(…continued) Sinners home from college come to church, too. They are beginning to break away, but not yet completely. They are thinking new thoughts now, thoughts beyond youthful hormones– doubting thoughts, thoughts calling into question everything they at one time might have believed in. Maybe all this religion business is a sham, they wonder, and if it is, why waste time in church? But if they do keep going to church, they will hear there that Jesus welcomes all kinds of sinners, including doubters.
The next age group of sinners in church is the young adults, many of them now married. No longer is sin simply an inner struggle. Now you have someone else, right there beside you, all the time; someone who might be more than willing to point out your sins, your shortcomings, faults, weaknesses, immaturity, inconsistencies, foolishness, and stupid mistakes. And you are more than happy to return the favor. Not everything pointed out by one’s partner would be a sin, but much of it would be. And one’s spouse is not always right; but many times they are. They might even know you better than you know yourself. In marriage, and then in child-raising, one gets a lot of opportunities to think about what is right and what is wrong, and how often you fall short. Sinners we are, all right. But then, in a good marriage, one gets the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven, and so understand a little bit of how it can be that Jesus still loves sinners and calls them to himself.
And there are lots of middle-aged and elderly sinners in church each week. Most of these are past the rebellious stage of sin, but they are now spending some time looking back over their shoulder; looking back at mistakes, regrets, things that should have been done differently, things that should or should not have been said, times and ways one could have been more faithful, more loving, and more caring. Faith begins to matter more to one as they get older, morality is more understood and valued, and seeing the foolishness of the young may, for many, bring back memories of one’s own wrongdoings. Gone now is that crazy confidence of youth, and looking back over a lifetime of many mistakes and regrets can make one thankful that Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
A century ago G. K. Chesterton was one of the world’s top writers. He wrote about everything and argued with everyone. His collected works fill over a hundred volumes. Chesterton once entered a writing contest in which the contestants were to write an essay answering the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton could write entire books in a single week, and he often wrote about the world situation. Therefore, one would expect that his biggest problem on such a wide open question would be how to confine all he would have to say to the one-thousand word limit of the contest. But Chesterton had no trouble at all coming up with a brief and concise answer. In fact, his whole essay consisted of one sentence containing only seven words. Chesterton wrote: “The trouble with the world is me.”
Chesterton was a devout Christian, well acquainted with the Biblical message of sin and grace. He knew very well that when the Bible talked about what was wrong with the world, it talked about sin. And he knew that God’s Word first of all confronts each and every individual with their own sin. After all, didn’t Jesus say we should not so much worry about the speck in someone else’s eye when there is a whole log stuck in our own eye? There certainly is a lot wrong in the world, and with 24-hour news stations, we can hear about it all day, every day. And most of the problems can be traced back to the sinful decisions of individuals, including each one of us. Therefore, to begin to change the world, we must first of all change ourselves. An old German proverb says, “If each person swept in front of his own door, the whole world would be clean.”
G. K. Chesterton was merely stating the Biblical message when he wrote, “The trouble with the world is me.” The trouble with the world is the combined sins of each individual. Jesus said he came to save sinners, and to make all things new.
Whatever our conscious reasons for being in church this morning, we are indeed here because Jesus has called us here for the forgiveness of our sins. And his intent is to not only to forgive our sins now, and then give us eternal life when we die. That too, of course, but in the meantime Jesus wants to change us, and through us, change the world. Every time we sin we make things a little worse, but each time we obey God’s word, an improvement is made. If each person swept in front of his own door, the whole world would be clean.
Mark 2:16-17 — When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw (Jesus) eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 7:3 — (Jesus said), “Why do you look at the speck in the eye of your brother, but do not consider the log in your own eye?”
Revelation 3:19b-20a — (Jesus said), “Be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.”
God, have mercy on me, a sinner. –Luke 18:13