Sunday, August 3, 2008

Trinity 11 Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 3rd, 2008 – Luke 19:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Well, the last few Sundays we have heard some direct Law from Christ. He weeps and gets angry. You cannot serve God and money. A tree and it’s fruit – depart from Me, I never knew you. An intense few weeks – lots of Law, and trust me, I get it as much, if not more than you guys do. Y’all hear it for 12, 14 minutes on Sunday morning, but I get to stew over it the whole week. Some blunt preaching of the Law from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The why is shown today. The reason why we Christians need to hear God’s Law, why we need to have frequent times of clear self-examination is shown in today’s Gospel lesson – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It is introduced by a simple sentence of profound import – “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Our Lord speaks this parable to people who trust in themselves, who look at their own lives and think, “Yep, pretty good, all in all, pretty good.” Jesus speaks this to those who are full of pride.

This parable this morning is about the dangers of pride – for that is what the Pharisee is guilty of – he is proud over all the things he has done, he is confident and secure in how wonderful he is. And he’s lost. Jesus says at the end of the parable – “For I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other, [the Pharisee}.” Pride goeth before the fall. We know the old adage. That is what Christ warns us of today. You see, just as sin in general twists us, turns us away from Christ, pride twists us as well, twists all that we think, twists all that we do, until we no longer see Christ, no longer see our Savior, but rather we are left worshiping ourselves. Let’s listen for the pride in what the Pharisee says, and see how it has shaped him, how it has turned him into something twisted and vile.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. We will pause here to start. The Pharisee begins his prayer – and it’s almost okay. . . he starts by thanking God – sort of. Let me ask the question. How to you respond when you see other people sin? When your neighbor falls flat on his face, how do you respond? There have been many times where, when seeing my neighbor, I’ve been grateful to God that He has spared me from dealing with those temptations that my neighbor had to face. There are times when I see the struggles of another and I think, “I don’t know if I could stand up in the face of them, thank you Lord for sparing me.” And this is right and proper – there is nothing wrong with thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I” – nothing wrong with praying “Lead us not into temptation” – because in the face of some temptations we may not stand. But – that’s not quite what the Pharisee is saying, is it? Oh, he sees that he hasn’t fallen into the sin of theft or adultery – but instead of being humble towards God, what does he say? I am not like other men. He’s proud. He has pride in himself – he thinks that it is only because of his strength that he hasn’t succumbed to sin. He thinks himself stronger than King David, who fell to adultery, he thinks himself stronger than St. Matthew, who himself was a tax collector. It’s pride – and it’s twisted what should be sincere thanks to God into self-worship and self-praise.

And it just gets worse. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. Two more things that the Pharisee does – and they are fine things. He fasts. He denies his body’s desires, he has learned self-control and discipline. I’m sure that there are plenty of us here who could stand to learn that a little bit better. He is generous – he tithes, a tenth of all that he has is given away. Again – a good thing. But yet. . . there’s something wrong here. His pride has gotten in the way. Instead of seeing, instead of understanding his self-control, his generosity as fruits of the Spirit – he has become prideful – and suddenly the Pharisee thinks that because of his self-control, because of his actions, God must be pleased with him. He approaches God thinking that he himself is worthy of praise. What would have been good works, pleasing to the sight of God, have become vile sins. His pride has destroyed them – and that fasting, that tithing has become a sin, worthy of damnation. All because of pride.

Pride is a danger to us, dear friends. The Pharisee should remind us of that. Pride is the snare that Satan uses to catch even those people who come to the temple to pray, what he will use to try to catch us here today. When we start looking at our lives with pride, when we start feeling pride in our actions – we forget about God and His mercy towards us. We approach God in arrogance and receive from the Lord only condemnation.

This is why God sends His Law, His pure, unfiltered, unwatered-down Law to us. To break our pride. It is easy for us as well to become prideful. We go to Church. We are blessed. I suppose that if we were vilely to compare ourselves to others, well, we could easily overlook our flaws and simply focus on the blemishes of our neighbors. And we could easily become full of pride, we could easily become cocky. But then God speaks His Word of Law – calls us to examine ourselves, not on the basis of what others are doing, not on the basis of what we do well, not on the basis of how healthy, wealthy, and wise we are. We are called to examine ourselves on the basis of God’s Law – we are called to examine whether we have been perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. And when God’s Law is applied this way – our pride is broken. Our pride is shattered. When your pride is gone, what are you left with?

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. When your pride is shattered, when your trust in yourself is broken – you are left humble and ready to rely upon Christ and His mercy. When you are not elevating yourself and your works, you are ready to be lifted up to heaven by the forgiveness of Christ Jesus. When you are humble, you are ready to see and receive God’s mercy.

Think about it this way. How many of you dislike going to the doctor? When I am sick, I hesitate to go, I want to just slug through it on my own – until whatever it is that I have has laid me low enough where I abandon that foolish pride and go see the doctor, normally because my wife makes me – and then my doctor can give me treatment, then I can be healed. Until I admit that I need help – I just keep getting worse and worse. There is a reason that we refer to Christ as the Great Physician of both body and soul. The simple fact is that we are never spiritually as healthy as we ought to be. The fact is we are always hounded by temptations – maybe not the temptations our neighbor is faced with, maybe not by sin that is broadcast throughout the community – but we all struggle with sin, we all fail, we all fall. If we, in our pride, ignore that – we’ll just fall deeper and deeper into sin, even to the point where we lose faith. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Our pride can cost us our faith, drive Christ Jesus, He who is the Truth, away from us. But when we see our sin – we confess it, we go before the Great Physician for healing – and we receive forgiveness. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God is ready and willing to forgive, indeed, he desires that we be forgiven. That is why He went to the cross, that is why He suffered and died, simply so that He could lavish forgiveness upon us.

Yet, why is pride so appealing – why can Satan so easily tempt us with pride? Probably because we want to feel worthy, we want to see value in ourselves, see how good, how worthy I am! We want to feel valuable – and so we trick ourselves into seeing only the “good” that we do – and take pride in that. But dear friends – you don’t set your value – and your value in the sight of God is not merely your utility, not merely what you can do for Him. Your actions don’t determine your value – and thanks be to God that they don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be worth much. Your value to God isn’t determined by you, but God determines it, He has declared you valuable, precious in His sight. You have no need of trying to build up your own pride – for God has declared you to be worth more than anything else. How do you know? Let me be a broken record again – read and learn your Catechism! 2nd article of the Creed – “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won we from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious, blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Do you hear the value-related words? Christ has redeemed – He has purchased you, you are a prize that He has won. And what with? Not mere gold, not mere stuff – but with His precious blood and His suffering and death. Christ Jesus, the Lord of Life Himself, out of His great love for you, even while you are still a miserable sinner, says that He values you more than His own life. Is that not wondrous, is that not mind-boggling? What need have you of pride in your own works – behold the value that God gives you! Indeed, He values you so much that He calls you to His table today to partake of that very same Blood which He shed for you so that you might be redeemed, forgiven of your sins. This is Christ’s love for you – and it comes solely from Him – solely a free gift, not based on works, so there is no need for your boasting, no need for your pride. Simply this – know and receive God’s love for you in humility.

Dear friends in Christ – be wary, be on the guard against pride, for pride would lead you away from trusting in Christ and rather into trusting in yourself. Flee from pride, and rather delight in humility, and gladly receive the mercy and love that God gives you. He desires your salvation, not based on what you can do for Him – but simply because He is the God who loves you and desires you to be with Him for all eternity. Rejoice in this, and in humility and confidence of His love towards you say, “God have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Amen.

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