Summary: A sermon for 17th Sunday After Pentecost/Proper 18 A preached Sept. 7, 2008 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa. It happened to be Sunday School/Christian Education Rally Day.
Today marks the beginning of a new year of Sunday School, Confirmation, and other Christian Education activities in this congregation. We often refer to it as “Rally Sunday”, although I much prefer to call it “Christian Education Sunday” because we focus on how important Christian Education is not just for our Sunday School children, but for everyone in this congregation. We’re going to be installing Sunday School teachers, helpers, music leaders in our service today. These people will be given the task of proclaiming the Word of God in their classes. But what are they being given to teach? What do we have to teach our children that’s so important, that some in our congregation spent their summer working hard in refurbishing our Sunday School classrooms upstairs? (They look absolutely great, by the way, I encourage you all to go take a look after worship this morning! Thank you to all of you who gave of your time and talent do make that happen!) These questions are actually addressed in our readings for this morning.
Our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel is often read at the ordination or installation of Pastors. And it is a text that does speak to Pastors, but also to the church at large. In the first 6 verses of this chapter of Ezekiel, God is using a parable of a city and a watchman, to tell Ezekiel, who has been called by the Lord to proclaim His Word of warning to the people of Israel, what Ezekiel’s responsibilities are as a called servant of the Word. As some of you may know, cities in Old Testament times were surrounded by large walls, which were meant to protect the city and its inhabitants from the attacks of possible invaders. Along with a wall, the city would also have a very tall watchtower, and a special guard, the watchman, was placed in that tower. The watchman would be able to see from miles around in all directions, and if there was an enemy army advancing in the direction of the city, it was the watchman’s responsibility to warn the leaders of the city of the potential invasion, so they could be ready for attack. If the watchman failed to sound the warning, the city would be caught off guard, the city gates could not be closed in time, and the city could fall and many be killed. They’d have a much better chance if the watchman could give them a warning ahead of the attack.
In our reading, God tells Ezekiel “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” Just as that watchman in the parable was to keep watch over the inhabitants of the city, Ezekiel was given the task to be the spiritual watchman over the people of Israel. If God gave Ezekiel a word of warning, Ezekiel was given the responsibility of sounding that warning to the people of Israel.
Now Ezekiel had one of three things he could do at this point: 1) he could simply say “This stuff about wicked people dying isn’t going to be popular, and I might get ridiculed, criticized or worse, so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut” and not speak the Word at all, 2) decide to change the message by watering it down to a point where he feels it will be “relevant” or more acceptable to the people of Israel, because after all, this “death to the wicked” isn’t exactly a popular or politically correct message, or 3) proclaim the Word of God exactly as God has given it to him to proclaim, no more, no less.
God not only tells Ezekiel what to do, he also tells him that there are consequences to his choices. Just as that watchman is to sound the word of warning to the people of the city in light of an incoming enemy attack, so Ezekiel is to sound the warning, and is responsible if he doesn’t. Now in the first case, Ezekiel decides to keep his mouth shut. He doesn’t warn the people of their sin, because he doesn’t want to offend or upset anyone. God’s judgment falls, and the wicked perish, unrepentant for their blatant sin against God. What does God say will happen to Ezekiel? “Their blood I will require at your hand.” God will hold Ezekiel responsible because he was given the task of warning them of their wickedness, and he chose to remain silent and let their sin kill them. God doesn’t take this stuff lightly!