Let’s all collectively agree that this kind of thing could only happen to me.
If you missed our worship service last Sunday morning, then let me fill you in on what happened. And even if you made it to our morning service, let me try and clarify what happened. We were working our way through Hebrews 9—just as we’ve done this week. When speaking of atonement, I was using the terms “shame,” “sin,” and “guilt” essentially interchangeably. Except at one point all three words attempted—of their own free will, it seems, so I can hardly be blamed—to come out of my mouth at once. But of course, they couldn’t have merged into some random, culturally-neutral word like “walrus” or “megaphone.” Oh, no. Instead, I ended up saying something that most people heard as an expletive. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “You were like a Red Fox record.”
In the moment, the internal dialogue that always runs in my head kicked into overdrive. So I kept going—not because of any conscious choice, but because I literally couldn’t process the sheer number of things going through my mind (including abject horror).
So let’s you and I be clear: it wasn’t intentional. I know, I know; everyone told me that “the word” fit the context perfectly well. But trust me; that was never in the manuscript. And even though Paul uses its Greek equivalent (which we usually translate as “rubbish” or some less-edgy word in our English Bibles) in Philippians 3:8, I tend to think this is one of those cases where shock value loses its effectiveness when shock exceeds the value.
So if you were there—or even if you weren’t there—and you find this sort of language offensive, I truly am sorry. And if you were hoping this was some new turning direction toward a more in-your-face style of ministry, then I’m sorry to disappoint. I won’t pretend to never using harsh language, but I’d generally prefer to avoid the label of the “cussing pastor,” thank you very much.
Honestly, the biggest thing—at least for me—was the fact that the whole morning felt tainted. Sure, people know me for my sarcastic jokes and the bizarre combination of pseudo-intellectual and aging punk-rocker. But preaching is…well…it’s really kind of doing what John the Baptist once said of himself and Jesus: “He must increase,” he said, “and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
You had ONE job.
One job: to exalt Christ and try not to get in the way. One job: to communicate clearly so that others might have their minds sharpened and hearts softened by the gospel. One job, and with one word I felt I’d managed to divert focus away from Jesus and onto myself.
Sure, we all have bad days. But chances are when you have a bad day at work it doesn’t go on Youtube. I laughed about it later, but you might imagine how this sort of thing tends to eat at you if you let it. Because I found myself thinking later about just how much this dovetails with the whole concept of guilt and shame—even that whole thing called the “Dobby Effect” we looked at earlier. See, I wasn’t bothered because people yelled at me—because nobody did. I was almost bothered because everybody found it so funny.
And here’s what God showed me: that in that moment my Savior wasn’t Jesus but my own performance record. That’s wrong, and that’s toxic.
Had I thought fast enough, I’d have diverted our attention to Hebrews 9:7, which speaks of “unintentional sins.” Yes, sin can be deliberate, but sin can also include the things we do by accident or drift into when our eyes stray from God. All of us do it. No one drifts into holiness. Our natural inclination is toward self-interest. I realize now that my “unintentional sin” wasn’t being a “cussing pastor,” but my ongoing temptation to bow down to an idol of performance.
And to think: this all began when our ancestors decided to bite into the lie that eating the forbidden fruit would make them “like God.” Man had ONE job. And he blew it. And so did we.
Thankfully, God’s ultimate plan was for transformation and healing. What began in a garden defiled would be made whole in a garden restored (Revelation 21-22). Israel’s temple symbolized this hope, though as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, this hope is ultimately—and only—embodied in Jesus:
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28)
Do you understand what the writer is saying? It’s easy for human priests to enter earthly temples. Jesus went into heaven itself. He stood before God to intercede for you and me. The judgment we rightly deserve for sin—intentional or unintentional—fell on the Savior’s shoulders, so that you and I might be clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
That’s what Good Friday is fundamentally about. It’s the day we observe and remember the sacrifice of Christ. The day that he hung from a scandalous piece of wood, the day when a curtain of darkness hung over the sky, and the rain pelted the earth like God’s own sorrow. One of my favorite sermon quotes from Tim Keller focuses on the contrast between the first Adam and Jesus:
“In the Garden, Adam was told, ‘Obey me about the tree—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.’…God said to Jesus, ‘Obey me about the tree’—only this time the tree was a cross—‘and you will die.’ And Jesus did.” (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, pp. 10-13).
Jesus had ONE job. And he succeeded where everyone else only failed—though it literally cost him his life. Because of this sacrifice, when he entered the heavenly places, his perfect record of obedience got “transferred” or “credited” to our account. What’s that do for us? Well, for one thing, it destroys pride. Pride can laugh at others—in fact it excels at it. But pride can never laugh at itself—in fact to do so is to destroy it.
Not all our failings are laughing matters. But this Good Friday I am thankful for a church family that responded to their cussing pastor by responding with grace and understanding rather than offense and condemnation. And I am hopeful that we see God’s grace in action—that our dependence would be on “the old rugged cross,” a far more stable source of comfort and security than our frail reputations.
Are you a bit of a screw-up? That’s ok; I’ve been there. Probably will be again. So let’s you and I trust Jesus together.
He’s the One who does His job.