Luke 18:9-17

October 27, 2013 by Ken Dale

? ? ? ? ? ? At the close of last Sunday?s sermon it was mentioned that life that is really life is prayerful life.? Our gospel lesson this morning presents two different people at prayer.? It brought to mind that prayer you may have received in an e-mail: So far today, God, I?ve done all right. I haven?t gossiped, haven?t lost my temper, haven?t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or over-indulgent. I?m really glad about that.? But in a few minutes, God, I?m going to get out of bed and from then on I?m probably going to need a lot more help.? Thank you. ?In Jesus? name. Amen.

??????????? I?ve heard it too many times over the past couple of years, that the state of Maine is the least churched state in the union.? And I wonder what image of church those who do not go live with.? I wonder if that image is that the church is for people whose marriage is happy, who have no addictions, whose children are all just perfect, who can recite the creeds from memory, who have no struggles with what the Bible says ? in short, church is for people who have it all together and are successful in life and faith.? Is that how you who worship here this morning would describe yourself?

I love this short story about the tax collector and the Pharisee at prayer because sometimes I can relate to that Pharisee and sometimes I can relate to the tax collector.? Sometimes we come to church feeling pretty good about life and sometimes we come with our secrets and as that old prayer of confession states it, aware of ?things we have done that we ought not to have done and things left undone that we ought to have done.? Sometimes we may sit in worship looking like we?re feeling pretty close to God and getting it right ? and sometimes whether it shows or not ? we feel pretty distant from God.? Sometimes when we want to pray we don?t know quite what to pray because we?re down.

At the Association meeting last Sunday when we welcomed? the Union Church of Vinal Haven into our Association, I was chatting with Nancy Duncan, pastor of the Broadbay UCC about the book The Wisdom Jesus Bobsy is leading a study in ? Nancy is doing the same in her church and it?s a thought provoking book.? But she mentioned how much she appreciated the author?s thoughts on being in touch with God ? using the word ?grounded.?? The word humility comes from the word humas ? earth, earthy ? to be close to the ground, or close to the bottom.? We see it in the prayer of the tax collector who simply prays for God?s mercy.? He is at the bottom ? empty, unsteady, unsure.? And the good news of that parable is that in life?s journey when something or someone humbles us ? that?s when God greets us.? Hold out those empty hands and receive a gift ? and that gift is grace!

Then there are those times when we do come to church ? or come to prayer ? with our ducks in a row at least for the moment.? We may come with a spirit of thanksgiving that we are not in a position of need.? It?s ok to be in that state but we need be careful not to become like the Pharisee.? I think a key is in verse 9 at the very beginning: ?Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.?? Regarding others with contempt is not a good state to be in.? The Pharisee in his righteousness looks down on the tax collector and we need to be careful of that in our up times.? If we come to church all full with no sense of need, then we must have something to give to those who are in need in some way.? And they are gifts of grace ? gifts of care and concern, a listening ear, a gift of presence, a word of encouragement or hope.? What a difference those gifts can make when they are shared in faith.? The moment of prayer in thanksgiving might continue ?and so I pray, O God of grace, that you would make me an instrument of your grace in life of someone who is need.?? What we pray ? how we pray ? often demonstrates what we believe.

We need to hear the lesson about humility but with caution that our humility doesn?t cause us to look down on the Pharisee.? It?s interesting- as it seems when God greets us in our humility, that humility actually puts a check on itself ? we cannot boast of being humble ? if we do, we?re no longer humble.? So the tax collector actually cannot thank God that he is not like

the Pharisee.? We can?t try to be humble ? we are or we are not ? it happens to us, we don?t make it happen ? and grace happens in the same way.

For those who listened to this story from Jesus it was scandalous.? It was believed that doing all those good things listed by the Pharisee did bring one closer to God.? And it was scandalous that grace would be offered to such a scoundrel as the tax collector so easily.? There was no righting of all those wrongs done by the tax collector.? No returning of the fees he collected from his neighbors that made him rich while his neighbors struggled to survive.? He just begged God?s forgiveness and went home justified.? Not always an easy pill for us to swallow is it!?? The message is mercy is at God?s disposal and forgiveness is available to all who ask for it ? righteousness is a gift of God and not something we accomplish for ourselves.

A quick word of caution here ? that is of cheap grace ? accepting it without considering the cost – which is seen in the presence of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Christ.? We also cheapen it when we fail to celebrate what it really gives ? and that is new life.? And we certainly undermine it when we act as if what we have done and who we have been has earned it.

Prayer is turning to God.? We pray by grace, we come to God with thanksgiving, but we mostly come in need, empty, seeking.? Too often in prayer we wonder what we should say to God.? We forget about that part of prayer that is listening for what God has to say to us.? Too often we trouble ourselves about what we should do for God ? what if we just listened and just let God do for us and use us.? In so doing, by God?s grace we ARE doing for God.

Just this past week while visiting a family I heard the story of a cancer patient who had successful surgery for the cancer and who started getting calls from patients with the same cancer and facing the same surgery.? He offered them hope and encouragement.? The comment was made about what it did for him as he was seeking to help others.? He also learned it got passed on and those he helped were also getting the same kind of calls.? I couldn?t help just say ? ?sounds like how God?s grace works to me?.? God?s amazing grace is at work in some wonderful ways through some of our most simple interactions with each other ? if only we are open to them ? both as givers and receivers.

So where do we see ourselves is this parable?? How do we read it?? Tax collector?? Pharisee?? We are both and so are all the others.? So actually, isn?t this more all about God?? Both the tax collector and the Pharisee are in need of God ? one knows of his need and the other doesn?t.? The tax collector had humility and so an acute awareness that his only hope lay in the grace of God. ?His worth as a person was not in his own accomplishments but in God?s love for him.? That?s faith.? Sometimes- that?s who we relate to.? But sometimes we feel like we?ve got it all together and we are thankful to God for that ? and so maybe we have something to share that can make a big difference in the life of another.? What a tragedy if God is counting on us to be a means by which grace flows into another?s life ? and we turn and walk away, thinking only of ourselves.

Our hope is not in what we are ?? but in who we are ? namely children of God ? and all we have to tell of is our amazing God ? and God of Amazing Grace!? Amen.