Called to Be a Watchman – Sermon – Alex Moir – 24 January 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“For you, the Lord is a safe retreat; you have made the Most High your refuge.” 

— Psalms 91:9

Prayer

By making this gathering a priority in our lives we do find our refuge in You, gracious Father.  As You welcome us into Your presence this day, may we indeed ascend to Your high vantage point … and see our lives and the world with Your eyes.  We pray in the name of the one who knew the lows and now rules from on high, even Jesus.  Amen … 

Song

Today's Message: Called to Be a Watchman

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 3:16-21

16 At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[a] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.

20 “Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die. Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 21 But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself.”

Welcome back to our weekly journey with the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel!  Today we find ourselves back in chapter 3 and just when our hero thought it couldn’t get any worse, well … Yahweh seems to add another demand to his already difficult task.  Not only is he living with exiles far away from their homeland (think current day refugee camps), he is being tasked with the rather challenging assignment of delivering a tough message of sin.  If he doesn’t, people will die … and the prophet will have their blood on his hands (see v. 18 and 20)

A popular saying, “I didn’t sign up for this” pops into my head … something that Ezekiel may have thought as well.  And maybe we can leave it at that.  After all, this is a story about an ancient prophet.  We could examine his life, marvel at his courage and go back to our daily routine … except for one thing.  To be far away from home, whether it be a country or situation in life, is not confined to ancient history.  We live with exiles as well …

There are the ones who come to our communities from countries of instability.  I remember fondly when the church I served in London sponsored a Nigerian journalist who had run afoul of the political authorities in that country.  We believe that our Master would encourage this type of ministry, citing as our authority the riveting parable in Matthew 25 when he refers to “the least of these.” 

But we know other exiles too, who are sometimes more difficult to detect.  I have a friend who has been exiled from his way of life.  When I first met him in the late 1980’s he lived in a stylish neigbourhood with his family, holding down an interesting sales job … but changes in the economy and relationships have rendered his current life a mere shadow of what it used to be.  Some have been exiled from their families … perhaps through their own doing, but not always.  Still, others believe that they are cultural exiles … that the current values of their society bear little resemblance to the ones they remember from years gone by.

Like the prophet of old, we all live with exiles, people around us we know and would genuinely like to help.  But, if we’re honest with reality and the scripture that gives meaning to our lives, our message needs to be one like Ezekiel’s.  We might call it a hybrid message.  Yes, there is hope … but some personal changes have to take place.  We believe that these changes come from the Father’s hand, not from dogged determination to become better people.  We might call this exercise repentance …

Being a watchman or woman (see v. 17) has been misinterpreted through the years in the context of the ministry of the church.  It has resulted in some clumsy attempts at evangelism (at best) and/or some outright offensive approaches that may have offended the person we hope to help.  The Christian pastor Eugene Rivers quote is helpful here … 

If the right thing is said at the wrong time, the truth is lost.  Truth out of context is over-rated.”  

Sometimes we have let the tough teaching in this passage frighten us into the tyranny of the urgent. 

Of course, the blessed gift of scripture can help us achieve balance here.  A deeper analysis of this passage reveals the marching orders for a true watchman or woman.  “I have made you a watchman over for the house of Israel”, Yahweh states …”so, hear the word I speak (v. 17).”  The Hebrew word for “hear” means far more than sounds entering the ear channel … it means as well, “to perceive by ear.”  It may remind us a little of Jesus’ instruction to his followers “he/she who has ears, let him/her hear.”  The blurting out of the salvation message without a deep understanding of its full meaning may not be in the best interests of our hearers.  It is not just a matter of escaping God’s wrath … at its best the Christian message is an invitation to live an abundant life here on earth (see John 10:10; I Cor. 5:17).  We need to truly “hear” the word of the Lord before we can share it.

The second part of v. 17 is the one we all know … “and give them warning from me.”  Yes, the word “warning” is certainly a proper meaning for this Hebrew verb.  It may remind us a little of the raising of our children, when they were not old enough to properly reason for themselves.  It was our job as parents to “warn” them about the busy street, running with sharp objects, touching a hot stove.  In the ministry of the Christian church, part of our message must include the reminder that sin has an impact on our lives … and one that may have lasting implications.

But there is another way to look at this verb that is helpful as well.  It can also mean “to enlighten, to shine, to illumine.”  One of our precious New Testament scriptures comes to mind as we reflect on this meaning …

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (I Peter 2:9).” 

The Christian life is a new way of life to be embraced, more than pain to be averted. 

So, to serve as a watchman or woman is a bit of a balancing act, really.  We are all fully aware that there are folks in our lives who truly need the Lord in their lives … but, as Pastor Rivers suggests, timing is very important.  I’ve often thought about this role we play is like a door that separates us from the ones we know who need Christ … but that handle on the door is always on the other side.  After much prayer and sensitivity to the Spirit, we may knock but it can only be opened from the inside.  It is only when we see a “crack in the door” that we might give it a gentle shove in the hopes that another wanderer has been sought and won!  My prayer is that the Father of Lights will make us all sensitive to the exiles in our lives …

Prayer

As we have been drawn into Your presence this day, gracious Father, we have been reminded about Your care for exiles of all kinds.  We remember the times in our lives when we have been far away … from important others, from joy only You can give, from Your purposes for our lives.  Somehow You have found us … and we are so grateful for the wideness in Your mercy. 

As convinced as we are that Ezekiel was not the only watchman You have chosen, we admit to feeling uncomfortable at this calling in our lives and how often we have failed.  Yet Your word is full of such stories like ours … of men and women, their mis-readings and missteps.  Then the story goes on and they have been re-purposed for Your work.  We have learned through the years that You never give up on us … even when we give up on ourselves.

Finally, our Father, we have been reminded again these past few weeks about the delicate balance between those who govern and those who are governed.  In all of this our scripture teaches that Your hand is not absent from these proceedings … and so we do not witness these “goings on” as people without hope.  May You find in us faithfulness, as people of the promise … in the strong name of Jesus.  Amen …

Song

Benediction

Psalm 126 – A song of ascents

When the  Lord  restored  the fortunes of Zion,
        we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
        our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
        “The  Lord  has done great things  for them.”
The  Lord  has done great things  for us,
        and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
        like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
        will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
        carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
        carrying sheaves with them.

It (Psalm 126) announces the existence of a people who assemble to worship God and disperse to live to God’s glory, whose lives are bordered on one side by a memory of God’s acts and the other by hope in God’s promises, and along with whatever is happening are able to say, at the centre, “We are glad.”  – Eugene Peterson