In reflecting on our first reading from Ezekiel, I was reminded of the time in 7th grade when my teacher Mrs. Holloway asked me to watch the class as she needed to leave the classroom to attend to a matter. It was common in those days that a teacher would solicit the assistance of a student to serve as class monitor when they had to leave the classroom for a short time.
It was expected that the class monitor would carefully observe his or her classmates and note any behavior that was contrary to the classroom norms. It was as if the class monitor took on the role of teacher – or similarly to Ezekiel, the subject of our first reading, the role watchman.
Immediately, I was elevated from student-peer-classmate to supervisor in charge. I had instant responsibility and the expectation was that the class would remain in order – and act and resemble a class in the same manner as if the teacher was present.
I can tell you at 12 or 13 years of age, that was a monumental responsibility. I didn’t want to be in charge and tell my classmates what to do, fearing I’d make enemies, but more importantly, I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Holloway. I decided to embrace my temporary position as watchman for the class.
I have often thought of her request over the years. Why did she call on me? Why did she put me in that position? What then seemed like a certain doom, later proved to be a stepping stone to the building of my character.
She must have seen something in me – she trusted that I would follow her instructions; she believed that I could lead the class by example; she also believed the class would listen to me and follow my lead in her absence.
In our first reading of Ezekiel, he too had been called to the position of watchman –but on a much larger scale, watchman for the house of Israel. He’s not charged with assessing the spiritual state of the people, or whether or not they heeded God’s instructions. He was tasked with simply delivering the message of God.
And if he didn’t deliver the message, not only would the people die because they didn’t get the message, but Ezekiel would be held responsible. Double wammy. Dinged for not delivering the message and dinged for causing their death.
But rather than look at being called as a weighty responsibility, we can choose to view it as an opportunity to honor God – to receive the mantle placed on us to represent him in the earth, and an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and do something monumental.
I would suggest that all of us who have been baptized into the faith have been called to be watchmen - called to be in relationship with God and with our fellow neighbor.
All of us are expected to proclaim the Gospel and to sound the warning when we see people living sinful lives. And God will not hold us responsible for the results, but will hold us responsible for the faithful proclamation.
What response might we have after such a call as Ezekiel’s?
What do we make of our response from the verses presented in Psalm 95? “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
How might God be preparing us for the work ahead?
Our Psalm gives us 3 instructions – 1. Praise, 2. Worship, and 3. Harden not our Hearts
It is suggested by some scholars that Psalm 95 was originally 2 psalms because the first set of verses says to praise God and the 2nd set of verses says to worship God– that because there is a sudden change in mood they must be 2 different Psalms that were later connected - I’d suggest instead of the 2 psalm theory – to consider that it’s a natural progression to go from praise to worship; from frenetic claps and jumping to the posture of bowing down– from a kind of fast dance to a slow embrace – from communal praise to personal worship
But why the mantra “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Well, in order to obey instructions from God – it helps to be in relationship with God – and our relationship with God grows out of our worship with God
Hardened hearts get in the way of authentic obedience – authentic love
The psalm helps us – reminds us that to honor and obey God from a place of authenticity – we must spend time praising God – worshipping God -that’s what this psalm does – why it follows the instructions given to Ezekiel
Upon hearing God’s instructions to watch the people, Ezekiel’s next step after saying yes – should have been to worship God
Out of the love I have for my parents – I honor them and show my love by obeying them – I don’t have to always understand what they ask of me or even agree with their request – but because I love them – and remember all that they have done and continue to do for me – its second nature and natural for me to honor their requests
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
These are words of warning, not to be taken lightly. In these verses, it’s no longer the voice of the psalmist, but the voice of God.
God reminds us of what happened at Massah and Meribah when our forefathers tested and tried God even after seeing his mighty works. God highlights this not to condemn us, but to encourage us to choose and behave differently
We are to watch and guard our hearts
Scripture says that out of the heart flow the issues of life
That as water reflects a man or woman’s face, so does the heart reflect that man or woman
The number way we can watch and guard our hearts so that they do not become hardened, is to worship God
I have plants that I must water everyday – and each day I do, I notice the growth and development of what started out as a seed sown into the soil. From the stalk to leaves, to now the budding of what will eventually be the fruit.
But for this process to continue and my plants to bear fruit, I must water them every day – attend to their care; remove the weeds that attempt to grow and choke my plants; remove the insects that attempt to steal life from my plants
So too, our worshipping God must be daily
Our text from Romans instructs us to owe man or woman nothing, except Love. The summation of all the commandments is to love one another
Loving another always means presenting God’s truth – sure it’s being patient – kind – bearing all things– protecting – trusting – persevering – not being selfish – touchy – or holding a wrong against them – but it also means speaking the truth in love –– pointing out sins & shortcomings – sometimes holding up a mirror
Iron sharpening iron; Calling them to be their best; Pointing them to the Father
Even being willing to walk away-losing fellowship w/ someone if it means saving their life
That’s love – it has nothing to do with how you feel – but everything to do with following God’s instructions
That’s also at the heart of our final reading in the gospel in Matthew
I think the verse most important is the very first one - “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
It reminds me of the verse in James that says that we are to confess our sins to one another so that we may be healed.
We all need to have someone in our life with whom we can confide – entrust not only our triumphs, but also our faults.
It takes humility to admit when we’re wrong – and sometimes we need the assistance of one close to us to point out a wrong. We also have to have the courage to sometimes be the one who addresses an issue with another and call out poor behavior when we see it in action.
When we engender these kind of healthy relationships; when we sharpen others and allow others to sharpen us, in the end we become better people, and position ourselves to be available to represent and serve God.
So, how do these readings speak to us today? What do they challenge us to do; to consider?
Be Watchmen; Worship God; Guard Our Hearts; Love One anther
I believe God is saying to us Take care of One another; Nurture and honor the relationships given to us -especially our relationship with God; Do whatever necessary to keep our hearts pure; and finally, Be good stewards of the life given to us
A high price was paid for you and for me to live a life worthy of the calling given to us.
To live less than the life that was paid for us is to not only disappoint God, but it robs the earth of a part of God.
So, remember to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind with God’s word – God’s voice – God’s instructions and then we can be his hands, his feet, his voice, and his face.
And when we people interact with us, they are interacting with our Amazing God.
Dr. Julie Welborn
Dr. Julie Welborn
Julie Welborn is an anointed woman of God who has a unique gift for creating environments where healing and restoration can take place.
Julie currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Family Life at LaSalle Street Church in Chicago. She spent ten years as a program director for LINK Unlimited Scholars (an educational nonprofit that serves African American high school youth in the Chicago area) and seven years as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Faith Community of Saint Sabina. It was in these capacities that Julie honed and sharpened her leadership, workshop facilitation and motivational speaking skills. Since then she has created and facilitated retreats, workshops, and conferences across the country for women, youth, corporations and nonprofits, where her stirring oratory has touched, challenged and empowered participants.
Julie is a skilled teacher and preacher who worked at the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2011-2016 and served as the Director of Catholic Identity from 2014-16. She has taught and facilitated confirmation and reconciliation sacramental classes and retreats; shared the gospel as a scripture teacher for the Chicago Catholic Scripture School; taught scripture in the Continuing Education & Enrichment Program during the summer at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at St. Xavier University in New Orleans; has preached at churches and conferences of various denominations and has been featured as keynote speaker at schools and various educational organizations.
Julie holds a Doctorate of Ministry, a Master of Divinity and a Certificate in Biblical Spirituality from Catholic Theological Union; a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
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