“I have made you a watchman”, says the Lord, “whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” … “if you do not speak the warning, their blood will be on your hands… if you warn them, and they ignore the message, the fault is on them.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9).
Last week we saw, very dramatically, that God’s will is for his people to be nourished and sustained by the Word of God. It’s his will that we should feast and ‘fill up’ on the truth that God has revealed in scripture, and not just bits and pieces that we remember from Sunday School, or a hazy understanding of the overarching themes filtered down through an unchurched society; rather as the prophets very dramatically showed us last week when we saw them literally eating, munching on the Word of God making the point that the teaching and reading of the Bible, handed down through the Church, is meant to be our daily bread, our food for the journey.
After all, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3 / Matt. 4:4)… or, as I like to say, one of the key points of Christianity is, simply, “you are what you eat”. If we want to become Christ-like, if we want to be those whose mouths proclaim the good news of forgiveness, of love, of peace, of second chances and purpose, then we have to first be filled with those messages, those promises from God.
The readings appointed for today pick up on that theme: that our purpose is not just to believe in God, come to church on Sunday, drop in an envelope to pay the minister and keep the lights on, and leave to go about our business until next week.
No, the message of the Church is much more radical than that.
The faith we proclaim is that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit have been poured out on all who believe, just as Jesus promised. It’s no longer reserved for the professional ministers – that was true in the Old Testament, when the Spirit of God was reserved for prophets, priests, and kings; from Pentecost on, God has sent his Holy Spirit to empower every baptized person for the work of proclaiming the good news. Or, to put it another way, the reason the Church doesn’t appoint “prophets”, and, very practically, the reason that our service books or church documents don’t use the outdated term “minister” for clergy is that, fundamentally, we believe that if you’ve been baptized, and if baptism brings with it the gift of the Holy Spirit, then each and every one of us here is on the hook as a messenger of God; each and every one of us here has been empowered by the same Spirit that empowered Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel to share the good news, to point people back to God, back to the one who loves them and is waiting with open arms to forgive them, to teach them what it is not to trust in your own strength, and to adopt them as sons and daughters of our heavenly king.
God’s plan at Pentecost was that people would no longer travel hundreds of miles to find one of his appointed messengers; rather, with every Christian called to that task, the whole world would have the opportunity to hear.
God’s plan was that, rather than sending a weird guy eating locusts and wearing camel skin to bring hope to Fort Smith, there would be, and there are right now, a hundred or more active, baptized, followers of Jesus, all empowered by the same Spirit who empowered the prophets of old, all given the task of bringing God’s message to those who are right here.
It’s a great plan. Why have one prophet, why have one messenger, when you can have a hundred or more, even in a small town like this. On paper, the plan is brilliant: if one prophet could turn the hearts of kings and rulers, just imagine what a hundred could do!
…except, those prophets, those messengers, are people like me and you sitting here today, together with our faithful brothers and sisters at the other churches in town.
It’s a great and awesome plan to bring mercy and forgiveness and hope to the world, but, if we’re honest, we haven’t been great at doing our part.
Messengers given a choice
Now, as we know from scripture, God wants us to love him freely, so even when he calls and empowers and appoints someone to do a task, there’s always a choice to be made; it’s not in God’s nature to use us against our will.
The same is true here: when God called prophets, like we read in Ezekiel this morning, there was an option given. The messenger could choose to deliver the message, or not; that’s the choice.
But, like everything in life, one thing always leads to another, and choices – no matter how simple or private they seem – always have consequences that are far-reaching.
The choice given to the messenger of God was no different: you can deliver the message and, no matter how it’s received – whether they accept it and take that first step to turn to the Lord, or whether they outright reject it and laugh in your face – the messenger has done their job. Or, to put it in the dire terms we heard today: if you did your part and delivered the message, their decision to reject it is on them.
But, on the flip side of that, if you refuse to deliver the message – which you’re free to do, after all, God doesn’t force us – it just means that we’ve chosen to accept the consequences: Ezekiel 33:8, “if you do not speak to them…”, they’ll go on living their lives, but when they die, “I will hold you accountable for their blood”.
Now, that’s the kind of statement that should get our attention.
God’s plan is that, across whatever denominations of churches there are, there would be hundreds of opportunities, each and every day, for our own friends and neighbours to run into someone who is sustained and nourished by our daily bread, and on whose lips is the good news of hope and mercy and the joy that comes from no longer trusting in your own strength, and learning to rely on a loving saviour.
It’s great news, and an awesome plan to share it. But, as always, it’s our choice. We can choose to keep the message to ourselves… it just means that, one day, when our journey has ended, when we are called to give account for the good things and opportunities entrusted to us, when the opportunities we had to give someone just the smallest word of hope, or to let them know that they are loved, or that we’re in this together as children of God, or that you’ll pray for them, or that you know a church that would be happy to welcome them, or a priest that would be happy to chat with them; as God reveals all the dozens or hundreds of people that He has put in your path, the terrifying choice is ours – do we hear “well done, my good and faithful servant”, or do we say, “you sent me but I wouldn’t go; I am accountable for their blood.”
A wake-up call
Sometimes I think the church, and especially clergy, forget that our business is a matter of life and death. We’re not sent out to be nice and unobjectionable, our mission isn’t to run programs to keep our social calendars full.
We’re part of God’s plan to go from having one prophet for a hundred miles to having a hundred messengers in every nook and cranny and corner of the earth. It’s that reality that needs to colour everything we do: when we pack hampers for new college students, it’s not because we’re nice people – it’s because our God-given task is to love the stranger and foreigner, to let them know that they are loved, that they are welcomed, that no matter what they’ve done or where they are in their journey, the Church, the Body of Christ, is reaching out with those same arms of forgiveness and love that would embrace the wood of the Cross; when we help low-income families do their taxes, it’s not because we’re nice people with nothing better to do – it’s because our God-given task is to relieve the plight of the poor, to let them know that they are loved and that, no matter what choices they, or their parents, or our parents made that put them in the situation they’re in, there is forgiveness, there is mercy, and there is hope when we learn to stop trusting in ourselves, and to put our trust in Jesus.
My friends, we have opportunities to be God’s messengers presented to us every day.
How we missed those opportunities yesterday doesn’t need to hold us back; if we acknowledge that we missed the mark and ask for forgiveness, God remembers it no more, he wipes it from our account; and we need to let it go too.
Instead, as we wake each morning, take our daily bread, and ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, we treat each day as a new opportunity to be those messengers we are called to be.
And let’s be clear… no one’s suggesting that we should be ranting on street corners. If that was God’s plan, Pentecost wouldn’t have happened; God could have kept sending prophets in camel skin, eating locusts… or even eating their Bibles.
No, what God wants is an army of ordinary people; a mighty throng of humble servants, those willing to open our mouths at those times when you know you should say something; those times when the hair stands on the back of your neck and you know, somehow, deep down, that you’re supposed to let this person know that they are loved, that they don’t need to worry, they don’t need to try so hard, that surrendering and learning to follow Jesus is the first step in overcoming the things that weigh us down.
It’s nothing more than living honourably, loving our neighbour, putting aside the works of darkness, and getting to work, for night is coming, and when the opportunity comes to deliver God’s message, choosing to simply deliver it, rather than being accountable for the consequences of keeping it to ourselves; knowing that, by God’s grace, we might be the faceless, unknown messenger, who sparks something that changes generations of darkness and addiction and despair in that family, all because we were faithful and spoke a little word of hope or mercy in that moment.
Just remember: God’s plan to send ordinary, shy, quirky people like you and me is completely revolutionary. We know that where two or three are gathered, Christ is in our midst. Jesus wasn’t in a building when he said that, so we shouldn’t limit that promise to these four walls. If two or three, or twenty-five, or a hundred of us are united to be God’s humble messengers in our town, you know what? Christ will be here, in our midst. And that, my friends, is the sort of thing that changes a church, that changes a community, and, by God’s grace, can change the world.
The choice is ours – let’s speak up.
To God be the Glory. Amen.
 Don’t worry, I’m not advocating a juridical or accountancy-based soteriology. “Being held accountable” is the image in Ezekiel 33.
 Romans 13:8-14
 Messenger: in Greek “angelon”, from which we get “angel”!
 Matthew 18:19-20