Sermon 16 Pentecost Yr C, 16/09/2007
September 13, 2007 Leave a comment
16 Pentecost Yr C, 16/09/2007
1 Tim 1:12-17
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
In today’s second lesson, we celebrate the Good News of God’s all-sufficient grace through Jesus Christ. James S. Hewett tells the following story:
A large prosperous downtown church had three mission churches under its care that it had started. On the first Sunday of the New Year all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were located in the slums of the city, were some outstanding cases of conversions—thieves, burglars, and so on—but all knelt side by side at the Communion rail.
On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England—the judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. Yet, as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither one seemed to be aware of the other.
After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor and said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”
The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvellous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Saviour he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I sent to prison.”1
This story of sinners meeting at Christ’s table for forgiveness and grace is a most interesting one. The judge has an important insight. Usually, also as in the case of our second lesson, we hear about conversion stories like the apostle Paul’s and like the burglar in the story. They at one time were real bad guys. So engrossed in their sins that they appear to be impossible cases. Then something happens. They are converted. Jesus Christ comes into their lives and turns them around 180 degrees into a life of super-saints. We’ve all heard these stories, but somehow they don’t appeal to many of us. Why? Well, lots of people like us never went off of the deep end in their sinning; nor did they ever consider themselves real bad folk. A lot of folks can rather identify I think with the judge in the story: raised in a decent home with responsible, law abiding parents, taught right from wrong, and disciplined appropriately when they did wrong to know enough not to do it again, went to church and Sunday School, lived upright, moral, ethical lives. How can such decent folk as this be on the same level as the apostle Paul and the burglar? Well, the judge in the story finally realised that hey, he was a sinner too, and even in all of his goodness he needed forgiveness.
In God’s eyes we’re all equals—judges and convicts, rich and poor, young and old, you name it. We cannot save ourselves—only God through Jesus can do that. That’s the miracle of grace. God’s all-sufficient grace for each one of us here today.
The apostle Paul thought he was good, as a matter of fact, he says he excelled over his colleagues of Pharisees in observing the Jewish laws with great zeal. So much so, that he thought by persecuting Christians, by even having them put to death like Stephen; he was actually doing God’s holy will. That’s a scary thought is it not? People today around the world are doing the same thing. Fanatical fundamentalist Muslims believe that they are doing God’s holy will by resorting to terrorism and killing innocent people. They, like Paul, need a radical change in their lives if they are to see and follow Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life, and realise the sinfulness of their ways.
It is interesting that in our second lesson the apostle Paul remembers that in the past he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. Although that was in the past, it serves Paul to continue to be ever grateful to God through Jesus Christ for his saving, loving, merciful grace—his unconditional favour and forgiveness of Paul even though he does not deserve it. That life is now over, Paul says, thanks to God’s all-sufficient grace in Christ. However, Paul does not say that he is now so holy as to no longer be a sinner. No! Rather, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” Notice he is speaking of himself here in the present, not the past. Why he considers himself the foremost of sinners is that as a missionary for Christ, he believes he can share the message with people that if he, Paul can be saved, foremost sinner that he is, then anyone can be saved. Obviously such a message preached by Paul was convincing, since he founded many Christian communities in the Gentile world.
Paul is in a state of constant gratitude for what God in Christ has done for him; that’s what comes shining through our second lesson today. What about us? Are we also ever grateful for what God in Christ has done for us?
The story is told of an old woman in India [who] turned to the Christian faith, making some of her unconverted neighbours furious. They shunned her at times and harassed her, even shouting after her on the street. “You’re the ugliest old woman I ever saw,” one of them shouted. She gently turned the attack aside. “Isn’t it wonderful how God can love an ugly old woman like me!” she replied.2
Yes, indeed, isn’t it wonderful that God can love people like us! Imperfect, filled with all kinds of flaws, yet forgiven sinners one and all, thanks to God’s all-sufficient, unconditional grace through Jesus Christ. May we, like Paul, be forever grateful! Amen.
1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited ( Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 257.
2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 78.