|"NIKA" is the Greek word for "victory."|
THE LORD BESTOWS A NEW HEART.
In the name + of Jesus.
The prophet Ezekiel preached to the Israelites when they were already in exile. They were there because they had sinned against God. The Lord had sent prophets repeatedly to call Israel to repent, to acknowledge that his will is good, and then to do it. They did not. They decided for themselves what is good and bad, and they lived like it. Each made his own desires and opinions the highest good. They cast God down and set up themselves as gods in their own little world. Idolatry is the first sin, and it rears its ugly, self-centered head in every other sin.
The Babylonian Captivity was not a divinely ordained “time-out.” God was not teaching the people of Israel to behave so that, once they learned their lesson, they could come back. Sinners know how to behave, and they do it when they don't have a choice. Teens straighten up when the teacher enters the room. Adults do the same when the boss pops his head in. Even pimps and gang members will demonstrate good manners when they have to stand before a district court judge. And yet, before God we are still idolaters. The problem is not that we don't know how to behave. The problem is that we have not.
The people of Israel deserved to be banished by God for their idolatry. We deserve the same. And yet, God does not banish us. Rather than reject us, the Lord acts to reconcile us. Ezekiel declared the word of the Lord: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And 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.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
In holy baptism, the Lord applies to you all that Jesus has accomplished for you. Through your baptism, you partake in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In baptism, the Lord puts to death the sinner. He kills off the heart that loves only itself and is stone dead to others. He drives out the unclean spirit which perverts God's word and God's blessings. Then he raises you up a new creation. He creates in you a clean heart, grants you a new spirit which delights in God's will and desires to do it, and he even instills his Holy Spirit in you so that you are now the temple of God. You are no longer unclean, and it is right that you do not revert back to uncleanliness. Rather, you have been set apart as a child of God. And even if you do not always feel like you live up to the title, you do have it. God has given it to you.
Israel did not deserve to be brought back to their land, but God did it anyway. You and I do not deserve such a great salvation, but God gives it anyway. In fact, God does it all: “I will sprinkle... I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart... I will put (a new spirit) within you. I will remove the heart of stone... I will put my Spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 26:25-27) Jesus is our Savior. He has done all the work, and he gives us all his benefits. And since we are united to him in his death and resurrection, he will at the last raise us up from the dead and bring us to the home of his Father; for he has made us his people, and he is pleased to be our God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.