Live audio recording of Lessons and Sermon:
Sermon Text: Ezekiel 33:7-11
Date: September 27& 28, 2014
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Ezekiel 33:7–11 (NIV84)
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
“Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” ’ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’
Confronting Sin is True Love
1. You show love when you rescue
2. You’re shown love when rescued
Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of “tough love.” Love is typically being supportive and encouraging. If a child wants to be a firefighter, perhaps his family will get books from the library about what firemen do, how fire trucks works, what kind of other equipment a firefighter might use. Perhaps the child would even get to go on a trip to a fire station to meet actual firefighters and see the things he’s only read about now in real life. All of these things can contribute to a child learning and growing in a desire to serve his or her community in this capacity.
But what if that child decides that when the house down the street catches fire that he or she is going to go into that burning house to learn how to put out that fire. The loving parents will step in and say, “No, we’re not going to do that.” That’s probably not going to make the child very happy. In fact it might bring tears and sadness to that child. But the parent understands that the tears are something we’d readily take over a child being hurt.
Tough love means saying “no” even if everything would be easier if we said “yes.” Tough love means showing someone to see the error of their ways rather than giving into the compulsions that ultimately would be their downfall. Tough love isn’t mean spirited. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Tough love is the most deeply loving thing that someone can do for someone else.
In our lesson this morning, God calls the prophet Ezekiel (or more, reminds Ezekiel of his call) to show tough love to his brothers and sisters in Israel. Way back in chapter 3 of Ezekiel’s book, God had called him. He said, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me” (3:17). God had called Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel and to give them words of warning. So, too, in our lesson this morning, God reminds Ezekiel of his calling using the exact same words he used when he initially gave Ezekiel this task.
During Ezekiel’s life, Israel was in really bad shape. Really, really bad shape. In fact, Ezekiel isn’t even in the Promised Land when he is initially called. We can say with reasonable certainty that Ezekiel received his call to be a prophet in 593 BC. At that time, he was already living in exile with many others from Israel in Babylon. God had warned in his people that if they continued to serve other gods and ignoring him, that he would use other nations to be his scourge to get them to wake up. Assyria served that role for the northern kingdom when, almost 130 years before Ezekiel was called, Assyria came through a wiped out the whole northern kingdom. Now, the “little brother” in Judah, the southern two tribes, are under a similar penalty for ignoring God. They will have to live in Babylon for 70 years. And it was going to get worse before it got better. 7 years after Ezekiel was called, Jerusalem was leveled, the temple was destroyed, and the land was left a waste.
God did not want any of that to happen, but there was no other way to get his people’s attention who were so enamored with the false religions that continued to exist around them. But even now, later in Ezekiel’s life as a prophet, there is still sin that grips the people, there are still problems that lead them astray, even if they are different problems than they were before. Sin still separated people from God. Sin still leads to death. Ezekiel was called to warn God’s people about their sin.
God uses the picture of a watchman to describe Ezekiel’s role in these matters. The watchman would stand on the wall, monitoring the land around the city, especially at night. Their job would be to warn the people if an enemy was coming so that the people could get ready for the battle and defend their homes and their families. We might think of the Paul Revere riding through the towns warning people that the British soldiers were coming at the time of the American Revolution.
What would you say to a watchman who decided that he just wasn’t in the mood to warn people about an invading army? What would you say to watchman that said he didn’t want to make people upset by waking them up in the middle of the night and so let people sleep and then be killed? That watchman was NOT doing his job! In fact, his negligence is going to get people killed.
And that’s exactly God’s point as he reiterates the assignment to Ezekiel. “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” The person’s sin will still be the result of their death, but because Ezekiel could have said something about it, given that person a warning that what they were doing was putting their spiritual lives into jeopardy. If he said nothing, God then holds Ezekiel responsible.
We heard Jesus in our Gospel address these very same thoughts. Yet, how often do we do what Jesus says? Isn’t it so much easier for us to talk about how someone else had wronged rather than speaking to them? Isn’t it easier to gossip about people who are doing wrong things and making poor decisions rather than addressing our concern to them? And yet when we keep silent because it’s easier and we don’t want anyone mad at us, we are letting that child run into the burning building to learn how to be a firefighter, we are the watchman standing on the wall who doesn’t warn the people about the enemy army because we want to let them get some more sleep. We are failing to show tough love and in that inaction we are actually showing hate and disdain for the people who are (perhaps in ignorance) committing spiritual suicide.
We cannot be afraid to address sin. We want to do so with tact and finesse. Screaming at the top of our lungs at someone or holding signs on a street corner we might well recognize are not great options for expressing the seriousness of sin and our concern for the person tangled up in it. But in love, we absolutely have to warn people, especially our fellow Christians, when they are tangled up in sin that is hurting and destroying them spiritually. The couple that finds it unnecessary to get married before they have sex and live together, the child who continually disrespects his parents, the parents who embitter their children through harsh treatment, the person who leans into his or her natural proclivity toward anger and violence, homosexuality, alcohol or drug abuse, promiscuity, gossip, or whatever their personal weakness, all of those people are playing with fire and need to be warned. They need to hear not only about their sin, but the Savior that rescued them from it. They need to hear of Jesus who enables them to not just do, but also want to do what God wants them to do out of thankful joy.
Whenever we confront sin, it is never with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. We never want to give the impression that somehow, in someway, the choices we make, the things we do or do not do are the gold standard. No, we go with the clear point that we, too wrestle with sin. We struggle to think and do what God expects us to think and do. And we fail, a lot. We lead people to their Savior as we need to daily go to our Savior. As watchmen for those close to us, we share in the need for these reminders. We take care to encourage our brothers and sisters to see in Jesus the complete forgiveness and release from sin, any sin, even our sin.
But how do we react when the tables are turned? What is our response if someone comes to us with concerns about what we’re doing, not doing, saying, or how we’re living? Do we brush them off as not knowing anything? Do we lash out at them for not minding their own business? Or do we listen? Do we listen as if a watchman has come to deliver news that may not be comfortable to hear, may even be scary, but is absolutely necessary for us to hear?
The children of Israel were asking questions when Ezekiel or anyone else confronted them about their sins. “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” they would moan. They were feeling the effects of sin, they were hearing the rebuke, but they were not willing to change. So they were sad, or mad, or whatever, without really addressing the problem at hand. God gives the solution to that problem: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
The solution was right in front of them. Don’t want to die in your sin? Turn away from them! Stop doing that! Israel’s response was like the person who bemoans that fact that he can’t lose any weight, but he does so while stuffing pizza and cookies in his mouth. The solution is right there. Turn from your sin to your Savior!
Of course we’re never going to stop sinning. The real issue here isn’t the sin. The real issue is clinging to the sin like Israel was. They didn’t want to stop, and bemoaned that there was no other solution. Clinging to sin, enjoying sin, is saying to God, “No thanks, I don’t need anything from you. I’m good here.” Which, in the eternal perspective, is committing spiritual suicide and sentencing yourself to hell. Sin brings death with it, and left unchecked, brings eternal death. As the watchman, you are warning people out of love to spare them from that end; as the one to whom the watchman comes, you are being shown beautiful, if tough, love.
The real solution to this all is Jesus. He’s done everything we need. The world’s sins, even your and my sins, are paid for. And that’s what makes God’s question so full of frustration on his part, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” Why die when the solution is right there? Why die when God has given you life? Why die when Jesus is all that you need?
Whether our sin is not loving people enough to want to address sin with them, reacting poorly when people confront our sin out of care or concern, or any other innumerable things that can weigh down our consciences, Jesus is the solution to it all. When we confront sin, we can assure people the certainty of their forgiveness because we know that Jesus paid the debt. When we wrestle with our own sinful weaknesses, we can take them to Jesus’ cross and know that there they are done away with. Confronting sin is tough love, and so was God’s solution to it. But love prevailed so that we have been set free. We will not die, but live, because God has removed our sin—and it’s lasting effects.
So as you go out into the world, go with love and concern for the people in your families, the people in your church, the people who seem to be lost. Share Jesus’ Word with them, the Word that condemns sins and immediately shares the solution to all of that sin. God go with you as you share his tough love that we all may rejoice in that love in heaven forever! Amen.