Sunday 6th September 2020
Rev Dr John McCulloch
Ezequiel 33: 7-11
Psalm 119: 33-40
Romans 13: 8-14
St Matthew 18: 15-20
Grace mercy and peace are yours in Jesus Christ.
I’m John McCulloch, the minister of St Andrew’s Jerusalem & Tiberias Church of Scotland, and its great to be with you today on this 14th Sunday after Pentecost.
Let us pray
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer, Amen.
Our OT lectionary reading is from the book of Ezequiel. We don’t know much about the prophet Ezequiel, except that he was born in Jerusalem and his father served in the temple. In 597 BC, when Ezequiel was about 26 years old, Jerusalem was attacked and captured by the Babylonians. About 10 years later in 586 BC the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The prophet, along with many others, was taken into exile into what is now Iraq. It was there that God called him to be a prophet amongst the exiles.
He was living at a time of war, displacement and destruction. A time of uncertainly and challenge. With the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, many Jews at that time were faced with a very real existential question: was this the end? Had their religion come to an end? Their religion had, of course, been strongly linked to inhabiting a physical promised land and to worshiping at the physical temple in Jerusalem. Now both of these had gone: the temple lay in ruins and God’s people were no longer in Jerusalem but exiled in enemy territory.
In our lectionary reading from Ezekiel 33: 7-11 we read of the parable of the watchman. The watchman is appointed by God at a time of war to keep watch over the city. Trouble can come from within and from without. If he sees the enemy approaching the watchman blows his trumpet to alert the people of danger. Ezekiel is presented as the watchman of Israel, warning them to flee from evil into the stronghold of good.
We read in verse 7:
7 “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me
The response of the children of Israel to the prophet is one of despair, because they are all too aware of the weight of their past sins and transgressions, which they carry as a crushing burden. We read in verse 10:
10 Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘ “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?
But the prophet brings a message of hope, telling them that if they turn from their ways they will find life, as we read in verse 11:
- …As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’
Theologian Carolyn Sharp says that the role of the prophet is to redescribe reality, that is to show a different possibility:
‘The prophet’s redescription of reality shows us that we may dare to hope for liberation and transformation despite the trauma that we may have known and the hopelessness that may surround us’.
We live at a time of uncertainly and challenge. Some of us may feel that we have been exiled from the place of joy. Some of us may be wondering if this is the end of life as we once knew it. The temple lies in ruins, the enemies of fear and anxiety encircle us, and we are all too aware of our past failures which weigh heavily on us.
The God, who is not confined to earthly temples and habitations, comes to us, comes into our world with words of hope, words of life. God comes offering restoration and healing.
Our gospel passage from Matthew 18: 15-20 continues with the theme of restoration. The passage gives instruction of how we should resolve conflict within the community of the church. If someone has wronged us, the biblical way is always to go to the person and address the issue face to face. If this does not work, then we are to go with witnesses. We are told in verse 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
How we engage in the ministry of reconciliation and restoration has the power to bind and loose.
In our Epistle reading from Romans 12 , we are reminded that all of the commandments are summed up in the commandment to love our neighbour, as we read verse 9 onwards:
all (commandments) are summed up in this saying… , “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light
At this time of darkness, of exile, when it seems that we have reached the end; we are reminded that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves.
What does this look like in our own communities?
What is God calling us to do practically in terms of loving our neighbour?
If the world truly followed this teaching, there would be no wars, no injustice, no poverty, no conflict, no walls of division, no refugees, no exile. It is a truly transformative message of hope, that we are invited to embody and preach, through our lives, our example.
We, like Ezequiel, are called as watchmen. We are called to embody a different way of being in the world. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, we are called to minister reconciliation and restoration.
But we cannot do so in our own strength. It does not come naturally to us, for we, like the children of Israel, are aware of our failure to live as God commands. We are aware that we often fall short.
Well, God comes to us again today in grace, to draw us to himself.
If our hearts are hard and cannot love, He is faithful to change our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.
May we be receptive to his word.
May we still hope even when we are exiled and far away from home.
May our lives show the love that God showed, by coming into our world and restoring it through love.
Go into this new week, with your hearts transformed by love.
And the blessing of God almighty, father son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you, now and forever more, amen.