A sermon for Proper 25: Joel 2:23-32, Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, Luke 18:9-14
Two men walk into the Temple. One stands tall, surveys the people there and prays “God, I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income; I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The other slips off to the side and with head bowed in humility prays “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I thank you that I am not like other people, like that Pharisee!”
You are right; this is not how the story goes. However, it is what many of us take away from it. We flip the roles around, thinking we should be humble like the tax collector; and that we should not be like the Pharisee. Only everything the Pharisee says is correct (Hoezee, Luke; Lose, Working Preacher). Scholars believe his prayer is a standard Jewish prayer of thanksgiving at that time. To judge the Pharisee, which is what we do when we flip the roles, is to make the same mistake the Pharisee is making. There is nothing that tells us the Pharisee is a bad person, quite the opposite; he lives as his spiritual guides tell him to live (Epperly). The error he makes is to believe he has done it all by himself (Lose, Working Preacher). He puts all his trust in his ability.
Today we hear similar ideas expressed when people proudly proclaim “Look what I did!” “See what I built.” “See how successful I am.” What is being overlooked is the interconnectedness of all our lives. The Pharisee’s success, all success, is the product of the efforts of many, many people, as well as the efforts of those who claim success (Epperly). For the last several weeks we have been laying a laminate floor upstairs. Success to date is the results of: the manufacturer, the retailer, the power company, a second retailer, who sells toy often called tools, our son in law, Blytheville Public Works, and how can I forget, the makers of Ibuprofen and ice packs. Success is the collaboration of many people. When we ignore the interconnectedness of life, claiming all the success is because of our work, we get infected by a false sense of independence and moral superiority; and this infection blinds us to the presence of God’s grace. We may say “There but for the grace of God go I.” but the implication that the other lacks God’s grace, based on the lack of trappings of what we call success, or that we have God’s grace, by the presence of trappings of what we call success, is an error in judgment made twice. We judge the other negatively “there go I;” and we judge ourselves positively, “except for the grace of God.” And it is all a bit strange because biologists, psychologists, physiologists, neurologist and sociologists say we are hard-wired for relationship. Scripture says we were created in relationship; God created humanity, male and female in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Theologians teach us that we are created to be in relationship with God, just because God loves us. And we still tend to follow the cultural ideology that we should be self-sufficient and the theological ideology to earn each other’s love and earn God’s love, all the while saying we cannot (Rice).
Two of today’s reading debunk the ideas of rugged individualism and earned love. Joel’s prophecy, which follows some of the most gruesome in the bible, is a democratization of the presence of God. Everyone is to receive God’s spirit, young boys, girls, slaves, all who were previously excluded, will prophecy; (Joel 2:28) everyone is invited to share God’s wisdom with others (Hoezee, Joel; Epperly).
Jesus tells of a Pharisee properly entering the Temple to pray, and offering the correct prayer then contrasts him with a tax collector, who is a traitor to his country by serving the Roman occupiers, and to God by his not following the Law. The story finishes with the least likely person in all Israel, a tax collector, being justified, loved and restored to relationship with God, just because he is. Luke’s Gospel is addressed to Theophilus, which means lover of God. The Tax Collector does go to the Temple exhibiting some love of God; so, Jesus’ reference to “this man” just might extend to everyone who makes any effort to follow God (Ellingsen).
A last bit from scripture about justification. When Jesus dies, the curtain in the Temple, which separates the Holy of Holies, God’s home on earth, from the rest of the world is torn in two. There is no longer anything that divides us from God, and therefore nothing that should divide us from each other (Lose, Working Preacher). There is justification for all.
In the last three weeks, I have spoken about how by our baptism we are consecrated, set aside for God’s service. I have spoken about how we are called to be stewards to the household of God and that we are to cultivate and nurture the relationships between ourselves, our neighbors, strangers, and aliens in the land. I have spoken about how through our prayers and our presence we can help each other expand our limits and deepen our faith.
This morning I hope we can begin to see that our living into our baptism, as consecrated stewards in God’s household is the fruits of justification, God’s just because love for us. The more we recognize that God’s loves us and those other people, the more we are able to live into our baptism, as consecrated stewards in God’s household. It is my prayer that by passing the peace and sharing Eucharist we grow in seeing God’s love in every relationship. It is my prayer that by sharing of God’s abundance in our care for each other and our neighbors, and by going forth in the power of the Spirit, we grow in sharing God’s love in every relationship we have (Rice). It is my prayer that as we walk through life we pray “Thank you God for loving me, just like you love all these other people.”
Bouzard, Walter C. Commentary on Joel 2:23-32. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 23 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. 23 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 25 C Luke 18:9-14. 23 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
—. Proper 25 C 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 . 23 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.
—. Proper 25 C Joel 2:23-32. 23 10 2016.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Thank God for the Other. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 18:9-14. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
—. Pentecost 25 B: Pretenders to the Throne. 23 10 2016.
Rice, Whitney. “Will We Accept God’s Love? Proper 25.” 23 10 2016. Sermons that Work.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.