By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Ezekiel 3:16-27
16 At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. 20 Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. 21 If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life.
22 Then the hand of the Lord was upon me there; and he said to me, Rise up, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you. 23 So I rose up and went out into the valley; and the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. 24 The spirit entered into me, and set me on my feet; and he spoke with me and said to me: Go, shut yourself inside your house. 25 As for you, mortal, cords shall be placed on you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people; 26 and I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be speechless and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; let those who will hear, hear; and let those who refuse to hear, refuse; for they are a rebellious house.
The daily struggles of life make it hard to take responsibility for others. After all, how can we be concerned for the fate of others without risking our own well-being? We each move frantically from one task to the next, and if we notice a person in need, we often look away guiltily, lest they catch our eye and seek our favor.
Yet the exemplar of Ezekiel’s call to be a sentinel for his people leaves little space for the Christian to be indifferent toward the manifestations of good and evil in our communities. God sends Ezekiel to warn people to repent and turn away from their evil deeds. Remarkably, God tells Ezekiel that if they die in their sins without having been warned to turn away, Ezekiel will be held responsible for their death in sin. Preaching against wickedness isn’t just about speaking truth to power, but also willing the salvation of the sinner. As Christians we uniquely call on the unrighteous to repent and turn to God. The Lord’s concern is as much for the sinner as for the vulnerable.
Such weighty responsibility is, frankly, a much needed word to the Church today. It reminds us that being Christians and proclaiming the gospel is not just a cultural practice or a private religiosity, but a matter of life and death in which our neighbors desperately need the love of the Creator we have graciously received.
One of my favorite lines in Martin Luther’s writings is when, in the midst of a pandemic himself, he commands all Christians to “act like people who want to help put out the burning city.” As God’s sentinels, let it not be said of us that people perished because we knew the hope of the gospel and the righteousness of God’s judgment, yet said nothing.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Thomas, Ky.
Anglican Church of Korea