Ezekiel 36:25-27 (7th Sunday of Easter—One Year Series)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 12, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is taken from Ezekiel 36:
[Thus says the Lord Yahweh,] . . . I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Today we are in that “in-between” place. Easter is long past. Thursday was the 40th day after Easter, the day of our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in power, is next week. And we are here in the middle. It’s not quite Easter and it’s not quite Pentecost. The readings for this Seventh Sunday of Easter also made me feel in-between this week. I was in-between preaching this one and that one, in-between preaching that one and the other one. I had nothing to show for my ponderings as I was stuck in the middle of our readings. So I went exploring the other set of readings that is in use in our church body and there was the appointed reading for today from Ezekiel 36. I was hooked because this reading from God’s Word really gets us back to the basics of the Christian faith.
Sometimes we need to go back to the basics in our lives. We need to step back from the complicated and the in-depth, to move away from the intensity of it all and just get back to what is basic and straightforward. That’s Ezekiel 36 today. It’s basic Christianity 101. God cleanses from sin. God gives us His Spirit. And all of God’s work for us is by grace alone. Pretty simple, huh?
It’s so simple that this morning we start with being dirty. If you’ve ever been a kid . . . and all of us have . . . we know what it is like to get dirty. I think I drove my mom nuts trying to get grass stain out of my pants nearly every day. Most kids enjoy playing in the dirt and the mud. Even some adults like to play in the dirt, and sometimes that dirt and mud turns into things like oil and grease. We also think about getting dirty when we drop food on our clothes, especially foods that stain like grape juice, salad dressings, and beets. Or there are our dirty cars, all full of white Winter salt or yellow Spring pollen.
Now Scripture looks, not at physical dirt on our bodies or clothes or cars, but at spiritual dirt. That’s dirt that influences our souls and bodies from the inside of us. We can’t see it, but we can see its results and effects in our actions and words and thoughts. Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. (Matt. 15:18-19) That’s the dirt we are talking about today, the impurity of human nature, the spiritual filth of our lives from which we need to be made clean.
Spiritual filth. We also know it as sin, the total corruption of our whole human nature that we have inherited from Adam and Eve through our parents. It is every thought, desire, word, and action that is contrary to God’s Law. Sin is grime that we cannot scrub away with any soap or bleach or chemical cleanser. It is like the scene in a movie where someone has blood on their clothes and tries in vain to wash it out. The evidence stains. Sin stains. It is like scarlet, red as crimson. And because we can’t get it out of our souls it effects our bodies.
Sin sticks to everything we think. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Sin clings to what we do. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6). Sin is also behind the words we speak. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6) So we read in Galatians 5, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19)
Our sinful, spiritual filth prevents us from being members of God’s kingdom. Sin prevents us from having eternal life with God. The dirt of sin brings us only death and condemnation, eternal separation from God and the everlasting life He has prepared for us. In 1818, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born into a world of dying women. The finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of “childbed fever.” A doctor’s daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies. From there he made his way to the hospital to examine expectant mothers without ever pausing to wash his hands. Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to associate such examinations with the resultant infection and death. His own practice was to wash with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years and the delivery of 8,537 babies, he lost only 184 mothers—about one in fifty.
He spent the vigor of his life lecturing and debating with his colleagues. Once he argued, “Puerperal fever is caused by decomposed material, conveyed to a wound . . . I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proved all that I have said. But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen, women are dying. I am not asking anything world shaking. I am asking you only to wash . . . For God’s sake, wash your hands.” But virtually no one believed him. Doctors and midwives had been delivering babies for thousands of years without washing, and no outspoken Hungarian was going to change them now! Semmelweis died insane at the age of 47, his wash basins discarded, his colleagues laughing in his face, and the death rattle of a thousand women ringing in his ears.
Without being washed clean, we would all die from the filth of sin. Out of His pure grace, the Lord decided, therefore, that we needed a bath, a good washing away of our sin. And since we cannot scrub away our sinful nature, our sins of thought, word, and deed, or the guilt of our sin, He chose to do it for us. This the Lord did completely out of His love for sinners. Therefore He promises in our text, “I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you will be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” In Hebrews 10:22 we read, “Our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Only God can do this for you and me. Only God can make us spiritually clean from our sins, our sinfulness, and our guilt. And what makes the water God uses to cleanse us from spiritual filth so pure is that it is mixed with blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
The word “sprinkle” in our text used of water is most often used in the Old Testament in connection with the sprinkling of the sacrificial blood of animals to cleanse the people from their sins. Combining the usage, I can’t help but think of Christ’s blood, which cleanses us from all sins, being applied to us with the water of Baptism with which we were sprinkled. John tells us that after Jesus died on the cross, winning forgiveness for all our sins, the soldiers pierced His side and blood and water flowed. In Revelation 7:14, the people of God with faith in Jesus “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”!
In Holy Baptism, as water is sprinkled or poured on us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the blood of Jesus our Savior washes away our sins. Our sins, our sinfulness, and our guilt are all forgiven. They are removed from us. What sin stained scarlet and crimson is now pure white as snow. We are made clean. The impurity and filth is removed from us.
Through this means of water and the Word of Promise, we also receive a new heart and a new spirit—God the Holy Spirit Himself who dwells in us as His temple. Through the gift of saving faith in Christ given to us in and through Baptism, God the Holy Spirit takes our hearts of stone, dirty with sin, and gives us a heart that is receptive to hearing and doing the Word of God. We, through baptismal waters, die to sin and are buried with Christ, so that we may rise to new, everlasting life with Christ with sins forgiven.
And so that is how we live each day as forgiven sinners, saints of God. Already now in Christ we are new creations, washed clean from our sins because Jesus died to pay for them by shedding His blood. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, bringing to us by grace through faith alone the ability to do God’s will and live according to His Word. That means that we abhor our old way of life controlled by the filth of sin and instead, we now live “in the newness of the Spirit.” (Rom. 7:6) Instead of the dirt of sin, we now are able to produce, through lives of faith, the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22)
Yes, I think it is good to get back to basics. We are blessed today with the basic, yet wondrous, message of God’s love and grace to us through the prophet Ezekiel. When we were dirty and filthy with sin, God sent His Son Jesus to win our forgiveness and eternal life through His death and resurrection. In God’s gift of Holy Baptism, the blood of Jesus is applied to us, cleansing us from our sins, even as the water of baptismal grace is a washing of renewal and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Filled with a new heart by the Holy Spirit, we live the new life of faith each day in thoughts, words, and actions, giving glory to God and showing love to our neighbors. All this we do with the assurance of sins forgiven and life everlasting. Amen.