Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14
CARING ENOUGH TO CONFRONT
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
7 "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I sayto the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
10 "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?"' Say to them, '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?' (NIV)
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (NIV)
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Some words or concepts in any language have very strong emotions associated with them. And those emotional overtones will vary dramatically from person to person.
For example: If I were to ask you what feelings and emotions you associate with the word "Love", what emotions would you feel?
Security, peace, happiness, friendship, erotic passions, pleasure, if you are a person who has lost a loved one, maybe love brings out emotions of grief, maybe even anger, sadness.
There are two other emotions associated with love that arise from this passage that we can throw into the mix of emotions, and they are very much equally true about love - they are responsibility and fear.
That is at the heart of these two lectionary passages that come to us from the scripture today.
First of all love involves responsibility. Ezekiel 33 tells us that plainly. If a person is appointed a watchman, responsible for the welfare of his fellow man, and he sees the enemy coming and does not trumpet out the warning, then the watchman is guilty of the death of those he is watching over. If the watchmen truly loved his fellow citizens, seeing the enemy coming, he would surely warn them. At the heart of this illustration is the question: Watchmen, do you love those whom you are responsible for?
Now scripture makes it very clear in many different ways that we have been appointed watchmen for one another. From the beginning of creation where it was clear that God expected Cain to be his brother's keeper, to the parable of the good Samaritan, to this passage from Romans 13, it is repeatedly clear - to love our neighbour involves doing good to them and seeking their well being. It involves seeking their protection and security. it involves being watchmen for them.
Ezekiel 33 applies this not only on the natural relationship level, it also applies it to the spiritual level. Listen again... "When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood."
Love involves the responsibility to warn our neighbours concerning their spiritual well being as well. God has appointed us witnesses to the truth - truth spoken to our neighbours for their spiritual well being. This especially in the light of the fact that the day is quickly approaching when the opportunity to speak will be no more. Our Christian testimony to our neighbour in both words and the way we live our lives is of utmost importance.
If I were to summarize this in one street language sentence, it would be this:
To love our neighbour is to speak to them the truth of the gospel, to hate our neighbour is to keep silent and let them go to hell.
Who here dares to agree with that statement? Raise your hand.
I sense a lot of reluctance, I suspect, not only because I asked for a response by surprise. I suspect because we recognize all the times that we have kept silent and to agree with such a statement is to agree that we are guilty for breaking the most fundamental of the laws of God, to love our neighbour as ourselves. This passage makes being here very uncomfortable. I, like you, confess that I have hated my neighbour by my silence, and to keep silent, I have hidden my silence behind excuses.
You see, the truth is, our love is far from perfect, and so our love becomes disabled by fears and excuses.
Maybe like me, you struggle with fear. You love a person but you fear speaking out. Fear because, if that person rejects what you have to say, you yourself will loose: maybe a friend, maybe a reputation of being a good level headed person rather than a proselytizing religious fanatic. Maybe to confront another person about their sin or life style will cause them to be angry at you and you fear anger. I know I have had everyone of those fears. I struggled with them, fought them, tried to overcome them so that another person might hear the truth. But the truth behind my fears and your fears is very basically this: we love ourselves more than we love our neighbours, we love our comfort, our sense of security, our life without conflict more than we love our neighbours, and our disproportionate self love in the end is the selfishness that keeps us silent.
And the excuses for not speaking to our neighbours are endless:
"Not enough time to speak" - the truth is, our speaking may be the only time our neighbours hear the truth of the gospel. It might be the only warning they receive and their time might be very short.
"They are not my responsibility, someone else will do it." We are joining the pharisees in the game of defining who is and who is not our neighbour worthy of our love. This is the game of our individualistic culture.
"The time is not right." Oh , how often have I used that one only to discover that the time is hardly ever right and too often I have discovered that if I did not speak "when the time is not right," the time to speak quickly passes, the window of opportunity closed.
"I'm not gifted to tell them the truth of the gospel." But any warning is better than silence. Any statement that God is a God of love and justice is better then no statement at all. What is universally true is this: It is God's Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement and because the work is of God's Spirit, without God's Spirit at work, the best presentations of the gospel have no effect. Where the Spirit is at work even the worst expressions of the truth have the power to change lives. Jonah's sermon to the Ninevites should demonstrate that truth amply.
People of God, the key question is this. Do we really care enough for our neighbours to confront them with the gospel? Are we motivated by the love of God to love our neighbours with the truth?
Now this morning, it seems to me there are two options. Either you agree or you disagree with what has been said:
To love our neighbour is to speak to them the truth of the gospel - to hate our neighbour is to keep silent and let them go to hell.
If you disagree with that, then feel free to challenge it in your thoughts. But be careful because the motive behind your challenge may be simply to justify the fact that you do not love your neighbour as yourself. Feel free to tell me later on why you disagree with this theme. I'll gladly talk with you about it.
But I would feel especially bad if you agreed with this statement and did nothing with it. I would feel that I have wasted your time, if having heard this, you did not confess your sin as I do mine, and make earnest attempts to build authentic caring relationships with those around you in which you take the opportunity to address others with the truth of the gospel. If you remember some time ago, that is how people will become part of our congregation. First we build authentic relationships with them, an authentic relationship is one in which we truly do love our neighbours, and in the process we share a verbal witness with them.
Let me say in conclusion, that, if we get past our fears and excuses, loving our neighbours with the truth of the gospel can be a lot of fun, and it can include all the positive emotions that we often associate with the word love.
This summer, I had the enjoyable experience of helping my sister in law buy a used car. We were working with one used car lot and in the process of negotiations, I was talking to a salesman and the manager at the same time. The manager was quite a talker. As negotiations went on his language was on occasion barnyard brown spiced with a few vain uses of the name of God. The negotiations came to waiting for an approval and noticing that I know a few things about cars, he asked me:
"And Sir - what do you do? Repair and sell cars? Mechanic?"
"Not quite - I'm a pastor on holidays."
He turned and looked pointedly at the other salesman - "Did one of us swear?"
I said to him - "Yes you did - two times." (I didn't have anything to loose. No excuses this time. This was fun.)
What resulted after that little confrontation though, was an opportunity to share the grace of God, the meaning of the cross, with a man who knew he had blown it and got caught. He was not angry. He was receptive because for once, I cared enough to confront someone. That frankly, along with seeing family and refreshing relationships, and doing projects with my hands, was the highlight of my summer.
Loving our neighbours with the words of God's truth can be a lot of fun!
*(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.