Ezekiel 33:7-11 Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20
Two weeks ago, I listened as Chris and Lydia were doing a great job of teaching the Jr/Sr High on Paul. They explained to the kids that it is our duty to proclaim Jesus, even if it is a struggle at times. Then they shared a prophetic text from Ezekiel. It was today's first reading: Thus says the Lord, you who speak not, "Their blood is on your hands." Prophecy is a work of love--for God and neighbor.
This is the rare Sunday where all three readings are focused on a common theme. Love is not warm and fuzzy, nor is it "I could just eat you up" affection. It is a deep commitment to the wellbeing of another. It is the understanding that union with God (theosis) is always woven together with loving others as well. The door to the Father's heart is loving His children.
Thus says the Lord, "I love you! I created you. I saved you. I have glorious plans for the future with you." But the Lord, it seems, is an extrovert who wants everyone at the party. Remember, Jesus said that the Kingdom is like a wedding feast! Who wants a reception with three people? We want to gather together far off cousins and childhood friends and to delight in being together and seeing them. That is God's kingdom plan. It looks like a family reunion where we are glad to be together.
God says, I hate death, I want everyone to turn back (repent) and live. God's forgiveness is given, but it is only activated by repentance: trusting Him and His promise, turning to Him in obedient love. This is our message to the world. The Father loves and forgives you, but He will allow you to choose death. The message of the cross is that He desires everyone to turn back to Him and live, but He gives you the freedom to die forever!
We are not under the Ancient Covenant Law of Moses, but the Father's instruction--Torah--is a blueprint for life. Paul calls it the Law of Christ. Paul takes his cue from the "do nots" of the ten commandments. Love, he explains, is not harmful to others or ourselves. The church's job is to set folks free from sin, not close a blind eye to it. "Wake up!" says Paul, "Wake up, the darkness is coming to an end! Wake up and leave behind the pleasure seeking flesh! Wake up to the renewal of your nous/Mind in Jesus. Wake up and seeing the world from a Holy Spirit sanctified perspective."
Contemporary Christians do not understand that our human nature is broken. What we feel "naturally" is actually not human nature. It is the "flesh." We are so 'upside down' that we frequently desire what is not wholesome, holy or helpful. The human appetites, fueled by darkened mind (nous)is inclined to death. We need an Ezekiel to love us enough to warn us. We need to be Ezekiel for others to save them.
Jesus provides a process to do this one on one. [Matthew 7:3-5] First, our primary focus is purifying our own mind and heart. Jesus warns us, our 'flesh' nature sees the small things in others while overlooking the big problems in ourselves. Look in the mirror, Jesus says, be tireless in rooting out all manner of evil within yourself. Pray, read the Bible. Listen to the Spirit and wise Christians. If we are sincerely, constantly repenting, then we can, in love, faithfully tell another their fault. If they are not open, then we are to seek a holy person to help. If a person still chooses to embrace the darkness, Jesus says treat them as a Gentile of tax collector. What does that mean? It means that we still love them, but we recognize that the pagan and the heretic/schismatic is walking away from God. We pray for them and treat them kindly with respect, but we continue in the path of Jesus. We do not judge the heart of others, but committed to theosis (union with God) we understand that the hard work of purifying mind and heart cannot be put at risk.
We are ambassadors. We speak in God's name. We are to love everyone. Love seeks the best for others. Love draws each one to God and His Kingdom. Love means confronting sin, first in ourselves, then in others.