The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 10/6/02
Text: Revelation 19:6-9
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Things rarely work out exactly the way they are planned. You know that. Murphy's Law: Anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, and at the worst possible moment. And the related rules: "Nothing is as easy as it looks;" or "If you think things are going well, you must have forgotten something;" and the well-known one which fits so well in the church, "Everything lasts longer than expected"...which we may prove true again this morning.

But to be honest, my own life is not so much an example of Murphy's Law as it is of Gumperson's Corollary. J. P. Gumperson was a teacher at the University of New Hampshire.(1) He noticed things. For example, Gumperson noticed that you can drop a half-lighted match out of a car window and start a forest fire and yet not be able to light the dry logs in your fireplace with a whole BOX of matches and the entire Sunday edition of the New York Times. Or that the children can be exposed to chicken pox twenty times in a row and not get them and yet come down with them without any exposure at all the night before the family is set to leave for vacation. You can fertilize a whole lawn and nothing comes up except the grass which grows between the cracks in the driveway. Gumperson put all this together in his now famous law which runs like this: "The probability of something happening is in inverse proportion to its desirability." Hear it again: The probability of something happening is in inverse proportion to its desirability.

They say there is no telling how far Gumperson might have gone except for his untimely death in 1947. He was walking along the highway on the left, facing the traffic as one is supposed to do, and he was hit from behind. It seems an Englishman happened to be visiting the country.

Think of the church. Of all the institutions in history, none would seem to fit Murphy or Gumperson any better. For example, film projectors always work BEFORE the meeting. Members living 15 miles away will be 15 minutes early; members living two blocks away will be 15 minutes late. Church furnaces and air conditioning systems break down ONLY on Sundays. Saying "Let us pray" causes babies to cry.

But on a more serious note, as we look back through the centuries, IMPORTANT things have gone wrong constantly - it seems that what the Lord has wanted for and from the church have indeed occurred in inverse proportion to their desirability.

Think about it. The Lord has wanted us to have joyous, happy lives, but the church has made people miserable with narrow, inhumane legalisms to try to keep folks in line. The Lord has wanted us to show peace to the world but the church has sponsored murderous crusades, inquisitions and witch hunts - the meanest, most nasty fights in society are the ones which occur within congregations. The Lord has wanted us to show the world how barriers can be broken down, but the church has done everything it could to keep women, the poor, the disadvantaged, and any racial or ethnic minorities out of any position of real leadership. We continue to look foolish in our handling of questions concerning human sexuality. The list could go on and on. Anything that could have gone wrong, it seems, HAS gone wrong. And one wonders why Christ continues to put up with us.

Scientists tell us that you and I do not generally think in words; we think in pictures. Perhaps that is why nowhere in the Bible do we ever find a definition of the church. Instead, what we find are pictures - images that help convey to us what the Spirit would have us understand about this divine fellowship. We found one in our scripture lesson: "the bride of Christ." But with all the problems, all the things that have gone wrong, we would have to admit that, at the very least, the Lord married beneath Himself...probably the ugliest bride in history.

Let me share a parable with you.(2) A man married. He met the "woman of his dreams" and proposed to her. Things went well at first. He told his friends that his new wife was "all I ever wanted in a woman." She was beautiful, intelligent, witty. His friends observed that here was a "marriage made in heaven."

Unfortunately, the initial bliss was not to last. Gradually, in day-to-day living, he began to notice certain imperfections in his new wife. She was beautiful, but not always. Sometimes, say before eight in the morning, she was downright unattractive. She could look stunning for great parties and social occasions, but marriage meant that he had to look at her before she got her make-up on. Yes, she was intelligent, but there were rather large gaps in her knowledge. She knew a great deal about a few matters, but there were many areas of interest about which she was as ignorant as the day she was born. This displeased him greatly. He knew that, one day, she would embarrass him by making some ill-considered statement in public at the worst possible time, thus revealing to the whole world her intellectual imperfections - Murphy's Law.

Marriage was proving to be different than he had thought. It had been fun to be with her on a Saturday evening, dancing the night away. But marriage was not like that all the time. Marriage was Corn Flakes for breakfast, and someone sleeping beside you with large curlers in her hair; it was disagreements over finances, visits from her relatives, and that grotesque lamp that she bought for the living room. That was marriage.

He still believed in love more than ever, still longed for the perfect partner. He continued to cling to the idea of marriage - that was fine. But the reality was different. Sound familiar? Who knows in how many millions of homes that scenario has been played out?

That, no doubt, is the experience that Christ could describe in his relationship with his bride, the church. Murphy's Law, Gumperson's Corollary, have been active with a vengeance. But the Lord who loved us enough to give himself for us would have us know that, no matter how badly we fall short of the ideal, he will never give up on us - this marriage will last. He forgives those failings, all those things that are continually going wrong. On this World Communion Sunday, he comes to his bride, unattractive - downright ugly - though she often may be, and invites her - you and me...the church - to share his table. "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." Nail-scarred hands are outstretched in invitation saying quietly, "Come...all you who labor and are heavy-laden...burdened down by all the things that have gone wrong, and continue to go wrong...all who sometimes feel belong to me and nothing that goes wrong will ever change that. I love you. Come...and I will give you rest."


1. I was first introduced to Gumperson's genius by Dr. Oswald C. J. Hoffman in an address to the annual Bible Conference at Massanetta Springs, VA in 1987

2. Will Willimon, What's Right with the Church, (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1985), pp. 1-2

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