16 Pentecost Proper C19
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Timothy 1:12-17 Sermon
September 12, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
179 "Shepherd Of Tender Youth"
522 "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll Not Want"
172 "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise"
524 "Saviour Like A Shepherd Lead Us"
MAKING SOWS' EARS INTO SILK PURSES
TEXT (vs. 15-16): "15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."
Just a little over two years ago, on September 9, 2008, Barack Obama was on the campaign trail. In a speech he made that day, he was criticizing the policies of his opponent, John McCain. That was nothing out of the ordinary. However, on this day he used a metaphor that has stuck in most people's minds. Regarding John McCain's solutions, he said, and I quote: "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
Even David Letterman picked up on that line. Awhile later, Barack Obama appeared on his show. David said, "Let me ask you a question here; have you ever actually put lipstick on a pig?"
Obama, seeing the humor in all of this, responded by saying, "You know, the answer would be no. But I think it might be fun to try." Of course the audience thought it was funny too.
Some people, especially those who really like to put the worst construction on things, thought he was poking fun at Sarah Palin with that remark, because she had mentioned "lipstick" in one of her speeches in a completely different context. But that wasn't the intent at all.
Barack Obama simply gave a new twist to the worn and hackneyed expression, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." It was simply a figure of speech indicating that you can't make something good out of something that's inferior from the start. The raw materials of a sow's ear cannot be miraculously turned into something by which a silk purse could be made. It's like trying to make an old sow attractive by painting it with lipstick.
The old "silk purse and sow's ear" metaphor is one that we hear all the time. Sometimes people will say it when trying to fix up an old car. A little bog to fill in the rusted places and a little paint cannot make an old car new. People have even used that expression on me, like when they see me looking in a mirror to comb my hair and make myself look presentable.
This expression came to mind as I was studying our Epistle lesson for today. The Apostle Paul is beginning his first letter to his young understudy, Timothy. Timothy was being trained to become a pastor.
So Paul wants Timothy to fully appreciate what his past had been, and what he had gone through. In describing himself, Paul says in verse 13: "...I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man...." Paul identifies himself here as being the proverbial "sow's ear" in comparison with the holiness of God. It's self-deprecating perhaps, but very true. Paul is making a very honest assessment of himself.
By doing this, Paul isn't looking for positive reinforcement from Timothy. He doesn't want Timothy to say something like, "Oh now Paul, don't be so hard on yourself; it's not that bad. I know that deep down you have always been a pretty decent fellow and tried to always do the right thing." That's not the purpose here at all.
Even though Paul was an Apostle, called into service directly and personally by the Lord Jesus Christ, he had a very dark and dismal past. In fact, he had been an outright adversary of Christians and the Christian faith. Paul even participated in the stoning of St. Stephen, who was the first person to be martyred because of his faith. Paul had openly and proudly been a Pharisee, and had swallowed their whole line of work righteous and false theology, hook, line, and sinker.
The point of all this, was to prove to Timothy that Jesus was seeking the sinners to be his followers. It didn't matter what the person had thought, or said, or done, because Jesus wanted these people to be saved. In the process of bringing the world to know Jesus Christ, there could be no soul overlooked. There wasn't anybody so evil or wicked that they could ever be beyond God's grace.
A couple of weeks ago, our Epistle lesson for the day was recorded in the 13th chapter of Hebrews. Verse 7 says: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."
After I read that verse, I stopped and thought to myself, "What in the world am I doing here? Why would anybody ever want to imitate me?" I've got a pretty good record--55 years of sin. I've given in to temptation more times than I have resisted it. I certainly wouldn't want anybody to imitate that part of my life. I'm also no poster child for Jenny Craig, or Gold's Gym. I doubt if you'd ever see my photograph on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or GQ. I don't have talent scouts of any description knocking at my door. I'm a terrible housekeeper and organizer, probably because I'm a bachelor. That also means I can't even be described as a good parent or a good husband. And when you compare me to God's standard of perfection, whatever admirable qualities I might have occupy a very short list indeed.
So if people are to look at me and somehow imitate me because of the office I hold, I still have to ask myself, "What in the world am I doing here?" I can think of a lot better role models out there in many respects.
And then there's that whole "imitate their faith" thing. Oh great. I know that I've failed in that department as well. I can think of those times that doubt has clouded me, or when despondency has taken over where hope should have been. And yes I've wondered at times if God really hears my prayers, or that he actually cares about me.
Am I alone here? I don't think so. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that many, if not most of you share some of these same things with me. That's because we're human, and we share that same curse of sin that has affected us right down to the core of our very souls.
That's why the words of our Epistle this morning are so fitting for all of us. Listen to the words of verses 15-16 again: "15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."
Suddenly, this puts everything into perspective. As a pastor, I can't stand up here in the pulpit like some huge pillar of perfection. That's not the point; in fact, if that were to be the case, I don't think you would appreciate it.
Here's a good way to illustrate this. One of the absolute worst things a parent can do is tell a child, "Why can't you be more like your brother or sister?" That's one of the biggest blows any child could experience. It's like saying, "He or she is perfect, and you're no good." This kind of thing happens in the adult world as well.
In verse 14 of our Epistle lesson today, Paul writes: "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Paul isn't standing up as some pillar of righteousness, but as a humble recipient of God's grace. Paul describes himself as not only a sinner, but the chief of sinners, the worst of the bunch. And if someone the likes of himself can be fully redeemed, restored, and forgiven through faith in Christ, then nobody should ever despair or feel like they are somehow outside of the realm of God's grace and forgiveness.
I began this morning by talking about two similar metaphors: putting lipstick on a pig, and making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. In a sense they're similar, but actually they are quite different. Putting lipstick on a pig is just an attempt to mask over something. Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear describes a complete and total change.
That's what happens to all of us. That's what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. As sinners, we're like those "sow's ears." Have you ever seen a sow's ear? About the only use they have is to be dried out and sold in pet stores for dogs to chew on. They're about as far from a silk purse as they could be.
But with God, all things are possible. God is able to take sinners the likes of you and me, sinners who are little more than sow's ears, and turn us into his beautiful and wonderful children through faith alone. It's like Paul says in verse 15 of our Epistle today: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst."
The neat thing about all of this is that we are all regarded as the same. The same ruler measures us all. We are all declared sinful by the exact same standard. And that's a good thing! It's good, because the same words of forgiveness apply to us just as equally. There are no exceptions for a particular kind of sinful thought or action.
When Jesus went to the cross, he paid for the world's sin, and that includes everything that anybody has ever done or will do. It's all been paid for, in full. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin."
Faith alone is the way this becomes ours. Through faith alone, we enter into this relationship with Jesus our Saviour. Through faith alone, we are completely and totally forgiven for all of our sins. That's the way we become part of God's family for eternity.
In our Gospel lesson for today, we have a great picture of Jesus. Jesus is pictured as a shepherd, which is not an unfamiliar metaphor to us. We are seen as the sheep of his flock. So what happens when one of the sheep becomes wayward and leaves the safety of the flock? The shepherd leaves the flock, searches for the lost sheep, picks it up, and carries it back to safety. Even one sheep out of many is too great of a loss to experience.
That's the kind of love that our Saviour has for us. It doesn't matter how often we have run away, or how far we have wandered. We are just too precious for him not to care about us.
This is the type of love Paul is explaining in our Epistle for today. He says in verse 16: "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." We have a Saviour with unlimited patience and unending love, who wants us to spend an eternity with him in heaven. Quite a picture, isn't it?
In our Epistle, Paul is setting himself up as an example, but it isn't one of haughtiness or pride. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Paul uses himself as an example of God's patience and love and forgiveness. Paul wants people to know that even the chief of sinners is one of God's precious children. Paul is continually amazed that God saw fit to call him from the depths of sin, and use him as not only one of his messengers, but as the lead missionary in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to many people in many lands. Paul was also the master theologian in the New Testament. As a result, countless numbers came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour by the Holy Spirit working through Paul's ministry. And that ministry has been active right down to this present day and time.
In my own life, I am certainly not the perfect role model in many ways. I don't pretend that I am. But I do know one thing: I am a forgiven and restored sinner. I know I'm going to heaven when I die. That's something I want all of you to know without a doubt, and I want you to share that same sentiment with whomever you can. That's what I'm doing here, and that is what God has called me to do in your midst.
Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. That's what God has done to the Apostle Paul, to me, and to all of you. That's what happens when we are changed from sinners into saints through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are his disciples, and are therefore called into God's service to be faithful messengers of his Gospel of love, forgiveness, and peace.