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The Case for Pickled Herring

I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-one virtuous men who have no need of repentance
Exodus 32:7-11,13-14; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,17,19; I Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

Sermon Week Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Scripture Summary Luke 15:7

Two women were interviewed and asked to explain their remarkable longevity. The first, age 100, said she believed she lived such a long life because her diet includes a daily portion of pickled herring. The other, age 114, stated simply, "I've lived this long by minding my own business."

Whether you are in the pickled herring or minding your own business camp, the important thing for us to remember is God's gift of human life is intentional. There is purpose and meaning to be discovered, lived, and shared. At any age, if we handle the gift as a selfish possession, our purpose and meaning cannot be realized. We will live a non-productive, noncreative life and, in some sense, like the barren fig tree, we will be cut down. Our life in Christ has a deep, deep intention. God intends that it be carefully lived, thoughtfully fashioned, and purposefully used so that the great, final day of total deliverance can come to every soul.

Though we might live to be one hundred, we can die inside at any age. As soon as we settle ourselves comfortably, as though we deserve everything we have, we run the risk of spiritual death. The fig tree that bears no fruit will be chopped down. But even before it is chopped down, we know it is dead. To say that it will be destroyed is only stating the obvious: it has already gone to waste, already died. Don't let that happen to you, Jesus urges us. Don't wait until it's too late! Reform now!

In a book called "Peace of Mind," a famous psychiatrist -1 says, "The supreme foe of inner-victory is rigid pride." The Bible often calls it "stiff-necked." In Biblical terms, it means a know-it-all arrogance that excludes the possibility of admitting the need to change. The stiff-necked person is saying, in effect, "No one, not even God, can enlighten me further." A book by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde contains a powerful and moving passage describing the author's personal experience with stiff-necked, rigid pride:

"I bore up against everything with some [...]

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