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IT USUALLY TAKES LESS TIME TO CLEAN UP A MESS THAN IT DOES TO WORRY ABOUT IT

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

AND

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

25 OCTOBER 1992

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Zephaniah 3:1-9
Luke 18:9-14
John 8:11

I believe that most of us can relate to driving in wet winter conditions, and how dirty our cars become, and how hard it is to keep our windshields clean.

And in a similar manner, we can relate to how easy it is to let our homes become messy, if we don't put things away or we don't clean regularly.

Both of these examples refer to physical messiness.

But this morning, we are going to talk about spiritual messiness.

Our attitudes about messiness and our approach to cleaning up the messes we encounter, or create ourselves, are very similar – whether they are physical or spiritual.

So, let's begin our morning's excursion into God's word by looking at a mess that existed in Jerusalem in the days of Zephaniah, the prophet (3:1-4).

1. Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
The tyrannical city!

2. She heeded no voice;
She accepted no instruction.
She did not trust in the Lord;
She did not draw near to her God.

3. Her princes within her are roaring lions,
Her judges are wolves at evening;
They leave nothing for the morning.

4. Her prophets are reckless, treacherous men;
Her priests have profaned the sanctuary.
They have done violence to the law.

Keep in mind that this is the city of God, which Zephaniah is speaking about.

And remember that this same message could be spoken to the churches of today; about themselves, and about the mess that we have allowed to exist in them and in our communities and in our nation as a whole.

If we are part of the mess, everything may look all right.

But if it looks like a mess to us, that means we have something cleaner to compare it with.

Or, we might say that unrighteousness doesn't look unrighteous – unless we know about true righteousness.

We recognize this righteousness because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

Note what Zephaniah says in verse 5:

5. The Lord is righteous within her;
He will do no injustice.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He does not fail.
But the unjust knows no shame.

The Lord is everywhere; yes, even among the unrighteous; even if they don't recognize His presence because of all the evil in their hearts; even if they won't accept His presence.

The Lord is still everywhere; and His truth is there, too; as a witness to help us, or as a witness against us.

Those who know the truth, those who love the Lord, are to be His witness to the ungodly, so that they are without excuse.

We are to clean up the mess around ourselves, and not become soiled by it.

We are to keep our spiritual house clean and in order, so that others will see the difference.

For our part, we are still to love the unrighteous, as does the Lord, as He loved us before we accepted Him as Lord and Savior.

We cannot force others to clean up their mess.

They have to want to do it themselves.

And we must leave the job of enforcement to the Lord, as we are told in verse 6.

6. I have cut off nations;
Their corner towers are in ruins.
I have made their streets desolate,
With no one passing by;
Their cities are laid waste,
Without a man, without an inhabitant.

This seems very harsh, and it is; but the Lord does this with a purpose.

He does it because He loves us, and wants to give us every opportunity to clean up our own mess, as we are told in verse 7.

7. "I said, 'Surely you will revere Me,
Accept instruction.'
So her dwelling will not be cut off
According to all that I have appointed concerning her.
But they were eager to corrupt all their deeds.

If the desire of the heart is to defy God, then people will continue in their evil ways.

We can't waste our time worrying about what they don't do.

We are to be constructive.

We are to just continue to clean up our mess, making the best we can out of every situation, and be a witness to the rest of the world.

Note what we are told in verse 8:

8. "Therefore, wait for Me," declares the Lord,
"For the day when I rise up to the prey.
Indeed, My decision is to gather nations,
To assemble kingdoms,
To pour out on them my indignation,
All My burning anger;
For all the earth will be devoured
By the fire of My zeal.

Now, if we spend our time worrying about what is wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of others, and what the Lord will do to all who oppose Him, then we won't have the time to straighten out what we can, and we will suffer what we fear.

And remember that when we fear and worry, we lack love.

We are to wait for the Lord, and not worry about what is going on in the hearts and minds of others.

We are to just keep our own hearts and minds clean; and the best way to keep things clean is to love, really and truly love the Lord and ourselves, and others, and even the whole of creation.

Then things will change, as we are told in verse 9.

9. "For then I will give to the peoples purified lips,
That all of them may call on the name of the Lord,
To serve Him shoulder to shoulder."

And remember – Zephaniah was speaking about the cleaning up and restoration of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem is only symbolic of the gathering place of the people who are entrusted with keeping the faith, as we are in the Church today.

The world around us can go crazy and mess itself up in hundreds of ways, but we can prevent most of this from happening to ourselves.

This same problem occurred in the Temple in Jesus' day, and continues even until today in many churches.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 that goes to the heart of the problem.

9. And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

Note the key words: they "trusted in themselves that they were righteous…."

We may each be righteous in some things, but not in everything; so, we are not fully righteous; thus, we should not be confident.

We are to see ourselves as we really are; and with that insight, we begin the cleaning process.

Let's listen to the parable (verses 10-13):

10. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.

11. "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.

12. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'

13. "But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

The Pharisee mistakenly thought his position made him righteous.

Being a Christian, likewise, doesn't make us righteous.

Being a Christian only gives us the insight to recognize the messes in our own lives.

Being a Christian should also give us such a love for the Lord our God, and the desire to please Him, that we would begin to clean up our own act.

And this is exactly what the tax-gatherer did.

Note what Jesus says in verse 14:

14. "I tell you, this man [the tax-gatherer] went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Cleaning up our act, cleaning up the messes in our lives is the beginning of our journey into heaven.

The Lord doesn't really care about what we did in the past, but what we are going to do from this point forward.

It's as He told the woman who was caught in the act of adultery in John 8:11: "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more."

Don't worry about the mess on the pathway of life behind you; just keep it clean before you, and you won't even have to worry about stumbling in the dark.

For our part, we are just to do what we know God wants us to do.

And in that bond of love, everything is clean.

Love the Lord as He loves you.

Love yourself.

Love each other.

And love the whole of God's creation.

Then we will have gone a long way in cleaning up the messes around us.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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