Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: Isaiah 55:7
Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. Let them turn to the Lord, our God; he is merciful and quick to forgive.

The joy of being wrong

No one likes to be wrong. There is no joy in making mistakes.

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hires a new CEO. This new boss is determined to rid the company of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO notices a guy leaning on a wall. The room is full of workers and he wants to let them know he means business!

The CEO walks up to the guy and asks, "And how much money do you make a week?" A little surprised, the young fellow looks at him and replies, "I make $500.00 a week. Why?"

The CEO then hands the guy $1,000 in cash and screams, "Here's two weeksí pay, now GET OUT and don't come back!"

Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asks, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-off did here?" With a sheepish grin, one of the other workers mutters, "Heís the Pizza delivery guy from Dominoís".

Iím sure that CEOís joy at being right suddenly turned to embarrassment at being so wrong. There was no joy in this mistake.

James Alison wrote a book on the churchís doctrine of original sin. Itís quite a heavy going theological book but itís not the content of the book that I want to refer to but rather the bookís title Ė The Joy of Being Wrong.

Normally being wrong could hardly be described a joy. From our school days we know what a joy it is to be right. What a joy it was to get ten out of ten words right in a spelling test. What a joy it is to win an argument or a discussion proving that we were right all along. What a joy it is to say with a grin on our face Ė "Ha ha ha! Iím right and youíre wrong".

No one likes to be wrong. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden didnít want to admit that they had been wrong in disobeying God and they werenít happy that God had found out about their wrongdoing.
When Peter found himself denying that he ever knew the man who had been captured by the temple guards, he wept with remorse and shame. He was wrong but at that moment there was no joy in his heart.

If you havenít guessed it already - yes, Iím going to talk about sin. People have accused the church with being far too negative. "All we hear about is sin, sin, sin. The church is always rabbiting on about how bad human nature is. As soon as we get into church, what does the pastor start with Ė Ďconfessing our siní? And when he preaches sure enough he does it again Ė more talk about sin. Itís so depressing. All the church is doing is heaping guilt on people, adding to the troubles they already have."

For Christians there is joy in admitting to being wrong. How odd! Let me explain. Because God forgives, itís not hard for us to admit that we are hopelessly caught up in sin and to honestly confess our failure to love God and others. Because God has set things right between him and us through Jesusí death on the cross, we gladly admit we are "poor helpless sinners" who have "sinned against God in thought, word and deed" and "deserve God's eternal punishment".
Because we know the joy of having our sins forgiven;
because we know what a delight it is to realise that our guilt is completely taken away through the suffering and death of Jesus;
because we know what a lift it gives our spirits when we are assured that God still loves us even though we are hopelessly trapped in the web of sin,
it is a joy to admit how wrong we have been and to hear again, "Your sins are forgiven".

We are right in the middle of Lent, that season that leads us to Good Friday and Easter. It is a season of looking at our lives, of honest self-examination, and of reflection on the suffering, bleeding and dying that Jesus endured to be our Saviour.

Every Sunday we have a mini Lent in our worship service when we confess our sin to God and to one another. That must seem very odd to people who come here to worship for the first time. We donít find people outside of the church so willing to be honest about being wrong and admitting that their lives have been filled with so many failures. Normally when people are confronted with their failures, they start to make excuses and become defensive.
"I may not be perfect but I try my best, at least Iím not as bad as X or Y (and the names of some terrible people are listed)".

As Christians it is a joy to honestly admit how wrong we have been - it is a joy because we donít make this admission out of fear.

John received a parrot as a gift. However, every word that came out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried every means he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up but the angrier he got with the bird, the ruder the parrot became. In desperation, John grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked every profanity imaginable. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behaviour".

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot why the sudden change in his behaviour, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

The change that came over the parrot was brought about by fear Ė fear that he would end up like the turkey. God doesnít want to frighten a confession of sin and repentance out of us Ė he wants us to be honest and open about how we feel about our sin. If we are afraid then we will gladly own up to anything or perhaps deny everything so that we wonít get into trouble. Itís like the child who has been caught stealing from the lolly jar. Dad sternly says, "Have you been taking from the jar without asking? You know I said you would be in trouble if I ever caught you. Well, what have you got to say?" Dad shouldnít be all that surprised if the child denies everything, or says "yes, I did but I only took one." Fear doesnít encourage honest and open admission to our faults and sin.

When we confess our sin we come knowing that Jesus has paid the penalty for all our wrongdoing. We donít confess our sin so that God will love us more. How much more can God love us than to send his Son to be brutally beaten and die for us? We confess our sin because we know that God already loves us. We confess our sin because we know that God has forgiven us through his Son Jesus.

It follows then that because God loves us we can be totally upfront and honest with him. The Bible tells us that nothing, not even our sin can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Because we know about this powerful love of God for us, we gladly admit the wrong that is in our lives.

Take the example of Zaccheus. He was a tax collector, hated by everyone, that is, by everyone except Jesus. Zaccheus experienced the love of Jesus as he watched from the limbs of a sycamore tree and then as they ate together. In the end this once oppressive tax collector gladly confessed his sins of greed and unfairness, and told of his plans to change his ways and return the money he had dishonestly taken. There was joy in his open and honest admission that he had wronged God and his neighbour.

In a few weeks we will read again here in our worship the story of what our sin did to Jesus. Yet even when our sin did the worst it possibly could, he still he looked down on us and prayed, "Father, forgive them". Even further, when he was raised to life at Easter he came back to us, the people who had betrayed him and deserted him. In the knowledge of this kind of love, we honestly confess our sin.

Knowing the kind of love that God has for us, and the great freedom we have to be open and honest, we can confess our sin with the view to change. That is changing to more like the new people God had created us to be in our baptism and through Jesusí death and resurrection.

Itís very easy to rattle off the confession of sin without giving it much thought. Itís easy to hear the words of reassurance and forgiveness Ė weíve heard them a thousand times before. Itís easy to pray "Forgive us our sins" in the Lordís Prayer without too much thought. This Lent we are invited to be honest, open and thoughtful when it comes to confessing our sins. We can risk exposing all of our weaknesses and warts because God is ready to forgive and will keep on loving us because of Christís Easter victory.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th March, 2004

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