20 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr C Oct 27 2019
Audio 20 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr C Oct 27 2019
Sirach 35:12-17, Psalm 84:1-6, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, Luke 18:9-14
We continue in Luke with this parable, no easier than any that have come before it. What is the kingdom of God like? The kingdom of God is like the Pharisee and the tax collector who both pray before God.
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 downright good." Or words to that effect. And really, the Pharisee is actually just telling the truth, a Pharisee is righteous before the law, he’s not really a bad guy. He is also doing exactly what is asked of him, he’s giving a tenth of everything he has. But the portrait that the gospel paints is not only of a righteous man before the law, but also of a self-righteous man who looks down on others for not being as good as he.
The tax collector is standing off on his own, beating his breast and lamenting his wretchedness. A tax collector works for the Roman government, and the Roman government is the occupying power. Tax collectors are not really in good favor with the Jewish people. But this tax collector seems to recognize his need for God. And on the pharisee’s terms, a tax collector is not righteous before the law.
Maybe what the Kingdom of God looks like in this parable, is the difference between being self-righteous like the Pharisee, and being humble, like the tax collector. The tax collector shows us that we stand before God and recognize that we are recipients of a profound gift. Recognizing that God is God and we are not, recognizing Love and forgiveness are the key elements of the relationship we are called into.
But, if we jump too quickly to the sentence that finishes this piece of scripture, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted," we might think 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.
So, what do we do with the pharisee and the tax collector? You see, as soon as you decide you are humble like the tax collector, you become prideful like the pharisee. So, this isn't about not being righteous or even self-righteous like the pharisee and instead being humble like the tax collector. As soon as we do that, we are in danger of puffing ourselves up with humility.
This story is about God, and God's relationship with us. So, what does this story show us about God? It continues to show us that God's heart’s 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, being self-righteous.
God's heart's desire is to be in relationship with each of us and all of us together. God's heart’s 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 we are loved by God.
The children’s story Old Turtle and the Broken Truth gets at this nicely. In it, the truth of the universe comes to earth but on its way is broken in two. One half – that we are special and deserve to be loved – gives strength and happiness but over time leads to arrogance and disregard for others. Only when we discover the other half – that so also all others are also special and deserve to be loved – can we live into the peace and goodness of the universe and of God. This is the heart of justification. A word used in this to describe the tax collector, a word whose meaning we have trouble understanding. But justification is the empowering word that frees us from insecurity and despair and then frees us again to share that same good news and love of God with others. And for this reason, recognizing that we are justified has the capacity to provide our central identity and to illumine all our decisions and choices, particularly regarding those around us.
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 we 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 heart’s desire is to be in relationship with both the Pharisee and the tax collector. God's heart’s 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 service, 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 wonder about us, here at Trinity. I wonder about how we show people in our community how God's heart’s desire is to be in relationship with each and every person. We, here at Trinity 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, or who refuse the invitation. Today I encourage you to invite someone you know into God's love. Invite someone you know to Trinity for a cup of coffee and conversation, and to stay for the community. Invite someone you know to Trinity to experience the God whose heart’s desire is to love them. Invite someone you know to Trinity to find meaning and acceptance for themselves and their children. Invite someone you know to Trinity 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, but you must bear the invitation into the world. Go out into the world, bearing God's invitation to love.