One day somebody asked the comedian, George Burns, what he
considered a good sermon. He gave this pointed answer: "A good
sermon should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they
should be as close together as possible."
Well, here's the beginning.
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him
at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You
need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good
things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for
each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100
points, you get in."
"Okay," the man says. "I was married to the same woman for 50
years and never cheated on here, even in my heart."
"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "That's worth three
"Just three points? Well, I attending church all my life and
supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
"Terrific!" says St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point."
"One point? Good golly Miss Molly. Well, how about this: I
started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the
"Fantastic. That's good for two more points," St. Peter says.
"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries out. "At this rate the only way
I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
"Come on in!" St. Peter said.
That's right. Only by the grace of God. No matter how many
'do's and don'ts we add to our Christian list of proper behavior,
it is still only by the grace of God that we are saved. We'd like
to think it is by what we do, or what we don't do, but it isn't.
That's a big part of Christian Evangelism: what you have to do to
get into heaven and what you must not do in order to get into
heaven. Each denomination has variation on the basic theme.
Now let's see if I can keep the beginning and the end of the
sermon close to each other.
My sermon title is, "Do's and Don'ts." It's based on the
portion of Paul's letter to the Ephesians that was read earlier.
It's full of 'Do's and Don'ts." The fourth and fifth chapters of
Ephesians are full of "Dos and Don'ts." Unfortunately, as with the
rest of the New Testament, folks focus on the DON'Ts instead of
And we especially do this with our children. Focusing on the
DON'Ts is what we emphasize with them. We do this because we
essentially lead our lives that way, making the priority focus to
be on things we should not do. In fact that's the chief message of
so many churches and so many Christians. No wonder the overall
church membership in the USA, in all denominations, is shrinking.
No wonder there are now more unchurched folks in the USA than
there are Christians. What's the draw to come to Jesus, to come to
know his love? We initially tell people they are sinners, and
their life is full of doing things they shouldn't. Instead of
focusing on the positive things they are DOING, and focusing on
all the many other things they have opportunities to do, we focus
on the things we think they SHOULDN'T be doing-we focus on "Don't
do this, and don't do that."
That's sad, not only for our own lives, focusing on the don'ts,
but it's sad also because it won't bring people into the knowledge
of Christ and Christ's love for them.
Martin Luther, in his explanation of each of the Ten
Commandments, always goes beyond the "Don't" of the commandment,
and shows us that behind every 'Don't' there is a 'Do."
For instance, "You shall not steal." Part of that is a
don't-don't take your neighbor's money or property-and part of
this is a DO which is as much a part of the commandment as the
DON'T we tend to focus on. Martin Luther says, "Don't steal from
your neighbor, BUT also DO "help him improve and protect his
property and means of making a living." Or to take another
example, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
There is a 'don't' but there is a DO as well. Don't "betray,
slander or lie about your neighbor." But DO "defend him, speak
well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way." Or one
last one from Martin Luther's Small Catechism. "You shall not
murder." That is, DON'T "hurt your neighbor in any way." But DO
"help him in all his physical needs."
Paul starts Chapter four of Ephesians by saying, "Here's what I
want you to do." He shows the "old way of living has to go" so we
can make room for a new way of living, a new way of doing things,
instead of just focusing on the don'ts-don't do this, don't do
that. We have to focus on our doing because there's LOTS to do.
Paul says, don't lie, and don't put on a pretense. DO tell the
truth. Don't use any anger you might have as a fuel for revenge.
Don't stay angry; don't go to bed angry; don't give the devil that
kind of foothold in your life. But DO resolve your anger in a
positive way as soon as possible; DO keep the devil at least at
arm's length. DO stop stealing, and DO work honestly at your job
so that you have something to give to the needy. And DO watch the
way you talk. DON'T let anything foul or dirty come out of your
mouth. DO make a break with all cutting, backbiting, and profane
talk. DO be gentle and sensitive with one another. DO forgive one
another as quickly and as thoroughly as Christ forgives each of
DO watch what God does and then do it, like children should
learn appropriate and beneficial behavior from watching what their
parents do. DO keep close to God because then you live in God's
love. DO observe how Christ loves each one of us. And observing
what you see that Christ does, do that. Don't be cautious in
loving your neighbor, DO be like Christ and be extravagant in your
love for others.
So do focus on the DO side of life rather than the DON'T side.
And realize behind every DON'T there is a DO. Try to find that and
focus on that. You will become more and more aware of how much of
your life you lead out of the DON'Ts, and how much of what you
pass on to your children or other children is in the DON'T
category, rather than the DO category.
Rather than tell a child don't do something, demonstrate to the
child how to DO something. Jesus was a DO kind of guy. His actions
matched what he said. And his ministry was to show people how to
DO things, how to LIVE one's life rather than how to NOT live
So, DO nourish your self in spirit through worship and Holy
Communion and prayer and studying the Bible so you KNOW what Jesus
told us to DO. The greater your spiritual nourishment, the greater
will be your fullness of life and appreciation for that fullness.
DO think positively. DO act in a positive manner. DO love. DO
have compassion. DO forgive. DO focus on and live your life out of
the DOs of life. And DO help others get out of any DON'T rut they
may be caught in.