We continue in Luke with this parable, no easier than any that have come before it. The kingdom of God is like both the Pharisee and the tax collector who pray before God. Last week I said the parable was about The kingdom of God is like the persistent widow who shows us that God never gives up on pursuing us, God never gives up on loving us, God never gives up on us. The parable we hear today follows directly on the heels of that. The Pharisee stands by himself and says, "thankfully I am not like those other people, I fast, I give a tenth of my income, and I'm just down right good." Or words to that effect. The tax collector is standing off on his own, beating his breast and lamenting his wretchedness. As is usual, I don't think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is all about the pharisee, or all about the tax collector, I think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is in a place somewhere that is not quite either the pharisee or the tax collector.
We are pointed to the sentence that finishes this piece of scripture, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted," as if this is easy and straightforward. But parables just cannot be read that way, they are never easy and straightforward, there are always layers of meaning, and even innuendo. Jesus does not teach in easy and straightforward ways.
The problem with that interpretation, and the place we will focus our attention today, is that as soon as you decide you are humble like the tax collector, you become prideful like the pharisee, as soon as you decide you are not like that braggart pharisee, you again, become prideful. There is some danger with this passage as well. Some have decided that it is their place to keep someone else in their place by reminding them how wretched they are, like that tax collector.
So, what do we do with the pharisee and the tax collector? This parable is not clearly don't be like the pharisee and be like the tax collector, as soon as we do that we are in danger of puffing ourselves up with humility. It is important to remember that the story is not about us, but about God, and God's relationship with us. So what does this story show us about God? I think it continues the story we read last week, that God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. What gets in the way of that relationship is judging others about their behavior, those thieves, rogues, adulterers or even this wretched tax collector. What gets in the way of that relationship with God is being dishonest with yourself.
God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each of us and all of us together. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. What that means is that we don't have to be perfect before coming into God's presence. That means that we don't have to have our lives all put together before coming into this church. That means that we are imperfect and sinful people. That means that this Pharisee, and the tax collector and all of us who are like him, are equally welcome in God's presence and loved by God. When are you like the Pharisee? We are like the Pharisee when we come to the conclusion that there is nothing we can learn from those with whom we disagree. We are like the Pharisee when we put up a wall around us so thick and so tall that no one and nothing can get in. We are like the Pharisee when decide that we are right and everyone else is wrong. When are you like the tax collector? We are like the tax collector when we sit in the lowest seat only because we hope we will be invited into the highest seat. We are like the tax collector when we don't speak up for those who are oppressed because we don't want anyone to know that we are followers of Jesus.
God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with both the Pharisee and the tax collector. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. And our true selves are imperfect and perfectly loved. God's invitation to us is into relationship, and that relationship is through prayer, and song, worship and learning God's word. That relationship is through one another, because when one with another, we are Christ for each other. In our lives and in our witness to the love that wins, we are in relationship with God.
As I pondered this passage for the last few days, I wondered about us, here at St. Andrew's. I wondered about how we show people in our community how God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each and every person. My heart breaks because somehow we aren't getting that message out to people. We, here at St. Andrew's are not perfect. Our worship is not perfect, it's sometimes messy, but everyone is welcome. All of us are not perfect, sometimes we come sad or angry, but we always are forgiven.
You see, the invitation to worship the God who is love is God's invitation, and there are thousands of people who still haven't heard the invitation. Today I encourage you to invite someone you know into God's love. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's for a cup of coffee and conversation, and to stay for the community. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's to experience the God whose hearts desire is to love them. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's to find meaning and acceptance for themselves and their children. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's who is searching and has lost their way.
Invite the Pharisees, invite the tax collectors. You know that here they will find themselves, here they will find the love that wins, here they will be home. It is God's invitation, only you can bear the invitation into the world. Not because you have to, but because your heart breaks as well as mine, that they haven't yet gotten the invitation.