St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 23 2013 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

Someone has suggested that "God created people because God loves stories. "I think the following story is likely to meet with God’s approval:
 
Two men called on a pious old monk to seek his advice.  "We acknowledge our sinful ways." they told him, "and we want to clear our consciences.  Can you advise us on how to do this and get rid of our guilt?"  The old monk agreed to help. "But first," he said, "you will have to tell me about your sins.”
 
The first man said, "I have committed a terrible sin. A grievous sin. A great big sin."  The second man said, “ Now, I have committed a number of small sins.  None of them grievous or terribly significant."
 
The holy man pondered the matter for a while, then said, "each of you must bring me a stone, representing each one of his wrong-doings."  The two men then set out to carry out the monk's instructions.  After a while, the first man staggered back, carrying with him a huge boulder.  It was so heavy he could hardly lift it.  With a loud grunt he dropped it before the old man.  Then the second man returned carrying a bag of small pebbles, which he promptly laid at the monk's feet.
 
"Very good work," said the monk. "Now, each of you take your stones and put them back where you found them."  The first man staggered back to the place from which he had brought the huge boulder. But the second man was unable to remember where he had found each of his little pebbles.  So he returned to the wise old man and told him that he couldn't carry out his instruction.  To which the monk replied, "you must realize, my son, that sins are like those stones. If a man commits a big sin, it lies heavily on his conscience. But if he truly repents, the burden is lifted. He is forgiv­en and the load is taken away. But if a man is constantly doing small things that are sinful, he is less likely to repent and more likely to remain a sinner, out of habit. Understand, therefore, that it is just as important to break the habit of committing little sins as it is to avoid committing a big sin."
 
Today's Gospel lesson is a parable in which Jesus tells the story of two men - - a Pharisee and a tax-collector - - who go into the temple to pray.  Says the Pharisee (a religious type), "I thank god, that I am not like this tax collector here.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get" (lk. 18:11).  He doesn't even acknowledge committing a little tiny sin.  The tax-collector (a gangster-type) beats his breast and says, "god be merciful to me, a sinner" (lk. 18:13). After telling the story, Jesus says, "this man I tell you (the tax-collector) went home at rights with god; the other did not.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted" (lk. 18:14).
 
To be "at rights" with God, we must be willing to repent, which means to humbly acknowledge that something in our life needs changing.  It means a turning away from rebellion against god.  It means a turning away from self-centeredness.  But this cannot occur unless we are willing to acknowledge, in all humility, that we actually do certain things, live in a certain way that causes estrangement from God and from other persons.  In John's Gospel it is written, "God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved" (Jn. 3:17).  Jesus is not asking us to admit the need for change in our lives in order to condemn us.   He is asking us to freely admit that there is room for the kind of improvement hat can build up, that can enrich, that can enhance, that can fulfill our lives as never before. You don't need to keep turning yourself over the coals, hating yourself for the rest of your life.  God loves you so much and his for­giveness is so full that it is as if the past had never been.  It is a new page in the book of life that god wants you to open up.  It is a new start, a new possibility.  So while you humbly begin by acknowledging your wrong-doing, you end up by accepting the forgiveness.  And the union with God now is deeper than it has ever been.  And the healing is real. And, again in Jesus' words, "you are at rights with God."
 
A wise old woman happened to be a piano teacher who had taught many students over the years. Invariably, when she prepared her pupils for recitals, she would encourage them to practice the endings over-and-over again. And, invariably, the students would grumble because of the constant repetition of the last few measures of the music. When the complaints came, the teacher would answer, "you can make a mistake in the beginning or in the middle or in some other place along the way. But all will be forgotten when you manage to make the ending glorious.
 
A pastor was talking to one of the wealthiest persons in his parish. The subject of successful living came up.  “I’m a success, the wealthy one boasted, because I'm a self-made man."  To
which the pastor replied, "Congratulations! You've relieved the Lord of a great responsibility."
 
The good news of the Gospel is that the Lord is totally accessible to you when it comes to the question of successful living.  He offers guidance, he offers to light your way to a glorious ending--and he doesn't want any relief from this responsibility.
 
At this very moment, the light of Christ's spirit is shining at the center of your being.  Drop your defenses!  Relinquish all excuses!  Cast off every trace of self-centeredness, egoism and pride!  Let the light shine through!  Let it permeate your life!  Let the new life and the healing come into every part of your being!  You'll begin to see!  You'll begin to come alive!
 
This is the gift of light that God gives to each of us in Christ.  This is the gift of love that God gives to each one of us in Christ.  This light within us is given to us not to "hide under a bushel," as Jesus put it. The whole world needs the love that is in us, the forgiveness that is in us -- beginning with our own families and then extending ever outward.   
 
Forgiving, which begins with self-forgiveness, can become a con­stant and ongoing process -- a way of living.  It means letting past resentments and bitterness, and moving on.  Of course, it’s not always easy, but it's worth every difficulty.  And there is nothing mushy or softheaded about loving and forgiving.  As doctor Jonas Salk puts it: The end result of forgiving is to release the power in the nucleus of the individual -- a power much greater in its positive effects than atomic power in its negative.
 
The point is this: If we can be courageous one more time than we are fearful, trusting one more time than we are anxious, cooperative one more time than we are competitive, forgiving one more time than we are vindictive, loving one more time than we are hateful, we will have moved closer to the next big breakthrough in our human growth, and closer to the next big breakthrough toward our full human potential.
           
Open the window of your heart and see what the apostle saw when he declared:
 
“Look! There is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The real light which gives light to every man.  Humbly acknowledge your absolute need for the light of the world
that comes in and through Jesus Christ! And let it shine! Let it shine!
 
 
This sermon was from the Sunday sermons of 1995
--Let it shine reminds me of the Bible song of Let It Shine. The kids loved to sing it and act it out. What fun they had!
--If we all had to bring rocks or boulders for each sin we committed, we could make a good road way, probably not to heaven though. 


 
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