Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 7 of series: Grace in the Rearview Mirror: A Pastoral Retrospective
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I do not look back at my ministry at Irvine Presbyterian Church with many regrets. Oh, I certainly made my fair share of errors. But the congregation managed to forgive me for these, and God had a way of turning what I had messed up into good. I wouldn’t even want to retract much of what I said in my sermons, except, perhaps, for one foolish illustration.
It happened years ago, maybe in my first couple of years as pastor of the Irvine church. I was preaching a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5, where the text says that “the love of Christ urges us on” (5:14). Other translations say the love of Christ “controls us” (ESV) or “compels us” (NIV). The Greek verb from which these translations derive, synechein, literally means “to surround” or “to constrain.” So we have a rather strange image of the love of Christ both surrounding us and, at the same time, urging us on. What sense does this make?
To answer this question, I came up with an illustration that seemed to work. In my sermon I said something like this:

So how can the love of Christ both surround us and move us forward at the same time? I think of those little packets of condiments. Now I’ve got to admit that sometimes I hate those things. They never seem to work quite right. Sometimes they break, making a mess all over the place. One time when I was on a plane, one of them squirted all over my tie. But what you’re trying to do is to squeeze them on the outside so the substance on the inside will go forward. That’s rather like the love of Christ.

Now as I was using this silly little analogy, the congregation responded much more than I had anticipated. Rather than a little chuckle, my condiment illustration received roaring laughter, especially the part about squirting on my tie. It didn’t make much sense to me, but I went on with the sermon.
Afterwards, a friend came up to me and said, “Do you know why we were laughing so hard at your bit about the packets of condiments?”
“No,” I admitted, “it made no sense to me why I got such a strong response. My illustration was silly, but not that funny.”
“I know what you were trying to say,” he explained. “But you have to realize that we didn’t hear you correctly. You said ‘little packets of condiments.’ But we thought you said ‘little packets of condoms.’ If you go back and think about what you said, you’ll realize why we were laughing so hard.”
So I went back over what I had said, and realized to my horror that my little packets of condiments illustrations didn’t work quite as I had planned. (Go back and change “condiments” to “condoms” and you’ll see what I mean!) Embarrassed, I thanked my friend for letting me know. In the second service I jettisoned the word “condiments,” speaking instead of “little packets of ketchup.” As expected, I got a few chuckles from the congregation, and that was all, thank God!
And, yes, folks did forgive me for a poor choice of words, though a few of them didn’t let me forget about it for a while. They had too much fun laughing at what they thought I had said in the middle of church.

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