have mercy on me, a sinner
2007-10-28 by Becca Stephens
Following the path of Jesus can drive you crazy. I pray impatience with the Gospel is not a deadly sin! While we may not necessarily want to skip the journey, and get to the destination, we at least would like to move ahead on our spiritual path. Lord, each week, inch by inch, the church doles out only a tiny snippet of the story of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Each week we preach and hear the Gospel a paragraph at a time. Sometimes it is excruciatingly slow.
There is section in the Gospel of Luke called, “The Journey”. It begins in the 9th chapter after the transfiguration when Jesus has “his eyes set on Jerusalem”. It continues until the 19th chapter of Luke with the triumphant entry into the Jerusalem. These 10 chapters take months to read a paragraph at a time. It took Jesus months as well, even though he could have traversed that amount of territory in a couple of weeks, easy. Months after the transfiguration we find we are still wandering with Jesus right outside Jerusalem in Jericho. He may have had his eyes set on Jerusalem but his heart is sidetracked feeding, healing, teaching, and praying. His disciples tried to keep him moving. Right after the Gospel this morning they rebuke parents for bringing their infants to Jesus, but Jesus lets all the children come anyway. He spends time visiting Pharisees, tax collectors, healing lepers, telling parables and debating in the synagogues and streets. And those are just the events they recorded. The image of a map with a hundred dotted lines going every which way indicating all the detours gives us a picture of what on the way may mean.
On the way he is slowly and patiently teaching his disciples. At the beginning of the 12th Chapter the very first words to his little flock are, “meanwhile”. That is the part that undoes me. Meanwhile, while we preach a paragraph at a time, meanwhile, while we take up one more collection, meanwhile we eat a bite of bread and take a sip of wine. Meanwhile, the world is burning for his message of radical love, the war is four and half years old, the number of people below the poverty level in America is on the rise, and the Nobel Prize has been given in recognition of the crisis of global warming. Meanwhile, he is within fifty miles of Jerusalem in an occupied nation in which people are being persecuted. Meanwhile he takes his own sweet time saying, don’t worry about tomorrow, give everything away, give thanks and watch and wait.
In the 18th Chapter Jesus stops once again at a temple to reflect on two men standing inside praying, a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. It’s not a complicated parable with the general message that we should not trust in our own holiness. Jesus stops to explain what he means. The point is that we are not to exalt ourselves and only to trust in God’s mercy. The Pharisee though deserves sympathy for being faithful and continuing to walk this slow crawl to holiness. One gets credit for being a churchgoer, being willing to fast and pray, giving time and treasure. I wonder if the disciples ever want to say, “Okay, we get it, humility. We will add it to the never-ending list of discipleship, now let’s go preach it in the big temple and change the world”.
Meanwhile, this week two Sudanese women walked into my office. I had scheduled forty-five minutes for their meeting. They began the meeting by thanking me for my time, my precious time. Then they told me the journey part of their story. They had been on a long and arduous journey from a long and bloody war that created an entire generation of refuges. They told the story of the death of most of their family, their village being ruined, being separated from their siblings and friends since their childhood in the late 1980’s, fleeing to Egypt and the brutality they faced, the process of becoming refuges and arriving in Nashville in 2000. Finally they are here and safe with their own children. They are now feeling called to return to their hometown and build a school for the orphans of war. They had their eyes set on freedom on a journey that took them 10 years; a journey that should only take a day by plane. They get here and begin to get established. But in their great humility, they were sitting in my office with beautiful thick accents saying they wanted to turn around and go back and help. They said that God had been merciful to them and this was an expression of their gratitude. The Gospel message came flooding past my pharisaical mind and I could hear the words, “God have mercy on me, a sinner. God forgive my arrogance and impatience. God make hear the cry of others so that I don’t worry if I ever make it to Jerusalem.” These two young women wanted to go back, register themselves as a new organization and get some land for their fellow pilgrims in need. Having been given mercy from the war, they needed to make meaning out of all the suffering. The scars on their legs are reminders we can’t walk fast enough to get away from the pain. We worked on their journey and how to begin to plan for a school when they return.
We can keep moving forward on the journey only to find out we have walked round and round and found ourselves right back in the temple next to the Tax Collector saying amen to his, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Dr. Buttrick, a Professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, taught us to proclaim the whole story of salvation and not be limited by the lectionary. But sometimes studying a whole paragraph might be too much. We may need to take it slower and stay at a verse long enough to feel it sink in, forgetting the journey and destination for awhile. St. Paul says the Gospel is so rich we need to sip it. Like communion, savored. Digesting slowly what it means to be humble, until we feel it sink into our thick hearts. It is enough to read, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”, be changed by the words, and the deeds these words provoke, so if we ever get to Jerusalem, we are ready.
Pastor, Your Sermon Was Great, But . . .
2007-10-28 by David von Schlichten
This morning, I preached basically the sermon that I had posted at the cafe last week. I made the change that Nora Gallagher had suggested.
The sermon's main point was that the Bible is not a rigid rule book but is a book that teaches that, while rules are important, far more important is love. Trying to justify ourselves with rule-following, like the Pharisee, is not the way to salvation. The only way is through God's love, which we are to reflect in our behavior toward others.
Over and over I stressed that, according to the Bible, "Love [is] over rules."
After the early service, on her way out the door, a senior I adore and respect said, "Pastor, that was great, but remember that a good mother shows her love by having rules."
Della's right, as usual. In my sermon at the early service, I made it sound as if rules and love are in opposition to each other.
So, at the second service, I made it clear that rules themselves can be an expression of love, but that a rigid fixation on rules can blind us to the truth that God's loving grace is what saves us and is greater than rules.
Thanks, Della, for the lesson.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Yes, the Identification Irony!
2007-10-27 by David von Schlichten
In the blog entry below this one, Tom's point (which, as he notes, he gets from Levine and Schillebeeckx) that, when we thank God that we are not like the Pharisee we are actually being like the Pharisee, is brilliant. I will use this in my sermon tomorrow morning. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit for your help, Tom.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, blog moderator
The Pharisee and the Publican
2007-10-26 by Tom Steagald
I am reflecting on the notion of "identity" in this text, and the "delicious irony" (Levine) of the trap Jesus sets in the telling.
On the face of it, everyone assumes their proper station and says the right kind of prayer. It is appropriate for the Pharisee to pray as he does--he is, in fact, thankful to have been called to be a Pharisee and his prayer is no different than ours when we say, "There but for the grace of God go I." (Levine)
Likewise, the Publican ought to beat his chest and hide his face and stay away from polite company as he prays his miserable prayer miserably alone.
If the hearers of the parable were surprised that Jesus commended the Publican and his prayer--trapped by grace--we are surprised to find that we are trapped by our legalism when we say something like, "I am glad I am not like that Pharisee." (Levine) In sum, when we identify with the Publican we only prove we are the Pharisee (Schillebeeckx).
Still, this question of identity...it is not just that the Pharisee plays by the rules but that he takes his identity from who he is and what he does. His identity is based in self-affirmation. He has received his reward. The Publican, howver, finds identity in confession and self-contradiction, which Abba Evagrius said was the beginning of salvation.
And still both are in the Temple. Both are in my church! All of us are probably both. I know people in my church who are self-aggrandizers or self-blessers--I am one of them! And truth to tell I am thankful for them (as Levine says, the Pharisee is just the kind of congregant all of us want to have and in multiples--these folk pray and fast and, especially, tithe!). They follow the rules and who wants a bunch of antinomians to shepherd? That said, the Pharisees in the pews and the Pharisees we are are mostly unaware of our sin, and therefore are unaware of our own need for grace. Instead, we take identity from our righteousness, our works, our proper place in the Temple.
I also am and have folk who are so sure of their sin they are unable to see that they too are loved and are welcomed in the Temple...that their prayers are heard and are efficacious.
Last week I departed from the lectionary to preach on Luke 7:36-50, how in pride "we," much like Simon, are inclinced to see "its" (7:39) instead of seeing "hers/hims/thems" (7:44)--that how we treat "outsiders" is crucial in replicating the hospitality of God. This week I return to Luke to preach this text, determined to deal with "insiders," folk who come to Temple with us to pray and whose only hope is in God (Lathrop)--while many of us still put our first best hope in ourselves and regard the others with contempt.
The solas of the historic Reformation speak to what will reform the heart, too, what might reform the shape and tenor of congregational life. Moreover, these images seem to help me see the Bible as a book of salvation by grace and not for me alone (Just as I am, without another plea), but also as a political tool by which God forms and reforms the people.
Buzzing in the Cafe!
2007-10-26 by David Howell
Lots of folks in the cafe talking about Pharisees and Publicans.
Join the crowd...post a response to a sermon for this Sunday or share your own for feedback.
Chef Jean Paul has brought out the good stuff: Vietnamese Coffee (hot)!
Go back to Homepage, click on Share It!, and then click on Sermon Feedback Cafe.
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