Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Blame it on Dad

Message preached September 28, 2014
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Order of Worship

listen to this sermon (mp3)

             Every family has its own set of litanies and choruses. A favorite phrase in mine growing up was “LFLS.” That is, “Like Father, Like Son.” Whenever I exhibited behavior similar to something my Dad was known to do, my mother would exclaim “LFLS.” For some traits, these words were spoken with a hint of endearment. Other times it was clearly a note of exasperation. For instance, I can fall asleep just about anywhere, just like my Dad. “LFLS,” “Like Father, Like Son.” I am also a horrendous snorer, as was he. “LFLS.”

             A variation on that chorus was, “You come by that honestly, son,” especially in relation to traits similar to my mother’s. Though she mellowed out in her later years, as have I, she had quite a temper when I was younger. I feared her wrath more than my Dad’s. “Wait until your father gets home,” was not a dreadful statement for me. Dad clearly had tears in his eyes when he disciplined me. Mom’s tears, however, were more after-the-fact. My temper in earlier years was more like my mother’s. “You come by that honestly, son,” she often said.

             There was a litany often spoken by the children of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge(18:2). There’s a great deal of truth to that statement, just like all family phrases. Ask anyone who grew up in the home of an alcoholic. The fruit of the vine chosen by the parent becomes a sour grape to the children. They experience the damaging effect of alcohol, and learn survival behavior which stays with them the rest of their lives. In turn, this is passed on to the next generation, and the next.

             Some families have struggles that go back further than their memory. My two brothers-in-law, for instance, come from different sides of the same Croatian-American family. These sides, however, didn’t get along. Tom and Dean are “okay” with each other, but there is something between them that goes beyond the quirks of their two personalities. Who knows what those “sour grapes” were, but they still “set the teeth on edge” at times.

             The prime example in the Bible of this litany is King David. At one point in his life, he bit into a particularly sour grape which scripture vividly recalls. In the heat of the moment this fruit tasted really good, as most inter-generational sour grapes usually do. David made choices that led him to a disastrous conclusion. To start off, he left himself wide open for temptation.  As 2 Samuel, chapter 11 recalls the scene, it was “the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle. David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem (11:1).

             I suppose there was good reason for the King to stay behind, but the point is, David was bored. He should have known better, but he just sort of fell into adultery. Actually, his “falling” into sin was freely chosen. He became involved with a woman, even though he knew she was the wife of another man, and the grapes were sweet - at least for the moment. Then one thing led to another. She became pregnant, and he tried to cover it up, eventually causing the death of her husband. Sour, sour, sour. All seemed covered up until the prophet Nathan threw back the rug, exposing David’s sin.

             Unfortunately, the whole sour business did not end with the death of the child who was born out of it, as sad and unfair as that was for an innocent infant. No, the sin grew. David’s firstborn son, Amnon, later fell in love with his stepsister, and then forced himself upon her. The grapes were getting quite sour. Though he was angry, David responded to the sin of his child by saying, in effect, “he comes by it honestly.” This caused another son, Absalom, to lose all respect for his father. The long and the short of it is, Absalom avenged his sister by murdering Amnon. Eventually he stole the throne of his father, and openly took David’s wives as his own. “LFLS?” It’s enough to set your teeth on edge.

             Well, Absalom failed to hold onto power, and David returned to his throne. No doubt, as he wept over the death of his son, Absalom, David could see the trail of grapes behind him. And that trail continued on into the future, as scripture remembers. The generations that followed struggled with the repercussions of David’s sin, or so the Bible says. It makes sense, though. Even when we lose track of the original vine, we can see that “the parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

             There is a great deal of truth to that litany. However, every family chorus has its limitations. In the prophet Ezekiel’s day, like most every age, people had a tendency to blame their problems on their fore bearers. That proverb became an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. There was a note of fatalism to it. What can we do to change what happens? We’re still paying for our ancestor’s mistakes. If that’s the case, we might as well make the best of it. Our mistakes are just a continuation of theirs, so why fight it? Our choices don’t matter in the long run.

             Wrong! That’s what God said. The “sour grapes” way of living is wrong.  Your choices do matter! That’s what God said directly to Ezekiel and the people of Israel. Not only do your choices as a community here and now, but also your own individual choices - how you respond to the situations you face, these choices count. You can’t merely “blame it on Dad” when you choose to continue patterns that are destructive. Granted, we may come by our ways of operating naturally. They may be ingrained in the fabric of our personality. But that doesn’t make them right. Nor are we locked into repeating the sins of our fore bearers. Likewise, just because our parents did what was right in the eyes of the Lord doesn’t mean we’ve got it made. Our own personal choices in the here and now matter, for good or for ill.

             We can choose to change directions, to turn. In a section of the 18th chapter of Ezekiel that we didn’t read, God had this to say about turning. When those headed in the wrong direction turn and start walking God’s way, living out what is right, God forgets the past. “None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live.” (18:22) A fresh start is available to everyone! We always have a choice.

             Those words in Ezekiel are followed by this: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” (18:23) God isn’t a big meanie out to get anyone. We should hear echoes of that verse many of us have memorized but are still struggling to fully comprehend, along with the words that follow it, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16‑17).

             Of course, there was a flip side to this choice about which God spoke to Ezekiel and the people of Israel. The word “turn” we also translate as “repent.” We can repent from wrong choices. We can also repent from right ones. When the righteous turn away from what’s right and choose the wrong path, God likewise forgets the past. “None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered” (18:24b). That’s what the people in Ezekiel’s day thought was so unfair. Now it doesn’t say that one little, itty-bitty mistake can wipe out a life of right living. No, it’s an ongoing pattern, a chosen path away from God.

             We could discuss for hours whether, once someone choses to place their trust in Christ, they can lose their salvation if they then choose to move in the opposite direction. I am not one who believes “once saved, always saved.” Those who follow this teaching have to reckon with this passage from Ezekiel. Of course, you and I know that the grace of God in Jesus Christ goes far beyond our sin. I believe God constantly reaches out, seeking the lost, even those who have turned their back to him. God doesn’t stop calling. However, there is a choice involved. And a person can choose to walk away from God, even one who was once a sincere disciple of Christ. It doesn’t limit God to say that God doesn’t go against our free will. If we have chosen another God, God respects our choice, and lets the chips fall where they may.

             This doesn’t mean we are always in doubt of our salvation, however. Face it, we all make bad choices. I know I do. All the time. I blow it a lot. “I come by it honestly.”  We all do. It’s human nature. What matters, though, is the turning, the direction we keep trying to face. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Isn’t that what the old gospel hymn calls us to choose. If we’re faced in his direction, even if we struggle to get those feet to move forward, we’re okay. God just keeps calling to us to step out.

             I trust what God said to Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” (18:23) He must have meant it, for these very words were mentioned twice in the same chapter.  “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live.” (18:32)

             While we bear responsibility for our actions - each one of us - in Christ we are not locked into wrong choices, whether we have consciously made them, or are only continuing harmful patterns passed down from previous generations. A new heart! A new spirit! That’s what we are promised, and that’s what we are given. Each and every day! And, as the apostle Paul wrote, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God(Romans 8:14) ... “LFLS”   

©2014 (revised/reused from 1999) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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