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You Shall not Give False Testimony against Your Neighbour

March 06, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
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Concern for Your Name

The house next door to the parsonage is occupied by six university students. The landlord, “Stu,” is considered to be strict with his rules. He owns and rents out several houses in the area. Along with his strict policies, he is also very meticulous in the upkeep of his properties. He does a drive-by almost every day. There is weekly yard maintenance. Whenever the house is empty over Reading Week or Summer Break, he is busy doing improvements and upgrades. This past Reading Week he installed a brand new efficient, quiet running air conditioner for the house next door. I will probably benefit more from the quiet upgrade while sitting on the parsonage side porch, than the tenants themselves


There are times when people in the neighbourhood refer disparagingly to “student houses” and “slumlords.” When I walk the dog through the neighbourhood, I pass many properties where there is garbage strewn all over the yard every day of the week. There are crass posters in the front windows, broken furniture tossed in the driveway, and sagging curtains on falling rods exposing further ruin inside. I know right away that those are not Stu’s properties. The occupants are giving a bad name to their landlord. Without saying a word they are breaking the Eighth Commandment, hurting the reputation of the property owner.


In tonight’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (36:23-28), the LORD declared that He would take action for the sake of His holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the neighbourhood, among the nations into which they had been scattered during their exile. If we go back a few verses, we are told how the house of Israel profaned the name of the LORD, and it resembles the case of unruly tenants wreaking havoc on a rental property.


“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before Me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out My wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it’” (Ezekiel 36:16-18).


The eviction notice of the divine landlord cited used sanitary products strewn across the yard and offensive idols erected on the property. This sounds pretty disgusting, but the English translations really soften up the Hebrew language of the LORD’s words. Those “idols” really should be translated like “fecal deities, poop-gods,” or something like that. Imagine that kind of refuse lying around the yard of the house next door.


And yet these awful metaphors reflect an even sicker sinful stench. They represent the practices that the house of Israel engaged in to worship their false gods: the shedding of blood, including the sacrifice of infants, and sexually immoral acts done to the delight of demons. It was worse than some unruly students occupying the premises. The land had become a murder scene, a den of iniquity, a gangster’s paradise.


It was the people’s rebellion against the commandments of God that sent them into exile. As the LORD had warned when they went into the land, if they did not keep His commandments the land would vomit them out as it did the Canaanites and others who were living in this kind of depravity before them (Leviticus 18:28). The LORD’s people were thus scattered among the nations and dispersed through the countries. And what were those foreign people saying about the God of Israel? What were they thinking about the holy name of Yahweh who brought this people out of Egypt to give them their own land? “These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of His land” (Ezekiel 36:20).


The LORD promised that He would vindicate the holiness of His great name. But not just for the sake of His reputation, which was important. Reputations count, don’t they? It is important to have a good name. It is important for business. A landlord wants to have a good name, not only with his tenants, but also with those who live in the neighbourhood. If he has a good reputation as a landlord, then the neighbours will assist him in keeping an eye on his properties, contact him when something is amiss, and even welcome his tenants whom they know will have to be good neighbours.


In the grander scheme of things, those tenants will be happy with a safe, secure, well kept place to live. They will learn lessons about responsibility and hard work. They will be thankful for neighbours who appreciate their good behaviour. The parents of student tenants will be thankful that their children are living in a safe place which discourages them from wild, uncontrolled living.


So, the LORD, vindicating the holiness of His great name, is not just about making sure He has the respect of the nations. He wants the people of all nations to know His name, and revere it, so that they will also respect His people, treat them fairly, and ultimately place themselves under the care of such a God who provides peace and security and prosperity for those who trust in Him.


So the LORD promised that He would take His people from the nations to which they were exiled, and gather them from the countries into their own land again. And He did. He miraculously had the King of Persia arrange for them, not only to return to Judah, but also to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls and resettle the land.


Yet the promise of the LORD looked further and declared how He would bring us under the protection of His holy name. He said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols (those poop-gods and their vile practices) I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:25-28).


This is more than a landlord-tenant agreement. This is Holy Baptism, a sacramental covenant between God and you. In Baptism, as water is sprinkled over us in His name, God cleanses us from our sins. That is what St. Peter preached in his very first sermon. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).


He gives us a new spirit. He puts His own Holy Spirit within us, who changes our heart from a heart of hard stone, unyielding to God’s will, into a heart of flesh that allows itself to be massaged by God’s grace extended towards us, so that we willingly walk in His commandments and obey His rules.


Notice that this great transformation does not happen by our will or power. Our stony hearts could never accomplish anything like this. God’s promises are entirely based on His doing, His action. The cleansing that He pours out, the new heart that He gives, the new spirit that He puts within you are all His doing. It is even He who causes you to walk according to His commandments, to keep His name holy and to not hurt the reputation of your neighbour in any way. This is how He also protects your reputation from harm, forbidding anyone to bear false witness against you, and threatening to punish those who do.


It is important to God that your reputation and your name be protected, because you bear His name. You were baptized into His name. You are called ‘Christian’ after Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died upon the cross for all of your sins and rose victorious from the dead to give you life in His name. Everything that you say and do reflects upon the name of the LORD. He must always vindicate His holy name so that you may live under His safe keeping and others may come to realize that He wishes to gather them under His care, into His kingdom, through Baptism in His name.

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