Summary: Doubt, faith, and John the Baptist.
Sermon: I Doubt It.
Text: Matt 11:2-10, I Cor 4:1-5
Occasion: Advent III
Who: Mark Woolsey
When: Sunday, Dec 16, 2007
Where: Providence Reformed Episcopal Church
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Deck the walls with chains and torches
Fa-la-la-la-la la-la la la
Tis the season to be tortured
Fa-la-la-la-la la-la la la
Don we now our rags and beatings
Fa-la-la la-la-la la la la
Troll the ancient screams and pleadings
Fa-la-la-la-la la-la la la!
There! That should put us all in the mood for this season. And no, I don’t mean Halloween, either. It’s the third Sunday in Advent. It’s the season to prepare for our Lord’s second coming in judgment by studying His first. Rejoice – it’s the time to be miserable.
As Christians who take our seasons seriously, we have been learning over the last couple of weeks that this is not the Christmas season, but a mini-Lent. The world sings and we sigh. They rejoice and we repent. They feast and we fast. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. So where do you fall on this scale of extremes? Where do your thoughts lie? Are you decorating or downsizing? Celebrating or solemnizing? Prancing or praying?
Well, Preacher Wet Blanket, you’ve made my day. I guess I’ll just go to the hardware store and buy my own Christmas present – a hammer so I can "rap" all the other gifts I bought. Do you think Penny’s still has their hair-shirts on sale?
Unfortunately, the lot of a minister is frequently to remind his hearers of uncomfortable truths. It’s a ministry of disillusionment, the tearing down of idols that dull our minds and hide from us, and us from, reality. It’s a ministry of calling people to go where they don’t want to go and confronting them with uncomfortable truths. And perhaps most difficult of all, these ministers must confront their own demons, even if that demon is the demon of doubt and despair.
I love the season of Advent!
Today I would like to focus on two ministers in the Bible, one from the New Covenant and the other from the Old.
II. New Covenant Minister
Outside of Jesus, who is the greatest minister of the New Covenant? If you are a Roman Catholic you might answer St Peter since he is considered to have founded the church at Rome and to have been the first Pope. Arguably he was the chief of the 12 Apostles; he led, they followed. And really, I can’t find much fault if you were to select him. However, as a Reformed, or perhaps better, a Biblical Christian there is one minister who takes the scattered rays of doctrine and focuses them into a brilliant point of light more clearly than perhaps all the rest. He takes the coals, as it were, of the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and presents to us the multi-faceted diamond of its meaning and application to us in redemption, justification, sanctification, glorification, and adoration. When the church fathers, those patriarchs of the first eight centuries or so, refer to him, they sometimes simply call him The Apostle. He is, of course, St Paul. What pearls of wisdom does he lay out before us today? What jewel from the treasure of salvation does he polish and show us?
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. (I Cor 4:3)
Kinda grumpy, huh? The Corinthians, to whom St Paul had given so much, were questioning his credentials. Paul tells them they have no business judging him, and he doesn’t care what they think of him, anyway, when it comes to his ministry. It’s sad when this happens because our lives depend upon what is said in the pulpit. Perhaps you don’t think of church as a life-or-death activity. Sure, how you drive your car can affect you like that, but not church. Handle a knife incorrectly and there are serious consequences. But church? Church is a voluntary activity where like-minded people gather with nothing more dangerous than Aunt Martha’s week-old pot roast. How can that be close to life-threatening? Listen again to The Apostle:
In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes… (vv3-5)
There’s that Advent theme again, judgment at the second coming. If you get this wrong, the consequences are not only deadly, but eternal. That’s why what ministers say in the pulpit is so important.