Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019
“My Responsibility; Yours; God’s Pleasure”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Once in a while I look ahead, do some planning for the future. I looked at next week’s lessons. My, are they good ones. The Prodigal Son, also known as, The Waiting Father, is one of the best stories in the Bible. That wayward son had screwed up everything for himself and his family. But the father was watching for him, ran to him, embraced him and kissed him. “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24)
We get to read that next Sunday. Now, that’s a text!! I can preach that one. I also like The Good Samaritan and the chapter on the Good Shepherd. They are classics. A preacher doesn’t have to write a sermon those weeks – they can preach themselves.
But this week – that is a whole different story. The first part of the text is harsh – especially for preachers. Maybe I can just skip this week. Listen to what God says:
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, but 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.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
Do you know that I have a responsibility to you? I am supposed to be a watchman. I am to warn you about sin and evil that can ruin your life now and send you into hell forever. God called Ezekiel to be a watchman. A watchman back then would stand up on the wall of the city and would be looking for enemies who were trying to break through the wall and do harm to those inside. Ezekiel’s job wasn’t to stand on a wall, but he was to watch over the spiritual condition of God’s people. He looked over their souls.
The same word of being a watchman is used in the New Testament. The word now is “overseer.” Paul in Acts 20 is speaking to the pastors who served the church in Ephesus. He says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
I have enough trouble being responsible for myself. Sometimes I can’t even tie my own shoes. And I’m supposed to be responsible for you? Yes. God has asked that from me. My responsibility is you.
What if I never told you how sin can destroy your life? If I never told you that it really does matter what type of words pour out of your mouth? What if I never mentioned that it really does matter that you don’t treat your spouse or your kids in a mean and vindictive way? What if I never tried to stop you from living as a hypocrite? That I never pointed out that you can’t appear like an angel on Sunday morning and a devil on Monday morning or Saturday night? What if I never said anything about the use of your money? That you lived a greedy life, or you just think you can spend all of it on you and your pleasures, never considering the sacrifice of giving an offering and never wanting to give to others who have so very little, and I just kept my mouth shut?
What if I never told you, of all of that, and much more? If I didn’t do that, I share in your sin. If I never did what I’m supposed to do, you could come to me infected with sin’s disease and say, “Pastor, you never told me what this would do”. You bear a responsibility, but so do I. “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, but I will hold you accountable for his blood.”
Do you see why I’d like to get to next week’s sermon text today? Give me the father who can’t wait to have the son back!! I was working on my taxes this last week and I ran into a question that I didn’t understand. Schedule 1, Adjustments to Income, line 32, IRA Deduction. I looked at that and began to salivate. I’m always looking for a way to keep more money in my pocket and I saw the word deduction and I wanted to take it!! My younger sister in Phoenix is a CPA. So I e-mailed her. “I put some money in an IRA, can I deduct it? I really need the money.” Of course, she doesn’t just answer with a yes or a no. “Tell me more about this contribution.” So I tell her. Her reply. 5 words. “You can’t take this deduction.” I’m beginning to think she really works for the IRS. So, I thanked her and told her that I’m going to e-mail my older sister and see if she’ll say yes – take the deduction. I’m looking for a second opinion about this responsibility that God gives to preachers!!
But this responsibility to be a watchman isn’t only mine. It’s yours too. Galatians, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
My responsibility and your responsibility in the speaking to others of their need to be right in their soul is NOT to be holier-than-thou. It is NOT to think that we have life all in order and we can sit in judgment of others. True Christianity never has that look. That look is ugly. No, our responsibility is to “restore them gently.” As Paul says, “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15a) Dr. David Schmitt says, “The law is never hate speech. It actually is a language of love. Spoken out of concern for the neighbor because we truly desire that they turn and be saved.”
This passage in Ezekiel is not just about my responsibility, or yours, but it is about God’s delight. In some ways it is much like the Waiting Father of the Prodigal Son. “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?’” (Ezekiel 33:10-11)
God’s pleasure is forgiveness and a new beginning. God’s pleasure is repentance, leaving a life that will send us to hell, and coming to the joy that we are no longer dead but alive, no longer lost but found. Earlier in Ezekiel God says this, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
The Midwest is under historic flooding right now. I imagine that the police and other officials have done their job of warning people that they need to evacuate places that may be flooded. If people don’t leave they may die. Some people, in any storm, will say, “I’m not leaving. I can ride this one out. It won’t be as bad as you are saying.”
But then it becomes a terrible storm. Things have gotten dangerous. So, do the police and first responders say to them, “We told you!! You’re on your own!! Sorry!!” No, you know what they do? They go get them. Even though they were warned, even though they caused this dilemma, even though no one should bail them out, somebody tries. They go back in.
That is the very picture of God. We’ve been warned. We’ve been told how an affair can destroy everything in life, we’ve been told that we are not to have a heart that has turned bitter against a family member or a best friend, we’ve been told not to live with a critical attitude, but we’ve gone there. We’ve lived there. Maybe we’re still there. The warning signs were posted but we ignored them.
But God’s pleasure is that we come home from wherever we’ve been or how long we have been away. Listen to Ezekiel’s initial calling into his ministry, “’Son on man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me. ‘Son of man, eat the scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Ezekiel 3:1-3)
What could be as sweet as God’s love, His grace, His forgiveness, His gifts given to us in Jesus Christ? Open your mouth, eat that word, that is God’s pleasure for you.
God’s pleasure is our pleasure. When we speak to others it is not to damage them, or to destroy them, or simply to inflict pain. Our pleasure is that they have life given in Jesus. Our pleasure is forgiveness, mercy, kindness and joy. May our pleasure be the same as God’s great pleasure. Amen!!