’s Mark Kurowski reflects on what it means to be sent by God to tell someone something they don’t want to hear.  Does God want us to be hurt?  What does this have to do with shirts, ties and short stories?  Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Ezekiel 33:7-9.   #Prayer #Sermons #Homilyhelper #Intervention #Holiness #GodsLove, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday,   9/7/2014 The 23rd   Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Please pause this audio and read Ezekiel 33:7-9 .

The famous Russian short story writer Anton Chekov once wrote to his brother, “Isolation in creative work is an onerous thing. Better to have negative criticism than nothing at all.” (May 1886).Chekov may not have realized it, but his attitude is in the minority. I know way too many people who would have said, “Better to be in isolation than to have anyone be negative in their criticism.” He is right, that it is always good to have someone tell you something you need to hear over what you want to hear.

The reasons are many. We deceive ourselves. The other day, I came to work wearing a tie/shirt combination I have worn many times. I like it. No one had ever given me a compliment on the combo like I have received for other combinations. So, I asked my office assistant about it and she said that when it came to matching, my shirt/tie combination was, uh, “not so much.” That means that I have been wearing a bad shirt/tie combo for a couple of years and no one wanted to hurt my feelings, so they let me look bad.

When it comes to shirts and ties, I guess it is not such a big deal, but when it comes to sin, it is a HUGE deal. That is, unless we are taught that all there is about God is that he is a spiritual self help source. Yet, there is more to God than we can imagine.

At the beginning of Ezekiel, there is a vision of a wheel with four wheels, with weird unimaginable creatures and material that is way out above and beyond the diamonds, rubies and other finery we have. It is a vision of such impressive magnitude that it is amazingly unspeakable. It is a vision of the transcendent God. It is a vision that is beyond us. God is holy.

I remember sitting in my study while in seminary, truly learning about the Old Testament for the first time. As I read the pages of the Old Testament, the words of people I knew were ringing in my head: “I don’t like the Old Testament because God is so mean. God is so harsh. Why is God so judgmental?”

One day, as I was sitting there, reading the book of Leviticus, I realized that the reason why the Old Testament made God look so unreasonable is because we had lost any sense of what holiness is. Ezekiel, John, the writer of the Apocalypse, the writer of the book of Daniel, and any other writer who writes about heaven, always falls to a default language. The visions that God lets us have of heaven leav us without words due to its perfection, its purity, its beauty and its giving of pleasure to us. It is in the view of this purity that we stand and then look at ourselves. It should not amaze us that our mere presence as fallible humans cannot withstand the purity of heaven and God without some kind of transformation.

The deaths of those who breached God’s purity and holiness in the Old Testament made me realize one day that the only explanation that made any sense is that holiness is a deadly serious subject. Holiness is the being of God, and God is a serious subject. For those who would lay claim to being the “people of God”, holiness is an extremely serious subject. It would mean that if we knew anyone who was part of the people of God who was living a life they shouldn’t be living, then we would be obligated to tell them, if for nothing else, out of care and compassion.

         This brings us to today’s reading of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a sentinel. He is called to tell the people of Israel, individually and communally, that they are to be holy. The small snippet that the lectionary provides us stops just short of the most important part of this entire twenty verse section. Verse 11 of this Chapter of Ezekiel says this, “As I live, says the Lord, I do not have pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” yet, how is it that an author like Chekov would know what they had written was bad or a people know what they are doing is wrong, or a person was living a life that was destructive without someone to tell them? We have an entire TV series on cable television called “Intervention.” Sometimes in life, we need a sin intervention. Someone needs to tell us that our spiritual tie and shirt do not match. We need someone to be upfront and tell us that we are not living the life we should.

         I have students who have stopped smoking pot and realize they now have a short term memory. I have students who have sensed a goodness and purity to their lives that has given them confidence since they have stopped having sexual relations with multiple partners. I had couples in churches I have served stop treating each other badly in front of everybody. I have had young men move out of their mother’s house at the age of 35, finally, to go on and have a successful marriage with grandchildren who now spend the night at that same home. I have seen people transform their lives from alcohol addiction and other substance abuses. What is the common factor? Someone told them they were living a life that was wrong.

         Ezekiel is a fine example for us. He has a responsibility to tell others what they are doing, but no responsibility if they do not follow his advice. This is clearly seen. He has a responsibility to tell others, but not condemn them. His responsibility is to say that God doesn’t want the wicked condemned, but to repent and be saved. He tells them that God wants to wash away their sin, foreshadowing baptism. Now that the City of Jerusalem has fallen into the hands of the Babylonians and all of Israel is taken into captivity, Ezekiel warns people in language of hope and restoration, but the message of repentance stays.

         This is the essence of being Good Shepherds, as pastors and pastoral leaders: helping people live lives of moral certitude that make them healthy. We are to put up with a lot of bad behavior without condemnation, but with a spirit of concern, we “do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” It is a spirit that says, “It is bad writing, but I know you can do better.” It is a love that says, “I do not like you when you drink, smoke, snort, but I love you when you are sober.” It is a love that says, “There is a better way to live as a human being and I believe you can get there.”

         The key is the telling in love. Our goal to remember, and Ezekiel remembered, is transformation, not condemnation. We want repentance, we do not want damnation. We want people to live a life of holiness or get on the road to it because we believe that holiness is healthfulness.

         The desire, the intent, the hope, is that we have people who are whole and complete, writing good reads and wearing great shirt/tie combos. Think of people in your life who are making a big mistake in the way they are living. You know who they are. Think of how you might go to them and tell them how you love them, how you need them to reconsider how they are living their life.

         On the flip side, we need to ask ourselves, are we receiving the Ezekiel’s in our lives who have come to tell us about ourselves? Are we open to being corrected by our shepherds, or are we just looking for someone to scratch our itching ears? This is the biggest difference between being “spiritual but not religious” and being “spiritual and religious”. Religious people know they need to be corrected by someone else from time to time and “spiritual but not religious” people want to be the one to decide whether they need correction or not.

         To accept this kind of correction, which ought to be done in love, one must know they are loved by God and that they need God. So, this gives us our lead. We ought to correct others with the tenderness with which we would want someone to correct us. We are not dodging the need for correction. We are not reducing the impact of correction, we are desiring a correction that will last.

         This is serious. God is serious. Holiness is serious. It is about love and healthfulness. Amen? Amen.

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