Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s reading, God tells Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel that they have “profaned God’s holy name among the nations.” “Profane” is a very old-fashioned word; it means the opposite of holy. Similar words include pollute, defile, desecrate. Basically, it means that they have dragged God’s name through the mud. They may not have literally cursed God’s name, but they who were supposed to be God’s people acted in ways that made a mockery of God’s will. They didn’t behave like the people of God should behave. And in so doing, they profaned the name of the God they represented.
We represent God even more directly than the people of Israel did. Our very name—Christian—means people of Christ. So how well do we do in honoring that holy name? Unfortunately, all too often, the answer is “not well at all.” How many times have I heard this, or something similar, when I ask people why they don’t like Christians: They’re such hypocrites. Being prone to humor, my response is “Yes, but there’s always room for one more.” There is a certain truth to both statements: Christians often preach to others that they should keep standards we can’t keep ourselves, and some Christians do things in the name of our God and our faith that aren’t very Christian. We talk the talk, but we don’t always walk the walk. We assume God wants the same things we do, and too often we read the Bible only to find passages that agree with us. When combined with a proud and self-righteous attitude, it’s a deadly combination. That kind of hypocrisy profanes the name of God. But even without pride and self-righteousness and a holier-than-thou attitude, there will always be a disconnect between the grace and love that God commands us to live out, and the reality of our sinful lives.
And yet, even when we fail badly, we are still our Father’s beloved children, and he still claims us as his own, just as God still claimed the house of Israel. In our baptism, God washes us in clean water and gives us a new heart and his Holy Spirit. We are tied to Christ’s death and resurrection, and forgiven our sins. We stand at the foot of the cross, knowing that we are sinners who have been saved through no effort or merit of our own, but only through God’s love and grace. We stand beneath the cross knowing that Jesus pays the price for all of our sin, and that he loves us and calls us to him still, promising abundant life and freedom. We stand beneath the cross knowing that we have nothing to boast about, no special goodness or holiness, except through Christ’s love and forgiveness.
If we try to say that Christians are better or sin less than other people, we’re fooling ourselves. Until Christ comes again, we will always be caught between our own sinfulness and the reality of Christ’s saving grace. But the good news is, no matter how many times we go astray, our Lord and Savior calls us back to him, forgives us, washes away our sins in the waters of our baptism, gives us a new heart and frees us from the chains that bind us. Jesus promises to always be with us, no matter what we do or how far astray we go. And when our way seems too hard, or too dark, when we know just how badly we’ve messed up, when we know we can’t fix the brokenness in us and in the world around us, when the cares of life threaten to overwhelm us, Jesus is there with us to give us rest and comfort, and to lead us out of the wilderness of our sin. Jesus calls to us to lay down our burdens upon his shoulders, drink of his life-giving water, and walk in his light.
We don’t bear the name of Christ because we are better than other people, or because we have earned it. We are still sinners who fall short of God’s glory. We bear our Lord’s name because he has claimed us as his own. We are Christians because we heed Christ’s call to come to the cross. We are Christians because we trust God to keep the promises he made to us, to lead us and forgive us and give us new life in him.