Monday, November 10, 2008

Sermon Transcript

Let me start with a shocking statement:

I am a sinner.

Yes I am a sinner, standing before you today to preach to you. I am also going to make another shocking statement:

No one has ever stood before you here or in any other church or in any other forum and preached that wasn’t a sinner.

I know! This is shocking! Yet it is true. There is not one of us sitting here today, not one, who does not commit sin. No matter how much we try we surely fail in some way by not doing that which our Creator would have us do. Yet we often want to think that because someone is a pastor, a preacher, a teacher, a Christian, a friend, a [insert your label of choice here], that they must be above sin, and that my friends is holding others to a standard that is impossible for any one of us human types to manage.

Let me start with a little story with you about a conversation between my mom and me back when I was in high school. I remember clearly that she told me this when we were in the car, pulling into our carport after some shopping trip. We had been discussing accepting Christ as Savior, and how that happens and when, and given her Baptist upbringing and mine we were talking about it within the context of the altar call at the end of the service. She told me about how as a teen she attended a revival with several friends of hers. Over the course of several evenings almost all went forward to accept Christ. She was the lone holdout. “Why?” I asked. She said, “Because I wasn’t ready yet to give up some of my sins, and I knew I couldn’t keep sinning once I accepted Christ.” Huh. This gave me pause. By that point in my life, I had gone forward and accepted Christ and been baptized. I knew that I, as the rather typical teen with curiosities of one kind and another, still sinned on occasion. I suddenly felt like a fraud. I thought I had really messed this one up, and yet. . . and yet something deep down told me that I wasn’t about to burn in hell, that God and I were good with each other. I thought I must have misunderstood what my mom meant and sought clarification. “So are you saying that once you became a Christian you never sinned again?” I thought this was so absurd that she’d have to tell me I misunderstood, and that she meant something else. “That’s right. Once I finally accepted Christ I never sinned again.” “Never?” I think I had a shocked, incredulous look on my face. “Never,” she said firmly. And with that she got out of the car, walked into the house, and we never spoke of it again. It took me years to get over that little conversation because I knew then, and I still know today, that I am not without sin in my life. For a long time I thought I was failing at being a Christian.

How am I doing so far? Feeling uplifted yet? No? Oh dear. Well, let’s go look at the passage from Philippians Chapter 2 that was read earlier and see if we can find something to help, something that will give us a better model for a Christian life than having to be perfect or having to expect perfection out of others.

Let’s start with a look at the first four verses.

2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2:2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 2:4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

The writer speaks not of being perfect, or requiring perfection of others, but of humbling ourselves and serving one another. We are not told to look down on others but “in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Regard others – sinners that they are for yes, they have sin in their lives guaranteed – regard others as better than yourselves. Can I say it one more time? In humility, see your own sins and shortcomings and regard others, with whatever sins and shortcomings they have, as better than yourselves. Maybe Mom had it wrong, just a little, with her expectations of a perfect life free from sin, and I will tell you that she has mellowed over time and begun to accept those of us who fall short of perfection. Given that she has me for a daughter that’s a very good thing!

So how do we make sure that we live that life of humility day to day? By loving and caring for and being compassionate to others, NO MATTER WHAT their circumstances may be. But, you are thinking, surely you don’t mean THOSE PEOPLE. Not the neighbor that put up signs supporting the wrong candidates in the recent election. Um, yes, actually I do. Well, not the college kids next door with their loud late night parties. Um, yes, them too. But, you are thinking, yard signs are nothing, loud parties are trivial; you surely don’t mean the people I know who drink too much, or smoke, or lie, or cheat, or steal, or, you know, any of a number of things that are on the “bad list.” Surely, I should treat those people harshly so that they will know the error of their ways. Um, actually, not only am I saying, but the Bible is saying, that you should look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. It does not say only to the interests of others who agree with you or only the interests of others who are without sin. Nope. It says you should look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Is it in the interest of others to talk behind their backs about their flaws and shortcomings as you see them? Is it in the interest of others to shame them into submission or to try and force others to see things your way through brute force and ugliness? Is it in the interest of others to make sure that they know that you are so very much better than them for any reason at all? Is that God’s way? Or is it in the interest of others to at least try to see things from their perspective, and to approach them with a spirit of cooperation and with tact and respect? Think on these things when you choose your words and actions.

As we move on through the scripture, the writer in verses 5-8, sets Jesus out as our example:

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
How, then, should we act in this life? Well, if we believe that Jesus is to be an example of a Godly life then we should humble ourselves, look around for how we can serve others, not how others can serve us, look for ways to be obedient to God’s call to be a good steward of all the resources that we are fortunate enough to have under our care. Realize that it isn’t just all about us, but it is about us being a part of something much bigger than ourselves. It is about becoming nurturing rather than destructive. It is about giving rather than taking. It is about sharing rather than hoarding. It is all about working on ourselves to be the best that we can be, to show the world through our words and our actions that being Christian means being caring, not judgmental.

The things I’m talking about don’t have to be big momentous things, though they can be. Sometimes they can be the simplest things. When I was in college some years ago, I worked at name of place where I worked. Almost every day when I walked back to my dorm after work I saw a scruffy looking older gentleman, someone I considered one of THOSE PEOPLE, sitting at the edge of a nearby park. He would say hello to me every day, and I would say hello back. Eventually, he got brave enough to ask me if I had a moment to talk. I hesitated, ever shy and ever leery of strangers, particularly scruffy looking ones. However, Lincoln Avenue is pretty busy, and I truly didn’t have any reason to rush so I stopped. I sat and talked with him. He lived down the street he said and was lonely. He liked to come out and sit and be part of the community even though not many were willing to stop and talk to him. He thanked me for stopping and taking some time with him. From then on, when he was there I would stop to chat. Sometimes we would only chat a few minutes. Other times maybe a half hour. I don’t remember what we chatted about, but I do remember that we spent time together nourishing each other with friendship in what can sometimes seem a pretty friendless world. It took little effort or time and no money for me to bring some caring into his world and for him to do the same for me. I like to think that he and I were each doing a little of God’s work through those chats.

As you move through life, focus on what God wants, not what I want, not what you want. As we look forward into the future of this congregation, this church, we need to focus on what God wants from us and for us rather than what we want. We need to head into the future with our eye on what God is asking us to do and be within this community. We need to prayerfully consider our role in this world of ours. We each need to look inside our hearts and see if we are living our faith. Living our faith is different than pounding someone over the head with it, or pointing out how wrong someone else is, or holding ourselves and others to impossible standards. Living our faith is about loving and serving others so much that they can’t help but want to have what we have, that special individual relationship with God. Living our faith ought to have people talking about what a light we are in a dark world. We need to find our voices and let our faith shine throughout our community. We need to make sure people know that we won’t be looking for their flaws or their sins when they are with us, that we won’t be standing around waiting to pounce when they aren’t perfect. We need to let people know that we are a caring people, a people who, though flawed, just want to share God’s love with all those who need it. And we all, very much, need it.


Cocotte said...

Wow True.....that was amazing. I don't remember ever hearing anyone speak about Phil.2 from the point of view you were coming from. I can't say I've ever heard someone say they were without sin after becoming a Christian, either. Just wow on that one.

How hard was it to be "preacher for a day?" Congrats on the fine job. I hope you inspired others to serve!

Val said...

This is great; I'm awestruck.
Tremendously good job babe!

Jeni Angel said...

Well done. Very well done. As someone who is as un-religious as they come, THAT would be something worth going to church to hear.

You did an amazing job! I would love to hear about how you felt giving your sermon and the reaction you got.

Bunny said...

Wonderful! This is beautifully written and I imagine it was wonderfully received. Great job!!! I bet N was super-proud of his mom!!

Trueself said...

First, let me say you are all much too kind. Thank you all for your lovely comments here.

Cocotte - My next post will be about being "preacher for a day." Stay tuned. Don't know if I'll get it posted today or not, but soon.

Val - Thanks friend.

Jeni - Wow, now that is high praise, and I thank you very much. As I said to Cocotte, stay tuned as the next post will be about the experience.

Bunny - N was, in his own 10-year-old way, proud of mom. Of course, I don't really think he understand what an undertaking it was for me so he didn't really appreciate as much as if he was older.