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Sunday 6 September 2020

Doing the right thing

Ezekiel 33:7-11; Romans 13:8-14


By Joe Aldred

A bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy and an ecumenist at Churches Together in England

Context: an inner city black-led Pentecostal church whose members are predominantly British of African Caribbean heritage

Aim: to encourage the exilic congregation to help each other to do the right thing in challenging contexts

Doing the right thing requires personal courage, and assistance from God and those called by God to help us. Allow me to say a few words about my two main texts for this sermon. The prophet Ezekiel was of priestly stock and prophesied to God’s people in exile, under pressure of empire and constantly challenged to do right. Doing right was important then as now in God’s sight, for the benefit of the people of God, as well as contributing to the good of the state in which they found themselves. This situation of doing the right thing is also the context of our Romans text as the newly converted Christians were to live a new life in the spirit by God’s grace, not according to legalism under the law by which they lived before. For new Christians their life was a kind of exile from carnality to a new place of life in the spirit.

The New Testament Christians were no more used to their new life than the Jews were used to life in exile. Both were called to live out newness of life in the place they found ourselves, literally and spiritually. Scripture says God has called us out of darkness into a new and living way, into God’s marvellous light. This new way is one of righteousness, justice, peace and love. So different is our new calling that God has put in place a framework to make it possible. You know you cannot live in the UK like you and your parents lived in the Caribbean or Africa - you need help to adapt to the new exilic place. Amen?

Some of you will remember making the move from your homeland to the UK, or will recall the stories from your parents, and you will know that having made the transition from one place to another you had to adapt to a new environment, new life, new rules. We read too of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, how he left his place at the right hand of the Father, came among us, shared in our humanity and during his time on earth prayed repeatedly to the Father, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ Jesus, the new God/man, like our forebears, aligned himself to the new realities of his earthly existence, though in divine existentialism and omnipresence he was there and here at the same time. Some of you will know what I mean because emotionally and spiritually some never left the Caribbean or Africa - they can ‘take us out of the country, but they can’t take the country out of us’, the saying goes.

Let me share three things God has put in place around which we can build our new life and do the right thing: warning messengers, righteousness, and his Spirit.

For the Jews in exile, God placed prophets to keep before them why they were there and what was required of them. As a ‘sentinel’ for the House of Israel, Ezekiel had a responsibility placed by God upon him. God like any good parent knows his children, how easily they stray from the right thing, and so places a responsibility upon the warner, the watchman, the sentinel to do their job. This is a call to some of us today to not easily give up on the prophetic role in the church and in society. In the face of sin and injustice those called by God to be watchmen and watchwomen in ‘Zion’ must not shirk from ‘blowing the trumpet’ in Zion. If you don’t, then the failure, the transgression of the people becomes your responsibility. So, watchman, watchwoman, warn the people lest they do the wrong thing. It is an awesome responsibility to help God’s people do the right thing.

A second part of God’s infrastructure to help us do the right thing is the raising up of the righteousness of God. This means doing the right thing not by human standards, but according to what is right in God’s eyes. Ezekiel uses words like wickedness, iniquity, transgression; that because of God’s people’s indulgence in them they waste away, evoke the displeasure of God. The prophet is clear that the righteousness of God determines that death will result unless God’s people turn back, repent. So much of the way we live today falls into this condemnation; from basics like the lack of food security and shelter for many, while 90% of the earth’s resources are devoured by 10% of the earth’s inhabitants. God’s sense of righteousness calls us to do the right thing – love neighbour as self, do to neighbour as to self.

A third pillar of our doing the right thing is the Spirit. Scripture says the Spirit helps with our infirmities. The apostle Paul in Romans is at pains to show that the life to which the Christian is called cannot be lived in our humanity alone. But this is in no way a signal to failure or condemnation, rather it’s a call to come up higher, from the flesh into the spirit. This new and alternative way of life is made possible by Jesus adopting us in the beloved community of saints where the gift of love is shared by God to us and by us to each other and the world. It is a high calling, but it is the calling to which we have been called. Hallelujah! We can do the right thing because God through the spirit of Jesus Christ enables us to do it.

As the world’s scientists searched desperately for a vaccine for the coronavirus, so we needed a different antidote years ago, one to help us do the right thing by God, by our neighbour, by our self. God provided that antidote in the person of Jesus who calls us now to live according to the principles of God’s way of righteousness. To help us, God calls some to be his voice of directional warning and has put his Spirit in us that we may do right to the Glory of God and the upliftment of humanity.

So my friends, wherever you find yourself, in whatever circumstance, you can do the right thing by God’s grace.

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