7th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I read an interesting article this past week. It was written by a veteran of the military and he was writing about why he feels that many veterans struggle in the transition from the service into civilian life. He stated eye-opening statistics regarding joblessness, narcotic addictions, and suicide among veterans. Most people attribute those statistics to trauma that they suffered while in the service. But this writer attributed it to something entirely different. You see, in the army each soldier has a supportive social environment unequaled to anything else. You might think that doesn’t make much sense; being chewed out because your shoes aren’t shined doesn’t seem very supportive, right? But think about it: In the army it matters to someone else if your boots fit properly or not, it matters to someone else whether or not you’d been to the dentist, it matters to someone else if you are where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there and you’d find out if you weren’t! That culture is inbred in the army in order to support the team mentality of the troops. But it also meant that there was always someone there for you. It was everyone’s job to look after you, and it was your job to look after everyone else. If you’re on a road march and someone is struggling, you’d help carry the load. If you’re in the cafeteria and someone’s on crutches, you’d help carry his tray. That’s just how it is in the army. But then you exit the service and what’s gone? No more standing at attention, no more grueling runs setting your speed to the slowest member of your group, no more morning formations. Suddenly, gone is the cohesive structure meant to take care of you, gone is this strong sense of social security, gone is the sense that wherever you go you fit in, gone is your network of friends who are as much interested in your success as you are in theirs. The writer’s point was this: when Veteran’s leave military service, many of them are leaving the most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced. And hence many spend the rest of their lives searching for that belonging that they had in the military.
Well, that need for belonging is something for which every human being longs ever since the fall into sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect sense of belonging, a perfect relationship with God and with each other. They weren’t troubled by not being part of something, they weren’t troubled whether or not someone was going to be there for them or not. But when they sinned against God, all that changed. Gone is that perfect care for each other, gone is that perfect trust in God, gone is that belonging to God’s family. But by God’s grace through the gospel of Jesus that what was lost in the fall is restored to a degree within the family of believers, God’s people, Christians, the church.
God calls each of us to be concerned not just about ourselves, but with each other. Not just to be there for encouragement, support, and care, but also be there for our fellow believers to correct, rebuke, and confront them when they’re wrong and their souls are in danger.
And that is what God told the prophet Ezekiel in our text this morning. It was Ezekiel’s job as watchman for the nation of Israel to confront them with their sins. The nation of Judah was still in rebellion against God at this time, they were trusting in themselves and not God, many were still committing idolatry, many were living in sin. So what did God do? He sent the Babylonians to invade Judah and haul many of them into exile in Babylon. But many of the Jews who were left in Judah still didn’t repent of their sins. They claimed they had the temple of the Lord and everything was going to be fine. So, in a devastating act in order to get them to turn back to Him, the Lord allowed the Babylonians to come and completely destroy the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, including the temple. The very place that symbolized God’s presence with His people. In other words, turn your back on God and you forfeit God’s presence, protection, and blessing. After that, the people were devastated. Finally, it seems that they took to heart Ezekiel’s message and said, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”
That’s the work of the law. We need to hear the law of God. Martin Luther once stated that the human heart is an idol factory. Every day we chase after this or that, every day our hearts push God off of front and center, every day we don’t want to do what God wants, we want to do what WE want, we want to do what we think is best, what will make us feel good, and we don’t care about what God says. If we take an honest look at our hearts and our lives we have to conclude that each of us falls into that category of “wicked.” We’re not righteous, we’re the opposite: wicked. There is no one righteous, not even one; no one who understands, no one who seeks God, all have turned away, they have together become worthless. The wages of sin is death. Unrepentant sin leads to spiritual and eternal death.
So what does God do? Ignore us? Leave us alone? No. He surrounds us with people, he puts us in a social network of sorts, a group of fellow Christians. He makes each of us watchmen or women for each other to care for each other with the highest possible care: the soul. To warn, to rebuke, to confront sin, just like Ezekiel. And God says if we fail to warn someone in danger of spiritual death, God’s going to hold us accountable. And God also says that if we warn someone and they don’t repent we’ve still done what He wants us to do.
But is it loving to do that? To confront sin? Well, think about it this way, it’s just as loving to allow someone to continue in unrepentant sin as it is to leave your neighbor inside his burning house without doing anything to help him. It’s just as loving to allow someone to live in sin as it is to watch a young child swallow prescription drugs like candy. It is just as loving to allow someone to remain in sin as it is to allow a young toddler to run out on a busy highway after a ball. Sometimes it is essential that love has to be tough. If someone is doing something that is endangering their soul and their eternal salvation, drastic means are necessary to confront that person.
So, what if I notice someone who sins? What should I do? Well, I could ignore it, pretend I didn’t see it or hear it, and go on my merry way. But, what does God say? If I don’t warn that person, God will hold me accountable for their blood. I could immediately tell other people, gossip about that person, “Did you hear what so and so did?” And think maybe someone else will talk to that person so that I don’t have to, never mind it is well after their reputation has been tarnished. Or, I could go up to the that person and lambast them with their sin, telling them I couldn’t believe they could do such a stupid thing, and that they are going to hell and drive them further into their sin or into despair. Or, I could, as a fellow forgiven sinner, go up to that person in private, gently, lovingly, caringly, share my concern for their soul and their spiritual life. That is the kind of warning God wants his people to share with those who have sinned.
But what about the other side of the coin? How does God want me to react if I’m that person who has sinned and a fellow Christian confronts me? Well, if I am caught in sin, I could say, “This is none of your business! Mind your own business!” And continue on my sinful way and my path to spiritual destruction. Or I could say, “You’re right I’ve sinned! Please forgive me!” And hear from my fellow Christian, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that they turn from their ways and live. In Jesus your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” But what if I haven’t done something wrong and yet someone comes to me and confronts me with a concern from misinformation? How should I react? Again, there are several things I could do: I could react by saying, “How dare you think that I could do such a thing! How terrible! What a mean person you are!” And then become upset, initiate silent treatment, hold a grudge, refuse to speak to the person. Or, I could say, “Thank you so much for having such a concern for my spiritual well-being to come and talk to me about your concern. I want you to know that I did not say that or do that. But I really appreciate your concern for my soul.”
God’s serious about this. Just like not waking your sleeping neighbor inside his burning house is not just loveless and careless, it also makes you a killer, so not confronting someone in sin is not only loveless and careless, but God says that he will hold us accountable! This is serious! Sin is serious!
Why is God so serious about this? He tells us, “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?” Why is God so serious? It’s because of his grace and mercy and sincere desire that no one go to hell and that all repent and receive salvation. God is making an oath, staking his life on this statement. In fact, God did more than just take an oath, He came, He Himself laid down His life on a cross as payment for all sins in order to show that he is absolutely serious that He wants no one to perish, but if someone remains in unrepentant sin they reject God’s free offer of salvation.
The responsibility of waking our sleeping neighbor becomes a joyful privilege when we see him emerge from the house safely. The responsibility of stopping an infant about to choke on prescription medication is a joyful privilege when you see that child kept safe from potential poisoning and death. The responsibility of stopping a young toddler from running onto a busy highway becomes a joyful privilege when you hold that child safely in your arms away from imminent danger and death. The responsibility of warning a brother or sister in their sin becomes a joyful privilege when we see that sinner repent of their sin, turn away from their sin, and so be saved for eternal life and salvation.
No we aren’t the military, but God has placed us into an incredible network of fellow believers whom we not only look after, but who look after us and the safety of our eternal souls. Imagine what the church would look like if each one of us saw ourselves as integral part of this network of believers, helping, encouraging, supporting, and yes, confronting each other. Be a watch man or woman, be your brother’s keeper. Have a sincere concern for the eternity of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.