Sermon for Morning Prayer on Sunday September 10th, 2017,
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 119:33-40; Ezekiel 33:7-11; Matthew 18:15-20
Text: Ezekiel 33:7-11
Topic: God’s call to man to turn away from doing evil and instead do what is good
When Dave Boon first saw the avalanche that swept his car over a guardrail on Interstate 40 in Denver, Colorado, it was only a puff of powder. After that brief warning, a snowy burst of wind knocked the car out of control. “Not even a second later, a freight train hit us,” Boon said.
Boon had been traveling with his wife, June, and Gary Martinez, thirteen, on their way to a youth group ski trip. The three of them had been discussing the possibility of an avalanche. “We were talking about avalanches and how there was so much snow and stuff. Then we turned the corner and saw some white powder, and it slammed us into the guardrail,” Boon said.
The wall of snow knocked the car over the rail and cause it to roll hundreds of feet down a steep mountain slope. In the middle of the descent, the car struck a tree and was knocked out of the avalanche’s grasp. It came to a stop upside down and pointing back uphill.
Fortunately, Boon and his wife were well trained. After clearing an airway and freeing himself from the seatbelt, Boon was able to exit the car along with Martinez and then cut his wife free from her restraints. Despite several bumps, bruises and scrapes, none of the three required hospitalization.
For Boon, the experience was a reminder that warnings and hints of danger need to be respected. “The signs read, ‘Avalanche Area, No Stopping,’” he said. “We’ve driven by that place hundreds of times. We’ve skied avalanche chutes, worn beepers, always carried an avalanche shovel. We’ve seen avalanches. But in our wildest dreams, we never imagined getting hit in a car by one.”
– Patrick O’Driscoll, “Avalanche Sends Travelers Tumbling,” USA Today (January 8, 2007)
EZEKIEL A WATCHMAN
Our First Lesson today begins with God’s announcement to Ezekiel that he has appointed him a watchman for his people Israel. To understand the role of a watchman in ancient Israel more clearly, we should read the verses preceding our Lesson (Ezekiel 33:1-6). These verses explain how the people appoint a watchman who stands on a lookout tower or at the city gate. When he sees an enemy army coming, he must blow the trumpet to warn the people that battle is near. Anyone who pays no attention to this warning may lose his life at the enemy’s hand, and it is his own fault for not escaping in time, or preparing himself for battle. But if the watchman fails to blow the trumpet beforehand, it is the watchman’s fault if his fellow-citizens are killed, since he did not sound the warning.
THE PROPHETS AND PREACHERS’ ROLE IN WARNING GOD’S PEOPLE
Ezekiel was appointed by God as a prophet to warn his people to repent and save themselves from the consequences of their rebellion against God. He had to receive from God prophetic messages to relay to his people to urge them to turn away from evil and do what is right, so that they might live and not die. God holds Ezekiel responsible for conveying His warnings to His people. If he does not do so, God will hold him responsible for the death of the people he was sent to warn.
Today also, God calls ministers of the Gospel, prophets and preachers to account for what they say. If God has given them messages of warning to relay to His people, and they have not done so, or given them comforting words instead of warnings, they will be held to account.
THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE FAITHFUL FOR THE TRUTH OF THEIR TESTIMONY
Some may argue that God doesn’t give these warnings anymore, since the Bible as the word of God sums up all the warnings and messages we need to hear. Indeed the Bible is full of warnings and messages from God, including the words spoken by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
But wherever there are churches, there are preachers of some kind, lay or ordained, who bear responsibility to God for what they preach. Every believer, also, who shares the Gospel with anyone, must answer to God for what He says. All of us need to read, study and know the Bible well, so that we may teach others the faith accurately and give others the truth about the Gospel and what God requires of them.
THE CALL TO REPENT OF SIN IS A LIFE-GIVING CALL
The responsibility of calling people to repentance is not to be associated with misery and death, but is itself a call to live. In verse 10 of Ezekiel 33, the Lord rehearses what the people are saying about themselves and their sins:
“If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?”
This is a kind of self-pity and it sounds as if the sins themselves and the people’s pining away because of their sins are excuses for inaction. God’s reply is that He takes no delight in the death of the wicked but rather wants the wicked person to turn away from his wickedness and live. This is the action that will save them from their sins and bring them from death to life.
Being miserable about one’s sins is not in itself an action that is guaranteed to save us. Contrition is meant to lead to confession and repentance, and turning over a new leaf, doing what is good and right, instead of clinging to selfishness. But because of man’s tendency to give way to despair and plunge deeper into sin, when instead he should turn away from it, the Lord Jesus Christ warned even His disciples about the coming of the day of the Lord:
And take head to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with
surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you
unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all that dwell on the face of the earth.
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape
all these things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man.
(Luke 21:34-36, KJV)
From the Lord’s warning to his disciples here, we see that the emphasis no longer lies on a single prophetic watchman whom all the people can blame conveniently, if he fails to warn them to repent before calamity overtakes them. It now lies on every Christian. You must watch, you must pray always; you must keep watch over your own soul, and your own life.
OBSERVING THE WARNING SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Today there are plenty of natural disasters which can serve as warning signs to us all to watch over ourselves, to turn from evil and to do good. We have Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. And Hurricane Jose is still coming. In Mexico, there has been the worst earthquake in a century. Huge wildfires in other parts of our country have caused much devastation. Some will say that these are merely natural disasters, part of the world that God created. If we take a Biblical view, the disasters in the elements should be read as signs that people need to turn away from evil and do what is right. We can’t just separate religion from the world. All of life is subject to God’s rule.
As a nation we must turn away from evil and from all that displeases Him, and as individuals we must do the same, turning to God with all our heart and soul, and aiming to live lives which please Him. Will you keep watch spiritually and pray always?