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Worship Theme: The Church guards the faith of others
Sermon Theme: You Are a Watchman for the Lord
The bad guys were choosing which neighborhood they wanted to commit their robberies in. They had it narrowed down from 10 to 2, the 2 that they thought gave them the best chance for what their evil intentions would consider success. And finally, a drive through each of the last two neighborhoods sealed the deal! They decided not so much for one neighborhood but rather against one. The decided against the neighborhood that had the signs on the street that said “Neighborhood Watch.” They didn’t know how active that neighborhood watch group was. Was it just a sign? Or were the neighbors really looking out for each other? At the end of the day, the crooks couldn’t take a chance and opted for the street that didn’t have the Neighborhood Watch!
And that’s exactly how that program is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be a deterrent to the bad guys. It’s supposed to be a threat, that even if someone is not home, their neighbors across the street are, and they are watching. But those signs are not all threats! They are a comfort, too. They are a comfort to the people that live there, knowing that their neighbors are looking out for them. It’s a comfort to know that people are paying attention and are ready to call the police if something strange is going on.
But the Neighborhood Watch program is nothing new. They had that program up and running even in the Old Testament – kind of. In Biblical times, a few people in the city took turns being the watchman. Their job, as you might guess, was to watch. They would sit atop the city walls and watch – watch for dangers, watch for enemies, watch for anything that the people might need to know. People usually lived all around in the city with many of them making their homes outside the city wall. When the watchman saw danger, he would blow his trumpet, and everyone knew that that was an important sign. When the watchman’s trumpet blew, the people knew that danger was around and that they better retreat to the safety of the city walls. The watchman was responsible for protecting the lives of so many people. If he didn’t do his job correctly, people would get hurt – or worse. The people trusted the watchman and they put their lives in his hands.
Today in our lesson from God’s Word, God used that picture for his prophet Ezekiel, and we’ll see how he uses it for us as well. God was not just speaking to Ezekiel, but he speaks to everyone here when he says You are a Watchman for the Lord.
If I asked you what is the most important of the 5 senses for a watchman - for someone who watches things, what would you say? You would probably all respond – a watchman needs good eyes! But isn’t it interesting which sense God first picks out for Ezekiel? God says to Ezekiel “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. God pin-points Ezekiel’s ears. He tells him that in order to be a good watchman, he is going to need good ears - to listen to the things that the Lord has to say to him.
Ezekiel served during the Babylonian captivity. If he would have asked his people who their biggest threat was, they would have answered – the Babylonians. But that’s why God called Ezekiel to sound the warning, because there was a bigger threat out there, one that not everyone was remembering. God wanted Ezekiel to remind them that their sins were a much bigger threat.
The watchman would scan the horizon and scout out potential threats. But his job didn’t end there. If he saw a threat – he had to act, he had to warn the people about the coming threat. In American airports, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has a policy and a tagline – “See Something, Say Something!” It’s not enough to just say to yourself – “That seems weird!” You have to say something to someone who can do something to make everyone safe. The watchman had to blow that trumpet or shout out his words of warning. If he didn’t many, many people could die – people who could have been saved with his warning. God emphasized that point to Ezekiel when he said to him. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.
One of our jobs as watchmen is to warn those around us of impending danger. That’s why God instructs us to warn each other about the dangers of sin. Sin is a big deal – a deal that could cost a person their life and their soul, that’s why Jesus calls on us to warn those who fall into it. In our Gospel today, Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and show them their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over (Matthew 18:15). We are responsible for loving those around us, and when their actions are putting themselves in danger, the loving thing to do it to warn them.
It’s not up to us who listens, but it is up to us to speak. Love speaks! It speaks truth! There was a man who lived in Washington State in the year 1980 named Harry R. Truman. (Not Harry S. Truman – Harry R. Truman) He lived on Spirit Lake near to Mt. St. Helens. When the ground began to shake, the scientists warned of a pending eruption. There were evacuations called and almost unanimously followed – expect for the one man. He told the scientists and the rangers, and the police that he knew that mountain better than they and there was nothing to be afraid of. Do you know how many people died in the eruption of Mt. St. Helens? One man – Harry R. Truman. (There were 56 others that were killed by the ash, but Harry was the only one killed by the eruption.) If a watchman blows the trumpet and the people decide for themselves not to come into the city walls, their blood then is on their own hands. If we warn others about the sins in their lives and they refuse to listen, we have done all we can. We can’t make anyone listen to the warning, but Love speaks.
But the devil is hard at work getting us to be silent watchmen – in other words to be no watchmen at all. He tells us that it’s not worth talking to people about sin. He tells you that the other person is going to get mad at you. He tells you that the other person will judge you or accuse you of judging them. He tells you that if you value a relationship with that person you better just be silent about the choices that they are making. He convinces entire churches that Christ’s loving steps for discipline aren’t the real way to love. He tells them to hush up and maybe, just maybe, their silence will bring folks to repentance? And why do you think that he does that? Because as he silences the watchmen, he wins two. He wins the one who is falling further into sin and he wins the ones who takes the easy path and refuses to love. He succeeds in pulling two people (or more) a bit further away from Jesus’ love.
On our own, we’d be lousy watchmen. We’d be watchmen that only spoke when it was in our best interests. We would only warn those people we really didn’t care for or those whose relationships we considered dispensable. But we can praise God that he didn’t treat us the way that we so often treat others. He loved us enough to not hide the truth. He tells us the severity and consequences of our sins. He doesn’t sugar coat it or hold back what we may not want to hear. He tells us that our sins have destroyed our relationship with him and that we are deserving of hell as a result. But like a good watchman, he points us to safety, too. ‘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. God loves us too much to delight in our death – instead he turns us, he turns us from sin and offers us life. He gathers us like a hen gathers her chicks. He gathers us into the shadow of his love. His warnings of law bring us to the gospel. The truth about our inability to save ourselves, points us to the one who offered himself to save us. Jesus was the true watchman. He calls out to those in danger and then protects them with his love. He protects us from sin with his forgiveness – his forgiveness won on Calvary’s cross. He protects us from the damage that sin could do to our lives, by allowing sin to do that damage to him. He bore the brunt of our sins and brunt of God’s wrath, so that we could be forgiven. He never held back to save his own reputation or gratify himself. He always spoke and always loved - perfectly in our place.
And now that we have been saved from the wrath of God and the danger of sin, we have the privilege of sounding the trumpet for those around us. We are watchmen – but not in arrogant judgmental ways, but in caring and loving ways – patterned after the care and love that Jesus has shown to us. We can watch out for those around us, speaking words of law to those who need to hear and words of gospel to those who repent of their sins. We can point them to the forgiving love of Jesus – who cleanses every sin and wipes away every tear.
And not only can we be a watchman, but we can be comforted in knowing that there are those around us who are watching us. There are people here who love you so much – so much that they will warn you when you have fallen off course. They will reach out a loving and caring hand to bring you back. Be thankful for those who love you that much – for those who are willing to put themselves out there and watch out for you. Thank them for their service and for their love.
God called Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel, but he is not the only watchman that God calls. He calls pastors to be watchmen, elders to be watchmen, teachers to be watchmen. He calls on fellow Christians to be watchmen in our lives - to warn us of danger and point us to the safety of the cross. He calls many to watch our lives, and he calls on us to watch many lives as well. God wants us to point others to Jesus – so that together we can celebrate his presence in our lives and can live in his presence forever in heaven. There our jobs as watchmen will end and our joy as perfect children will begin and will never end. To God be the Glory!! Amen.
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