God’s Just Because Love.

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.”


References

Bouzard, Walter C. Commentary on Joel 2:23-32. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 23 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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&gt;.

—. 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/&gt;.

—. 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.

 

And The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

A Sermon for Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

You know the story of Job, it takes less than one chapter to introduce us to a man of piety beyond question; to let us in on the heavenly wager, and for us to witness Job get stripped of all his earthly possessions. For the next thirty-five plus chapters, we hear Job and his three friends argue about sin as the cause of Job’s woes. They insist all he has to do repent; he insists he hasn’t sinned. Next we hear Job challenge God, he simply wants to know why. Somewhere around chapter 38 God answers; it is not exactly as Job expected because God questions him. The inquiry is not about piety or sin, but about the vast majesty and wonder of the cosmos. This morning we hear Job’s reply.

I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. … I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (NRSV Job 42:3, 5-6)

We ought to know that the Hebrew translated ‘despise’ also means ‘recant’ and the Hebrew translated ‘repent’ also means to change ‘one’s mind’ (Suomala). In short, Job changes his mind and recants, retracts his former belief about the workings of the world. He now knows the “world not run by human rules nor moral justice” (Gaventa and Petersen).

This morning’s story ends with the Disney-like restoration of all Job’s lost possessions, including seven sons and three daughters. However, reading closely, we notice that Job receives comforting, all is not what it was. We know those who, like Job, have suffered a great loss, which is no fault of their own, but do not experience a Disney restoration. Perhaps, this not a story about sin and suffering. There is also the very curious detail about Job’s three daughters. We are told their names Jemaah, Keziah, and Keren-haunch; his seven sons are not named. More interesting the daughters are given an inheritance with their brothers, which is unheard of. Perhaps it is his suffering, but I rather think it is his newly reshaped understandings of the ways of God that allow him to see and respond to injustice in the world (Harrelson). Old walls have come down; a new vision is revealed.

We know Jesus can heal the blind, he did a couple of chapter back (Mark 8:22). Yet there are some interesting details. Bartimaeus is the only person healed in Mark, whose name we know. (Hoezee, Mark) Bartimaeus is rebuked for calling out to Jesus; it’s like the crowd thinks they need to protect him. Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?”  (NRSV, Mark 10:51) While James and John sought power and honor Bartimaeus seeks sight; which he seems to have already, after all, he is the first one to call Jesus “Son of David” (Hoffman).

Yet, it is an old story of Jericho’s past; that may be most revealing. You remember way back when Joshua was leading the Hebrews into the promised land. In an absurd military maneuver, they march around the Jericho for six days, and on the seventh after marching around the city all the people shout and the walls come tumbling down. Bartimaeus keeps shouting to Jesus. The crowd tries to build a wall around Jesus, and run Bartimaeus off, but he keeps shouting. And you know what; Jesus hears him, has the crowd call Bartimaeus to him. The wall came crumbling down (Hoezee, Mark).

As with Job, this story ends with a new world vision, where the poor and disenfranchised are people, with names, who also bear the image of God (Hoezee, Mark).

Next Sunday is New Consecration Sunday, when we will offer our commitment to St. Stephen’s stewardship of Jesus’ ministry revealing the Kingdom of God right here, right now. Yes, there is a financial discernment to make. There is also a life vision discernment to make. As we ponder our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry what walls will we allow to crumble, revealing a new vision of divine justice, a new vision of the Kingdom’s present (Almquist).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Lifeblood.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 23 10 2015.

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. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Job 42:1-6, 10-17.” 25 10 2015. Working Preacher.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 10:4652. 25 10 2015.

Hoffman, Mark G. Vitalis. Commentary on Mark 10:46-52. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Richard Meux Benson, SSJE. “Healing.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 20 10 2015. email.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.