Today I’m starting a three-week sermon series called “Removing the Ball and Chain.” We’re going to talk about a topic that churches have done a poor job of discussing—the topic of guilt. The AIM of this series is for every person to experience Christian freedom—to remove the ball and chain. We’re going to talk about the difference between guilt and expectations; we’re going to talk about what God expects of us; we’re going to close by removing the ball and chain. Let me encourage you to get out this brochure that is in the bulletin. This week I shared a devotion with you on the topic of guilt. I encourage you to use it every day. You have a place to take notes. I believe that God might say something to you through my words that you’ll want to remember. And you have a place for prayer requests. We have a Scripture that we’re memorizing during this series. It’s Galatians 5:1 SLIDE For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 I want all of us to experience this freedom. This freedom comes through grace. Freedom does not come through guilt. Unfortunately we struggle with guilt. During worship last Sunday I asked if anyone had every struggled with guilt. I felt this audible gasp from the congregation. It was like—“uh, yes.” We struggle with guilt. Guilt is part of our Midwestern fabric. I spent three years of my life on the west coast and four years on the east coast, but most of my life I’ve spent in the Midwest. I’ve discovered that people in the Midwest feel guilt in a way that folks in other parts of the country don’t. It robs our feeling.


I want to do three things in this sermon. First I want to show the difference between guilt and expectations; second I want to show the importance of not imposing guilt on others; third I want to talk about creating a community of acceptance. First let me share how we confuse guilt and expectations. Let me share a story. A while ago—when the sun was shining, Hannah set up a lemonade stand. All of us folks who are craving spring, let me tell you—it’s going to come, it’s going to come. Let me repeat, it’s going to come. Just breathe. It’s going to stop snowing; the flowers will come up; we will see lemonade stands again. Hannah and a friend had a lemonade stand. The father of Hannah’s friend came over to talk to us. He’s a nice guy who Amy & I have gotten to know. Eventually we started talking about a wonderful spring topic—the quality of our lawns. This man is a handyman, and he’s out working on his lawn a lot. He has one of the best lawns in the neighborhood. Then he started talking about how often his neighbor cuts the shrubs. He talked about how his neighbor puts him to shame. How he’s always working on his lawn. Then out of the blue he said it. You know what word I’m talking about. He said the word guilt. He said “I feel guilty” because I haven’t cut my shrubs like my neighbor. He puts me to shame. Guilty—over shrubs. A while ago I read a column by Jennifer Koski. I read her in the Rochester paper, and now I read her on-line. She writes a column called “Jen’s World. It’s a funny column about life. One day she gave me a years’ worth of illustrations about guilt. SLIDE I have guilt over everything. Ever-y-thing. I have guilt when I pop in an audio book instead of reading to my kids at night. I have guilt when it’s 5:30 and I still don’t know what we’re having for dinner—and the Grape Nuts are looking mighty good. I have guilt when I turn in a [column] I should’ve spent an extra day tweaking. I have guilt when I sulk off to my office to work all night instead of sitting down to talk with my husband.


Sometimes I let my boys eat candy—even though it’s ten minutes before lunch—because I’m too tired to argue. Sometimes I use movies as a baby sitter. Sometimes I lose my temper. Guilt—over grape nuts? A couple weeks ago I helped officiate at the funeral for Bill Fink’s mom at the congregational church in Anoka. It was a busy day for me. I had a Presbytery meeting in the morning in Roseville. The funeral was at 2 in Anoka. My map program said it would take a half hour to get from the Presbytery meeting to the church. I wanted to get there a hour early. I left the meeting at 12:30 so I would get to the funeral at 1. I needed some gas which took ten minutes which meant I would arrive at 1:10 for a 2:00 funeral. Except there was one problem. After I pumped the gas I received a phone call from Bill. Where are you he said. Driving to the funeral. The funeral is at 1 he said. Uh—oh. Here I am driving like a maniac. I’m glad there is a statue of limitations on speeding, so no law enforcement officer will give me a ticket from watching the video of this sermon. I was going at a pretty good clip. There was another problem. I didn’t have my suit on. So when I stopped at a stoplight I tried to change into my suit. You know how hard it is to change into your clothes in a car, while you’re at a stoplight and in a hurry. I rushed into the church parking lot. Thankfully there was someone there to park my car. I ran into the church and walked calmly into the service ten minutes late. What did I feel? Terrible. I apologized to Bill and Bill’s sister after the service. Can you relate? Can you relate to comparing yourself to your neighbor; can you relate to not doing something as well as you know as you could; can you relate to being late for an important event.


Here’s the thing. None of these stories are about guilt My neighbor who felt guilty about a shrub. That’s not guilt. My neighbor didn’t meet an expectation he had about himself. We can understand expectations about our lawn. There is nothing in the Bible that says, “thou shalt have the best shrubs in the neighborhood.” Jennifer Koski who felt guilt about everything. That’s not guilt—that’s failing to meet an expectation she has about herself as a parent. We can understand having personal expectations as a parent. There is nothing in the bible that says, “thou shalt always meet your expectations as a parent. I felt terrible about not making the funeral on time. My feeling wasn’t guilt—it was my frustration that resulted in not meeting an expectation that pastors will arrive on time for funerals. It’s a legitimate expectation and that was the only time in my life I’ve been late for a funeral. Not being on time for a funeral is not a sin. There is nothing in the Bible that says, “thou shalt be on time for a funeral.” All of us carry around these expectations. Expectations from our parents—whether they are living or dead, expectations from important adults in our life, expectations from our spouse, expectations from our close friends, expectations we place on ourselves, expectations we might even think are from God. When we don’t achieve these expectations we experience a feeling. A lot of times we call this feeling guilt. That’s not guilt. Many of us Midwesterners—and probably people all over the world—confuse guilt and expectations. What is guilt? This is my working definition. SLIDE Guilt is the feeling or emotion we experience as a result of a sin. When we sin—we should feel guilty. That’s healthy. We don’t want to sin. If I commit adultery—I have sinned, and I should feel guilty


If I covet something that you have—I have sinned, and I should feel guilty. If I steal money from the church—I have sinned, and I should feel guilty Guilt has a moral dimension connected to it. It is the result of a moral failing. A lot of what we think of or describe as guilt is not guilt. What we feel is the result of not meeting an expectation. SLIDE Too often we confuse expectations with guilt Is this a problem? Yes—it is. There are two problems. When we place morality on expectations we give the expectation more weight than it deserves. It’s like a ball and chain. ……….. I wasn’t able to get my lawn to look good I didn’t make it to work on time The meal I fed my kids last night wasn’t nutritious Let me give you an example. Remember when the dental community had dental hygeniests who were like Nazis? I have to preface my story by saying that I go to Metro Dental right now and I have the nicest dental hygienist. Her name is Jackie. She’s a young woman who just had a baby. I enjoy going to see her. She’s very interested in my dental health and she approaches me in a positive way. It hasn’t always been like this. About twenty years ago I went to a dentist in my hometown of Worthington. My hygienist examined my teeth and asked me, “do you ever floss?” I said, “no” I don’t. Then she gave me one of these expressions. (…) She treated me like I had violated one of the Ten Commandments. I didn’t grow up being taught to floss. When I was taught about dental hygiene in school we would brush our teeth and then we were given these red pills that looked like sweet tarts. The


red candy would show where we missed in our brushing. Noody ever talked to us about flossing. I brushed my teeth, but I didn’t floss. This dental hygienist decided she was going to floss my teeth. So she did. You would have thought there was an operation going on in the dentist chair. There was blood flying everywhere. It was a mess. Is it important for me to floss my teeth? Yes Is it a sin not to floss my teeth? No Nowhere in the Bible do we read thou shalt floss your teeth once a day and if you don’t you will be punished by the all powerful dental hygienist. SLIDE ads like this. The ads are funny, but they confuse guilt with expectations. If we felt guilt about everything we didn’t do that we were supposed to do we would have so much weight on us that we would never be able to walk. The first problem of confusing guilt and expectations is we walk around with a ball and chain. A second problem with confusing guilt and expectations is we trivialize guilt. If we feel guilty about everything than we feel guilty about nothing. Immorality is very serious. Immorality or our sin is a serious violation of God’s intent for humanity. There’s a huge difference between not flossing and stealing money. If we’re obsessed about expectations then we lose the seriousness of our sins. A key part of this is to understand how God views us. I’m going to give an entire sermon next week called, “God’s impressions.” I want you all to come next week. This is going to be an important sermon. When we confuse guilt and expectations we walk around with a ball and chain; and we trivialize guilt. The dentistry industry figured out the errors of their way. They started running


There’s another important piece about guilt. It’s important for all of us not to impose the ball and chain on others. It’s important not to use guilt as a tool. We Midwesterns are very skilled at imposing expectations and making it feel like guilt. Let me share another story. I grew up in a terrific family. My parents were very supportive of my sister and me. My parents got me involved in church even against my own will. They were terrific parents. However—on occasion they would use the word should. Like, Paul you should clean your room; or Paul, you should floss your teeth—this was right after my experience with the Nazi dental hygienist; or Paul you should do your homework. The word “should” has a weight to it. For me the word “should” is connected to morality. I should go to church; I should pray; I should love my neighbor. I had a harder problem saying I should floss my teeth. There doesn’t seem an equivalent to praying and flossing my teeth. My family would use the word should a lot. They would use it so often that I would start asking, is this a moral imperative. Is it a moral imperative that I floss my teeth. The answer, of course, is no. Instead of saying “should” then we would say something like, “I think it’s a good idea for you to floss my teeth.” You’re right. We’re not called to impose guilt on others. Jesus was very clear about this. He shared this message in the story we heard today. I saved this story until the last part of the sermon last because I want you to take this story with you. It’s worth reading and knowing this story at the core of who we are.


Jesus was teaching at the temple. A large crowd had gathered to listen to him teach. Suddenly the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman in front of Jesus. They told Jesus that the woman had been caught in the act of adultery. When I read this part of the story I want to know, “where’s the man?” The story shares that the woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. We’re adults here—so we know that adultery is sexual intercourse between two people, at least one of whom is married. Where’s the man. Adultery is, of course, a sin. It’s a violation of the 7th commandment. In the Old Testament adultery was punished by death. The woman should have felt guilty about committing adultery; just as the man should have felt guilty about committing adultery. The Scribes and Pharisees bring this woman in front of Jesus. The story doesn’t tell us this, but I get the sense when they brought the woman in front of Jesus they did it because they wanted Jesus to judge her. Let me ask you some questions about the motivation of the Scribes and the Pharisees Do you think the Scribes and Pharisees loved the woman? Do you think the Scribes and Pharisees were concerned about her welfare? Did they want the woman to feel guilty? Do you think they wanted the community to know that she was guilty? The Scribes and Pharisees were bullies. They wanted to shame the woman. They wanted her to feel deeply the guilt of their actions. They did it in a very public way. The Scribes and the Pharisees were trying to impose a ball and chain on the woman. And they wanted everyone to know of her wrong actions. Jesus understood what was going on. His response in this story is consistent to his response in other stories. His response is one reason I love Jesus. His response is one reason


that I want you to love Jesus—with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind. He started writing on the ground. When Jesus was questioned about what to do he stood up and said, “let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Then he went back to writing on the ground. Everyone walked away. Jesus looked at the woman. “Where did they go?” he asked. Is anyone here to condemn you. “No one,” she said. I don’t condemn you either. From now on don’t sin. The lesson is—don’t throw stones. Especially big stones. Don’t impose a ball and chain. One of our Core Values at Chain of Lakes is acceptance. We understand this to mean … We accept people without judgment, regardless of what has happened in their lives or where they are on their faith journeys. We don’t want you to sin, of course. Sin is very serious. It is a violation of God’s intent for humanity. We will always extend grace. We don’t have to prove ourselves; we don’t have to try to impress other people. We’re authentic. We’re authentic followers of Jesus Christ who mess up all the time. When we mess up we’ll be there to catch each other. That is Christian freedom SLIDE “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

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