one. An argument followed about who would have to clean it up.
“It’s not my responsibility,” said the nurse’s aide, “because it’s a large puddle.” The housekeeper did not agree. “Well, it’s not mine,” she said. “The puddle is too small.”
The exasperated patient listened to this for a while, then took a pitcher of water from his night table and poured the whole thing on the floor. “Is that a big enough puddle now for you two to decide about?” he asked. It was, and that was the end of the argument.
This silly story told by Pr. James Wright (St. Johns, Lutheran Church, Oct. 3, 1999) says it all. No one wants to take responsibility for anything these days! Take the credit for doing the right thing, yes…but the responsibility or the blame when things go wrong? Of course not! It is better to pass it off on others or to find an excuse than it is to admit failure, to accept the consequences of making a poor choice, or to do what is needed, if it means putting yourself out for someone or for some noble cause.
I would be lying if I told you that this is something new. It isn’t. We only have to look to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the finger pointing that takes place after eating the forbidden fruit, to see that the failure to take responsibility is as old as humankind. A proverb quoted by Ezekiel in today’s text puts it in terms that were well understood by the people of his age: “The father eats sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In plain English, that means whatever bad things you do or good things you don’t do, you simply “blame your parents.” If you don’t go to church, if you don’t follow God’s ways, you’re not to blame. It is your parent’s fault!
This excuse is familiar to us all. For how many times have we blamed things we have done or not done on our parents, our genetics, or the environment in which we grew up? We blame our failure to live as God would have us live, as loving and faithful children of a gracious Lord, on things that happened or didn’t happen in our early childhood, or on events that took place while in school or at home. If these excuses don’t work or don’t seem to fit, then we blame our failure to follow the will of God on being too busy or under too much stress. For any excuse is better than none! And heaven forbid that we admit our faults, our failures, and our sin.
We claim that we are not responsible, that we are trapped by the past and thwarted by the present…but, God knows better! God knows who we are. And as God was angered by the “blame game” played by the people of old, God will not accept the excuses we devise today. God promises that each of us will be held accountable for our own actions.
This, my friends, means that we have two choices – the same two choices that the people of old had – we can take responsibility for what we have done or failed to do, or we can choose not to accept the fact that all too often we are responsible for falling short when it comes to living the life that God would have us live. One of the choices leads to death and the other leads to life. Life comes as we admit that we sin by our own fault, our own most grievous fault, and turn to God for forgiveness and mercy. Life comes as we remember that Jesus died to forgive not only the sins we readily admit to, but every sin, especially those we have a hard time seeing or admitting.
So, when someone points out that you are in the wrong, don’t come up with all kinds of reasons to justify your actions. Take responsibility for what you’ve done or not done, and, then, give all responsibility to our gracious God for your salvation. If life isn’t going your way, don’t blame that on somebody else. See yourself as you are, and ask yourself why you deserve to have God give you a better life? If you find being a faithful Christian isn’t a priority to you, don’t blame anyone but yourself – not your parents, not your job, not your current situation. And if you want your Church to be a strong force in your life, get behind it. If you want to grow in understanding of God’s way, get involved in learning the Bible. If you want the church to be here for your children or grandchildren, give generously that it may happen. If you want the Word of God to go out to the ends of the earth, don’t expect someone else to step up to the plate. Dedicate yourself to making that happen. And remember, even if our parents ate sour grapes, even if life didn’t always go the way they wanted, there is no reason why we should grit our teeth at God’s ways.
Return to the Lord, our God, for he has only the very best to give each of us as we struggle to make sense out of the life we live. Instead of obliterating a sinful, irresponsible, “blame-game” world, God chose to go the extra mile for us and in Jesus Christ, God took responsibility when none of us would or could. In response to God’s gracious invitation to us to come to him to find forgiveness, strength, guidance and salvation, today, Makenna will be baptized in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. When God gives us a child we thankfully bring that child to the church for holy baptism, and promise to teach the child the ways of God and provide for his or her instruction in the Christian faith. In this world, full of competing activities and priorities, this is no easy commitment to fulfill. But learning the Word of God and teaching our children how to pray is what God would have us do…so that all may come to know the full measure of his love through Jesus Christ. We may want to find excuses if we should fall short in this commitment to our children and they wander away from God’s way. We may want to blame our church – that it wasn’t exciting enough. It didn’t have the right programs. The worship was too stodgy. But let us take responsibility for our choices, and trust in the power of God to heal our failures. For while our heavenly Father asks us to live up to his commands, all of us fall short of what we know to be true: We do not love others the way God loves us.
So let us pray:
Heavenly Father, I know that I lack your
patience, love and commitment. Please show us
your perfect love through Jesus Christ and
help us to take responsibility and turn to you
to find guidance and salvation.
We ask this in all things in the name of
your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.