The Happy Sinner

I have a little story, the end of which goes to the heart of what I want to express today in sharing some thoughts with you about sin.

A farmer had a beautiful horse. One day he tied the animal outside a store in town while he shopped inside. Two thieves came by and figured a plan to steal the animal since it was such an outstanding horse. One thief untied the animal and rode it out of town. The other waited till the owner came out. When he did, and found his horse gone, he was about to call for help to the Sheriff who was inside the store. But the thief immediately spoke to him and made a confession, "Sir, I am your horse. Some years ago I sinned, and to atone I was changed into a horse. Today my penalty was lifted and I am again a man. So you now own me and I am your obedient servant. The farmer was devastated at the loss of his horse, but he was touched by the story. "No, I don't believe in slavery. You may go, and good luck!" A few weeks later the farmer attended a sale at a nearby town, and there he spied his beautiful horse. He went up to the animal and whispered in its ear, "So-you sinned again."

Today's sermon is entitled "The Happy Sinner." You need to pay attention closely, not because we're all sinners, not because we're all happy, but because this sermon is one that Mark Twain would have liked because it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and the end, as he thought it should be, is close to the beginning.

Although all the lessons today deal with the topic of sinners in one way or another, I chose to focus on the Gospel. It's only in the Gospel that we get a hint of the joy that sinners can feel.

The end of the story I told a few moments ago is a good illustration of how we repent of our sins, but still seem to repeat most of them. We don't have any trouble repenting of the 'big sins' we see in our lives, but it's the ones that we get caught in daily, the ones that are part of our lives and how we live our lives, they're the ones that we often don't recognize as sin, or choose to overlook them (like, say, listening to or repeating gossip; or not thinking the most positive thoughts about folks; or making judgments about others just by how they look or act or dress).

We used the version of the confession we did today because it's pretty specific in that it brings to our attention the sins related to things we ought NOT to have done as well as the things we OUGHT to have done.

Sometimes folks get pretty self righteous. They pride themselves in the good they do and consider themselves religious folks because they attend worship and help out at church, maybe even attend Adult Sunday Church School, maybe even Bible study, maybe even read a devotional in the morning or evening, or both. And there's no doubt that they DO do good and are helpers and are folks who know where their Bible is in their house because they use it. But not even THEY are free from making judgments about someone or gossiping, or speaking negatively of someone. And even worse is when they get to thinking they are BETTER than someone else because of what they do for the church or to help others, compared to what someone else DOESN'T do. That's a terrible sin to get caught by, and an easy one to fall into, and an easy one not to recognize as a sin.

But listen to how what I said changes when I add one vital element. I was speaking about folks who do good things and help out and attend Sunday School and worship. Here's the added word, "Even worse is when these folks get to thinking they are a better SINNER than someone else." Now of course I didn't mean they were in competition to see who was a better sinner, though sometimes I wonder about folks because that is indeed just what it seems like. I meant that every one of us is a sinner. So where does any one of us come off as a sinner judging another sinner? When we fall into that self-righteous pattern, we tend to forget that we are no better than anyone else whom we see fit to judge; we're a sinner just like they are. And here's a further rub; most folks who are self-righteous aren't very happy.

But here's the great news. We don't HAVE to compare ourselves to someone else so that we can feel good about who we are and what we do. God knows us as sinners and still loves us. God only expects that we will repent and ask for forgiveness. The repent part is important. Some of you might notice that I add that word, 'repent,' to the introduction to the confession when we use the LBW. To simply ask for forgiveness, yet make no attempt to turn around and go in a different direction, a basic meaning of the word 'repent,' is not really asking for forgiveness at all. It's like a brother who hits his brother and gets caught by a parent and immediately says, "I'm sorry," which infers "forgive me," but has no intention to stop punching his brother in the future when he'll be more careful not to get caught.

Very often we don't confess the sins that we commit because we haven't been caught (like when we lie about something and only regret it when it comes back to bite us and we are caught in the lie) and so we just go on our merry way 'white-lying' our way through life.

But you see, God knows how we are. God knows who we are. And we can be sinners and still loved by God. God just wants us to repent and ask forgiveness because it changes us in that it opens us fully to God's love. An unrepentant heart is a closed heart; a hardened heart that isn't open to fullness of God's blessings and love and forgiveness.

Many people just muddle through life. God's blessings fall on the good and the evil, the repentant and the unrepentant. But folks who have hearts that are not fully open have no idea what it means to be blessed by God. They have no idea of what they are missing. And all it takes is a repentant heart. A heart and mind willing to give up that which causes us to sin, willing to say to God, forgive me, God, and I promise I will do my best to go in a new direction.

So, we don't have to pretend we're good. We're not. Yes, we can do good things for others because that's what God asks us to do with the talents and gifts we've been given. We can attend worship and thank God and praise God because that's what helps our attitude and our relationship with God. We can be sinners and be happy.

God rejoices, all heaven rejoices, when a sinner repents. In the lesson it speaks of the righteous who don't need to repent. That means they have already realized they are sinners and have repented, which puts them into a right relationship with God. That's what it means to be righteous-to be in a right relationship with God.

And as a little added dimension to this, you have heard me say before that Scripture tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and this Kingdom is a new way of thinking, a spiritual way of thinking. So when all heaven rejoices, that means that all those wonderful things that God planted within each one of us sinners and that Jesus brings to fruition through his teachings and his love and his sacrifice for us, all that is released within us when we repent because we are taking down the blocks to the fullness of our relationship with God. When we repent and ask forgiveness we head in a new direction and begin a journey into a new, a spiritual way of thinking.

So, happy sinners we can be. And for those who repent and are forgiven, happy sinners we are.

To close, I want us to sing two songs. You know the words and tune but I'll refresh your memory. The first is "I've got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart." We're just going to sing two verses. The second has the words "I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart." Let's try it now.

Great! And to end the sermon we're going to sing, "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands, (clap, clap) if you're happy and you know it clap your hands, (clap, clap) if you happy and you know it, then your life will surely show it, if you're happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap)." Now we're going to sing that same verse 3 times, and let's sing it as loudly and happily as we can. Let's stand and sing this. And since this won't be a very good lead-in into our hymn of the day, "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling," which is a beautiful hymn in its own right, I think we will NOT sing that hymn today, and sing it another Sunday when we won't be doing it an injustice. AMEN.

Read more sermons by Pastor Brie