Freed of Snobbery

Snobbery, favoritism, and prejudice are fruits of the sinful nature that have been with us since the fall. Therefore, James joins Jesus and other Biblical writers in pointing out these everyday sins, which need to be pruned from the lives of God’s children.

Listen to James’ counsel: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James saw signs of this sin in the Jerusalem church where he served as leader.

Another quotation from our text says this: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

Two thousand years ago, what a person wore caught the eye of society. Class distinction is nothing new, but it has no place in God’s relationship with people. Does He not create faith in the poor as well as the rich? Has he not promised the same blessings to the common person as to the elite? James does not want us to forget that. Therefore, he reminds us that snobbery and prejudices are some twigs that must be pruned from our thinking as children of God. In fact, he gets emotional and writes, “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

With these words of admonition, let us look at our prejudices.

I was raised in a day when much snobbery came out of wealth. We used the crude term, “Looking down their noses at other people.” The more affluent you were, the more prestigious a role you had in society. At least that is the way we believed it to be. These affluent people were the leaders who sat in the financial institutions and made decisions that affected the ordinary person’s paycheck. When these rich people arrived at the church doors, they expected to receive the same elevated treatment as they did it in the bank or other places. I am, of course, describing life in the days of the depression. It is my feeling there is less of this happening in our day, but maybe not.

I do know this kind of thinking found its way into my brain early in life. On my paper route, I had two families with different financial statements. One was a successful businessman. He drove a big, shiny Buick and lived in a large white house. They had people who cared for their lawn and shrubbery, and a woman who did much of the housework. The rich man’s paper had to be placed in a particular place, and he always had to receive a dry paper. Others might have gotten a little wet because of the snow or rain.

The other customer worked on the WPA force. These people were unemployed until the government developed a program that would at least put food on the table and give them shelter. They received $26.00 every two weeks. They did not have many luxuries, but one family to which I refer did splurge and allowed itself a newspaper. However, there were times when they did not have the 18 cents for the paper, and they pleaded that I continue delivering it to them. I never had the heart to cancel their subscription. However, I was not too concerned whether or not the paper was in a particular place or in the best condition.

All this business of distinguishing between the rich and the poor I learned by the time I was fourteen years old. Favoritism! What a terrible way to live, as if one person is better than another because he is rich and the other poor. Wealth seems to have a way of making people important. James saw this to be true in Jerusalem. We see it still true in our culture.

There is also class distinction depending on the work you do in your community. I will not forget one Sunday when we received new members into the congregation. One was the superintendent of our public schools. It was the first time in the history of our congregation that this influential citizen would be a part of our church. Following the service a longtime member greeted me and said, “Isn’t it delightful to have our superintendent as a member of the congregation!” I agreed with her acknowledgment that he was a person of great influence in our community and would be wonderful addition to the membership of the congregation.

As she walked off, I called her back and asked, “Did you know another new member is a custodian at one of our junior high school buildings? He can influence the kids too.” The woman was pleased they were new members, but it was evident she was not quite as enthusiastic about the custodian’s membership as she was about the superintendent of schools joining our church. Interesting, isn’t it?

When we uncover some of these more accepted sins of favoritism and snobbishness, we see the need of pruning in our spiritual life. We also see our need for a Savior who will forgive our sins.

The Bible teaches clearly that, in God’s eyes, the human being is precious and important, not because of what he or she has accomplished, but because of who they are. All are created in God’s image. All are equal in His eyes. “God shows no favoritism,” Paul writes.

The world has a different understanding of the human being. In the world’s view, importance and worth are based on human accomplishment, the color of the skin, the family background, or the financial worth. God’s view and the world’s view of the human being clash. It is amazing to see how we, who are Christians, so often join unbelievers in accepting the world’s view of the importance of people.

Are you prejudice free? Some people claim to have no prejudices. If you are one of the people who feel this way about yourself, it might be well for you to ask this question: Am I sure I do not feel some people are just a bit more important than others?

I remember a person in my boyhood congregation who would often ask the new people who became a part of the flock if they were Danish. Denmark was her native land. The Danes had built the church, and it was her unconscious conviction Danes had a special place among the membership.

Are we guilty of:

• Building prejudices?

• Showing favoritism?

• Being snobbish?

If so, it is only Jesus Christ who can empower us to gain the victory over these sins. Remember Jesus’ picture of God’s kingdom: Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Every branch that bears fruit He prunes so it will be more fruitful. On the branch there is a twig of snobbishness. It must be removed if we are going to be the kind of children God wants us to be. Amen.

Spiritual Wisdom

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” The God who made us His own in Jesus Christ is not done with us yet. He is trying to remove the rough spots bringing us closer to perfection. This work will not be completed until we enter our heavenly home. However, God never stops His work in us while we are living on this earth.

Last week, in this series of sermons on the pruning knife, we mentioned that our Lord, who created faith in our hearts, seeks to strengthen our beliefs so that we can face life’s trials and temptations. Today’s text tells us God wants His children to walk in society as spiritually wise people. This type of wisdom is foreign in the thinking of an otherwise enlightened society.

Let us define some of these terms: knowledge, earthly wisdom, and spiritual wisdom.

Knowledge is acquiring much data on a particular subject. My physician diagnoses a particular illness, and then he tells me what needs to be done for it to be cured. He has the knowledge to treat this illness. We all know people who are very intelligent – meaning they can learn – and they carry much knowledge with them.

The wise person who possesses earthly wisdom is one who can apply the knowledge he or she has. My doctor prescribes the medicine, and then adjusts the treatment until I am well. He is applying his knowledge of the drug and restores me to health. This is wisdom.

Spiritual wisdom is applied knowledge by the person who lives in a close relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship with Christ directs how this wisdom is going to be used.

Let us try to distinguish between how the Christian and the nonChristian apply wisdom. We often label success as wisdom in the world’s understanding of the word. Here are two people who have become financially wealthy. The world would label both as wise people. However, the Christian has an added dimension in his wisdom.

Bob is a person with average intelligence. He has adequate formal training. He wants to be a very wealthy person one day; then he will be considered wise in the eyes of the world. Bob belongs to the church, but Christ is not living and real in his life. He is filled with what James calls “selfish ambition.” What matters most is that he moves ahead in achieving his goal of becoming a millionaire. Society has much respect for the “wise” man. However, some people he has cheated consider him nothing short of being a “crook,” to use common language.

Here is Mary. She too is a young person with average intelligence. She has also had the advantage of a good education. However, she lives in a personal relationship with Christ. As a part of her Christian faith, she is a conscientious worker. She is competent and sought after by her clients. Because of her hard work, Mary becomes financially successful. People love her. They trust her and recommend her services to their friends. Mary’s primary goal is not to become fabulously wealthy. She wants to earn a good living, but she knows there is more in life than getting much wealth. Jesus’ words, “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his soul,” guides her as she does her billing. She is a spiritually wise person, whereas Bob is worldly wise.

“Such wisdom comes from heaven, and is first of all pure,” says James, the writer of our text. This is the kind of wise person our Lord wants in His kingdom. Therefore, he does some pruning, taking away the evil twigs of selfishness and dishonesty, and replaces them with concern for others and fairness in our financial dealings. This is the kind of wisdom the Lord looks for in his mature children who live in a materialistic society.

James points out another place where God can use the spiritually wise. These are the peacemakers. Think of the strife in our world! It is found in government, business, society, families, places of labor, and, of all places, the church.

It is in the midst of all this strife that the Lord calls His peacemakers to make a difference. What is it that the person with this type of spiritual wisdom has to offer our world? It is what Christ has offered him or her. There is forgiveness, a loving spirit, and the ability to listen to the concerns of others and rise above their emotions in an intense discussion. The peacemakers have experienced what human nature is, and the Holy Spirit gives them insights to deal with it when tempers flare and humans get out of control.

We have no worry about acquiring much knowledge. Our concern is how to use all of this knowledge. Albert Einstein said words to this effect: We have learned how to release the power of the atom. Now we need the wisdom to use it for the betterment of society. If we do not attain this wisdom, we will destroy society.

Long before Einstein gave this warning, Jesus Christ showed a similar concern. Therefore, he builds within His chosen people those who have much knowledge. They are also the wise in that they can apply the knowledge, and they are spiritually wise because the grace of God bathes their souls. It is that spirit that controls the brain.

An Attitude Change

One of the easiest ways to get a conversation started with another person is simply to ask them about their family. Most people love to talk about their family, and it is surprising what they will share. Recently I asked a man about his family. He replied, “One of my kids is in jail.” I was shocked that he shared this information, but maybe he just needed to tell someone about the son who was causing him so much heartache.

Our families are dear to us, and God’s family is close to Him. He likes to talk about His children, and he wants to say good things about them. Therefore, He is continually pruning us to be more Christ like.

Think of Jesus’ words: “I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

What a picture of the relationship between Christ and those who trust Him as Savior and Lord! He is the vine, and each believer is a branch that bears fruit. On those branches are little twigs that must be pruned that the branch might bear more fruit. Through His Word, Christ is in the pruning act. He seeks to make us His children to whom He can point and say to an unbelieving world, See how I can make my sons and daughters new people! The old, which was undesirable, has been taken away, and the new fruit has come. He wants his family to be spiritually strong. Then He can point to us as “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.”

The words in our text are from the inspired pen of James, and they are addressed to the family of God. These people trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Those who do not trust Christ are not yet a part of the family of God. However, the invitation is always extended for them to come to Christ.

I address this sermon especially to those who are Christians in the Biblical sense of the word. Today’s pruning deals with handling trials and temptation in a mature fashion. Hear these words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James deals with reality. You know these trials and temptations are coming. It is just a part of living to have those rough times. There are trials with finance, in our marriages, with sickness, and when death takes loved ones from us. The question is, when the trials come, how will we face them? What part will our Christian faith have in dealing with them?

From the lips of immature Christians we hear these words: I wonder if God really does exist; and if He does, why does he let these things happen in his children’s lives? Such words cause our unbelieving friends to wonder if God is someone we trust when all is going well, but One on whom we will turn our backs in days of difficultly. That kind of thinking needs the attention of the pruning knife.

Another person who is weak in the faith becomes angry with God in tough days and decides to punish Him by not attending worship services. When asked why she had not been in church lately, a woman replied, “I think God is unfair, and I am avoiding worship for a while.” Rather strange words coming from a Christian, but words that many speak nevertheless.

In their rebellion during days of trials and temptation, people’s behavior is often bizarre. There was man in our town whose wife died leaving him alone with a small child, who was one of our children’s playmates. This man had been a faithful member of the church. His wife’s death so crushed him that he began to drink. Night after night he would fall into a drunken stupor. When people tried to help him, he would shout out that he wanted no more to do with God or His ways of living. Thank God his spiritual rebellion subsided after a few weeks, but while it was going on, he was a real puzzle to his unchurched neighbors. Wasn’t his Christianity supposed to help him in difficult times? There was little evidence that such was the case.

He was a Christian, a vine on the branch. However, he was a sick twig that needed to be pruned so that his trial could make him a stronger man of God. That it did. Many years later I visited this friend. He asked if I recalled the time in his life when he was trying to punish God for his wife’s death. “It was a terrible experience,” he said. “However, in retrospect, it was during those days that I came into a more personal relationship with God, which has grown stronger through the years.”

James writes, “You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” This leads to spiritual maturity. Millions know the truth of this statement.

God loves His children. His desire is that we might walk in this world of spiritual darkness as shining lights. Only then can He point the world toward us and say the words: These are my sons and daughters. Let me tell you about them. The first step was for them to enter a Father-child relationship. When they experienced my love for them, their love for me began to grow, and there were great changes in their life. They are not perfect, nor will they be while they live on this planet. Nevertheless, I have begun the good work in them and will continue to perform and perfect it until that glorious meeting when we will begin our journey together in the heavenly home. Until then I will continue to prune those twigs so that they become what I want them to be. Amen.

Pentecost???

If a cross section of people in your town were asked to define Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, how many could answer correctly? The opinion of those who work in our office was as follows: 75% could identify Christmas, 50% could identify Easter, but only 10% would know what Pentecost was all about. One person believed it would be lower than these percentages. It was her opinion that only 45% could identify Christmas, 30% would know the meaning of Easter, and 10% could identify Pentecost.

Our percentages could be wrong, but it is a fact that fewer people could tell what happened on Pentecost than Christmas or Easter. This is sad, because it was on Pentecost that the Christian Church had its beginning. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Without Pentecost there would be no understanding of Christmas or Easter.

Well, not taking anything for granted, let us ask ourselves, What did happen on Pentecost?

Pentecost can be described as the third major festival of the church year, which the Church celebrates fifty days after Easter. Philip Schaff, a noted church historian, defines Pentecost as “the day the Holy Spirit began to speak regularly through God’s Word in the hearts of all people who heard the Word. He makes known who Christ is and creates faith in people’s heart.”

Just as reviewing the Christmas and Easter messages is important, so reviewing the events of Pentecost is equally important. The happenings of that day are recorded in Acts 2.

In verse 1 we read, “When the day of Pentecost came . . .” Pentecost was a Jewish holiday where people from all over the world came to Jerusalem for a one-day celebration. They gave thanks to God for the harvest and the giving of the Ten Commandments. It was a happy holiday, and people enjoyed the fellowship as they celebrated their oneness in the Jewish faith and comforted themselves that they were the people of God.

On that Pentecost Sunday, all of Jesus’ disciples “were together in one place.” Suddenly came the noise of a mighty wind. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that came to rest on each of them. The people were mystified. As the Holy Spirit invaded the lives of the disciples, they became different people. Whatever fear they had in their souls was taken from them. Now they understood the mission of the Church, which was to proclaim the Gospel.

Some visitors in Jerusalem began to make fun of what was happening. They came up with the bright idea that the disciples were drunk. It was then that Peter stood up and preached his mighty sermon, which we could summarize in these words: Wicked men put Jesus to death, but God raised Him from the dead.

While Peter preached, the Holy Spirit was at work in the hearts of these people. When he finished his sermon, the people shouted, “What shall we do?”

Peter gave them the answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off . . .”

Then Peter warned them and pleaded with them: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” This was plain talk. It spoke to the need of and offered the solution for the estrangement from God. It was before the scholars could soften the message and cause it to lose some of its meaning.

There were results. We read: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (41). This group shared the gospel with their friends and families, wherever they lived; and the Church began to spread rapidly. The people began to grow in the faith, and the growth continues even to the present day.

Think of today’s worship services all over the world. Some who attend are not Christians. They too might be laughing and asking the question: How can people believe that a man’s death two thousand years ago can atone for our sins today? It is not rational.

Others trust Christ as their Savior and Lord. The message is preached, and the Holy Spirit works. Then there might be that one person who asks, If I am out of a relationship with God, what shall I do?

Then comes the announcement of the Gospel: Receive Jesus Christ into your life. Ask Him to be your Savior. He will come into your life. He has promised that He would.

Finally, the seeker takes that big step, all the time empowered by the Holy Spirit, and receives Christ. She or he has taken the first step into a personal relationship with God. This is followed by Bible studies so that the new faith created by the Holy Spirit can be fed and grow. The person becomes a new creature in Christ. The new convert has a peace that passes all understanding, a new desire to live according to God’s will, and a burning desire to share this faith with someone who still lives outside a relationship with God.

To proclaim the Gospel as Peter did on that first Pentecost continues to be the primary mission of the Church. Where this is done, the congregation will grow, not only numerically, but also spiritually. Where this is not an ongoing experience, the congregation will die. After all, it has left the mission Christ gave the Church to do.

As we celebrate the historical Pentecost, let us pray that every day will be a Pentecost for many as they confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. Amen.

Rev. Homer Larsen

Christian Crusaders

The Inconsistency in the Church

There was a time in my ministry when I wondered if anyone cared very much about what was going on in the church. The interests were in business, industry, agriculture, politics, and athletics. People showed little interest in the church. Religion was for those who wished to spend an hour in the worship service Sunday morning. A relationship with God did not have a high priority in the lives of most people.

Today I believe the church has caught the attention of the world. The media devotes a considerable amount of time to what is happening in the church. We are not very proud about what caused renewed interest in the church. However, the news became headlines in America’s largest papers. Sexual perversion among clergy catches the attention not only of church members, but also of people outside the church. The world asks how this perversion can take place among people who profess to be servants of Christ.

People, who at best admire the Bible for its poetic beauty and high set of morals and ethics, ask how those of us in the church, who say the Bible is the inspired word of God and the only authority in matters of faith and life, can be divided on blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining practicing homosexuals. According to the Bible, marriage is between a man and a woman, and the practice of homosexuality is sin. Yet, we are giving these subjects serious study. The possibility is that in some main line denominations same-sex marriages will be blessed and practicing gays will be ordained. To the world this seems inconsistent.

The subject of abortion has been with us for several decades now. Again the world asks, If you believe life begins at conception, why are you not united in voice and action against abortion? Is this not murder? Again this makes the church ambiguous in its witness to the world.

As the political campaign heats up, the world does not know how to evaluate a candidate’s statements: “I am a Christian. However, I would never let my faith interfere with my duties as an officer of the state.” Then he chuckles and says that the Christian faith does not have a great hold on his soul.

There is a more positive way in which the church has caught the attention of the world. Many people in America know much more about Christianity today than they did one year ago. I give all human credit for this to Mel Gibson and Rick Warren.

Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, has made it clear that Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world. It also clearly teaches that those who receive Christ have been forgiven of their sins. This is the core of the Gospel. What a message it is for the world to hear! They might not receive the message, but they have heard it.

Within the last few months, Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” has been read by millions of Americans. This book explores a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It reminds the reader that, compared with eternity, this life is very brief. In his confrontive style, Warren writes about being a servant of Christ and reminds his readers of Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” To be God’s servant you first have to settle the money question.

Today the church of Jesus Christ lives in a tense climate. Are we courageous enough to examine ourselves and honestly ask what the world is seeing as it looks at the church? Do we have Biblical answers for their questions? It is a marvelous opportunity to make the truths of God’s Word known to unbelieving people. The haunting thought is, is the church ready for such an assignment? I sometimes have to wonder if the Bible is still God’s inspired word and the authority in matters of faith and life for much of main-line Protestantism.

A certain portion of the Bible presents the church in a similar setting. The young church in Corinth lived in a setting much like the church in America today. While I was giving much thought to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, I was given a book, “Basic Christian Leadership,” by John Stott. Dr. Stott’s book presents a detailed study of the early chapters of I Corinthians. Some of the Biblical thoughts presented in these chapters have captured my attention. So for the next few weeks I will share some of these Biblical truths with you in my sermons. The general theme for this series of sermons is The Church Under Scrutiny.

I will refer to Dr. Stott’s study. In no way do I want to be guilty of plagiarism. Those who know me realize I am not capable of having such insights as will come forth in these sermons. If I misinterpret Dr. Stott, he should not be blamed. I thank God for giving us Biblical scholars like Stott, who carries some of the highest academic credentials, and yet is so faithful to the Bible. We pastors are generalists who need these insights to communicate to the worshiping congregation. I urge you to purchase this book, “Basic Christian Leadership,” by John Stott, and study it in depth.

Corinth was a part of the Roman Empire. Stott describes the city in this way, “Corinth was a busy, thriving, affluent, proud, and permissive city. Merchants and sailors, pilgrims and athletes, tourists and prostitutes jostled one another in its narrow streets.”

Paul organized a Christian congregation in this city. Here lived a group of people whom Paul called the Church of God in Corinth, the divine and the human community. Stott described the congregation as a “fragrant flower growing in and out of a smelly mud.” Like the Christian church in America today, the Corinthian church was pulled between two influences: being faithful to God and following the ways of the flesh. Within the groups there were many inconsistencies. They claimed to love each other, and yet there was jealousy and quarreling among them. They professed to live the pure life, but in actuality sexual immorality plagued the congregation. Theoretically they were united, and yet there were many divisions among these Christians.

Their professions and their lifestyles caused the Corinthians who were not Christian to ask, “What goes with these people? They talk one way and act another.” Is this not a familiar comment in our nation?

Yes, we are often hypocritical. We are not perfect people. Billy Graham has often said, “If you find a perfect church, join it. But remember, the day you join it, it ceases to be perfect!” While we admit the church is far from perfect, we must not tolerate all manners of sin and error in the church.

John Newton has described himself well as a Christian. “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world. But still, I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

Our church must tell the world we are sinners. This sin threw us out of a relationship with God. However, God loved us so much He came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ and died for the world’s sin. When I receive Christ as my Savior, my sins are forgiven, and I am restored into fellowship with God. I have experienced God’s grace. I am not perfect. I will never be perfect while in this life, but God’s forgiveness is new every day.

Yet, neither can we as Christians lull ourselves to sleep in the grace of God. We cannot hang on to Biblical teachings that fit our liking and discard those that are not in harmony with the culture of our world or our own likings. God is continually changing us. Paul said it well, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, and the new has come.” We are changing people.

Each generation is faced with its own challenges. Prior to World War II, the church held a very Biblical position on divorce and remarriage. Divorce was not culturally acceptable. Then came the war, and our society experienced a fruit-basket upset. No longer were people marrying just among people of their own type. Husbands and wives came from different backgrounds, and often had different values. Marriages were not as easy to hold together, and divorce became rampant. What was the church’s position? Gradually we accepted divorce. Today many of our children are being raised in single-parent homes.

Now we face another demand from our culture. The church must look at same-sex marriages. Is it permitted in Scripture? Of course not. The Bible is clear that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Well, then, the world asks how we can give this demand of culture any serious consideration. The voices in the churches are becoming stronger every day as they set Biblical teachings aside and listen to the demands of society. We are interpreting the Scriptures in the light of culture’s demands.

What will happen? I fear history will repeat itself, and in another fifty years we will accept same-sex marriages as another way for people to live. This is the ambiguity in the church. Many church members have become complacent, but those who are committed to the Lord Jesus cannot let this type of disrespect for Biblical teachings continue. What the future holds for the church is debatable. However, one does not have to have great prophetic powers to predict that organized Christianity, as we know it, is about to split if evangelical Christians are going to remain true to the Scriptures. Enough is enough.

To our world looking in on us we say this: In Christ we are God’s people, redeemed in Jesus Christ. We are not perfect. You will find hypocrisy in all of us. Nevertheless, we have truly entered a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our greatest desire is to overcome our sins and be faithful witnesses to him and what he has revealed in the Scriptures.

To you in the world who have not tasted of God’s grace, Christ invites you to become a part of His Church by receiving Him as your Savior and Lord. Then join those who still take God’s Word seriously as the authority in matters of faith and life.

Even The Righteous Fall

In her book, Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy tells about this baseball player, who is one of the greatest in the history of the game. For those of us who have loved the game through the years, we followed Koufax as a Dodger Ð first in Brooklyn, and then in Los Angeles. We remember the 1966 season when he won twenty-seven games, lost only nine, and had an ERA of 1.73.

Tony Oliva tells of the 1965 World Series when Koufax threw five consistent fastballs past him; Tony hardly saw those balls. After the series, he went immediately to the eye doctor for an examination. The doctor consoled Oliva by saying; “There is nothing wrong with your eyes, Tony. You have the best eyes in the club. The problem is that Sandy Koufax’s fastball is hard for anybody to see.”

What is the purpose of this story about Sandy Koufax in our sermon? It is this statement by Jane Leavy: “The most difficult feat in sports is not a single act. It is the replication of that act in an endless vacuum of infinite space. . . . What made Koufax great was the ability to repeat a motion Ð pitch after pitch, batter after batter, game after game. His control was admired.”

Koufax also made this important point: “The pitcher wants to do the same thing every time.”

These statements speak to the Christian life. Whether or not it is possible to do the same thing every time a person plays the game, I do not know, though I doubt. However, one thing I do know: we are inconsistent in our daily walk with God. We soon learn this whether it is study of our life or another’s, no matter how prominent they might be. Study Luther’s life and you will be appalled at some of his behavior and language. Even the righteous fall Ð that is the theme for this sermon.

David is our example. Last Sunday we talked about David and his relationship with Mephibosheth. This story presents David in one of his greatest moments with God. Mephibosheth was a grandson of King Saul and a son of Jonathan, who was a close friend of David. One day David, who was now nicely established in his kingdom, asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Mephibosheth had been crippled since the age of five. When David learned that he was living in obscurity for fear of being killed because he was Saul’s grandson, he summoned him to the palace. After David met with Mephibosheth, the king shocked him with this announcement: “Mephibosheth, I will restore to you all the land that once belonged to your grandfather, Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Here we see God’s love shining through in David’s personality. He was anxious to share his wealth with a man who was the son of his dear friend, Jonathan. Love flowed from David’s being.

As the days go by David becomes more secure in his position as the king of Israel. The Bible tells us that one evening David got up from his bed and walked around the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. This excited David, and you know the rest of the story. Though David was told that she was a married woman, he insisted on having her come to his bedroom. She became pregnant with David’s child.

We best remember David for two things: the first was killing the giant, Goliath; the second was committing adultery with Bathsheba. To cover up his sin, David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, sent to the front lines where he was killed as a soldier. Here we learn of David’s lowest moment. The man who lived so close to God and penned those beautiful psalms was the same man who stooped as low as one could possibly go. One can only conclude that even the righteous fall.

However, it was not the end for David. Through the ministry of Nathan, David’s pastor, God dealt with the king. He brought him to his knees in confession and heard him say, “I have sinned against God.” This was a time of healing. Rather than destroy David, God chose to give him another look at the power of grace. David deserved to die, but God chose to forgive him and let him start over.

From the moralist point of view, we could hear someone say, “How easy! One day you are falling into the mire of sin; the next day God has forgiven you, and it is a new day. What stops you from repeating the act?”

Only after we have experienced God’s forgiveness and love can we understand that to repeat a sin is the last thing we want to happen. David not only asked for forgiveness, he asked that God would create in him a clean heart and give him a new spirit. The righteous man had fallen, but God raised him up to be a greater person.

Thank God that our relationship with Him does not require a perfect walk to continue living under his grace. None of us are consistent in our righteous walk with God. We are not always the same gentle, loving people. All we have to do is ask our spouse how we act in those weaker moments at home. Hearing the children describe the Christian life of their father and mother might be quite painful. They would have many great things to say about their parents’ Christian witness.

Yet, they would also have to say that viewing life with the Lord from their own home was not always pleasing to God. The children would agree that even the righteous fall, but only to be lifted up by Jesus Christ to start again.

Often in my life as a father and husband I have had to ask my family for forgiveness. To fall does not mean defeat. It means that God can and will forgive you. This experience can make you a stronger witness for the Lord Jesus at home, at work, and at play.

From the role of a saint, to the depth of an immoral murderer, to the height of a spiritual leader describes David’s life quite well. How could God use him? All I know is that He did.

While we may not have lived in the same open sins, are we not also on some kind of spiritual roller coaster? One hour we can bring a strong witness for Jesus to some of our friends; the next hour we can be tyrants at home. One time we use our tongue to sing praises to God; and the next time the same tongue is used profanely or to speak ill of others.

St. Paul writes, “There is no one righteous, no not even one.” Even the righteous fall. Yet then God, who is our Savior, is there, ready to pick us up and send us on our way again, not to condone our sins, but to forgive them.

Let me ask you, “Does any other religion have a message such as this with which to confront our world?”