The word of the Lord came to me. "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: "The Fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.?" As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. (Ezekiel 18:3-4)
Today's readings focus on responsibility for our action.
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 nurses aid 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 aids while large spills were to be mopped up by the hospital's housekeeping group.
The nurse's aid 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 aid, "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.
Silly as this story may seem, it illustrates the inability of people to take responsibility. It's always someone else's fault, and we are not to be held accountable. We blame our actions on our parents, our genetics, the environment in which we were raised, instances from our early childhood, things that happened in our school days, and, how many times have we said this one, because we are under so much stress. Today, more than ever before, there is an epidemic of irresponsibility.
This is a condition that has plagued our race since the fall into sin. Today in the Book of Ezekiel we read a proverb that people were familiar with in Bible times. "The father eat sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge." That means that the reason people were sinful and didn't follow God's ways in Old Testament times wasn't their fault, at least they claimed. They said that they weren't to blame for not following the ways of the Lord, their God and obeying all his commandments. It was their parents' fault.
God was angry with this and vowed to his people that he would not stand for the "blame game" they were playing. So He said, "Enough of this. You will no longer say it is not your fault, that you cannot give up your evil and follow me. Stop coming up with reasons why you continually refuse to follow me. From now on you will know, the soul who sins is the one who will die."
When we examine the law of God to determine how we should live as His people, we find some things that are hard for us to live by. When we read the Bible we are confronted with the facts, that we aren't living the way we should be. We have two choices before us. One leads to death and the other leads to life.
The way to death is when we fail to take responsibility for our sin. For instance, the Lord says, you shall not kill. At face value we agree whole-heartedly with this commandment. But when we examine it carefully we find it means we should not only condemn those who murder innocent people, but we should also care for everyone who honestly needs our help. So why don't we donate to the poor, take time to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, or work to provide housing for those with none?
At that point we feel pressured by the law of God and we tell ourselves things like, "It's not my fault that people are poor. They should have stayed in school, not spent all their money, not gotten sick. Maybe they are all lazy. If their parents would only have taught them how to make a living. I pay taxes, why doesn't the government do something?"
We insulate ourselves from the responsibility to care for our neighbor, and we fix the blame somewhere else. And if this commandment doesn't prove my point, there are nine others you can apply to yourself.
When we fail to take responsibility for our sin, but blame the way we are on other causes, we miss the opportunity to repent and receive the forgiveness of God. This is the way of life. Jesus went to the death to forgiven not only the sins we would readily admit to, but every sin, especially the ones we have a hard time taking responsibility for.
This means that there aren't two kinds of people on earth, that is, the good church going types who really try to be obedient followers of God but can't always do it because of their situation, and the other kind of people are just downright no goods. We are all sinners before God. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, as the Word of God says.
That is why when we come together as a congregation we pray to God,
Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal death.
Do we really believe that, or are they just words we mumble because they are printed in the book we worship from?
Take responsibility for your sin. If life isn't going your way, don't blame that on somebody else. See yourself as a miserable sinner, and ask yourself why you would deserve God to give you a better life? Then you will begin to understand the grace of God.
When someone points out that you are in the wrong, don't come up with all kinds of reasons to justify your actions. Admit your unrighteous nature and ask their forgiveness. Don't let pride keep you from being reconciled to God and your brother or sister.
Our problem is that we refuse to refuse to take such responsibility. For instance, we know sexual sin is a sin against God and a pollution of the body. But we always find excuses like, "I was born with these desires and I can't resist them." "There's so much sex in the world today I can't help myself." This failure to accept accountability for our own evil desires will be our destruction.
Take responsibility for your sin, but give all responsibility to God for your salvation. If God acted the way we do, he would have looked at the world on the first day, when Adam and Eve disobeyed His one command, and obliterated them. We would have never came into being. But God saved them, as he saved all who turn to him, by promising to come into our world and sacrificing himself to ransom us. He took responsibility when none of us could. All credit, thank, and praise goes to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that we stand here today living in this world. God gave us the chance to live as His people. None of us deserves His forgiveness, but He offers it to all who call upon the name of Jesus.
The story Jesus told about the son who said he would go to work and didn't and the other son who said he wouldn't go, but then changed his mind and went to work reminds me of how we all forget our Christian responsiblities.
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 their Christian instruction. This is the greatest responsibility of being a parent.
Many parents today are trying to do the right thing and give their children all the opportunities to experience life. They drive them here and there, enroll them in every class and opportunity, looking for the best school, the best coach, the best program. But when it comes to what is most important, learning the Word of God in the Ten Commandments and teaching them how to pray, there isn't time left. When the children grow and depart from the Lord and forsake their baptism and confirmation promise, the parents are in anguish. Then the only responsibility left is to admit their failure to guide their children in the right way as they promised, seek God's forgiveness and commit their grown children to the Lord.
Let them beware the temptation to find blame elsewhere. "Our church wasn't exciting enough. It didn't have the right programs. The worship was too reverent." Rather, let each person confess his sins to God, and seek God's grace. Let us take responsibility for ourselves, and trust in the power of God to heal our failures.
Take responsibility for yourself. If you want a life with God, but find being a faithful Christian is hard, don't blame anyone but yourself. Not your parents, not your job, not your current situation. Recognize that you have a heart of stone, and ask God to break it.
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 a Christian school for your children or grandchildren to attend, give generously that it may happen. If you want the Word of the Lord to go out to the ends of the earth, don't expect that some other Christian will see that it happens. Dedicate yourself to making that happen.
Taking responsibility will seem dangerous at first, but remember, when we live by grace, all we have to fear is losing pride in ourselves. When you decide to paint your house yourself, and you climb that ladder all the way to the top of the roof peak, it's all you can do to hang on with both hand. But how are you going to paint if you don't let go with one hand and pick up the brush? After a while you get so involved with the painting that you almost forget how high you are, and the work becomes easier. It is the same when we forget the excuses for where we haven't followed God and committed ourselves to His way. He forgives us and puts us to work, and we go on from there, always depending on His Grace. Sometimes we look down and we say, "Wow, I forgot that I was way up here."
Our parents may have eaten sour grapes, but that is no reason why we grit our teeth at God's ways. If we are not as close to God as we used to be it is nobody's fault but our own. But God desires that we return to Him today and every day. This happens when kneel at His holy altar and admit our failure. We are irresponsible with the most important things, and we need his mercy and forgivness more than ever.
Life with God is better, far better, than having everything we could eve desire while living without Him. Take the responsibility now. Confess your sins and cling to his mercy tighter than anything. God will not fail you.
The mercy of God will be your strength. Amen.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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