This sermon is based on the parable that Jesus told found in Luke 18:9-14.
We are working hard at Messiah planning for Reformation Sunday which makes the thing that happened here last week almost tragic. Our Synod office called to announce a contest they are holding for this year’s Reformation Sunday. They want to crown someone from our churches Most Lutheran 2010 at a special worship service next Sunday night. They called to ask that we send a bio on our candidate by Friday.
I am not sure what knucklehead in the Synod office thought of this brain child, but frankly I didn’t appreciate it. It is one more thing for me to do in the midst of my already overloaded schedule. But because I am a faithful and hardworking pastor, I did what I was told without grumbling or grudge and began considering a few of you to submit for this honor. However, what I thought would be just a few minutes to find a candidate took over an entire work day for me.
First, I made the mistake of mentioning this whole thing to Pastor Thadd. Frankly, like most young people I encounter, productivity is not his central concern. Immediately, Pastor Thadd thought I couldn’t just pick someone, but I had to make a list of several people and interview them. Really? Wanting to humor him and make him feel like part of the team, because that is what good Senior Pastors do I said okay we would do it your way.
So, we made a list of three people and asked them to meet with us on Thursday afternoon. I see one person in here now that we called. Wouldn’t you know, the church was packed with people and programs Thursday afternoon and the only place we could find to have these interviews was right here in the sanctuary. And that is when the train wreck started. There was a member in the sanctuary, I won’t tell you who but not one of our better ones. I am sure he is not here today because it’s not Christmas. You know, that type of “member”.
This “member” had recently gotten into trouble, it is not my place to tell you what the trouble is because that isn’t how Christians talk about people, but let’s just say it made the newspaper, Tuesday’s edition, Metro section, third page. I mean, really, if it had been me, I would have laid low for a while until the whole thing blew over. My mom raised me to have a certain healthy amount of shame. Not this guy. He was right there, kneeling at the railing, front and center, crying, weeping, and going on. It was pathetic. Of course, being a pastor, I did the right thing, I sent Pastor Thadd over to talk to him, try to calm him down, and try to move him out of the sanctuary so we could have our three interviews.
Again, this is not a criticism of Pastor Thadd, he has many gifts, for one he has great height, but he was not able to get this “member” out of the sanctuary for our interviews. He even suggested we let him stay. Really? Let him stay? Then how would we get the interviews done for the best Lutheran in the Synod? Interviews I didn’t want to do in the first place but was only doing because Pastor Thadd thought it was a good idea. A senior pastor always has to keep his eyes on the ball. If I don’t no one will.
So, I screwed up my face to the best it’s going to be alright look, sort of like this…and I walked over to him to talk. Oh my gosh, he was wailing, moaning, weeping, doing everything but beating his breast. Honestly, the guy needed restraints. There would be no way I could even hear the good Lutherans coming to be interviewed let alone what they would think of me if I let this guy carry on like this in the sanctuary.
If you knew what this guy did, you would understand why he was getting this upset. I was thinking myself, I don’t want to get to close to him, you know, in case God starts throwing lightning bolts. But I had to get him out of there before the first person came. So kneeling with him myself with my arm around so I could keep my eye on the watch, I let him go on like this for a while but it didn’t look like he was ever going to stop.
This is when things got worse. I heard the first person to come in for the Best Lutheran interview talking outside the sanctuary. I don’t want to say her name because she’ll be at the next service because she is one of God’s best who never misses and always gives a tithe every Sunday. Frankly, I wish more of you were like her. She is a woman, though, that does not take kindly to messes in the sanctuary. One of our acolytes once spilled some wine and she was on him like a bear to honey. It was ugly. When she walked in to that sanctuary, I imagined what she would do if she saw the chaos this guy was making, the rail was wet, tissues everywhere, and the noises he was making. Plus, he is not even a good Lutheran, so he is not likely to get any pity.
I had to do something before the you know what hit the fan. So, I started to put my arm fully around him like this and push him, just a little bit and say you know typical pastor things. “Oh, Tim, Tim, Tim, it’ll be alright. God still loves you. Push, push, push, Just because God’s in the love business you know Don’t worry what others think, it is only God’s grace you need to focus on now, push, push, push because honestly if you thought too long about what others thought you’d get even more crazy then you are now.
This was working. The guy was so out of it that I had managed to move him all the way to the sacristy door right over there. He didn’t even realize he had moved. I have real gifts for ministry especially when I am being compassionate with crazy, messed up people.
Anyway, I just about had him out the door, when you know who comes bouncing down the center aisle. I mean bouncing because she has put on a few pounds over the years, as older people are apt to do. Who am I to judge? When I get that old, I may not look as fit and trim as I do today, although I am betting I will. Honestly, I was more mad at Pastor Thadd than anything because after he failed to get this crazy, sinner out of the sanctuary I had given him one job to do, keep our future Best Lutheran out of the sanctuary so she doesn’t go ballistic on me and this poor schlep crying. I am not sure what happened, probably that iPhone of his rang or something, but here she comes, full bore, right down the center aisle.
I did what any quick thinking pastor with eleven solid successful years of experience would do. I shoved, ever so gently and carefully, the guy out the sacristy door. What I had forgotten, and I am human, although again this would not have happened if Pastor Thadd could have taken care of the one job I gave him, I forgot that there are stairs at that door. The guy was so out of it, he didn’t have the sense to put his hands out in front of him to catch his fall. I mean, really, there are only five or so stairs, but he tumbles down them like the wet rag he had become and I kid you not, he is knocked unconscious. I mean out cold, like a Green Bay Packer quarterback after a Viking sack.
With my primary concern for the well being of God’s children, all of them, even the ones that God doesn’t like so much, I slam the door, stand up quickly and grab the really good member by the arm and lead her back up the aisle. Thankfully, in my wisdom, I had not told her why she was there. If you know who I am talking about don’t tell her either, please. I led her back down the aisle and thinking quick on my feet, using the good gifts of intelligence God gave me, thank you Jesus, I led her to the narthex outside the sanctuary door. Quickly, I amaze myself sometimes, I told her that we wanted to show her some wear on the slate to see if she thought it should be replaced. We knew she had been on the original committee to pick it out, yeah, she is really that old, and she knew more about it than anyone else.
Of course, this meant that I had to talk to her about slate and the “interesting” way that floor was chosen 40 years ago. You can’t do my job if you don’t love Jesus. Honestly, I didn’t think she would ramble on so long about a floor, but she rambled and rambled like a covered wagon heading to Oregon, while a guy is lying unconscious in the sacristy.
Finally, I get her to leave, saddled now with the new task of setting up a committee to look at replacing the slate. I run back to the sacristy. I was worried about that guy no matter how big of a sinner he may be. He is a child of God, a runt of the litter, but still a child of God. Well, he wasn’t there. He had already wandered back into the office and Linda was taking care of him. More lost productivity, because she spent an hour calming him down then driving him home. I swear it is a losing battle to get anything done.
I go into my office and slam the door. Pastor Thadd knocks sheepishly, give him credit he knows when he messes up, and asks about the rest of the interviews. I tell him to cancel them. We aren’t doing them. This is the craziest part of the story. He smiles and says you must be thinking what I am thinking. We should nominate that guy. Who better knows the power of grace and forgiveness, central to Lutheran theology, than a guy who admits his sin and begs for forgiveness. Young people, I would laugh if I was not so worried about the future of the church. Can you imagine the coverage in the newspaper if he was named best Lutheran? People would want to know what the worst Lutheran looks like. I told him that was the dumbest thing I ever heard and I nominated myself. Honestly, after that day, I deserved the title.
Whoah, times up and I didn’t even get to the sermon. I’ll put it on the website for you to look at. It is on humility and it was really good, if I do say so myself. I lifted up the trap of self righteousness that leads to us judging others. When we start judging others we stop having compassion for them as Jesus would. As soon as we start saying I am better than someone else, we are putting ourselves on the wrong side of God. It is a good lesson for all of us to learn. Amen