young and fearless preacher had a problem with a somewhat worldly parishioner who would remark sarcastically every Sunday as he shook the preachers hand at the door, "You got them today preacher!" Sunday after Sunday this fellow never seemed to feel that he needed to repent and always felt that the sermon was for everybody else. Then one Sunday there was a bad snow storm and the preacher and this one fellow were the only ones that could show up. The preacher seized the opportunity and preacher his entire three point sermon on, "Hell, Fire, and Damnation." Well, the one congregant again walked out the door and shook the preachers hand and said, "If they had been here today preacher, you would have gotten them real good!"
And this is the very point of Jesus words in our text: "...unless you repent, you will perish just as they did." (v. 5, NRSV). Humanity has this flaw, the tendency to see the sin in others more clearly than in ourselves. We see the speck in our friends eye, but fail to see the log in our own eye.
One of the great things about our Methodist heritage is the way we require all physically able persons to come to the Altar and kneel for Communion. Its a humbling act for the elitist and proud, those who came to church thinking that the service would be for them and never me. Those who appear to be so righteous; the kind of folks that Jesus said were like "decorated graves that outwardly looked beautiful, but were inside full of death." Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of associating with sinners, and probably he preferred the company of, repentant tax collectors and humble former prostitutes, to the nose in the air secret sinners in clerical gowns.
The point of this story is that the sinner is no longer guilty of their sin once a contrite confession is made and the slate is washed clean. We cannot not sin, but when we do God forgives us completely. This is the cornerstone of our message of Good News!
My second sermon as a 21 year old smarty pants preacher was delivered at a pastors meeting held at my college. Looking back I feel that the religion professors wanted to showcase a student that did repent and begin the long process toward pastoral ministry. However, I did not have much to say to those seasoned veterans. I mainly showcased inexperience; but, I was salvaged by my text. Anyway, I was led to use those many scriptures that illustrate how God separates our forgiven sin as far from us as the east is from the west, and how He buries our past in the depths of the sea. I remember pointing out how I had read in "National Geographic", that oceanographers could not measure the depths of the sea in some places. And I remember feeling washed clean and as white as snow. And after all these long years, I still feel as clean as a new born baby after a bath. How? I prayed already today for God to forgive my sin from yesterday. When we repent, God forgives, and cleanses.
However, in an effort to further understand Jesus way of dealing with human sin, we must point out that he additionally expects us to intend to lead a new life, and to want to sin no more. This happens as he mercifully forgives over and over, and as we grow spiritually, and our faith is strengthened, and we become something of a reflection of his grace, and as we are given the power of the Holy Spirit, and as we gradually become more like the Master.
We had a plasterer come this week to repair a ceiling in our living room. It was a difficult job, but he made it look so easy that Marilyn asked, "how did you ever learn to get that sticky stuff to stay up on the ceiling so smoothly?" "I had a master teacher!" he responded. "When I was a young man one of my Daddys Deacons took me under his wing and made me his apprentice, and I gradually learned to be like him."
I have never gotten as good as any of my star teachers. I cant preach with the grace of Gordon Thompson, and nobody has yet captured the twinkle in Pierce Harris eye; but, I can read from the same book and depend upon the same Spirit to take up my stumbling and bumbling words and use them beyond the instrument.
One preacher thought he could do anything, so he even decided to paint the white clapboard church. He had never painted before, and was too proud to read the directions. The thick paint went on well around the bottom, but as he worked up toward the top he began to run out of paint. He decided to thin it down by pouring in more water, then more water, and even more. The paint got thinner and thinner, but up close it looked pretty good. "Preacher, can we help?" several parishioners yelled up to him on the ladder, "No, I am perfectly capable of painting this church all by myself!" Then it started to rain, and thunder, and the preacher went right on painting and thinning. Then the thin coat of paint was washed off by the torrent Suddenly, there was a loud bolt of lighting that hit the ground near the ladder and the preacher fell into some shrubbery, shaken but alive. There was a loud thunder clap and a voice out of heaven said, "Re-Paint, and Thin no more."
I confess that I have not reached perfection, but you already knew that. I am still under construction, but have learned a few things. For example, in my younger days I would have attempted to push the spray washing of our old stone church building in the first weeks of my appointment. However, after months we hired professionals to do just the bottom. We are now getting your approval to work our way upward, but we need your consensus.
I was encouraged by Anglican Bishop John Taylor, of Cambridge, who preached here Thursday last--- I asked his opinion about the spray cleaning and he said, "O, we have done the same at Westminster Abbey and it looks simply sparkling!" But deeper, I was struck my Bishop Taylors remarkable humility of spirit. Although a Knight and a member of the House of Lords, he was contagiously evangelical in his sermon and in his warmth. I was encouraged to seek to become more and more like His Master, and I repented, and I continue on the way.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor