Sermon Illustrations on Being Wrong
In her aptly title book, Being Wrong, Kathleen Schulz describes just how difficult it is to be wrong:
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p.4.
Being Wrong and Knowing It: A Cognitive Impossibility
As soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren’t wrong anymore, since to recognize a belief as false is to stop believing it. Thus we can only say “I was wrong.” Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Error: we can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can’t do both at the same time.
Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong HarperCollins, 2010, p. 18.
A TV reporter became interested in the Apollo trips to the moon—what did they talk about? He was surprised to find how much conversation was devoted to course corrections. Apparently, the lunar spacecraft was off course something like 85% of the time. When I asked a friend who was heavily involved in the Apollo missions if this was true, he told me it was. Once leaving the earth’s orbit, because of limitations of fuel, the spacecraft mostly drifted, un-propelled to the moon. But occasionally, small retro-rockets were fired to correct the course. It’s not a bad description of the Christian walk.
The Showdown between Ambrose & Theodosius
In the Christian faith, we frequently take for granted how radically Jesus evens the playing field. No matter your wealth, your position, let alone your race or gender, all of us are equal in God’s eyes. No one is given special status or access to God over another. The Roman emperor Theodosius had to learn this the hard way. Theodosius established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, but that did not automatically make him a saint. When, after massacring thousands of citizens in Thessalonica, Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan refused to offer him communion.
In fact, Ambrose personally confronted Theodosius at the door of the church saying, “you cannot enter here with hands soiled by human blood.”
Theodosius cunningly responded that if he was guilty of murder, so was King David, the man supposedly “after God’s own heart.” Ambrose’ response was equally as cunning: “You have imitated David in his crime, imitate him in repentance.” Eventually, Ambrose was able to get Theodosius to promise not to execute anyone sentenced to death until forty days had passed, and he was to perform penance before being admitted to communion. Why was Ambrose willing to confront the most powerful man in the world? Because his confidence was not in himself, but in Christ.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Roland Bainton, The Church of Our Fathers, 1941.
When We’re Wrong
To be told we are wrong is sometimes an embarrassment, even a humiliation. We want to run and hide our heads in shame. But there are times when finding out we are wrong is sudden and immediate relief, and we can lift up our heads in hope. No longer do we have to keep doggedly trying to do something that isn’t working.
A few years ago I was in my backyard with my lawnmower tipped on its side. I was trying to get the blade off so I could sharpen it. I had my biggest wrench attached to the nut but couldn’t budge it. I got a four-foot length of pipe and slipped it over the wrench handle to give me leverage, and I leaned on that—still unsuccessfully.
Next I took a large rock and banged on the pipe. By this time I was beginning to get emotionally involved with my lawnmower. Then my neighbor walked over and said that he had a lawnmower like mine once and that, if he remembered correctly, the threads on the bolt went the other way. I reversed my exertions and, sure enough, the nut turned easily.
Taken from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson Copyright (c) 1980, 2000 by Eugene Peterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
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