The Publican and the Pharisee
2007-10-24 by Tom Steagald
I am working on this text this week, familiar as it is. I would alert you who are doing the same not to miss Amy Jill-Levine's wonderful treatment of the pericope in her book, The Misunderstood Jew (Harper, 2006, pp. 40-41).
One thought that strikes me this week is that the players are both in the Temple. This may seen a small point, but as often as I have preached and taught this text I have never considered that part of it. It is not just that the Pope and a pimp went to St. Peter's to pray (Crossan), but that God does not admit one and not the other, but both--much to the Pharisee/Pope/Tom's chagrin. In sum, if the lavish hospitality of God to "outsiders" can wrankle at times we still expect that. What we can't abide is the hospitality to others within the church. Which is to say that often we are unable to be the least bit hospitable to insiders--whatever their real or imagined offense (Remember Garrison Keillor's line to the effect that "we have not spoken to the Bunsens in twenty years, I have no idea why").
Could the Pharisee's prayer even be a bit of a dig at God? I am so righteous as to make distinctions were you (God) do not? If so, his attitude is in keeping with Jonah, at least, who surely wants to make distinction regarding Ninevah where God does not and does what he can to subvert the gracious intent of God. The analogy breaks down in that Ninevites were certainly outsiders, but the desire to make distinction where God does not is still apt.
I am struggling with this business of how we in the church (and I am thinking here of my congregation but it could be extrapolated further) sometimes are prone to regard each other with more contempt than we regard those who are not in the Temple at all. If that makes any kind of sense.
It is still early.
The Cries of a Sinner
2007-10-24 by Dee Dee Haines
Thank you to Rick Brand for reminding us of the universality of all of God’s creation. Perhaps we cannot truly understand the cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” without again coming to grips with the reality that everything has been fashioned by God with the intention of enjoyment for all.
Our sinful brokenness invites us to claim, for ourselves, a kind of ownership that leads to a specific virus of idolatry of self--- that is never consistent with a depth-filled understanding of grace. “It’s mine, I’ve earned it.” If we fall into this pattern of thinking, it won’t be long before it is followed by, “If so-and-so worked as hard as I do, they’d have what they need.”
I remember when I first moved into this manse. There was a lovely view of the hillside from the south facing conservatory. And then a builder began to uproot the vegetation and fashion a new structure that totally obscured the vision of what had once been a source of peace and tranquillity. I remember saying to someone, “They’ve ruined my view.” A very wise man said to me, “Oh, it’s your view, is it?”
It’s a humbling experience to embrace the concept that everything we have is not only provided by God, but also under God’s guardianship. Surely, any humble confession must begin with this basic concept that we have to learn again, and again.
Thanks, Rick, for the thoughtful reminder!
Dee Dee Haines
2007-10-24 by Rick Brand
Indeed, David has mentioned that there are other texts in the lectionary. We are in Stewardship campaign. We are having rain for the first time in ages. In my town we are exactly where Psalm 65 is--we are full of praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings we have. We are also full of the recognition that we do not really deserve all thes blessings considering what we have done to the world: war in Iraq, pollution, wasteful consumerism, refusal to demand of ourselves sacrifices.
In Iona, where they have no street lights, we were amazed again at the brillance of the stars, and these are the same stars that all people see. The recognitions of the blessings of nature carry us towards a recognition of our universal humanity. There are no American stars or Egyptian stars. The rain today could have been in the rivers in China yesterday. The God of creation is the Lord of all worlds.
The last part of the Psalm rolls out amazing thanksgiving for the gift of fertility rooted in water. We have watched that as well in our area. The lack of water and the lack of crops is a very serious problem.
Psalm 65 says it all for us right now. If we are this grateful for what we have, what are we going to do to express and share that joy?
Susan Sparks, Highlights from this Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics," and California
2007-10-23 by David von Schlichten
Susan Sparks' reflection on the word “libation” in the passage from 2 Timothy offers some humorous and stimulating thoughts that remind us that there are other readings for Sunday besides the famous Pharisee/Publican story of Luke 18, one of those parables that are so magnificent that they tend to eclipse all other pericopes for a given Sunday.
Scroll down to read Sparks' blog entry.
Another matter for consideration is the fires of California. People will search for answers to why questions. Some will claim that the fires are a punishment from God, while others of us will argue that the fires are the result of human hubris and ineptitude. What we know for certain is that God calls us Christians to help people in need.
We could tie the libation passage of 2 Timothy to this call for us Christians to make sacrifices to help the victims of the fires.
Also, prejudices will emerge as we watch these fires – prejudices against Californians, celebrities, immigrants, and others who are likely affected directly by the fires. May we recall the Gospel from Luke 18, which warns against prejudice and teaches that the grace of God is for all.
Our articles in Lectionary Homiletics for this week focus on this extraordinary parable from Luke 18. Here are highlights.
Susan Eastman offers insightful observations about the language of the text. For instance, the presence of the demonstrative article before “sinner” in the Greek indicates that the tax collector regards himself as, not merely a sinner, but the sinner, i.e., especially depraved and marginalized. The Pharisee, by contrast, is praying to or concering himself (v.11).
Susan also draws in Jeremiah 14, in which the prophet laments the people's sin and begs for God's mercy. We live, not by our righteousness, but by God's magnanimity.
Finally, Susan reminds us that the negative depiction of the Pharisee is not a condemnation of Judaism. Rather, the Pharisee and the tax collector represent two different approaches within Judaism.
Go to the samples section for this Sunday to read Susan's entire article for free.
Mary Clark Moschella wisely notes that the issue of pride is tricky for us Christians. We are to be humble, but being humble does not demand being self-abnegating. Conversely, there is no sin in being self-confident and having a certain degree of pride. Hubris is the sin. Moschella succinctly states, “When we find ourselves looking down on others we need to get down on the ground and start looking up at God, the giver of life” (p.29).
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anthony Dean Bailey offers questions that can help preachers and hearers to see this parable anew, such as: “Did the toll agent [the tax collector] know he was justified when he went home [ . . . ] Is the Pharisee so different from many respectable Christians [ . . . ] What kind of God acts in this parable [ . . . ] Did [the toll agent] change any of his behavior? Does that matter?” (p.32)
Bailey concludes his article by saying that what matters most is not whether one is like the Pharisee, tax collector, or both, but whether “ [ . . . ] we trust the God disclosed by this parable to justify us even if we don't get our lives and our words right [.]” (p.33)
In “The Pride of Prejudice,” D. Jay Losher, Jr. quotes Martin Luther, the igniter of the Reformation (which some of us in the Church will commemorate on Sunday). Losher recalls Luther writing that there are at least two types of sinners. Some sinners confess their sins but give up hope and go on sinning, while others confess their sins and, full of self-loathing, beg and yearn for forgiveness. Losher concludes, “For Martin Luther, the more I think of myself as a saint, the more sinful in fact I am. The more I think of myself as a sinner, the more saintly in fact I become” (p.33).
Looking forward to more from Susan Sparks and thoughts from other bloggers, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Poured Out Like A Libation
2007-10-23 by Susan Sparks
I have recently taken over as the new senior minister at Madison Avenue Baptist Church. I love the job. Besides being a totally cool parish, I must be honest, it offers a great parsonage. It’s quite spacious. (Of course, in New York City terms that only means the kitchen and bedroom are in different rooms.) As expected with spacious apartments, I’ve had a lot of folks come out of the woodwork to visit. Like, for example, this week. A large LARGE contingency of folks are staying in my home. In my home. For a week. Yes, seven days. In my home. Gulp. And I am reminded of the verse in 2 Timothy 4:6 “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation and the time of [their] departure has come.” Which definition of “libation” I am contemplating is unclear: sacrifice or a stiff drink? Whatever the definition, this image of our body/souls/spirits being poured out like a libation is one many can understand. Whether it is demands from family, friends, work or relationships, so often in our rushed and busy lives we feel like we are being poured out drop by drop. I am reminded of the Tao Te Ching which says:
Bottom line--if your cup is full, stop pouring. We all want to “fight the good fight and finish the race” as Paul says. However, we have to have gas to run the race. And if we pour too much of ourselves out too quickly, then the race is over before it’s begun.
These are my early thoughts on this scripture. I welcome your thoughts!
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