Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
I Have Made You a Watchman - September 10, 2017 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Ezekiel 33:7-9
Last week Jeremiah helped us answer the questions of: who am I?, what is my purpose in life?, and who is God? This week Ezekiel helps us even more with the question of our purpose in life. Our purpose in life, as we have said many times before, is first and foremost to be loved by God and to be given to by Him. He is the one who created us, and He is the one who strengthens and keeps us in faith. He is the one who gives us life at conception and new life through Holy Baptism. He is the one who gives us everything that we have. In response to all that our Lord does for us and gives to us, our purpose in life is to live our lives to the glory of God, but even more, to be our brother’s keeper so that our brother might also live his life to the glory of God. Yes, society might like you to believe that what a person does is no one’s business but their own, that as long as what a person does is not hurting anyone else, then they should be allowed to do whatever they want. But God tells us that we are our brothers keeper. I believe there is a saying that goes something like, “my right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins.” Unfortunately, we forget that the swinging of my arm is not an isolated thing. We do not live in a vacuum. What we do does affect others. The swinging of my arm, the right for me to swing my arm does affect others, not only those I might touch or hit, but also those who see me swing my arm. I can never do anything that does not affect someone else in one way or another. With that in mind, let us get into our text and see what God has to say.
Please keep in mind, that as we hear all the Law in this text, that there is forgiveness of sins. Please do not fail to hear that there is only one unforgivable sin, that is dying in unbelief. And to make sure you will not forget I will remind you of this fact again later.
Our text begins with God’s gift of pastors or as our text calls them watchmen. We read verse seven, “7Son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (v. 7). This verse reminds us that pastors are given by God. Conversely, pastors are not given by man, nor are they self appointed. Just because someone says, “I feel like a pastor,” or “I feel like I want to be a pastor,” or “I feel God has called me to be a pastor,” or some one says, “I will be a pastor,” does not make that person a pastor. A person is a pastor whom the Lord makes, or sets aside as a pastor. And the Lord does that through the church. In other words, a man is a pastor who has been set apart by God and called by God through a congregation.
God calls pastors through the church for a specific purpose. God calls pastors so he might preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, and forgive and retain sin. God calls pastors so that he might speak His Word through pastors. That Word which God gives to pastors to speak is His Word, the Bible and pastors are not to add to nor take from God’s Word, but are to speak it as God gives it. And as members of a congregation we are to hear the Word our pastor’s speak as God’s Word. Not only are members to hear God’s Word through the pastor they are to believe and obey God’s Word as well.
God also gives the responsibility to recognize sin. This does not necessarily mean to judge, but it does mean to recognize that what someone is doing is against God’s Word. We read verse eight, “8If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (v. 8). God’s Word tells us what is right and what is wrong. The Ten Commandments tell us what we are to do and not do. The Ten Commandments tell us how we are to be in relationship with God and with each other. The Ten Commandments show us what is right and what is wrong.
Often after hearing about recognizing sin someone will say, “but God’s Word tells us not to judge.” Certainly it does, but it also tells us that we are to recognize sin. It tells us that if a person fails to repent of their sin then we are to judge that person, not for the sake of condemning that person, but so that person might recognizes their sin and the seriousness of their sin so that they might repent and be given forgiveness before it is too late. That procedure is laid out in our Gospel Lesson for today.
Our text reminds us that God holds the watchman, that is the pastor, accountable for not recognizing sin. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper, it is my business. The question we might ask ourselves when deciding whether or not to speak to someone concerning their sin is, which is more important, our spiritual welfare or our earthly image.
As a pastor, I breath a sigh of relief to know that God always holds the right person accountable. We read verse nine, “9But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (v. 9). To sin and not know is one thing, but it still condemns. I think in our world it is stated as ignorance of the law is no excuse and that is the same with God. To sin in ignorance is still sin.
To sin and to know we sin is one thing, that is deliberate sin. To sin and to not know we sin is another thing, and yet it still condemns. How often does a person think, I know what I am doing is wrong, but I will do it anyway and later I will pray that God will forgive me. Continual living in sin is to refuse God’s forgiveness. God can see in our hearts and He does know if we are repentant or if we are looking for cheap grace.
According to our text, the pastor who does what God says, that is proclaims right and wrong, is not responsible for the one who will not listen. My job is not to hound you, but to show you God’s Word. My job is to preach the Law and to make that law personal so that you know that I am singling you out, that I am talking to you, or better stated, that God is talking to you, that is the job God has given me, as a pastor, to do. If you do not hear the law, if you do not believe I am speaking to you (and here I would rather say, if you do not believe God is speaking to you) then I am not doing my job. It is after I have shown you God’s Word, only then am I off the hook if you fail to recognize your sin, if you fail to repent, and if you remain in your sin. This is were my humanness comes in, I am not patient like God. I speak God’s Word and give up. God is patient and longsuffering, He continually works in us to bring us to repentance before it is too late.
Our text also implies that it is our responsibility to listen to the pastor when he shows us our sin. We need to hear these words now before we are in the midst of our sinning, because when we are in the midst of sinning is when we do not what to hear or listen to the pastor tell us that we are sinning.
This whole text is very much like a parent disciplining a child. When your child does something wrong you tell your child not to do it again. When your child does not listen but does it again you have to disciple him, for his own good. This is not something you enjoy doing, rather it is something that is most difficult to do. And your child does not like being disciplined, so the whole while you are trying to do something good, to do what is right for your child, he is calling you names, rebelling against whatever discipline is being meted out. Your child does not want to talk about what they did wrong, but about how unfair you are, even telling all their friends how bad, unfair and uncaring you are. Likewise, when we do something wrong, we do not want to hear about what we are doing wrong, rather we want to talk about how what I do is no ones business but my own and how I have the right to do whatever I want to do as long as I am not hurting anyone else, and we are back to the beginning and see that everything we do does affect others because we do not live in a vacuum.
Getting back to our text. Our text does speak specifically to the watchman, to pastors. Because we are not all pastors does that mean our text does not speak to you? No, our text speaks to us all as members of the church. Our text reminds us all that we all have a responsibility to act accordingly. Our responsibility is not to be holier than thou. Our responsibility is not to judge someone, to say, “you’re going to hell.” That would be judging. Our responsibility is to recognize sin and to say, “what you are doing is not right, according to God’s Word.” Our responsibility is first, for ourselves. Yes, we are to take the plank out of our own eye before removing the speck in our neighbors eye.
Second, we are responsible for our Christian brothers and sisters. Just as God holds pastor’s accountable, so too He holds us all accountable. God speaks some tough words to us today and He expects us to take them to heart. When we see and hear of our Christian brothers or sisters breaking any of the commandments, for us to sit idly by and watch and listen is a sin of omission. When we hear or see our Christian brother or sister break any of the commandments we are to show them their sin so that they repent and are given forgiveness which is more loving than allowing them to remain in their sin and not have forgiveness. In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus tells us how we are to do this, that is that we are to speak to the one who has sinned. This is truly loving and caring for others. To do otherwise really is not loving.
But there is good news in all this. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins, so we are not accountable for them. This means that unless we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sins we are given His forgiveness. Our sins have all already been forgiven, even those we have yet to commit. Jesus made Himself accountable for our sins. Yes, we can refuse Jesus forgiveness, by refusing to repent and change and instead by continuing to live in our sin. But Jesus forgiveness is there waiting for us.
Jesus died for our sins and more importantly, Jesus’ work was enough. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection accomplished for us, total and complete forgiveness, for us, for all the people who ever lived, who are alive and who ever will live.
This is one of those text that has a lot of Law in it which makes it kind of tough to preach. Because of all the Law in this text it is imperative that we do not forget the Gospel. When speaking about sin, I must begin by saying that we need to keep in mind that there is only one unforgivable sin, that is the sin of dying in unbelief. With that in mind we want to remember that God’s grace, His Gospel message always far out weighs His Law. In God’s eyes all sins are equal. There is no degree of sin. The sin of lying is just as damning as the sin of murder. And as God forgives lying, by the death of Jesus on the cross, so He forgives murder. Please hear God’s Word of good news. We repeat it every Sunday morning, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The point of the Law is to show us our sins so that the Gospel message sounds so much sweeter. Your sins are forgiven, go out and sin no more. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.