Friday, November 01, 2013

Sunday, October 25, 2013: One Open, One Not

Just a picture I like
Sermon 20131027
St. John’s Church

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Luke 18:9-14

St. Augustine and St. Cyril of Alexandria when commenting on this passage compare both the tax collector and the Pharisee to sick people.  They compare sin to sickness.  The Pharisee did NOT report his symptoms to God his doctor, whereas the tax-collector did, and thus the tax-collector went home in an open and real relationship to God the great physician, not the Pharisee.  The tax collector is on the path to healing.

The Pharisee does many good things.  I wish we would all do them.  He prays.  He practices simplicity by fasting.  He is a good steward giving the tithe, the 10% to support the worship of the community.  But practicing religion also means an inner disposition is necessary.  A willingness to be open and honest before God, even when it means facing up to things about ourselves which make us uncomfortable or even ashamed.  It is only by being totally honest and open to God and to ourselves that we can realize the greatness of the blessing we have from God.

We know that the other man is a tax collector, someone who extorts high taxes from already suffering people for a foreign occupying and brutal Empire.  But we do not know the rest of his life.  We do not know the hardships he has been through.  We do not know what it is like to be him.  We should be humble by not making assumptions based on our first impressions of people.  We do know that he is aware of his sins, and he is bringing them to God.  He is staying connected to God in an open honest relationship.  And Jesus says he went home justified, that is in right relationship with God.

When we tell God all the good things about ourselves and we take credit for them, we are making a big mistake.  Those good things about us have their origin in God.  Our purpose is to be humble even in our thanksgiving, overwhelmed by the great generosity shown us.  These gifts can fill us with joy and they are also meant to be shared with others.  When our hearts know love sharing them is a double blessing.

The Pharisee took credit for these things, and thus considered himself better than other people, better than the tax collector.  The sin of the Pharisee is not only pride, that is lack of humility before God, but also judgment, holding in disdain what God loves.  God loves us all.  God loves the tax collector, and wants us not to condemn one another, but to keep channels open so that we can be instruments of his healing.

What if that tax collector moved by his guilt turned to the Pharisee for help?  What kind of help could that Pharisee be since he held the tax collector in disdain?  When we judge or condemn people can we remain open to them?  Or what if we find ourselves in need of their help, what kind of groundwork have we laid for that to be able to happen?

Jesus showed us this kind of humility, this kind of openness to God.  He is the only person in history we believe that could claim to truly be without sin, but because he understood that to be human, to be humble before God meant to stay in relationship with all humans, he joined us in our sin.  He suffered abuse in our broken political and religious systems.  He experienced the betrayal of friend and family.  He suffered death for us on a cross.  He did not claim exemption from all that happens to humanity, rather he made himself available, he even embraced humanity, because he understood that by embracing us God could minister to us through him, and se he became our savior.  The resurrection shows it so sweetly!

Not to judge others is hard.
Not to try and feel better than others is hard.
Not to take credit for the good things God has given us is hard.
The first step is to admit to God when we are doing it.
God will heal us.
God will lead us into the holy path when we open our hearts to him.

The reason we want to abandon judgment, and pride, is not because we want God to love us, or because we want to be saved.
God’s love is beyond question.
We can trust Jesus to be working in us to save us.
We do not need to worry about those things.

We ask God to deliver us from judgment and pride because when we are free of them we can enjoy life so much more, we can have more happiness, more joy.  And God can use us to bring that joy into the lives of others.  We can enjoy God and one another more.

An analogy might be made to a banquet.   We are not trying get an invitation to the banquet.  The banquet is already spread before us.  We are putting away judgment and pride so that we can actually taste and enjoy the banquet.

Let us pray that God will put away our pride and our judgment
And that God will enable us to love God and our neighbor, so freely, so selflessly, that we know a delight surpassing all that we can hope for.

When we put out our hands to receive communion today let us open our hearts to taste God’s goodness.

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