As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
You want to talk about God’s Work and Our Hands?
There it is!
You want to talk about vocation in daily living?
There it is!
You want to talk about the ministry of the priesthood of all the baptized?
There it is!
God’s desire is not for the condemnation of the wicked.
God’s desire is not about our perfectly fulfilling a legal code with hundreds of laws.
God’s desire is that God’s people would be saved.
God’s desire is that God’s people would live lives marked by active love.
God’s desire is that we would be exercising the authority to bind and loose the way that Jesus exercised that authority.
God’s work is a saving work.
God’s work is a forgiving work.
God’s work is about deliverance, and freedom, and community…
Our reading from Ezekiel today can be tricky, depending on how we read it. For instance, it’s important to realize who’s being addressed. Just who is it that God is telling Ezekiel to speak to?
I have made you, Ezekiel, a sentinel for the house of Israel; Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.
The wicked ones being warned to change their ways aren’t some outsiders – God’s not calling on all those evil nations surrounding Israel and threatening them. No. God’s calling on God’s people to change, to turn from their ways and live.
We’re way too quick, I think, as the Church, as God’s people, that is, to assume that such words of warning and challenge to change are to be directed out from us to the world, when the case is exactly opposite of that here in Ezekiel.
God is calling us – God’s people – to a changed life, to a life that gives witness to who God is and what God’s like.
The people in Ezekiel’s day had gotten off the mark, they had failed to live faithful lives. They had failed to care for the widows and orphans. They had failed to honor and welcome the stranger, the foreigner, in their midst. They had gone after foreign gods and gods of their own making. And so they fell to Babylon.
When we fail to live as God has called us to live, we have to deal with the inevitable consequences of our decisions. Living wicked lives fills our lives with wicked results. Living in love, as God is love, fills our lives with the love of God no matter what comes our way…
Paul’s imperative in Romans 13 picks up nicely here.
As God’s people, we ought to be living according to God’s law, right? That seems pretty obvious. It was certainly obvious to Paul. God didn’t give the law for no reason, right? And while we hold fast to the theological idea that we cannot fulfill the law, in terms of perfectly fulfilling every little part of the ancient legal code because we’re frail, and will always be less than perfect, the law is still important. But Paul does what Jesus did before him. He boils it down.
What does it mean to fulfill the law? How do we best live according to the law? Love, that’s how.
You shall not commit adultery –
In other words, show the honor due to your intimate partners by not being inappropriately intimate physically or emotionally with anyone else.
You shall not murder –
In other words, honor the basic human dignity of all people as created by God and in God’s own image, and don’t just not murder them, but make sure they have everything they need in order to thrive.
You shall not steal –
In other words, be satisfied with what God has given to you, remembering that everything we have is a gift from God in the first place. And don’t take more than your fair share, for to hoard more than one needs is truly to steal from another who goes without.
You shall not covet –
Again, be satisfied with what God has given to you in the first place, and don’t worry about what your neighbor has that maybe you don’t have.
And all the rest of the 10 commandments that Paul doesn’t list here can all be summed up in in that one word, love, or that one principle, love your neighbor as yourself.
Paul goes on to encourage us to put on the Jesus Christ, for the natural outgrowth of putting on Christ ourselves, is that we’ll see everyone else as clothed in Christ, as well. And therefore, we’ll honor our relationships with them, and we’ll seek to make sure they have all that they need for a good life, and we’ll not seek to deprive them of what they need or to be jealous over what they might have that we don’t have. We’ll see them as Christ sees them. We’ll see them as worthy of love, and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice – the laying down of our lives so that they might live full and abundant lives…
When it comes down to it, whether we’re talking about God’s people living in exile in Babylon in Ezekiel’s time, or God’s people living in Rome in Paul’s time, or the discipleship community in Jesus’ day or our own, we are to be a community that reflects God’s nature to the world by how we live and love in the world.
Which brings us to Matthew 18.
In one sense, this passage describes a process for dealing with church discipline, but too often it’s been read as a text that leads to and that excuses the practice of excommunication within the church – cutting people off because they disagree with the majority.
If you talk to someone, and then bring witnesses, and then bring them to the assembly and they still won’t repent, Jesus says: treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector. Only, this is Jesus we’re talking about here,
The one who welcomes, and touches, and eats with tax collectors and Gentiles and sinners of all sorts – even sinners like us!
And he turns, then, to this business about binding and loosing again. And we remember that he’s the one who is on his way to Jerusalem where he’ll be bound to a Roman cross so that we might be set free – free from sin, free from death, free from everything that is dark, and deadly, and demonic. Free from everything that is unloving and unlovely.
This is God’s work that we do with our hands – the work of setting others free through the saving love of Christ Jesus our Lord!