Summary: Based on the Pharisee and the publican, this sermon urges us to not judge but find our righteousness in God’s eyes.
"The Deacon and the Drunkard"
October 28th, 2001
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men— robbers, evildoers, adulterers— or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Two men walk into a church. Sounds like the beginning of a Christian joke, doesn’t it? Two men, the deacon and the drunkard. The deacon is well known and respected in the church. Everyone knows that he is a good husband, a loving father, an exemplary citizen in the community, and a pillar of the church. He teaches Sunday school, is a deacon, a member of the board, and on all the search committees. He would never say it— although others would— but the church wouldn’t be able to function the way it does without him. Not only does he speak on many spiritual matters in the church, he is also a faithful giver to the church. There are many missionaries abroad who are there because of this man’s generosity, there are many bricks in the wall that he helped put there, there are many fund raisers that have been started with his seed money.
The deacon is everything that the drunkard is not. In fact, most of the people in church that day can hardly believe that he is there. Some nerve he has, coming to worship on Sunday and living the way that he does the rest of the week. He is well known in town as a no-account scoundrel. He sells used cars— now there is nothing wrong with that, but he has been known to take advantage of people. Giving credit to people who couldn’t afford it so that he can repossess the car and keep the down payment. Rolling back miles on the odometer. Putting saw dust in the transmission housing. Selling flooded cars and painting over wrecked cars to hide their defects. Not only is he a dishonest businessman, he is also not much of a man. He’s nice enough, but when he drinks too much— which is often— he is mean to his wife and kids. Many times his family has gone without necessities because he has squandered his pay on gambling and drinking. He’s not in church often. He never comes to any of the work days, he never puts anything in the offering plate, he would never even be considered to be a deacon or Sunday school teacher.
But here they come, walking into the church together. Naturally, the deacon doesn’t even offer the drunkard his hand. The deacon goes down to the first pew and takes his seat with the other deacons. The drunkard makes his way to the back road and slouches down in the seat. During the singing, the deacon sings boldly and loudly, if not a little off key. The drunkard barely mumbles out the songs, keeping his head down while singing, "Just As I Am." When the offering plate goes around everyone sees the deacon put in a wad of bills, with a $50 on top. The children giggle when the plate gets to the drunkard and the sound of coins rattles into the plate. During the sermon the deacon pulls out his thick, leather-bound bible and nods intelligently while the preacher makes his three points. The drunkard, who probably doesn’t even own a bible, fumbles around in the pew bible trying to find the Gospels. Finally, the 12 o’clock hour approaches and the minister winds down, extending a call to the altar for all those with any needs. A few people make their way down, and as is his custom, the deacon goes down to pray with those at the altar. A few people gasp, though, when the drunkard makes his way down. All eyes are on him as he falls to his knees and puts his head in his hands. He’s not just kneeling: he’s face down at the altar (we just don’t do that around here). And what’s that noise? Is he crying? Are his shoulders shaking with emotion? Wow, he must have really done something wrong.
If you were standing where the preacher is standing, right down at the front of the church at the altar, you might be able to hear these words, muttered under their breath. The deacon, looking at this wretch of a man, shakes his head and clucks his tongue, saying: