First Congregational Church
October 27, 2019
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of the things for which I’m thankful is that I was born when I was born, so that I am able to do my job as a pastor with the aid of the internet and modern technology. Not only do I write faster with a computer than I would ever have done on a typewriter, and we won’t even mention paper and pencil, but oh, the ease of finding material for illustrations. And yes, there is some really good stuff “out there.”
For those who don’t know Facebook, just know that people can write little, simple principles that are so true.
I just read that last year 4,123,651 people got married. I don’t want to start any trouble but shouldn’t that be an even number?
Good news for people that wear glasses. Next year you’ll finally be able to see 2020.
We keep a potato masher in a drawer because sometimes it’s fun to not be able to open that drawer.
I accidentally took the wrong medicine, but I’m covered for heart worms and fleas for 3 months.
I don’t always go the extra mile, but when I do it’s because I missed my exit.
As I watched the dog chasing his tail, I thought dogs are easily amused. Then I realized I was watching the dog chase his tail.
As we get to the reading of today’s Bible passage, to be fair, let’s say I’m a Jewish tax collector in Jesus’ day, and the Roman government requires $25 from each of you for the year. Because tax collectors aren’t salaried or given any kind of payment per hour for their work, when I go to you to collect your $25, I might charge you another $10 to cover my “wage.” Or I might tack on an extra $25 or even $50 to your Roman tax. And I don’t have to be fair in charging you all different amount. I don’t know if there was a cap on the amount I could add, but generally, whatever I ask that is over and above reasonable, too bad.
To be fair, we should be reminded that someone had to collect the taxes, and it would seem to soften the blow of a Roman tax if one of your own people collected it. And, regardless of nationality, amount or any other designations, whoever was to collect the tax should receive compensation for their work.
To be fair, let's say that my ancestors were Pharisees, had been for nearly 200 years. Pharisees were originally common people - scribes and lay people who believed that God gave the Jewish people both the written law - called the Torah - and the oral law - called the Talmud. The Sadducees - who were comprised of Priests and aristocrats - believed that only the written law was sacred. Sitting at the feet of elders and teachers prepared Pharisees to apply the priestly laws to non-priests. If there was a dispute, the Pharisees applied both written and interpretive understanding of God’s law and were more religious judge and jury.
To be fair, we should be reminded that a Pharisee didn’t get to apply for a license that made him an automatic law applier. Nor were they above any laws. They had to know the rules as well as abide by them, practicing them like doctors and nurses practice medicine. All that being said to level the field, now we’re are ready for today’s Bible passage.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Interesting that Jesus gave this parable in response to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” I wonder how often we might read this and sort of skip over the middle part about our righteousness - going right to the end. We might be tempted to tell ourselves, ‘I don’t look down on other people,’ so I’m good. And yet, just as those words come to mind, we have already forgotten the people we passed in the store last week, people we may not have looked down on, but we probably didn’t do anything that lifted them up, either.
That middle part - being confident of our own righteousness - that’s dangerous territory. There is a visionary and research group, started by a guy named George Barna, that looks at the intersections of faith and culture. In 2013, the Barna group did a study asking the question, were self-identified Christians more like Jesus in their attitudes and actions - or more like the beliefs and behaviors of the Pharisees. Now any such poll can have a multitude of interpretations. But, Barna’s take-away was that 51% of those North Americans polled possessed attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ. Well, thank God I’m not one of those 51%, she said, dripping with sarcasm.
There is no better karate instructor than a spider web in your face.
Only during a hurricane can you purchase a shovel, duct tape, rope and a tarp and on one questions your motive.
What’s the difference between bird flu and swine flue? One requires tweetment and the other requires oinkment.
Sometimes you might feel like no one’s there for you, but you know who’s always there for you? Laundry. Laundry will always be there for you.
Try to remember, the greener grass across the fence may be due to a septic tank issue.
It is interesting that as human beings, we tend to do better when we know where our boundaries are. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the “test” done years ago with children in a public park, surrounded by busy streets. When there was a fence around the park, the children played out to the edges in their games and races. When the fence was taken away, the children tended to stay huddled in the center of the park. We like knowing where the edges are. And most of the time, I’d bet that we love a list that has checkboxes for one thing or another.
When I looked up that Barna report, there was a page that basically gave the lists.
1. I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
2. I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
3. I try to avoid spending time with people who are politically and physically different than myself.
4. I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
5. I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
1. I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
2. It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
3. I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
4. I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
5. People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.
Actions like Jesus:
1. I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
2. In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
3. I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
4. I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
5. I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus. (I have to add a comment here, that these actions like Jesus, as stated here - sound a little like the Pharisee, too.)
Attitudes like Jesus:
1. I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
2. I believe God is for everyone.
3. I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
4. It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
5. I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
To be fair, we do well in knowing our own boundaries, and that includes the amount of energy, time and treasure we have to put into living with attitudes and actions of Jesus. To be fair, sometimes we are good, upstanding, well behaving, moral people – like Pharisees. Sometimes we luck out with impeccable behavior and eloquent and genuine thankfulness, because we realize we have much. But sometimes, we become so successful in loving God that there’s little we need God to do for us, because we’ve done it ourselves.
And to be fair, sometimes we fail to do the good that we could do. We allow failures to have lives of their own and we do not do much in the way of praying except for asking for God’s mercy. Sometimes we need a gift so badly that we don’t know how to ask for it. Sometimes, in thinking that we are doing so well for ourselves, we forget our need for God’s gifts, and so we don’t get them.
So in Luke 18:9, it’s easy to see this as a parable about two different sorts of braggers - the self-righteous and the self-effacing. But really, I think it’s a story that missed the real point about bragging, that it’s not about either of the men, but about bragging and God.
God is the one who gives us the ability to discern our own hearts, to seek the balance and tension between God’s gifts of appreciation and humility, mercy and forgiveness, confidence and dependence on the Giver of Life. If we’re going to be doing any bragging, let us be reminded that our right to brag comes not from ourselves, but from God’s grace, God’s love and God’s faithfulness. Let us be reminded that the One who gives us all and more than we need is the same One who gives it to us. And let us be reminded that we enter into the better embracement of Bragging Rights when we realize our actions and attitudes are those that seek to allow others to see God, Christ and the Holy Spirit - not just in us - but through us - as we prayer.
Loving and Forgiving God, thank you for creating us - people belonging to you. We confess that at times, God, we don’t do well at allowing you to shine through us. There are times when our desire for recognition is greater than our need to allow for transparency. Help us in the minutes, hours and days ahead, to step back from those moments that are less than humble and to step up to giving you the glory for that which you do through us. Even if it be only in our own mind, help us to step off pedestals of self-righteousness and step on to the rock of your righteousness and rightness. For the grace you have given each of us, through those who allowed such love and beauty to shine through them to us, we thank you. In gratitude that you never stop leading us, never stop loving us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.