By Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell
Read Ezekiel 33:1-11; Psalm 119:33-48; Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 18:15-20. These passages deal with appropriate Christian behaviour, which hinges on knowing and obeying God's law, especially as it relates to the ultimate law of life.
Our appropriation of the law of love brings life to the community. Ezekiel, a priest turned prophet, saw himself as a watchman for moral behaviour at the time Israel's citizens were being exiled in a foreign land. The survivors were warned to wake up to moral demands or the whole nation would be carted away. Disobedience and rebellion had brought the nation disaster. However, it is never God's will that a nation suffers, but that it might find new life through turning from its evil ways.
Watchmen are always in demand for the building of a Christian community. Those on whom this call is evident in society are parents, teachers, priests and other leaders. Human nature being what it is, is always in need of policing, therefore the watchman image. Society ought to have a legislated moral code in place for such people (watchmen) if it is to protect itself and ensure worthy guardians of its moral soul.
It's because of our weakness to enforce a code of moral conduct that our society is disintegrating at such a rapid speed. The high rate of illegitimacy in our country is directly due to those of us called to be watchmen. Further, it's astounding the many who sell out on principles only to worship power and thus receive short-term gratitude in the form of hand-outs and tokenisms. Our young people can see straight through our "flamming" watchman character and consequently they lose respect and values are no longer potent.
Many a parent sacrifices value for the dollar, or is enslaved to self-indulgence and indifference. How wonderful it is to demonstrate we have found something worth standing up for and that there is a price beyond which no one should pay. Wonderful to build up consistency in family worship, the importance of a decent education and moral value. How else are you to be the watchman?
Ezekiel's warning was heeded. He and his heirs devised instructions, a way of life defined by God's commandments, and the people did find a way to obey, a way to live in the land. The Psalmist teaches us that we can be better watchmen if we know and obey the laws of God. Throughout the Psalm, he cries out for a deeper knowledge of the laws and ways of God. If we only had that burning desire today! It's an actual thirst he has for knowing God. He is unhappy until such a thirst has been quenched. It's a life dedicated to God that satisfies such a longing.
Today, we are reeling from a sense of national emptiness that manifests itself in burnt-out, ill-prepared watchmen of our moral soul, delinquency in leadership and sell-outs to irrelevant ideas and ideals.
Is it because answers are always being sought from the wrong source? For example, do we try to solve crime by increasing the number of police vehicles and stations or by turning inward on our own emptiness and whoring attitude from the ultimate source of all fulfilment - God Himself? Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is painfully aware of the actuality of evil in the world and the need for Christians to fight against it. This is why he begins the series with a teaching on love: "Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good."
This was the standard by which everything else was to be measured. The practice of love was essential and had to be sincere. Love is the very core of Christian ethics. Out of love for society, the watchman dedicates his life. He sacrifices fleeting pleasures and goes the extra mile to make himself an authentic and respected person who will demand respect.
What a tragedy in any society where watchmen are the laughing stock, never taken seriously. To build a Christian community means also to employ one's talents, whatever they might be, with diligence. While trials are inevitable in life, the follower of Christ is to show patience in meeting them; to rejoice in hope, and to rely on the power of prayer to cope with whatever might happen. Caring for the needs of others was a particular requirement for maintaining fellowship and it would mean a close sharing in the joys and sorrows of those for whom we are to be watchmen. In society today, this will entail preparing and equipping our people with practical skills and literacy, spiritual fortitude and guidelines to survive in modern times in a progressing and demanding society. How much are we willing to sacrifice?
It is sad but true that far too many talented individuals do not act as though they have been blessed by God so as to be a blessing to others. If so, there would be greater evidence of youth marching and concert bands, community-grounded youth groups, uniformed boys organisations and basically more skill factories impacting marketable and practical skills across the age divide. This in itself will be an answer to much of the frustration and emptiness that's taking a toll on us. Jesus, in Matthews's account of the gospel, is concerned with holding the community together in face of human tension. He goes beyond the advice to forgive 70 times seven to the ultimate law of practical love.
Whenever we wrong an individual, we risk wrecking the wider community. When the offender continues in the behaviour, it soon becomes more than a private grievance and must be brought before the community as a whole. Think of how guilty we really are, mainly through neglect, in offending those for whom we are watchmen and for whom we ought to be expending our energy in imparting skills and knowledge. Think of our insensitive behaviour and poor examples, especially our ruthlessness in destroying moral values. Through it all, we offend and consequently become destructive, like cancer to the entire society. In our way forward we must decrease the rate of illegitimacy; it's unacceptable. It's not in God's plan for family life. While at the same time we must love and care equally for all our children.
In the final analysis, our readings hold us responsible to God and to each other for building and holding in tension the critical strands of love, practical love in society. Ezekiel acknowledged his call as a watchman. Whether we realise it or not, we are watchmen for the moral soul of our country, especially those of us with high-flying titles and positions in society. He to whom much is given, much is required. Our behaviour will determine how seriously we accept the responsibility.