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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Pointing Out Sin for 2000 Years

2016-07-03 Ga 06 01-11

Pointing Out Sin for 2000 Years

Ahh, Fourth of July Weekend. Not normally known as the best Sunday for church attendance. That doesn't mean I haven't toiled long hours over my sermon.

I have joked that my dream sermon would be, "God loves you; go to lunch." That might be your dream sermon, too. I would never want to deprive you of your dreams.

Jesus was known for many things. Preaching long was not one of them. Ironically, "What Would Jesus Do?" gets applied to so many things except talking about what Jesus would do and what he did. We preachers can go way long about that. We give ourselves more points for distance than accuracy.

Of course, you don't have to be a professional to preach sermons. The amateur ranks are just as competitive, maybe more. Some of us do it recreationally. It just feels good and right to preach to our kids, to our parents, to our neighbors, to our in-laws, to customer service reps, to people at the Walmart. Probably not all in the same day. Unless we're truly above average. It's not that we want to be preachy. Heaven forbid. It's just that God has given some of us special gifts. Sometimes that gift is the detection and correction of error for the good of humankind and to the glory of God.

If this is your role in life, I affirm your gift of prophetic witness. You refuse to remain silent in the presence of sin. Ask anyone who points and preaches: they always, always do it with the best of intentions. They simply want to save you from yourself.

Since the time of the Apostle Paul, who wrote today's lesson to the good, Christian people of Galatia, churches have tried to figure out the best way to help transgressors stop gressing. Think about it: If only we could prohibit evil or preempt it, only the good would be left. How is that not a noble goal? A good surgeon cuts away the infection so the healthy flesh can live. Preaching to, preaching at, naming the demons before they turn weaker souls to rot is the church's first line of defense. Always has been.

But is it God's?


Back in the good-days, it surely was. The Old Testament God can be giddy with wrath. Today's Psalm, number 66, two-thirds of 666, says of God, "Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you."

If your aim is eternal vigilance before the face of evil, Psalm 101 shares a tasty recipe.

I will walk with integrity of heart

   within my house;

I will not set before my eyes

   anything that is base.

I hate the work of those who fall away;

   it shall not cling to me.

Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;

   I will know nothing of evil.

One who secretly slanders a neighbor

   I will destroy.

A haughty look and an arrogant heart

   I will not tolerate.

No one who practices deceit

   shall remain in my house;

no one who utters lies

   shall continue in my presence.

Morning by morning I will destroy

   all the wicked in the land....

The Psalmist is one busy man. I don't know how he found the time to write all this poetry. Sadly though, his strategy of destroying all wickedness fell short. The continuing presence of evil bears witness to his failure. But you can't blame a man for trying.

What traps do you set for evil? What walls do you build around your house to keep out haughty looks and perverseness of heart? Do they work for you? Would they work for me? Would you share?

Your ways might be good ways, but they are still your ways. God has made us all unique in our expression of vigilance. What works for one may not work for all. What works for a church may not work for a country. Notice: Even the Psalmist speaks not for his neighbor, but for himself. "I will walk with integrity." He stops short of preaching, "And so should you." Then again, if you choose not to, you will feel his wrath. That was God's way. But it it God's way forever?

Are your ways God's ways? Always? For all and forever? Eternal vigilance may well be the price of freedom, but it's not the full price. God has made the human heart much larger than we expect. There's space in our hearts for far more than wrath alone.

Pointing out the sin of others might make us feel good. Maybe even for the length of the average sermon. But the big stick of wrath has never been able to eradicate sin, forever. To do that, God needed a different stick. Two, actually. Nailed together. In the form of a cross.


Paul, a man who once oversaw the stoning of sinners, wrote:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

He said:

All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride.

In other words, if you must point out sin, point out your own. If you see sin in others, work to humbly and gently restore them, not falling prey to the temptation to preach the sin away. Preaching has its limitations. Trust me on this one. If preaching were all it took to make the world right, we wouldn't have to do this every week. We'd always remember that God loves us and we could all go to lunch a lot sooner.

Paul warns. Paul preaches at us a little. It's a hard habit to break. He says:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh;

So, if you rejoice in pointing out the sins of others, they will rejoice in pointing out yours. What goeth around cometh around and it shall biteth thee in thy behind. Paul didn't actually say that, but he should have.

It's hard. It's so hard. Even the saints felt the urge to fix those who weren't as wise as they. They could never quite overcome the temptation to preach just one more thing. The last word is always the tastiest word.

I love the final line of this passage, when the Apostle writes, "See what large letters I make…!"

Bless his heart. Paul was a very busy man with a lot on his plate. He deserves a little slack. Or more precisely, his sins deserve forgiveness.

Don't yours?

And if yours, then what about the sins of the friends and family and even your enemies who rightfully incur your holy wrath six ways to Sunday?

What about those poor souls whose sins are so glaringly easy to see and would be so ridiculously simple to correct if only they would stop it, and listen to you?

What about them? What would Paul tell you?

The path of forgiveness and restoration is hard. The weight of bearing one another's burdens is heavy. The path of wrath - the Wrath Path? - the path of pointing out others' sins with a "see, I told you so," is so much easier.

Always has been. That's just the way it is. For us. Maybe forever.

Praise be to God, it's not God's way, anymore.


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