Posted 339 days ago ago by Scott Huie
Rev. Scott Huie
Emmanuel Presbyterian Church
September 8th 2019
This morning I want to tell you a story—a story not altogether original (Richard Jensen)—a story of a man named Harry. What you get out of this story depends a lot on your participation in it. I invite you to be creative, to see how you fit in this story, to become as deeply involved as you can. All right? Here goes.
Harry lived a long way from this place in a kingdom known as Grace. Harry was a nice guy, the kind of guy, I think, most of us would like. He was handsome, well dressed, somewhat of a community activist, a family man. In fact, if he lived in these parts, he’d probably attend this church, serve on the session, and take up offering on occasion. Having liked him right off the bat, however, you would surely have become shocked to find out that Harry was an addict. No, not an alcohol addict, not a drug addict, not even a television addict. You see, Harry was a justification addict.
The signs of this addiction appeared early on in Harry’s life—when he was just a child. What he had then his parents called the YES/BUT syndrome.
“Harry,” his mom shouted, “Was it you who knocked over the cookie jar and made this mess in the kitchen?”
“Yes, but,” little Harry replied, “Someone had just freshly waxed the floor, and when I stood up on the chair to reach for the Oreos, the chair slipped. It’s the slippery floor’s fault, not mine.”
“Harry,” his father hollered, “Did you leave the TV room such an incredible mess last night?”
“Yes, but,” little Harry replied, “I was going to clean it up. You see, Dad, I remember you told me to go to bed at 8 o’clock. Well I was watching TV, and before you know it, it was already 8 o’clock, so I had to go to bed right away like you said.”
Harry had a lot of YES/BUT conversations with his parents. He always had an answer. He always found ways to justify himself. Such dialogues even carried over into school with his teachers.
“Harry, it is true that you did not turn in this paper on time?” one of them asked.
“Yes, but,” Harry replied, “MY dad made me stay up late last night to clean the TV room. Otherwise, I would have gotten it done. I promise.”
“Then one day, his math teacher asked, “Harry, is this your math homework that is such a mess?”
“Yes, but,” he responded, “it’s not my fault. You see, my mommy made me clean up the cookie crumbs from the kitchen floor, and that was just when I was working on my math. If you don’t believe me, you can call her and ask.”
Harry could justify just about anything, and everything. He was a master at it. His answers were always at least somewhat logical. He was never wrong. He was always right. At least, that’s what he thought. The problem was, these always right-never wrong answers became an obsession with Harry. When you’ve never been wrong before, you never want to be wrong—ever!
Truth be told, Harry was simply an insecure kid. The only security he seemed to muster was the security of knowing that he was always right. Life for Harry was one round of self-justifications after another. By the way, Harry behaved the same way towards God as he did towards everyone else. To hear him talk, Harry hadn’t done anything wrong in the eyes of God in his entire life.
As Harry grew up, the symptoms of his justification addiction became even more evident to all who knew him. Once, when he had purchased a house, one of his friends asked him why he bought it in that part of town, next to the city dump. Didn’t he know that property values there were low and everyone predicted they would go lower?
“Hogwash,” Harry responded. “I’ve been to the city planner’s office. I studied the graphs and charts that show the long-range trends for this community. Believe me, I know what I’m doing. That house is a great investment. Oh and by the way,” Harry continued, “I should point out that I bought this house because of its superior insulation. Saves a lot on fuel bills. And I bought it on that side of the street because of the direction of the sun’s rays for a possible solar heating unit.”
“You sure you didn’t make a mistake?” his friend persisted.
“Mistake? No way! You wait and see. I’ll prove right on this one.”
One day someone just casually asked Harry where he got what appeared to be a new suit of clothes.
“I’m glad you asked,” Harry responded. “I’ve been watching the sales for months in order to get this particular suit. Finally, the Menswear Outlet had the best sale on it. You won’t find this particular suit on sale again at that price anywhere. And this material,” Harry went on, “It’s the most wrinkle-free stuff ever invented. The style and cut are important too. Figure it’ll be in style a good, long time. I really got a good buy. You can count on that.”
Harry, the justification addict, struck again.
Then one day, Harry bought a new, bright red sports car. His friends who knew anything about sports cars were aghast. “Harry, Harry,” they pleaded, “Why did you buy this model? It’s a lemon, Harry. It’s a gas guzzler with faulty airbags and constant mechanical problems. Everyone knows that. Wake up, man. You made a huge mistake.”
“That’s all you know about sports cars,” Harry sneered back. “I’ve read all the magazines on this year’s models. This one has the best rating. It gets more miles to the gallon. It has more interior size. It’s got a faster pick-up. It handles the corners better. It…”
Harry interrupted his own flow of thought. He thought to himself for a moment. Then Harry the justification addict made a regrettable decision. “Get in,” he told his friends.
They got in and away Harry went. Up and down the streets he wove through the traffic. Around the corners he sped. He pulled away from stoplights like a maniac. Harry was having the time of his life showing off his new car when the familiar sound of a police siren echoed behind him. Harry pulled over.
“I’m going to have to give you a ticket for reckless driving,” the police officer said. “You are going to have to appear before the judge at 9 o’clock Monday morning ready to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.”
Harry’s life was shattered. He knew there was only one honest plea he could make, and that was guilty. But justification addicts can’t plead guilty. They can’t even say the word. Harry thought and thought and thought some more. There had to be a way out of this. Guilty. The word stuck in his throat. What would his friends think? What would his family think? What would God think? Guilty. The word rattled around in his mind and nearly destroyed him.
Monday morning came. Harry stood stiffly before the judge. “How do you plead?” the judge inquired.
There was a long pause followed by an even longer pause. Finally, in a tiny little voice, one word squeaked out of Harry’s mouth: “Guilty.”
The judge pronounced the sentence. Harry the justification addict died on the inside.
The judge broke the silence. “Harry, where do you live?”
“In the kingdom of Grace, your honor,” he replied.
“Don’t you know,” the judge continued, “The kingdom of Grace was established in order to cure justification addicts? In this kingdom, the king does the justifying. It is the king who makes us right. Self-justification, as you have discovered, is an addiction that leads people into bondage and slavery to their own sense of righteousness. Listen to me, Harry. Hear me as I speak to you on behalf of the king of the kingdom of Grace. ‘You are justified. You are justified in my sight today, tomorrow, and forever.’ These words are true. I, the king of the kingdom of Grace, have spoken them to you.”
Harry then went home. When he had entered the courtroom that day a destructive word had been rattling around in his head: guilty. Now a new phrase occupied Harry’s consciousness: you are justified. Words like that do powerful things to people.
The very next day at work Harry’s boss stormed in to the office and shouted, “Who turned in this sloppy piece of work?”
The office was deathly quiet. Out of the hushed stillness a softly spoken word left Harry’s lips: “I did, sir.”
That weekend Harry and his wife entertained company at their home. “Where’d you get that TV set?” one of his friends asked.
Harry told her.
“And how much did you pay for it?”
“$400,” Harry said.
The lady listened to that figure with unrestrained flee, and then said, “We got one just like it at Shopper’s Mart for $300, and it’s got a bigger screen.”
Harry stiffed. His face turned red. Then he relaxed and said, “Sounds like a good deal to me.”
It was round 20—or what it round 30?—of Harry’s ongoing arguments with his wife when Harry said something his wife had never heard him say before. “I think you’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry. It was my fault.”
Harry had been set free. The spell of endless rounds of self-justification had been broken. Harry was no longer a justification addict. He had been set free to live a new life in the kingdom of Grace.
I’d like you to listen now to part of today’s text in light of our Harry story.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by the works of the law…For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works…” (Romans 3:19-28)
I look out on this congregation this morning, and you know what I see? I see a congregation full of Harrys and Harriets. I see a congregation full of justification addicts.
For justification addicts in our midst today, I have a word to speak to you on behalf of the King of the Kingdom of Grace. I have a word to speak to you on behalf of God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word is this: You are justified! The words of the text are true for us all: “You are justified by his grace as a gift…”
Justification addicts all: you are free! We are free! Let us then go and accept this invitation to live in freedom in the kingdom of God’s grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.