The blame game – Pastor Noel Due
Well good morning everyone. You look a long way away back there. I’ve often speculated that there must be some sort of Teflon coated human repellent on the first pews of most churches. I was preaching in Walla Walla last week – Big church and they were sitting in the back third of the church, so I preached from the centre of the aisle just to get a little bit closer.
Today I am preaching on a theme that connects all of our Bible readings and if you wanted to know, probably the text on which everything hinges, it would be that last verse from the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, Why will you die Oh Israel?
I don’t know how many of you here are gameshow fan’s. Are you into The Chase? Any intellectuals among you watch Letters and Numbers? Do you get the sums right all the time? Isn’t that girl amazing, she does it all in her head without a piece of paper. Is anyone here old enough to remember Sale of the Century? Anyone old enough to remember BP Pick a Box? Yes/No. For those of you under the age of what shall we say to be diplomatic, those of you under the age of 25, BP Pick a Box used to be a TV program which had some very famous contestants including a person who later became a member of Parliament – Barry Jones.
Today we are talking about a different game Not a gameshow, but a different game called the “Blame Game”. The blame game has been going on for a very, very long time. And you get a bit of a hint of the blame game going on in the Gospel reading where they are trying to track Jesus with some very tricky, curly, zingers which they hope will trip Him up. Which Jesus deftly knocked to the boundary for four – because we are getting close to the cricket season now that yesterday’s grand-final, peace be upon them, has taken place. I am amazed that there aren’t many more people dressed in black for mourning, after the result yesterday. A close match wasn’t it.
But in the blame game in the Gospel reading, even when they had a chance to phone a friend, they didn’t get the right answer, even though they consulted amongst themselves. Coming in to the cricket season, there are of course hand signals which mean “four” and hand signals meaning “six” and hand signals meaning “out”. The blame game has hand signals too – really one main hand signal, you can all do it. Firstly you make a fist and then you point a finger. That’s actually really significant, because the blame game is based on anger. T,he pointing of the finger is aimed to deflect the anger, to make the anger focus on someone else.
The three readings today are related, because in Ezekiel the blame game had come to a national pitch. It was the way of life for Israel. I would be tempted to say it’s become the way of life for Australia. We are certainly getting there. What was happening in Israel was this, – summarised in the mis-quoted proverb at the beginning of Ezekiel;
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Ezekiel has to say no more will this proverb, misquoted as it was, being heard in Israel, because what the people were saying was simply this “It’s not our fault.” “Our fathers went astray.” “Our fathers worship the idols.” “Our fathers had bad habits.” “The previous generations have laid down patterns – we’ve inherited those patterns, and so we are just doing what they did so you can’t blame us!” “We are the victims here.” You can’t blame the victim. To play the victim is actually to be the victim and it’s a deadly game because to play the victim locks you into a place where you can never be free – because you never take responsibility for who you are and what you have done.
In the little story from the bulletin, two sons of an alcoholic and abusive father become fathers themselves. One grows into an alcoholic and the other turns into a control freak teetotaller and they both say, “Well look at my father. What you expect?” In other words they use the behaviour or mis-behaviour of their parents to say, “You can’t blame me for the way I’ve turned out.” So that becomes an excuse to continue in their own line of wickedness. Ezekiel has to confront that very deliberately and he says, ”No” that’s not the way the Lord works. When he says the soul that sins it shall die, he’s not making a general theological statement that sinful people die. That’s not the general theological statement even though it is true – he is making a very specific pastoral statement and saying “no, you can’t excuse your wickedness on the basis of what happened to you.” You have responded in a certain way and you are responsible. If the law does not hold you accountable as a responsible human being then your humanity is diminished and his glory is completely lost. Because you have been made in his image, and to say that you are not responsible for your actions and your decisions is to deny who you are as being made in the image of God, and it is to deny the dignity with which you have been made.
My wife’s has a very dear, elderly, retired medical specialist friend who worked for many, many years in drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. She has often said that, unless a person takes responsibility for their addiction, they will never be free. So long as they blame someone else they will always be a victim of their addiction. Taking responsibility is the first step of repentance.
When we hear the reading from Ezekiel it’s not framed in an angry voice that is asking people to sort of square up and fly level and sort themselves out. The reading from Ezekiel is all in a very tender compassionate voice, framed in the question “Why would you die?” “Why will you persist in such a self-destructive diminished view of yourselves, and of God, and the universe?” “Why will you destroy yourselves by continuing to play the victim card? “When will you stand up and actually take responsibility for who you are before me – because at that point, when you stand up and take responsibility, and if that means confessing all your sins so be it. But at that point you can be healed.
“Why would you die?” is not an angry rebuke from the lips of an angry Prophet. We get the Old Testament prophets so wrong. They wept and wept. And then of course in the Gospel reading, you have the account of those people who are playing the blame game in a different way. Have any of you here (I won’t say it is a particularly male phenomenon, but it could be construed that way) heard of selective deafness? The older I get, the deafer I get. What is selective deafness? You hear what you want to hear – and you only hear what you want to hear.
The the people were engaged in a deadly game of selective deafness because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was saying. They were looking for an excuse not to believe. That is the way that we are, in our natural selves. There is no human being on the face of the planet who is an innocent bystander with an open mind and a clean slate just waiting to be convinced if the evidence is strong enough. As one great British theologian said many years ago, “When God comes to us, he doesn’t find us simply as straying sheep but as rebels with weapons in our hands” and so the selective deafness of Jesus day was manifested in the fact that people did not want to hear Jesus Word – they did not want to see his authority as coming from God, so they were looking for any excuse, to evade it.
Another variation of the blame game and of course Jesus ask them a question and even when they phoned a friend they couldn’t get the right answer, so they said “We don’t know” and Jesus said “Look at what’s happening. How is it with all of your pharisaic religious power and legalistic observance, you have never got one tax collector or prostitute to repent, and here they are now falling over themselves to come into the kingdom and sit at my table, and eat and drink with me. So where is the authority from? The Philippians passage is something very different, it’s a passage which puts “Why will you die?” in flesh and blood. It is one of the most remarkable passages in the whole of Scripture. Isn’t this a strange statement about the Lord, emptying himself, not regarding equality with God a thing to be grasped. Pouring himself out, not just to become a man. I don’t think in fact that was his humiliation because we as human beings have been made in his image. We are the closest thing to God in the whole universe. Indeed I believe that God made us in his image, in the beginning, so that in due course and in the fullness of time, he God, could become one of us.
So the humiliation of Jesus is not in the becoming a human being, not in becoming a man through the womb of Mary, not even just humbling himself, but humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. What you see here? Here you see a man who is not in the blame game, even though he alone of all humanity, throughout all history, is truly the sole, innocent victim, because there was no sin in him nor deceit in his mouth. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – this man, complains not, does not embrace the victim status, but declares in what he’s doing a mighty victory, and even though we couldn’t see it, as he was pinned to those pieces of timber and physically couldn’t move and inch from them. Spiritually he was fighting with every weapon in his armament on our behalf. This man is also the King. And he is King because he is the Lamb. His kingship is lamb-like and his lambness is his kingness. As he hangs on that cross, he stands under the weight of whole humanity, which has played the blame game from the very, very beginning. How far does the blame game go back? We read in Genesis “It’s not me, it is the woman whom you created God, it’s your fault.” And the woman says, “It’s not me God, it’s the serpent that you made”.
Actually there’s the truth! The blame game always ends with God getting it in the neck. It’s all his fault and on the cross, God gets it in the neck, to the point of death. Death on a cross – and he doesn’t squirm and he doesn’t wriggle and he doesn’t play the victim card. He doesn’t try and blame someone else. He stands underneath it – receives at all. And the incredible thing is that this man who is the son of God, or God the son – he bears in his own self, in his own body on that cross, all of the hostile blame-shifting, selective deafness and hatred towards him and his father, and the spirit. He bears all of that in his body on the tree. He serves those who have never served him and he loves those who never loved him. Through the work of that cross he forgives those who have blamed him for everything.
A remarkable verse in Romans chapter 15 v3 where the apostle Paul puts in the lips of Jesus a psalm. That psalm says “All of the reproaches with which we’ve approached thee, have fallen on me.” Meaning,, all of the blaming that we’ve ever done all of that finger pointing, all of the anger, all of the hostility which is not just against this person or that person, but about God who created this universe and God who put that person there. And God who did things the way that we didn’t want them done, and God, who allows people to get cancer, and God who allows things to go wrong. This God whom we hate with a vengeance, this is the God against whom we reproach all day long. And the Lord says, “Why will you die? Why will you die?” by holding on to that – all of the reproaches, all of the blaming with which they have blamed thee – that is God, that they have laid on me. This is the real humility of the son of God – that he humbled himself, to the point of that death, and that death on that cross, where in his spirit in mind and conscience – all of that unjust blaming of God, echoes through all eternity. … and he carries it away until it is gone. And He says, “It is finished!”
I wonder, if by faith this morning, you can actually hear those words from Jesus lips into your heart – and you can hear him say to you “It is finished!” No need to run, no need to hide, no need to blame – It is finished. You are clean, the person you’re blaming is clean. It is finished.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.