Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trinity 11 Sermon

Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14 – August 11th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          Today’s parable is one of the most dangerous parables around.  It is dangerous for a very subtle reason.  It’s dangerous because we know it.  It’s dangerous because it’s familiar, it plays off of all the familiar themes that we like and love and cherish.  It’s dangerous because we can hear this parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and think, “Oh, thank God that we are Lutherans and that we know that we ought to be focused upon Christ, unlike some of those other churches, to say nothing of the unbelievers.  We know the importance of the Word, we’ve even been confirmed and still show up to Church.”  Yep.  There’s the danger – in fact, it’s part of the danger that this parable is warning us of.  So, if you will allow me to be a little blunt, today let’s look in detail at why Christ tells this parable – and then we will be ready to learn from it.  So, let us dive in!

          [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.  Two.  Two dangers arise before us in the text, and the first is the danger of trusting in yourself as being righteous.  Now, of course, in the parable the Pharisee is the example of that.  He walks into the temple and he prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  At first, when we today in America hear this, we think this fellow is a braggart.  What he says offends our sense of modesty, it seems prideful.  But note – Jesus doesn’t tell us this parable to warn us about pride.  There are plenty of other parables for that – but this one today isn’t about pride, it isn’t about offending American sensibilities.  It’s about thinking that you are righteous in and of yourself.  And this is where the Pharisee fails.  The things He tries to thanks God for are good things.  It’s good not to be in gangs.  It’s good not to have affairs or become caught up in scandal. These are good things to be thankful for.  Luther even teaches us in the meaning of the 6th petition – when we pray “lead us not into temptation” we are praying that “God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”  And there’s the problem for the Pharisee, there’s where the rubber meets the road.  This is the truth – we must not forget that we are not righteous in and of ourselves, and rather we must remember that Satan and the world, and yes, even our very own sinful flesh will constantly be tempting us and trying to get us to fall, and that if we do not stumble openly and publicly, this doesn’t say anything about how great we are – it speaks to the greatness of God and of His great mercy.  The phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I” is not just whistling Dixie.  God must guard us from shame and vice.  If you forget that you are sinful, if you start to assume that you are a good person, even if you have the laundry list of good works and the tax documents about donations to prove it, then you open the door wide open for temptation to enter in and stifle you and strangle you.  Look at what happens to this Pharisee.  He knows that He should be thanking God… but he can’t even get through one sentence of “thanks” without stopping talking about God and rather praising Himself.  And He thinks he’s great, he thinks he needs no mercy.  And so, he stands, and he never asks for forgiveness.  He thinks he is good enough for God – when really he’s just another sinner, worthy of damnation.  That’s not a good place to be.

          Jesus tells this parable to warn of a second danger, treating others with contempt.  Contempt for your neighbor goes hand in hand with your own self-righteousness.  It’s easy enough.  Hey, I’m good – he’s not, well, he’s just lousy.  With that elevation of the self, we also tend to kick our neighbor to the curb and look down upon them.  And when that happens – what have we ourselves become?  We have been created by God to love and serve our neighbor, to care for them… and how readily do you serve someone you have contempt for?  How often do you deign to stoop down and help someone when you just know that you are sooo much better than them?  And suddenly instead of just having self-righteousness that cuts oneself off from God and His mercy, there is also contempt that cuts you off from the neighbor.  My dear friends, there is no reason ever to treat another with contempt.  Let us take the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – and let us for the sake of argument say that the Pharisee is a wise Christian and that the Tax Collector is a lout.  What ought to have happened?  As Paul says in Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  There you go.  If the tax collector is caught, go and rescue him, go tend to your neighbor in love.  But all thought of that is gone from the Pharisee.  His neighbor just becomes an object lesson – a morality play, a scare story – “make sure you give the right tithe, or you might turn out rotten like that tax collector!”

          See, this is what sin does.  It seeks to cut us off – our self-righteousness would cut us off from the God who loves us and cares for us, and our contempt would cut us off from our neighbor.  Those are the dangers.  So, what then is the response to these dangers?  Consider for a moment, our Tax Collector.  “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!”  You know, this tax collector shapes how we pray to this day – seriously.  If I tell my son to pray, I don’t tell him to stand like this - even though that’s the standard posture before the altar that I use… well unless I forget and go to our normal standard today.  With hand folded and clenched, with a head not raised up but rather bowed down.  And this tax collector, whom we were taught to emulate from our youth – whom does he treat or view with contempt?  Himself.  This tax collector knows his sin.  That’s even what he calls himself, how he names himself.  Sinner!  That is who I am – I am THE sinner.  There’s a “the” there in the Greek.  He’s the sinner.

          So.  If you view yourself, not as a pretty good sort, but as THE sinner, are you going to be pointing to how righteous and good your deeds are and how you have grown to be so much better than others?  No – THE sinner doesn’t trust in his own righteousness.  Nor can he afford to treat others with contempt – because he’s in the same boat as they are, if not worse.  Part of your life, as a Christian, part of who you are is to learn and know that you are the sinner.  That you are Sinner through and through, and that sin pops up and infests your every thought, word, and deed.  Our old sinful flesh doesn’t like to think that way – we would rather compare, we would rather pat ourselves on the back.  But the simple fact in each and every one of us here is sinner.  Period.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Nothing we do is going to get us out of that pit.

          We learn one other important thing from the tax collector.  To call out for mercy.  We are not merely sinners, we are sinners who by the grace of God and the gift of faith call out to God for mercy and rescue, rescue from our sin, rescue from the temptations of this world,  rescue from death itself.  This too shapes our worship.  We’ve said “mercy” more times today than I care to count, and we’ll pray it as part of every petition in our prayers today.  And why do we call out to God for mercy?  Is it because golli-gee-willickers, God, if you just give me another chance, I’m sure I’ll do better?  No.  Is it because we deserve mercy more than that fellow next to us?  No.  We go to God for mercy because there is One who is righteous, One who is Holy, One who does not view us with the contempt that we deserve, and that Man is Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who Himself came down from heaven, became man for the sake of sinful man, who suffered and died for our sins and rose again to ensure that we too would rise again to life everlasting.  As Christians, it is good for us to focus on righteousness.  It is good for us to focus upon Christ, who humbled Himself so that He might raise us up and exalt us.  That is righteousness, and He is righteous for you.  Indeed, out of His great love for you, He shows you mercy, He forgives you your sin, He has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism and He has given you a new name.  Sinner you may be, but that is washed away, and you are now also Child of God, redeemed, heir with Christ of life everlasting.  This is His great love for you.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is your righteousness, for all that He is and all that He has He gave to you when He claimed you as His own in Baptism – and so you are washed, clean, forgiven, holy, righteous, and pure in Christ – and when the last day comes and we participate in the resurrection of the dead we will see this all fully and forever more! 

          And so, be wary, my friends, be wary of self-righteousness that would make you forget that Christ is your righteousness.  Satan and the world, and even your sinful nature would have you forget Christ Jesus and your Baptism, would have you treat them and your neighbor with contempt.  But God’s love for you remains, over and against the temptations of the world, and you are redeemed in Christ Jesus, for you are Baptized.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Great Word!

Gonna forward to a new friend who is mightily struggling with all of this stuff.

And, as we all do, I needed to hear it, as well.

Thank you.