Of Good News and Bad News
I recently went with my family to Branson for vacation. We left town on Friday and were able to stay into the next week. As a pastor, I don't get many weekends off. So I determined to make the best of it. I was going to church! And while there, I got good news, and bad news.
I got up early Sunday morning while my wife and children and in-laws were all still asleep in the condo, and headed to First Baptist Branson. I had been there before (on vacation) and enjoyed it. The early service started at 8:30, and I would have plenty of time to get back to my family.
I arrived a little early to the parking lot, and noticed there was another church right across the street literally. I drove over there and found a catholic church, early service 8:15! I parked and made my way inside, and the service had already started.
As a baptist pastor, I'm pretty familiar with what to expect in a baptist service. Even when traveling overseas, I feel at home in a baptist service. My own church, FBC Tishomingo, has the mostly the same elements in the service each week. I, and others, know what to expect. But I think it's helpful for pastors to go every so often to a church where they have no idea whats going on in a service so they remember how visitors to their church feel.
So I felt that way in Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. I didn't know when to stand up, sit down, when to say what everyone was saying, what the point of the people going up and down off the stage was. I felt very out of place. Even sitting on the back row like a good baptist, I felt as if everyone was watching me make mistakes in the service! It was a great reminder of the way others feel when they come into our own church service back home. After a few songs and scripture reading, it was time for the homily.
The passage was Matthew 25, for Christ the King Sunday in the liturgical calendar. The passage describes where Jesus tells them, that as they did it for the least of those, they did it for Him. And that someday the King will judge them for what they have done.
The priests homily that day centered around ledger sheets. That our lives are like ledger sheets, with credits and debits, and one day Christ will return, as King, and see if our credits out number our debits. The credits are our good deeds, as mentioned in Matthew. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping the poor, are all things that count as credits in our account with God, and when Christ returns we will be judged for the things we didn't do. This is how entrance into heaven is determined.
He went on to state that the question to ponder was "What is the balance of my ledger page?" This is not meant to scare us, but to think about our life. This Sunday, he said "was one more chance to add credits to our ledger before Christ returns. The balance on our ledger page determines our eternal fate"
Needless to say, I didn't feel very built up. If a church is in the business of sharing good news, that was not it. That my eternal fate rests in my hands is not a comfort to me, but a terror. I know what a sinner I am!
I left after homily (during the offering, in fact!) and drove over to FBC Branson. I missed the worship, which I hated, but arrived for the sermon. Their youth pastor preached that day, and this is what I heard.
Lie: My life is based on what I contribute
Truth: My worth is based on on who I am in Christ
When I understand who God is I can live from His approval of me and not just for His approval.
In the Gospel I am accepted by Christ.
Your value is based in whose you are. In Christ, I am pleasing to God. Because Jesus is pleasing to God.
When God looks at His children He sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
I left that service encouraged, reminded of who Christ is, and who I am in Christ. Not because of my works, but His. This truly was good news for a pastor who felt beat up by the world.
I'm thankful for faithful ministers of the Gospel who proclaim the good news of Christ the King. A King who sacrificed himself for our good and paid the debt we never could.
The good news is that when God looks at my ledger sheet, he'll see Christ's name scrawled across it. This debt has been paid in full at the cross. That is good news.