The Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Oh, how tempted I was to preach this morning on the Joel passage. Peter quotes this scripture on Pentecost with great impact.
"I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall
prophesy, your old men shall dream
dreams, and your young men shall see
visions. Even on the male and female
slaves, in those days, I will pour out
But I am seeking to be obedient and we are turning to the Gospel of Luke this morning and following up on the message from the message last week.
The central focus for this morning will be on the question: "How do we distinguish ourselves?"
You will remember that I spent some time on that question in my message last week. I based what I said on my thoughts as I followed up on the work of the Working Preacher commentators as they shared their reflections on the Gospel of Luke passage for last week. I talked about how this led them to a discussion of Luke 18: 8 and its implications for us as 21st Century followers of the Lord.
"And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
The commentator's encouraged preachers to consider how they could raise their listener's awareness of how important that question was for us all. "will he find faith on earth?" That is a big question isn't it? I tried to focus it a little more for us all by asking "how do we distinguish ourselves as Christians in the world?"
I don't want to preach my sermon again so I hope that is enough of a recap for us to feel like we know where and what we are focusing on today.
In the passage from Luke 18 this morning Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. This is another one of those easy parables right? We all know the point of this parable, we have probably heard many sermons preached on the fact that the Pharisee has missed the point and is trusting in his own righteousness rather than in the Lord's blessing or anointing of his life and lifestyle. Or maybe we have heard the ones about how the humility of the tax collector is a sign of his righteousness.
The commentator's raised an interesting question in their reflection and I would like to share it with you today. So, that question is; "based in our understanding of Christian theology, and our own liturgical life as Episcopalians, is there any sense of repentance in either of the prayers that the Pharisee or the tax collector pray? The answer of course is no.
It is easier to identify in the Pharisee's prayer, but if you stop and look at the tax collector's prayer there is no determination to correct his ways. He does acknowledge his error but he makes no statement about wanting to or recognizing his need to change the way he is living his life or his allegiances. He doesn't say he is going to give up his collaborating with the enemies of the people of Israel, or earning his living from taxing his friends and neighbors.
The commentators raised an interesting question, and they suggested it would not be a popular one with most congregations. They suggested that perhaps most people, today, who heard this parable dealt with it on an intellectual level. They suggested that most people didn't have an emotional response to this passage. That most of us can put a historical and a cultural distance between us and this passage.
After all none of us are Pharisees and none of us are tax collectors. We can acknowledge and to some degree understand what this passage is saying but we don't really relate to it. Unfortunately, that can mean we don't have to act on it.
The commentators suggested that perhaps a different way to approach this passage was to take the Pharisee's comment and personalize it. Do you remember what he said? Well, let's take a brief look: `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
So, if we were able to be really honest this morning, just between you and yourself, in the privacy of your own thoughts, for a few moments how do you think you would finish the Pharisee's sentence?
"God, I thank you that I am not like other people:......" I am going to give you a moment to think on that.
What might your comparisons be? Who might you decide that you are glad that you are not like?
Remember the commentators said this might not be a popular question to raise within most congregations.
I am going to move to only speaking about myself at this point because I can't assume I know what is happening in your life. So, I will speak for myself for a bit here.
I have to say that when I took some time this week to stop myself in the middle of making my own comparisons I found that I did this quite often. I discovered that I had quite a few people that I compared myself to, and felt a little superior to. I found that I was quite glad that there were times when I said to the Lord: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people:......"
You know, I found, it is not all that hard to keep track of that approach in your daily life. I have had the experience of being told that I can come across as arrogant. I have always "kinda" shrugged that one off and thought well if they got to know me better they would know that is not true. This week I began to reevaluate that some because I noticed several times that I slipped, quite easily, into an "I am sure glad I am not like that person" mindset.
Then, to complicate matters, I realized that I hadn't thought about the tax collector's approach to prayer. I became aware that maybe I need to spend some time considering what I might need to challenge myself about.
I really need to ask myself the question: "What have I decided that I need to repent of and change in my life?"
It is all very well for me to acknowledge my faults and failings, but what am I willing to do about them?
If I am really honest sometimes I can recite and run off my list of failings and failures with an unfortunately practiced ease. I have lots of practice telling myself about how I let the Lord down, how I have let my family down, or how I have let you down.
But, if I am not willing to change any of those behaviors or attitudes am I any better than another person who has a Pharisaical attitude and believes they are better than everyone else?
So, this week I feel like we have taken a different approach to that question from last week: "How do I distinguish myself?"
At this point, I am glad that we have the liturgical structure that we do in our worship. To know that I can bring myself before the Throne of Grace and to seek to honestly present myself with my arrogance and my failures before the Lord and ask for his renewal is a blessed approach to the life of worship.
I have to admit I really am drawn to The Confession we used a couple of weeks ago from Enriching Our Worship:
God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives.
We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.
Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
All of this brings new life and vitality to the words of the Collect for today: "Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command"
Or perhaps we might remember the words of The Prayer of Humble Access as it is found in the BCP 2019:
We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen
Bishops & Father Mike