Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity - Lk 18:9-14

                                                      Trinity 11
                                                                                       Lk 18:9-14

            Well, another presidential election season is upon us.  Of course, we aren’t even to the real thing yet. This is the pre-season – the time when the Republican and Democratic parties select their candidate.  In the case of the Republicans, it seems like everyone and his brother wants to be president and thinks they have a chance.  In fact, there are so many candidates that at the first Republican debate they weren’t able to have all the candidates together at the same time.  Instead they divided them into two groups based on their polling numbers.  The “second team” debated earlier, and then the “first team” debated during prime time.
            I hadn’t planned on watching any of the Republican debate.  But I happened to be at my parents’ house that day, and they wanted to watch because they were curious.  It turned out that it was actually interesting to watch a little of it.  What made it interesting was that two of the candidates are not career politicians.  They stood about because of this fact.  And then there was also a stark contrast between the personalities of those two.
            On the one hand you have Donald Trump.  He is a successful business man with a net worth of around four billion dollars.  Trump is “The Donald” – big and brash, with a hairdo you can’t forget.  He seeks the spotlight, having starred in his own reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”  He says whatever is on his mind and if it offends you, well then that’s your problem.
            On the other hand you have Ben Carson.  He is a highly respected pediatric neurosurgeon who recently retired from Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Needless to say, he too is a very bright man - you can’t say, “Well it’s not brain surgery,” to him.  Yet his demeanor could not be more different from Donald Trump.  He is soft spoken, hardly making any gestures.  In the way he carries himself he sounds more like he is talking to a church group than taking part in the rough and tumble world of a national election campaign.
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells a parable about two men who also demonstrate a stark difference in their behavior and demeanor.  He sets before us a Pharisee and a tax collector who come before God with very different attitudes that show forth in the way they act.  In the parable we learn that our God is the One lifts up the humble.
            The first verse of our text this morning provides critical insight into what our Lord is saying.  Luke writes, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”  Jesus speaks to people who have a sense that they are ok – that they have things in order when it comes to God.  And on the other hand, they look down on others – they treat them with contempt.
            Christ tells of how two men went up to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. The one man was a Pharisee.  Most likely he would have been a lay person – but one who has committed to an understanding of Judaism that applied practices of the priesthood and temple to everyday life. The Pharisees believed that there was a right way to do things – their way.  And they looked down on others who didn’t live according to their ways.
            On the other hand, there was a tax collector.  The tax collector had the same appeal as an IRS agent today.  But more than that they were assumed to be crooked. They were in a position to extort and steal money for themselves by the way they carried out their tax work.  And of course they were associated with the Roman rule of Palestine. These were two very different men.  And of course the hearers would have immediately assumed good things about the Pharisee and bad things about the tax collector.                    
           Jesus continued by saying, “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”  Now it is important to remember that the Jewish custom was to pray aloud.  The picture here is of the Pharisee putting himself on display and declaring before all that he is great.
         On the other hand we learn that the tax collector stood far off.  He didn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”  If the Pharisee exalted in what he was, the tax collector humbled himself as a sinner coming before the holy God. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You don’t need training as a biblical exegete to understand what Jesus addresses here.  Clearly he speaks to the pride that lurks in your heart – the pride that sets you up above someone else so that you can look down on them.  You are proud that you live in godly ways.  After all you aren’t living together outside marriage or having sex outside of marriage like all those other people in our culture.  Of course that conveniently ignores all the ways you willingly take in our culture’s presentation of sex in order to lust and desire the body of one who is not your husband or wife.
You are proud that you believe the right thing.  After all, you are Lutheran!  You know that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him.  You know that Holy Baptism really does something as a person is born again and shares in Christ’s saving death.  You know that the Sacrament of the Altar is the miracle of Christ’s true body and blood, under the bread and wine, for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. And thank goodness you are not like those Methobaptipentecostals who have it all wrong!
But at the same time you don’t actually open your Bible and read it during the week.  You don’t come to Bible class.  You are the head of the family and you don’t teach the Small Catechism to your family.  You got confirmed and you really haven’t been all that worried about learning more since then.
There is no reason for pride. There certainly is no reason to look down on other people.  Instead, what you need to do is repent.  You need to humble yourself before God and confess your sin.  Because make no mistake – you are a sinner.
The tax collector knew this. Everything about his actions and demeanor matched his words as he exclaimed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  And Jesus tells us, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus assures you that in repentance and humility there is forgiveness.  He says “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is true because Jesus is the One who humbled himself so that you may be exalted.  St Paul described it this way, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus Christ humbled himself in the incarnation as he did not use his power to serve himself.  Instead he obeyed the Father’s will and served you by taking your place and dying on the cross. He bore your sins. He received your punishment.  He died your death. And then on the third day he rose from the dead.  He humbled himself in service to you, and then God raised him up and exalted him to his right hand with all might and power.
Now, through baptism, you have died Christ’s death. You were buried with him, and you can’t get much lower than that.  But you were also raised up with him.  You were raised up because now Christ gives his holiness to you in God’s eyes.  And it is God who decides how things really are.  You are righteous; justified; ready now to stand before God on the Last Day.
As someone who has experienced this, you know that you have every reason to rejoice, but no reason for pride.  As someone who has been lifted up, you know that there is no reason to look down on others.  Instead, having been exalted in Christ, you are now in the exalting business.  You are in the lifting up business.  Your goal now is to share Christ’s love by lifting up others.  So look around you in your life and notice those who need support; who need assistance; who need help.  Serve them by lifting them up, just as Christ has lifted you up.
In doing so, it is not your doing.  Instead it is the continuing work of Jesus Christ who has lifted you up … and will lift you up on the Last Day.  It is the Spirit of the risen Lord who has given you new life – who has made you a new creation in Christ.  It is Christ in you – Christ using you as the instrument by which he lifts others up.
Jesus Christ has lifted you up by giving you forgiveness.  He has lifted you up through his Spirit by making you a new creation who serves others.  And he will lift you up one final time.  For it is the Spirit of the risen Lord who is in you. And it is by the work of the Spirit that Christ will raise you from the dead on the Last Day to share in his resurrection.



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