We Are Appointed As Watchmen
“We Are Appointed As Watchmen”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 10, 2017
Readings: Ezekiel 33:1-11, Psalm 119:33-48
God speaks to us today in an area of our lives that’s very much out of control, that we may listen and change. Otherwise He may bring others to also speak to us. May it not be that the Church is the last resort. May we listen when God speaks to us so that we can walk in His provision of mercy and compassion.
In today’s society, social media has become destructive to our Christian living because that’s where we share gossip. Gossip is destructive. The Kingdom of God is all about building, not destroying. God gives us these instructions so we can learn; otherwise He may bring to us what we’re doing to others. What you plant, you will reap. Rather than experiencing the pain of destruction that comes from living our lives contrary to God’s ways, we must be careful about the seeds that we plant.
The first instruction God gives us today is that we are to be watchmen. This comes out of the Old Testament where He tells us that we are to be witnesses, the ones who speak to others about God that they may know the truth and turn to Christ. How many times do we ignore our responsibility to tell others of their salvation through Christ? God says if we’re appointed as watchmen and we are aware of the danger but don’t warn others of it and they lose their lives, their blood will be on us. This speaks very clearly of our responsibility to let our salvation be known, not necessarily in words but through our lives. We are the watchmen. The Church has failed to do its job because we see evil getting more rampant around the world. This is an affront to the Kingdom of God.
I’ll take this opportunity to give us an understanding of what’s happening around us. As evil increases, so will natural disasters intensify. In the last few days, I heard media saying that no earthquake as powerful as this last one has ever hit Mexico. They also say that the recent hurricanes that have brought destruction to several countries, including the US, have been the strongest in recent history. This is happening because evil is increasing. We must understand that nature will respond to how we live. If we persist in our evil ways, we will have more of these disasters. So I would warn us that what’s coming is worse than what we’ve seen because we’re not turning to God as a people. We should be prepared and not be surprised when they happen. This is our own doing as God’s people. We’ve disobeyed God and the effect on nature will be catastrophic. We say that these disasters are brought on by God. Insurance companies call them “acts of God”. They aren’t acts of God but a response of nature to our disobedience. We were given authority over nature. In Genesis Adam was given authority over all creation and man continues to have that authority. Therefore we should live in such a way that nature will respond positively to benefit us. I’m taking the position of a watchman in warning us. Don’t think that these disasters are happening because God is angry. It’s not because He’s angry; it’s because we’re disobedient. The disasters are increasing in intensity because our disobedience is escalating and spreading. The more rebellious we are, the more difficult the situations around us will become.
God shares in Ezekiel 33 the responsibility we have toward others; that He has appointed us to watch out for and be concerned for others. Today’s readings are focused on this. “’As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11a). God doesn’t want evil people to die; it hurts Him when they do. It doesn’t please Him or make Him feel justified to take revenge on them. That’s not His nature; not His plan. He wants everyone to be blessed and joyful, living in such a way that the world will see how great it is to be part of God’s family. Today’s readings give us this challenge.
Romans 12 talks about the attitude of love that should be in our lives; an attitude of clinging to good. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Deep love for each other is the hallmark of Christian fellowship. Love must be accompanied by zeal and service to be effective. This love must extend to all and tempers our attitude towards others. It causes us to see beyond the hurt dealt to us by what someone said or did against us; to be concerned for them because we know that they will suffer for their sinful ways. We want them to live and not be destroyed. This is the heart of God and it should also be what’s in our hearts.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:9-10). Sometimes we struggle with that because we’ve been hurt. We do something good but people turn against us, then we don’t want to be involved anymore. We leave them to suffer through the results of their actions. This is not Christianity. Look at the life of Christ. God created man and he rebelled against God. The world was taken over by the enemy and man suffered through his rebellion. But God did not sit back and say, “You deserve what you’re getting”. Instead He sent His only Son to show His love for us, and even though we rebelled against Him and Christ gave His life to redeem us. It sets a pattern for us of redemption, restoration and rebuilding. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we’re prone to destroying. “Step on my toe and see what I’ll do to you.” This is an attitude that comes from the world, yet sadly it’s very prevalent in society today and most of us react that way. That’s not Christianity; Christianity restores. If anyone must be hurt, let it be us. We take the hurt rather than dump it on others. We’re concerned for those who hurt us or attack us because we know that in the end, they will suffer the consequences of the wrong they do. If we’re concerned for each other, if we’re devoted to one another in love, we would want to get things straightened as soon as possible before anything wrong takes place. We care for each other because we’re bothers and sisters in Christ. In a family, whenever there’s a problem, the members gather around the one in trouble, even if he/she is wrong, and that commitment will cause the person to want to change and turn away from the wrong. This should be the attitude of Christianity, not for churches to be fighting each other. There should be compassion for one another. We’re not perfect; all have sinned and we have no right to be pointing fingers. We’re just as guilty or even more guilty. When someone pounds on something, you’ll find out later on that they are guilty themselves of what they’re pounding on, and they are pointing at somebody else so people won’t see their guilt. What should rule our lives is love because there’s nothing that anyone can throw at us to destroy us when we respond in love.
“Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Being diligent means not making excuses – not the lack of money, time or ability. God has given us everything we need. We can do what He wants us to do. We’ve all been given gifts from God and He has empowered us to fulfill those gifts and live according to today’s teachings. It doesn’t mean we keep our mouths shut. There are things we must confront, but we must do it in love; out of concern. We must live righteously and help others.
“Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Romans 12:12). The last verse is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. When someone does evil to you, return it with love. Our revenge is love. Do something kind for them. Your heart will support you even if your mind is against it. Just be silent and do something good in response because in so doing, you’ll be pulling the rug from under the people who are attacking you. They won’t be able to harm you. If they are hungry, feed them; thirsty, give them something to drink, instead of wishing them ill or rejoicing when something bad happens to them. As Christians, we shouldn’t be holding grudges and bitterness in our hearts. Don’t worry because God will take care of the situation. Sometimes we don’t understand why people do things that we interpret as evil when their intentions are really good. We judge them when it’s not our job to do so; only God’s. We’re to be different from the world. We’re to be filled with love, diligent in love, helping and restoring.
I’m irritated by people knocking on my car window, asking for money. Those kids are doing it for someone else. But I got to the point where I told myself I’m going to do the right thing and God will do the rest. As we read in Ezekiel 33, if I’m the watchman and I warn them, God will do the rest. We have the responsibility to do what’s right, to be the witnesses of love, especially in the midst of wrong. “Devoted to one another; giving preference to one another in love.” They may not deserve it, but we rejoice with them when things are right and cry when they aren’t. We become one with them just as Christ became one with us.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17). This is hard to do because we want to get even; but God says no. “Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God.” Let God be the One to work it out, but we overcome evil by doing good. I believe that if the Church were living out the life God has given us, the world wouldn’t be in the condition that it’s in today. We have failed to be the witnesses.
In Matthew 18:15, Jesus gives us the instructions: “If your brother sins against you….” I went through different translations of this verse and some don’t have the verse “against you”, but in most of them it says that if your brother sins against you, then you have a responsibility to go to that brother and tell him that he offended you. But today, instead of doing that, we post it on social media or gossip about it. That is sin! Scripture says if someone offends you, go and talk to them. Here is the heart of God – restoration. You are justified for being angry and want to attack, but God says, “No. I didn’t attack you when you rebelled against Me. I came to you in love and forgave you even when you didn’t want My forgiveness. I sent My Son, and even if you killed Him, I still forgave you”. We have this power and authority to bring life to the world. This is the challenge to us. Go to him and reprove him out of a desire for restoration, with an attitude of love, compassion and mercy. You don’t deny that you’re hurt but that won’t stop you from responding in love. You gain a brother when you do this. Sometimes the person concerned may get defensive because he is conflicted but the Holy Spirit will confirm to us what’s going on in that person’s life and he may need our help. He may not say he’s sorry but there could already be an uneasiness and restlessness there because you’re planting a seed of love and that seed is powerful to bring about a change in the person’s heart. Give him time to change. If he doesn’t change, take two or three with you to establish the facts. Sadly, in many of these cases, there’s accusation, not love and restoration. We’re looking to get even and that’s where we fail. God gave us these instructions for the situations that are very serious. The sum total of Scriptures is the truth, not just one part. So even if it tells us to go to the brother who sins and if he doesn’t repent, take 2 or 3 with you, God wants us first to go with the right attitude – of love and compassion – and not with accusation and judgment. The person knows he did wrong and if you go to him with accusations, it won’t open a door for repentance. Many situations in the Church could have changed for the good had there been an attitude of love and mercy. God doesn’t judge nor condemn us. We handle things God’s way in the Church. When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are to forgive – seven times? Jesus said no, but seventy times seven times. This speaks of our responsibility to forgive and restore; to love and not to judge and condemn. It’s true that not everyone will respond to the love we give, but God will see to it that our action will result to redemption.
Remember Ezekiel 33: God wants the restoration, not the death of the offender. If we’re coming with the wrong attitude, we’re killing rather than restoring. Did God destroy Adam? He was His son. When Christ went to hell and destroyed the gates of hell, who do you think He calls first to come out? I believe it was Adam. He loved Adam; he was the first son. He didn’t tell Adam that he deserved to be in hell and should stay there. He wanted to restore Adam even if Adam turned against Him. In the same way, the Church is to be the proclamation of love and restoration, not rejection. If the Church is functioning in love, won’t love break any resistance? Isn’t love more powerful than any other force on the face of the earth? I believe this is why Jesus is giving us this pattern. If they don’t listen and change even after you bring 2 or 3 with you, bring them to the Church because the Church is the epitome of love. The concern of all Scripture is not judging and condemning people but restoring and bringing new life to them. This is a challenge to us because in each of our lives, there are things that we’re holding against someone. It might even be someone we don’t have personal contact with.
I add this to the end: we’re human; we fail, but remember, in our weakness, God is strong. If we walk in God’s ways, He will give us the strength to be able to do it. He doesn’t want the death of those who failed but their restoration back to life. The whole purpose for Christ’s coming is not judgment but restoration. Read John 3:17. We all need to be on our knees asking for forgiveness because we’ve faced times when we wanted to get even; we’re human. But God forgives and restores us. And we are to restore others. We’re to forgive so we can be forgiven. I believe the Church is being called to wake up. We are to be the instruments because if we don’t see the changes taking place, those typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes are only going to get more intense. Seismologists in Japan are predicting that a big earthquake will shake Manila where about 20 million will be killed. We need to pray. I hope it never happens but we’re seeing the evil in our nation escalating. People are held in slavery while a few are getting all the wealth. We don’t want them destroyed. We want God’s restoration for all, and that includes us. So let’s diligently seek to be what God wants us to be. Even if those who sin still don’t respond, do we not care and pray for the lost? Don’t we want the Gentiles to be redeemed? So don’t close the door on them. Love is the very essence of our lives. It should dictate our every action and everything we do in life. God says we are to be watchmen. Warn people. Tell them how great God is. Tell them that God loves them, forgives them, and you forgive them too. Let us be the house of God.