Sermon, October 27, 2019

Luke 18: 9-14

I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN

We have spent the last the last 4 months hearing the Gospel according to Luke. We have read and interpreted the parables in them and have changed our outlook toward sin and repentance. Humility, transformation and faith have been the major themes, when we break it all down. We struggled with the word SIN at bible study this week as we looked at Luke’s Gospel reading for today. Sin is a constant reference point in all the Bible. What explanation or definition can we find for the word sin, that takes the irreversible context away? According to the classical definition from St. Augustine of Hippo - sin is "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God." Not such a horrible thing when put in this context – how do we transform our thoughts, deeds and desires and turn to the love of God, and turn into the God’s love in this world. Choice, we all have free will and choice. How can we choose to live our lives in love? As we reflect on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, do we see ourselves in either of them? I sure do.

I sometimes become proud and aloof, thinking highly of myself. I think about my time as the Mayor. I was self-confident and proud. It was only when I lost the election that I realized that the self-confidence came from God. I think I had been going along thinking that it was me alone doing my job. I had forgotten whose plan was in motion, I had forgotten to thank God for sustaining me. I was a bit like the Pharisee, look at me, I can do this all alone – not so! The loss of that election left me asking all kinds of questions – what went wrong, how could it go so terribly wrong when I was so confident in my track record and so confident in winning? My sin – my desire to win had turned me from the love of God.

As I take you back to the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – one proud and one humble. The pharisee was standing all alone, setting himself apart from others by his faithful adherence to the Temple Law. By Luke and Jesus standards, they see him as righteous. The Pharisee isn’t speaking falsely, he just misses the true nature of his blessing. In the beginning of the passage, Luke states the Pharisee “trusted in Himself”. His prayer of gratitude was spoken to God but it really was about himself – he was the master of his own actions and being. If the pharisee had been more aware of Gods place in his heart and instead of looking down on the less fortunate he realized his place of privilege, the true nature of his blessing – he might have changed his prayer to “There but for the GRACE of God go I.” The Tax Collector knows that he possesses no means by which to claim righteousness. He figures he has done nothing of merit, doing much to offend the Law of Israel. For this reason, he stands far off, not approaching the Temple, feeling not worthy to look up to heaven and throws himself on the mercy of the Lord – “God, Be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Here is the contrast. One makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments, while the other relies upon the Lord’s kindness. The Pharisee appears smug to the point of despising others, contempt for those he feels are beneath him. The Tax Collector on the other hand isn’t so much humble as he is desperate. He is so overwhelmed by his plight that he has no time to divide humanity into sides. He stands near the Temple in his own great need. He stakes his hopes and claims not on anything he has done but entirely on the mercy of God. 

Can you see the sin in both these people? Not the connotation of the word sin from our youth – damned to hell, fire and brimstone. I am so thrilled to understand St Augustine’s definition of sin as "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God." The Ten Commandments start with the announcement that we are to love God and our neighbour. They then go on and lay out all the horrendous sins that we are to avoid. My hang-up with the word sin is that is has not been able to mature in a way that is helpful for me to understand that I don’t need to keep beating myself up over my missteps and errors.

The valuable thing to remember in all this is that we can ask for forgiveness for our missteps and errors and we will receive it. We just need to ask – as in our reading from Joel 2:32 this morning – “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. Just call on his name and ask forgiveness and return – turn again, to the Lord. How can our lives be transformed by our recognition that our word, deed or desire is not in right relationship with God? Our journey thru this Christian life is about transformation, transforming our lives and our responses to our daily interactions with people.

In 2 Timothy, Paul is ready to die – he says he is being poured out as a libation – being poured out in faith and thanksgiving. Paul knows he has sinned, all thru his ministry he has stumbled and then asked for forgiveness and turned again. Paul has been transformed from a person who blasphemed Jesus to one who loved Jesus. He knew that he was human and would make mistakes but also knew he would be forgiven and made right again with God. His faith is so sure he says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul calls on the Lord in his times of need and he is answered. Sin could not and was not the defining moment in Paul’s live. Faith and God Grace had defined his life. 

The reading from Timothy fits so closely with the Luke this morning. The parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly. God did not judge Paul and God will not judge us if we acknowledge our error – our word, deed, or desire that is in opposition to the eternal law of God. The parable ends with the Pharisee going home righteous, this hasn’t changed – he came in righteous and left righteous. The tax collector goes home JUSTIFIED, that is he is accounted righteous by the Holy one of Israel. How is this – he makes neither restitution or sacrifice. He is accounted justified by Gods divine declaration and consent!

My commentary states “This parable is preached well only to the degree that each time we try to interpret it we find ourselves, yet again, with nothing to claim but our dependence on God’s mercy. When this happens, we forget if only for a moment, our human-constructed divisions and errors and stand before God aware only of our need. Then we, too, are justified by the God of Jesus and invited to return to our homes in MERCY, GRACE AND GRATITUDE”.

I pray this may be so, AMEN