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

A TALE OF TWO CHURCHES

Delivered 1/1/06
Text: Philippians 3:13-16
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

A parable at the beginning of a new year.(1) Once upon a time, in a small village, there were two churches. These churches were architectural wonders of their time. People from all over would travel to this small village, just to look at these churches.

The members of these congregations would compete with each other, and say, "My church is the most beautiful." And another would say, "My church is the most magnificent." When one church commissioned stained glass windows, the other church commissioned stained glass windows and a door. When one church planted flowers, the other church planted flowers and trees. Fortunately, congregants of both churches lived peacefully together in this small village.

Each church had a tower. One church had the tower on the north side and the other church had the tower on the south side. In each tower was a large clock. Since there was only one clock maker in the region, each tower had the same clock. Every year, the clock maker would travel to this little village and repair the clocks. One year he would start with the church with the tower on the north side, and the next year he would start with the church with the tower on the south side. The clock maker knew his customers very well. The clock maker continued his annual visit to this small village for many, many, many years.

One year, the clock maker did not arrive on the appointed day. The town began to worry. The congregants of the church with the tower on the north side asked the congregants of the church with the tower on the south side if the clock maker had visited them. But the clock maker did not arrive.

Many days had passed and still the clock maker did not come to the small village. Worried and concerned about their clock maker, the congregants from both churches gathered in the village square to discuss this problem. During the meeting, a messenger on horseback rode into the village square. He told the congregants that he was from the village of the clock maker, and that the clock maker had died. He assured the congregants that another clock maker would be coming soon, although he did not know when. The congregants asked, "What are we going to do? Who will repair our clocks?"

Someone said, "Well, it's not a problem now, our clocks are working well." Everyone agreed and went home.

Months after the village square discussion, both clocks stopped. The congregations met in their respective churches, and the only item on the agenda was the clock. "What are we going to do? How can we repair something so complex? We have to do something, but what can we do? We are villagers, not clock makers."

In each church the meeting lasted long into the night. As dawn approached, each meeting began to formulate a resolution to the problem of the clock. The congregation with the tower on the north side decided to do nothing. They thought, "If the clock cannot work perfectly, then we will wait for the clock maker to repair it." The congregation with the tower on the south side decided to fix the clock. A few ambitious villagers volunteered. The clock committee stood and stared at the clock for a very long time. Then one villager with screwdriver in hand pried open the face and began to tinker with the mechanism. The clock started to work. Although it didn't sound like it used to and it didn't keep time like it used to, it was working.

The church with the tower on the south side was the only church with a working clock. The congregants from the other church would laugh at the working clock that did not keep very good time. During the next few months, each time the clock stopped, the same committee would go up into the tower, tinker with the mechanism, and once again the clock would work. It still did not keep the precisely correct time, but it worked.

It seemed as though years had passed since news of the old clock maker had reached the ears of the villagers. Many Easter's, many Christmas's, who could count the weddings and funerals. And one day, a stranger rode into the village on horseback. The villagers stopped their errands and stared.

"Good day," announced the stranger. "I am the new clock maker, and I understand there are two clocks that require my attention." The villagers were so elated to see the new clock maker that they showed him to the closest church, the one with the working clock. Immediately, the clock maker went to work. He spent all day repairing this clock. Close to sunset the clock maker was finished. The clock operated as if it were new, keeping precise time to the very second. It chimed and ticked with a sparkle and a twinkle.

"OK," said the clock maker, "On to the next clock." The villagers showed him the other church. Carefully, the clock maker examined the clock. He took his screwdriver and pried off the face of the clock and began to tinker with the mechanism. He tapped this and tapped that. He twisted this and twisted that but the clock did not work. The clock maker sadly turned to the villagers and announced, "This clock is beyond repair. It cannot be fixed. The parts have rusted and have caused a dislocation of all the gears. There is nothing I can do to repair this clock. You will have to purchase a new one. "

The members of the church with the tower on the north side were shocked. "Why? How could this happen? How come you were able to fix the other clock but not ours?"

"The answer is simple," said the clock maker. "The other clock was running, and even though the committee did not know how to repair a clock, they tried their best to keep it working. As long as the clock was working, even though it did not keep precise time, it was easy to repair. But your clock had stopped, all the parts had rusted, and now nothing can be done to repair it."

From then on the clock maker made his annual trip to the small village to repair the clock in the church with the tower on the south side. Strange things began to occur with the other congregation. Month after month and meeting after meeting was filled with heated debates about the clock: "Should we spend the money to replace it or shouldn't we?" To make a long story short, the members who at one time had affiliated with the church with the broken clock, now joined the church with the working clock. Eventually, the church with the broken clock was sold to someone who converted it into a flea market.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Amen!

1. Rabbi Lester Polonsky in Congregations, Nov/Dec, 1994, pp. 17-18

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