I’ve been looking at my sweet little baby these past couple of weeks. And I’ve been thinking to myself – wow.
She’s perfect, and I’m … not.
I’m not perfect at all.
In fact, very often, I feel like I’m quite stupid and embarrassing.
I wish I weren’t stupid and embarrassing. But honestly, I’ve got worse problems than that. Worst of all — the simple FACT is — I am a sinner.
As a sinner:
· I serve myself.
· I make offerings and services to others and to God out of my abundance, but not with everything I have to give.
· And I put myself in the place of God.
Now, I have come to believe, that every human being who ever lived has a purpose for their life. And we may achieve it when we offer our lives to God.
But when we get in the way of living out our holy purpose – this is sin. And when we sin, it hurts not us only, but the whole world.
Ironically, it is not doctrine, nor practice, nor even faith which unites us all here today.
No, the one thing we have in common is our sinfulness. We are all sinners, and only God can do something with us. And he has.
For this one reason the Son of God became one of us, to share our stupidities, embarrassments and temptations. He did this to bring into himself our impurities, so that we might be made clean.
And he did it for free – giving little old us, everything he had for our sake.
Have you really HEARD this good news?
If you have HEARD it, then, please remind me of it sometimes. Because I’m stupid and embarrassing, and I sometimes forget.
Sometimes, I forget this, and I get stuck being tired of myself.
Do you ever wish you were a “better” person? You know, more loving, more holy, more gracious?
Do you ever get to that point when you just want to give up on yourself – and some other key people too?
Have you ever said, “God – please – I’m a wreck – fix me up.”
I do. All the time. And it is at times like these that today’s Word of God really hits home.
The Word of God says to us today, “You want God to Fix You Up? Then get out of the way, and He Will.”
God says to us today, “Get out of the way, and you will find the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
“Get out of the way, and you may live.”
In the Gospel of Mark today, Jesus lifts up the example of the widow, who puts her two cents in the pot at the temple. He says to everyone who can HEAR, that her offering is complete. She has given EVERYTHING SHE HAS.
Compared to the religious zealots, the scribes and the holy rollers who give out of their abundance – this humble, oppressed and bowed-down widow has gotten out of the Holy Spirit’s way, by giving up of herself, and letting God work with her.
Jesus says that “the way” to be with God, is to get yourself out of the way by submitting to God with everything you have.
And Jesus doesn’t just say it – like I do – he actually IS it. For in Jesus Christ, God put everything He Is into Human Form — to be an offering and a sacrifice to us.
Jesus doesn’t just sit at the human temple in Jerusalem and take potshots at the religious hypocrites of his time. Maybe if Jesus were only a prophet, that’s all he would have done: he would have criticized the scribes and the holy rollers for their public piety, long sermons, and big collection plates. He would have reminded the people of God’s love for the poor, the imprisoned and the oppressed. And he would have died a prophet’s death on the outskirts of town.
But Jesus wasn’t a prophet. He Is the eternal Son of God.
Prophets, preachers and scribes – people like me – we can know the words of God – we can read them, learn them and even inwardly digest them. But in the end, prophets, preachers and scribes are but fallible messengers of God’s words. We know God’s words, but we are still sinners.
But Jesus is God’s Word.
We do not depend upon copies of the heavenly word – but rather we depend upon the Heavenly Word itself. And this is good news.
But have you heard it? If so, please remind me, and remind each other – whenever you can.
You know, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for a few key people who reminded me of this Good News in my life.
Now, you’re not going to believe this, but something very, very spooky, has happened to me, again.
You remember how I told you of my friend who went to prison?
I once told you the story of how I was thinking of an old friend, and in the middle of the night searched for him on the internet, and found out he was going to sentenced to a Federal Prison that very day.
Well, he’s doing very well, and he’s out of prison now.
But something quite similar has happened again, with somebody else.
On Friday, as I was writing this sermon, I was looking for something when I chanced to see my old High School alumni directory. I looked up a guy who I had grown up with, who I heard was a preacher now.
Virgil Jones taught me how to make a paper airplane when I was five, and he was the best guitar player I ever knew. Virgil is the product of a prominent black family in DC which cultivated a number of important preachers and gospel singers. I’ll never forget his mom singing a gospel song at our assembly once – it was the first time I ever heard black gospel music in my life.
I called Virgil up, out of the blue, and he started to laugh.
He said, “Greg Jones … I can’t say that I’ve thought of you much in the past 17 years – but I was thinking of you yesterday.”
We talked about how funny it was that we are both serving Christ now, when there were virtually no Christians at all in our small elite private school.
I said, “yeah, come to think of it you and this other guy are the only two guys I remember being practicing Christians at Sidwell Friends.”
He said, “Really? Who was the other guy?”
I said, “I can’t remember his name, he was a black guy, two years older. I’ll never forget being a freshman and going into the bathroom, and this guy was in there reading a tiny Bible. I remember we talked about it for a few minutes.”
Virgil said, “YES!!! You’re talking about John Doe. The Lord used him to touch me too. In fact, I am deeply indebted to his witness those many years ago.”
He said, “Greg — I don’t know how to say this — but John Doe is a Doctor now — and I heard he’s in prison. He murdered his ex-wife.”
I had to sit down. I was too shaken. Here we are: the only two guys from our very secular school to enter the Christian ministry, and we are finally connecting on an impulse phone call. We realize now that a third guy was a key early witness in both our faith journeys. And that man is serving life in a Georgia prison for murder.
Everybody remembers John Doe for being a Christian. He used to wear shirts that said, “Praise the Lord.” He was also very smart. After Sidwell Friends, he went to Howard University – the nation’s best traditionally black college — and made Phi Beta Kappa. He became a doctor and served as an officer in the United States Army.
And now, he’s in prison, for life.
What sorrow. What pain. What a calling to Virgil and Greg Jones.
I said to Virgil, “We need to minister to John Doe.” And he said, “Yes we do.” We need to remind him that no matter what he did – Jesus Christ died on the cross for all of us, equally.
So, it just keeps happening — the Holy Spirit just keeps calling.
And that’s what a living Word does. It calls us sinners back to Christ, and calls us to submit all we’ve got. It calls us to seek our purpose in this life. It challenges us to serve.
Please pray for me, and for my friend, as we prepare to serve Dr. John Doe wherever and however we find him. He served part of his purpose for us – for we are now here in Christ. Now it is our turn to serve into our purpose, and bring back to him the love and consolation of the living Word, which he first brought to us.
We probably don’t need to tell him about the words of Jesus. Like all of us scribes, he already knows them. But we need to prove to him instead that God loves him, and desires only to bring him home.