September 27, 2008


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September 27, 2008
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
18:1 The word of the LORD came to me:
18:2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"?
18:3 As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.
18:4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
18:25 Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
18:26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die.
18:27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life.
18:28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.
18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, "The way of the Lord is unfair." O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.
18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live.

Matthew 21:23-32
21:23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
21:24 Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
21:25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?'
21:26 But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet."
21:27 So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
21:28 "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.'
21:29 He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went.
21:30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go.
21:31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

I’ve been reading the book Excellence without a Soul. It is a book about some of the ways they do things at Harvard College. One of the issues that the author dealt with was women being assaulted on campus.
As colleges do in such situations, they put together a committee and the committee put together a document. This is the way we know we’ve done something on a college campus, someone puts together a document.
One of the suggestions they wanted to put in the document was that women shouldn’t walk alone on campus at night if they could help it, but someone put the kybosh on that. They said that was like saying that being assaulted was the woman’s fault.
So there is someone walking around loose on the Harvard campus that would rather a woman get assaulted than to even let someone think than the assault—which would be prevented by going out in pairs—was her fault. They think it is better to suffer blamelessly than to avoid suffering by taking responsibility.
Fault and blame are powerful words. If something bad happens to us, we don’t want anyone to think that if might’ve been our own fault. We like to find someone else to blame.
I think that fault-finding and blame-laying are profitless activities most of the time. Whatever happened, it’s better to find the reason it happened and correct it than to find the person to blame. This is a pretty fine distinction, but it’s a real one. It’s the difference between saying “She was out walking alone, so it was her fault” and saying “It’s dangerous when you are walking alone at night.”
In today’s scripture, the people had been saying “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” That is, it’s all mom and dad’s fault. They did something, and we are being blamed.
God say’s to the prophet, “Now wait a minute. These people are suffering because of their own actions.”
I had to think about this a long time, and so maybe I am wrong in what I am about to say. Think about it and make up your own mind. I believe there are things we can so that make our children suffer. If I were to run off with a little 22-year-old blond, my children would suffer for it. But I think that maybe the point is that ultimately my children can’t shirk the responsibility themselves if they decide to do the same thing themselves.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m thinking about running off with a 22-year-old blond. That would void my warrantee, I am pretty sure. The point is that you are responsible for your actions. If you are sinning, it is not your parents that need to repent. It’s not me who will need to change what you are doing.
You are the one with the responsibility. You are the one with the authority.
One of the things I am going to take away from Opolis with me is the Book of Bill. Bill has three proverbs I am going to live by. Here they are:
1. If you’ve got the cards, make ‘em pay.
2. There’s nothing worse than a second-best hand.
3. Nothing will kill you quicker than responsibility without authority.
When it comes to your actions, you are the one with the responsibility for them and you are the one with the authority to change.
Talking about authority, the folks from the temple are concerned about what authority Jesus is doing his work by.
Jesus does a couple of things here that confuse his detractors. The first is to say, I will answer your question if you answer mine. This is a pretty good way to get most folks to shut up, and it worked really well for Jesus. The second thing he did was to tell them a story that answered their question.
A man tells one son to go work for him. The son says that he will, but doesn’t. The man asks his other son. The other son says that he won’t but does. Now which of these did his father’s will.
The Father in this story is Jesus father. The first son is the folks in the Temple. The second son is Jesus.
If you want to help your neighbor, you’ve got the authority. Are you waiting for a notary public? Go ahead and do it. God will do the paperwork for you later.
Some things do require a sign-off. If somebody needs a kidney transplant, you might wait will until I say you can do it. If you know someone who is lonesome and needs a friend, go ahead.
It’s not about blame; it’s now about authority; it’s about doing God’s will. Love your neighbor and don’t blame anybody else for your own problems. And don’t bet the ranch on a second-best hand.
Father, help us accept responsibility when we make mistakes and lead us to repentance. Let us feel the authority you give us to do good and do your will. We ask this in Jesus name. AMEN.