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2023-09-10 Pentecost 15

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

I’ve been to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, but that’s it. It was part of a van tour out of Las Vegas. But Snowbirds have told me there in the Arizona desert, they have some road signs that say “Caution! Turn off air conditioning to prevent overheating.” They have these signs posted on the hilly roads that increase in elevation. And as you go up the roads, there are also some turnouts that have huge water drums with further signage warning drivers about over heating their engines and radiators. Now most people probably scoff at such messages. Turn off the A/C?? In the middle of a desert?! Make our bodies suffer so the vehicle can prosper? Forgeddaboudit!! That’s obviously just a warning for those hippies who still drive their 1979 Volkswagon Beetles around! But as you come across the turnouts on the hilly roads, you suddenly see examples of exactly what the signs said. Several cars, brand new, fancy-schmancy modern cars, expensive cars from Mercedes to BMWs to Lexus to Chevy trucks – they are all the same. Hood up and open, grey and white smoke billowing out of the engine compartment, water gushing from underneath, evaporating as quickly as it hits the burning desert sand!

As you drive by those vehicles, you suddenly get a reality check. The harsh examples of the truth are staring us in the face. The lovely smell of spilled engine coolant wafting through the air. Wise people will begin immediately to take the signs more seriously. Turn the AC knob to off. Roll down the windows! The signs are designed to help us and keep us from having to sit in the sun waiting for the tow truck to haul our car into the shop for an expensive fix! But people tend to be hardheaded. Stubborn. Sinful. Reluctant to heed the signs and warnings. That’s us. Time and time again.

“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.” This scripture comes to us from the Old Testament from the prophet Ezekiel (33:7-8). It’s a very interesting passage about warnings. It comes to us from an ancient time before home security systems and army attack drone technology. The towns and cities were surrounded with enormous walls several feet high and thick. And on top of these walls stood the watchmen. They would be the people who sounded the alarm if trouble was a-brewin’. They would raise high the shofars - the animal horn trumpets - to alert everyone in the city that enemies were attacking. Hide your kids, hide your wives! Get ready to fight!

It’s from back in the day when security was only as good as the guards who spent all day and all night on the look out for trouble. If you had a lousy guard who fell asleep during the night shift and a bunch of marauding looters came by, the town would be in a real dilly of a pickle! Or, even worse than an inept guard would be a watchman who is a traitor! Oh yeah, he sees the pitchforks and torches coming towards the city all right. But does he sound the alarm? Nope. Nope. Can’t be bothered. He’s content to sit back and watch the city burn to the ground and all the people inside die a horrible and or heinous death! I’m sure he’s gonna make employee of the month and get a big fat Christmas bonus!

This is the idea behind this scripture reading today. Ezekiel is called to be this watchman on the walls. Similarly, pastors are also called to this same kind of vocation. If danger is on the horizon, we need to sound the alarms lest the people be put into peril’s path. Now this will often come as a warning against sin which the wages of bring death. But here’s the problem. People are sinful. We like to sin. Over and over and over again. Like a dog returns to his or her vomit, so also the sinner to his or her sin. A fool who repeats folly (Prov. 26:11). Just like ignoring that sign the in desert. Crank the AC! Signs are for chumps! But we know what happens next. Your “found on road dead” Ford is finished! And while you are waiting for the tow truck, bandits could rob you blind, mountain lions could jump out of the wilderness and kill you, buzzards fly down and pluck out your eyes! Yea verily, oy vey!

Now some people will get offended at these warnings. Oh well! What’s worse? Having your nose out of joint or getting your eyes plucked out by a vulture? I think you know the answer to that one. The thing for us to realize is that God’s word is truth. If God says no, then God means no. There is definitive right and wrong in this world whether you like it or not. Gossiping all day long is destructive. Adultery destroys families. Skipping church hurts the mission of the church. Being pride filled and boastful punches humility in the face. God created people in His image, “male and female He created them” and that’s it. Some people will hear the warnings from God’s Word and scoff. But that’s their problem. They will have to face the judgment for their actions. But what about ours? The last passage of the reading today says “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.” The watchman must sound the alarm.

And Pastors aren’t the only watchmen on the walls. Every Baptized Christian also picks up this mantle as you pick up your own cross and follow the footsteps of the Saviour. If you are a grandparent and you see your kids or grandkids forgetting the church, ignoring their confirmation vows, shackin’ up and living in sin, what do you do? If you’re at work and you see people embezzling money and cooking the books, what do you do? If you see a friend’s wife running around with another man, what do you do? There’s 3 options really. 1) We could do the Canadian Clam Up and worry that we might not be popular or get ridiculed or criticized. We can do and say nothing. 2) We can decide to water down the warning to make it more palatable and relevant. 3) We can proclaim the Word of God exactly as God has given it, despite it not being popular or politically correct. God warns Ezekiel that if he goes with number 1 or 2 of the choices, the people’s iniquity will be on him. But if he goes with number 3, at least the people have been warned, regardless if they heed the word or not.

This is a message of boldness in truth and love. It’s a message of care and dire concern for someone’s spiritual welfare. But also for ourselves. We need to repent of our own sin. We need to have our minds enlightened to the Word of God so we can recognize sin and evil – first in ourselves that we may help others. Remove the plank from our own eye before going after the sliver in our neighbour’s. The watchman must speak. But he must do so in the utmost of humility and care – regardless of the outcome. God’s Word warns to be sure. But it also promises. Forgiveness, life and salvation await the sinner who repents and turns away from folly and unrighteousness and sets his or her eyes on the cross of Christ and His empty tomb. The Word of the Lord brings healing and wholeness. And the world needs to hear this message of love and grace. But how will they hear unless someone tells them? Who will warn the people? Who will fill them with grace and mercy? May we all be given the humble boldness to speak the Word of God to each other always. Amen!

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