Friday, September 5, 2014

The Watchman: Proper 18

Fr. Dale Matson

"The Watchtower"
Kings Canyon National Park

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

This is due process in the Christian life. How many of us have first gone to others before we have gone to our brother? Do we not seek out those who would agree with us? This is because it is in our nature to be self-righteous rather than righteous. We would rather be right than reconciled. Adam and Eve wanted to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong.

I recently offered some corrective feedback to a brother. One test of whether my feedback is authentic and not me just being a critical parent is how much it pains me to say it. If there is eagerness, then it is probably not necessary to say it. If it is not spoken in love, it probably should not be said either. If it’s “Now I’ve got you right where I want you!” I probably should not say it.

There is an additional event that will follow corrective feedback I’ve offered to others as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. A brother will also offer me feedback soon thereafter. This is God’s way of reminding me to take care lest I slip.

I believe there is an important relationship between our Gospel lesson today and our Old Testament lesson. Our Gospel lesson is advice on offering correction to our brothers and sisters. Who are our brother and our sister? Everyone is our neighbor and everyone is our brother and sister.

I can remember when I was about ten, my aunt Louise asking a woman at the bus stop not to use the name of her Lord Jesus in a disrespectful way. I was proud of her even though somewhat uncomfortable about it. Have you wanted to say this to someone also? I have too and sometimes I just don’t do it when I should.

Our Old Testament Lesson is a charge to those who carry God’s word to God’s people. That person is called the watchman. Who is the watchman? In this case it is the prophet Ezekiel. But there are other times when it is us, you and me.

“And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”

The watchman can be the voice of the prophet to the nation of Israel or the watchman can be the prophetic voice of the church to call the nation back to God. In either case, there is not an option to keep silent. The watchman must speak God’s words or God will hold the watchman responsible.

The Anglican Priest John Keble said the following in his Assize sermon on national apostasy. These words are no less prophetic now than nearly 200 years ago.

“That they rejected God? That they wished themselves rid of the moral restraint implied in His peculiar presence and covenant? They said, what the prophet Ezekiel, long after, represents their worthy posterity as saying, 'We will be as the heathen, the families of the countries.' (Ezek. xx. 32.) 'Once for all, we will get rid of these disagreeable, unfashionable scruples, which throw us behind, as we think, in the race of worldly honor and profit.' Is this indeed a tone of thought, which Christian nations cannot fall into? Or, if they should, has it ceased to be displeasing to God? In other words, has He forgotten to be angry at impiety and practical atheism? Either this must be affirmed, or men must own, (what is clear at once to plain unsophisticated readers,) that this first overt act, which began the downfall of the Jewish nation, stands on record, with its fatal consequences, for a perpetual warning to all nations, as well as to all individual Christians, who, having accepted God for their King, allow themselves to be weary of subjection to Him, and think they should be happier if they were freer, and more like the rest of the world.”

What happens when God is not in charge? What happened in the wilderness when God’s representative Moses left the encampment and God was not present for the Israelites? They made a golden calf and worshiped it. Instead of worshiping God, they worshiped the creature. When we do not worship God we become idolaters and we fashion golden calves from things we should have left behind when we were in bondage; things we have no use for in God’s Kingdom.

I am speaking to you today as the watchman. This is the Lord’s warning to those who would deny God and in so doing downgrade the life of humans. God does not like it and is angry about it. Humans in the womb are His children and not less than human. Humans at the end of life are God’s children and not less than human. Humans in the wilderness are not intended by God to be prey for wild animals. Humans are increasingly seen as a liability, a threat to our planet. We are seen as producers of Carbon Dioxide and CO2 increases global warming. Mr. Smith in The Matrix told Morpheus that humans are a virus. Those who want to deny God want to downgrade human life also. Be a watchman!

"A British Pakistani woman, whose relative was convicted alongside others of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, says her community brushed the issue "under the carpet" It comes after a report found 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period by gangs consisting mainly of men of Pakistani origin. She said she was tortured every day and had abuse through her letterbox after speaking out about the issue, which took place in a different town to Rotherham. She said local authorities failed to intervene because they were afraid of offending people or being branded racist."
We are on the watchtower.

Keble continues in his Assize sermon, “One of the most alarming, as a symptom, is the growing indifference, in which men indulge themselves, to other men's religious sentiments. Under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass; that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our acceptance and confidence, whether in public or domestic life. Can we conceal it from ourselves, that every year the practice is becoming more common, of trusting men unreservedly in the most delicate and important matters, without one serious inquiry, whether they do not hold principles which make it impossible for them to be loyal to their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?”

Thus not only by supernatural aid, which we have warrant of God's word for expecting, but even in the way of natural consequence, the first duty of the Church and of Churchmen, INTERCESSION, sincerely practiced, would prepare them for the second; —which, following the words of Samuel as our clue, we may confidently pronounce to be REMONSTRANCE. 'I will teach you the good and the right way.' REMONSTRANCE, calm, distinct, and persevering, in public and in private, direct and indirect, by word, look, and demeanor, is the unequivocal duty of every Christian, according to his opportunities, when the Church landmarks are being broken down.” We are the watchmen.

“Recently a woman who appeared to be pregnant was walking around a state fairgrounds drinking beer and eventually became drunk. However, it was an experiment and she was only made to look pregnant. In the hours she walked around, no one [repeat] stopped to tell her that she was risking her unborn child by drinking to the point of drunkenness.” Who is manning the watchtower? You and me are manning the watchtower and God will hold us responsible for the things left undone and unsaid.

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Here our Lord is speaking to His church. He had made us responsible for setting the boundaries on what is right and what is wrong. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are also called to say what is right in God’s eyes. We are called to be the watchman on the watchtower. Woe to the church if she does not do this.

God has said that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked should he turn from his evil way and live. That is our job as watchmen. We are not cops catching people in the act of wrongdoing. We are not the prosecuting attorneys either. This takes us back to our Gospel lesson. First we must show our brother or sister the fault in private then if he listens to you, you have won your brother. That is the starting point. Amen

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