Please Read This Sermon

Please read this sermon.

If you have to start out a blog post with those words, you’re probably already in trouble. If you have to appeal to someone’s grace and mercy to read or listen to the Word of God, you have bigger problems than you realize. But I can appreciate anyone who uses the word “please.” “Please” is one of those small social graces, but one that says a lot about a person. In our society today and in particular in our country, we seem to have an enlarged sense of entitlement. The most famous line in the novel Oliver Twist is Oliver’s heartfelt request for gruel. Of all things, GRUEL! “Please sir, I want some more.” I think if that line were written today, Oliver would say, “I deserve and demand more gruel! How can I be expected to work under these conditions?” And even though Oliver would be 100% right, just the idea of expectation has changed so much over the years. We are very ME focused. It’s all about ME. MY rights. MY property. MY values. Why should we bother saying “please” when society OWES me? I don’t need to beg for someone’s approval! Or at least that seems to be the prevailing attitude. But I contend that the word “please” isn’t just a social nicety, but for those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, it is also a way of life.  So “please” read this sermon and hopefully you’ll experience God in your own way through these words.

Getting to do a reading from the Bible from a church in France

The word itself comes from the French “plaisir” meaning to make happy or satisfied.

If you’ve ever received an invitation to a wedding or a birthday party and you saw the initials RSVP at the bottom, that’s shorthand for the French phrase “repondez, s’il vous plait” or “respond, if you please.”   It’s an attitude of submission to someone else. You might not think so at first glance. I mean, really. We’re just asking for you to let us know if you’re coming. But think about it. Respond, if you please. It’s up to the other person if they choose to let you know. They don’t have to, and although it’s expected now that a person wouldn’t show up if they didn’t, the implication was you were invited either way. When we say “please” it literally means “if it pleases you.” And maybe it doesn’t. Generally we are leaving it up to the other person’s grace how they choose to respond. At least if we are using the word correctly. If you tell someone to “Please! Shut up!” you’re probably not using it the right way.[1]

The Beatles’ Please Please Me

Using the word “please” places us in an attitude of submission.

And most of us don’t like that. There’s a kind of social unrest at being in someone’s debt or having to rely on the cooperation of other people. But it’s an attitude that is Christ-like in every way. In the passage we’re reading this morning we see Jesus take on that very attitude of submission. This takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane right after the Last Supper, and Christ goes out to the garden in the company of Peter, John and John’s brother, James. He leaves the disciples behind and walks off on his own to pray. And when he does, it is to ask God for relief.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. – Luke 22:39-44

Not my will but yours.

Christ trusts enough in God to know that God’s pleasure is always toward love and the greater good. If this suffering was not to be avoided, then it was up to God to make that choice and Jesus would be willing to accept whatever God chose to do. It is the very definition of submission, to trust in others so much you are willing to accept their choice as the right one. Even if you don’t agree. It comes straight from the Old Testament in the book of Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” That’s what Jesus was doing in the garden, leaning on God’s judgment instead of his own, because in that moment, he would have chosen for the burden to be lifted. Do you trust God enough in your own life? Do you believe things will work out in the end? Most of us trust God, but only so much. Our trust ebbs and flows depending on the situation and our own life experience. That’s normal. But for us to receive all the blessings God has in store for us we need to work on placing our faith in only God. There’s a great passage in Malachi that I love about trusting in God. God accuses the people of Israel from robbing him and when they ask how, God tells them they haven’t been willing to give of their tithes and offerings. And he challenges them. He says in Malachi 3, “Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” He tells them, “Put your faith in me and I will pour blessings upon you so big you cannot contain it.”

Watergate changed how America viewed the office of the President – image from All the President’s Men

But that’s the problem isn’t it?

At times we don’t have faith outside of ourselves. So many people have failed us in our life, it’s hard to put our trust in others. It’s hard to give up control of our situation and give it over to someone else – even someone like God. I remember a time when it was unthinkable to doubt the President of the United States. We just assumed that whoever was in the White House had such respect for the institution of America that they would rather die than desecrate it. We’d been through pretty tough times together when it took a lot of trust to get through it. Two world wars and the Great Depression made us believers in the office of the President. And then Richard Nixon came into office and the whole Watergate scandal shattered our illusion of who the President was. Already with Vietnam and the Korean War, our trust had started to erode, but after Watergate it was a landslide of trust that eroded away. We never seemed to get it back. But at least we could trust in the church, right? There was a bedrock institution that would never let us down. Even if the government did, the church is holy. The church is the house of God. There’s no way we couldn’t trust the church with our money and our lives. Until all those scandals of sexual abuse, fraud, and money laundering started to go public.[2] Even so one expert estimated back in 2013 that as much as 95% of fraud in the church goes unreported.[3] It’s no wonder we have a hard time submitting to someone let alone an unseen God. But submission before others is exactly what Jesus did and requires for us to do. To truly have faith in Christ means to submit to him as Christ submitted to us.

John Wesley on the Means of Grace

We think of words like “please” and “thank you” as good manners.

They are things people say to be nice. But really they are indicators of how we lead our lives. People who routinely say “please” aren’t afraid to put themselves at the mercy of others. They have enough faith to believe in other people will come through or regardless of how the other person responds they believe things will work out for the best. Routinely, there are those who view that kind of thinking as naïve or gullible, but it takes a quiet strength to have that kind of faith. And it is exactly that kind of faith that God is hoping to nurture in us. The kind of faith as it says in the letter to the Hebrews in the unseen. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that there were many things in life that pointed us toward God. He called these things the “means of grace.” Among them he included prayer, reading the Bible, taking Communion, baptism, helping others, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and giving to those in need. But anything that placed us in a position to receive the grace of God, anything that helped point us to a life in Christ would have been considered by Wesley a means of grace and that includes good manners. Because when we believe in the attitude and meaning behind the words, these can bring us closer to God.

Sometimes a word or a phrase can change your life.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to explore a few that we take for granted like “please.” We’ll delve into how and why they point us toward God in seemingly simple ways, but in ways that can be profound. We’ll talk about how each of them are important not only as an indicator of our faith, but as a means of grace. I want to challenge you this week to simply say “please.” Take the time to be cognizant of when and how you say it. Think about if you have the right attitude when you use it. And realize that the trust, hope, and faith implicit in that word is exactly what God wants from you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[2] For some examples of this horrific chapter in the life of the church, this article was eye-opening.




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