Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Last Sermon

On Sunday, August 10, 2008 I preached the following sermon at the Kaufman Church of Christ. I never got an opportunity to preach part 2. This is irony defined - particularly the Eugene Peterson quote at the end. It's almost as if no one in the audience heard a single word. Please take the time to read - and enjoy:


BAGGAGE CLAIM (Part 1)

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:1-17
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Introduction:
- How many of you have taken a trip recently where you have had to pack a bag and check it with an airline?
- How many of you have done that and your baggage has taken a different trip? You went to Chicago, but your bags went to Hawaii – for no good reason other than the person who checked you in was in a bad mood or they were having a bad hair day or something?
- Now, how many of you have taken trips to other countries where you had one or more connections before your final destination?
- And it is a terrible thing to wonder, “Where are my bags?”

- This happened to me on my last trip out of the country. This was not a complicated return route – nothing like going to Zambia – I went to Zambia one year, and this was the route: Dallas to London to Entebbe in Uganda, to Nairobi Kenya, to Harare Zimbabwe, to Lilongwe Malawi, and then we drove over the border into Zambia!!!
- But my last trip wasn’t like that - we checked our bags in Johannesburg, picked it up in Washington, DC, went through customs, and then handed it over to the TSA people to recheck onto our Washington to Dallas flight – and it was at that point that my luggage got lost. After all those crummy airports in all those crummy African countries, my bags got lost in Washington!

- Because we only had 30 minutes to do all this – not that I mind this kind of pressure – I can run through an airport with the best of travelers – completely undignified – sweat pouring off me, shirt half tucked, shoe laces undone – clutching my little Ziploc bag with fluids and gels in 3 ounce containers, yelling “1 more, 1 more for Dallas!”

- We made it onto that flight, and we got to Dallas right on time, but one of my bags did not – b/c the customs people, and the TSA people, and the United Airlines people, at 6:30 in the morning, just didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency that I had.
- So here I am at DFW airport, the last person left watching that baggage carousel go round and round and round, still wearing the same clothing that I’ve had on for two days!
- So now, my dream, and the dream of thousands of travelers, especially now b/c you have to pay more, is to say, “NO,” when asked, at the check-in, “Do you have any bags to check today Mr. North?”

- But you know the problem, don’t you? None of us can make a trip without baggage of some kind.
- So a lot of travelers only take a small carry on bag and they pretend that they’re flying baggage free.
- Now this idea may work on United Airlines, but it will never fly in real life.

- And unfortunately, through the years, people have come to think that in the church you better not have any real baggage, and if you do, you had better keep it tucked under the pew in front of you so no one can see it because baggage is embarrassing and cumbersome.

- I have heard the welcome and call to worship at some churches extended this way: “Come in here and leave all your problems and struggles outside.”
WHAT? WHY? That’s nonsense! God is not interested in a phony plastic sliver of 1 hour of your life – He wants it all!

- And what I would like to do today is to invite you to claim your baggage because if there is any place in this world where people ought to be able to come in and say, “I have baggage,” it ought to be around other people who claim Jesus as Lord!

- So here are some things to keep in mind:

1) All of us Have Baggage
- There is not one of us who doesn’t have hurts, difficulties, hang-ups, or bitter disappointments lurking somewhere in our lives - and some of it stinks to high heaven, but we’re taught to walk in here and pretend like we have no baggage – that’s why we have “church clothes.”
- I remember getting my first 3-piece suit when I was only 6 – it had a clip on tie, and that’s what I wore to church – and now I understand that there are mental “church clothes” people put on – at home at 9 o’clock it’s, “Hurry up woman, turn out that light, put that down, will you kids get in the car – daddy, you’re speeding! Hush up, I’m teaching Bible class!”

- And the whole family arrives with their hair standing on end, ready to kill each other, and then the door of the minivan opens, and it’s “Hello brother Roy. Good morning Charles, how are you? Fine, Fine – Come on kids, put your baggage away, it’s time for Bible Class.”

- That is an insidious thing because pretty soon people really start to think that church folks have no baggage, no problems, our kids are perfect, everything is peachy, we’re the best dressed people in town, and the preacher stands there with weapons-grade perkiness, and that can’t be real!

- Which is why we learn a very important thing about ourselves in a short letter John wrote to the Ephesian church (Read 1st John 1:8-10):
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

- If you claim you have no baggage, who are you deceiving? God? No! You deceive yourself!

- When you say, “I have sins, and here’s what they are b/c this burden is too heavy to carry,” it’s wonderful to hear God say, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
- But this is where we run into a big problem:

2) All of us Learn Early to Hide it Well
- You remember the story, don’t you? A man and a woman in a garden. Eve eats the fruit, and then Adam does as well, and now they have both sinned, but I always wondered, “what’s the deal with the fig leaf cover up?” I mean, it’s not like they’re at the mall. They’re married! They’ve seen it all before!
- But isn’t it interesting that humanity’s first reaction to sin was to cover it up and try to hide.

- But you know how the story goes – and it’s the same today.
- You cannot come here on a Sunday morning wearing your little fig leaf and hide from God – you are only deceiving yourself, because you’re not fooling the rest of the people here.

- And I know what so many people think – “If you saw my baggage you wouldn’t want me in your church, you wouldn’t welcome me into your Home Team.”
- And listen, I can sympathize with those feelings, and when you admit that, you learn something about grace – you learn that you can’t have it until you know you can’t live without it!

3) Pretending Like we don’t have any baggage doesn’t make it easier to carry
- Because that feeling of constantly having to dodge and cover up is oppressive and impossible to keep up.

Illus:
- I remember one Sunday morning – Holly was fixing her hair, and I had some free time – now don’t ask me why, but I was wrestling with the cat on the living room floor!
- Well, the cat bit my nose!
- Now we’re about to leave for church, I have to preach, and I have a bloody gash on my face! That was the day I discovered makeup! Base. But I was stuck with it, because I had to put it on again that night, and then Wed. night until the scratch was healed.

- Once you cover something up you have to keep covering it up, and soon you’ll be too scared to go camping with people because they might see you without your makeup!
- We live in a world where people value authenticity, and can spot a fake a mile away.

Conclusion:
From Eugene Peterson:
The churches of Revelation show us that churches are not Victorian parlors where everything is always picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologize. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance – and there is no indication as yet that he has changed his policy in that regard – churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright.”

- In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus offers this invitation:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

4 comments:

Tommy said...

A couple of thoughts/scriptures come to mind...

While it may seem that no one heard, I feel sure that was not the case...I believe many heard. I did. As Kerrie and I read the post, Andrew indicated he remembered the sermon. You will never fully know the impact of your words.

Romans 6:23
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

We all have sinned; I am a sinner! You are not alone.

John 8:7
...he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

I personally find this one of the most--if not the most challenging admonitions to put into practice. In my study though, I find nothing correlated more closely to the forgiveness of our own sins than our own ability to forgive those who have wronged us.

Anniversaries of traumatic events are always tough...I pray you will know the great love that Jesus has for you in the midst of your pain and look forward to someday knowing the content of part 2.

Grace, peace, and strength be yours to the glory of God our Father! Blessings to all who read!

Tommy

Charles North said...

Hi Tommy. Thank you for that encouragement!

kerrie said...

I remember your sermon well. I knew it was coming from a desire and urgency prompted by the Lord. His spirit is at work within us in ways we don’t understand or see.

Thinking outside the box a little, in much the same spirit that you mentioned in “the church” needing to be more accepting of those who have significant sins exposed, we have to see that the imperfections/shortcomings of those very people who disappointed you are also in need of the same grace, understanding and forgiveness. There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect Christians, including ministers, elders, deacons, teachers etc.

It seems that no matter how many times I look at others faults/sins towards me, the principles of forgiveness wind their way back around to accepting that I fall short and I am in need of His grace. If that is true, then I cannot continue to look at my brother and expect perfection in him (yes even “the church” in how it handles sinners) anymore than I can for myself.

I guess this, in its on odd way, is irony in the other direction.

Charles North said...

Thanks Kerrie. I like that - irony always comes full circle.