Sunday Sermon 27 October – Always and only by grace, through faith, in love… (Reformation Sunday)

Luke 18:9-14

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collectoricon pharisee tax man

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Reformation Sunday!

It’s Reformation Sunday! By all rights I should be speaking about FAITH ALONE, THE BIBLE ALONE, AND GRACE ALONE! The text could be Romans 3 – how all have sinned. And how we are saved by faith.

Instead we’re back to prayer!

In a sense prayer is everything – the outcome of all the issues that the reformers fought over – add up to this one thing. You and I have direct access to God.

And the conflict of Luther with the Catholic church of his day is neatly portrayed in these two characters:

  • The Pharisee
  • The Publican (or tax collector).

The one basis his relationship with God on his achievements. The other has nothing to offer – except to plead for mercy. The first is about salvation by works – the second salvation by faith, through grace.

Over the past couple of weeks we have looked at the loving kindness of God – his mercies that are new every morning. And we have looked at that persistent widow knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.

Today’s parable takes this further. We loved the story of the widow – because we like supporting the outsider, the underdog. Kiwis love this – they don’t like people who are too full of themselves – like the judge who didn’t care too hoots about God or people.

But we are stretched today.

Because the guy who walks away from the prayer time justified is a pretty bad guy really.

A publican. A tax collector. In a modern version of the story it would be like some terrible occupying army from Australia or the old Soviet Russia controlling our lives from day to day and taking our money. And one of our own working for the occupiers – and people from your own side would come knocking at your door to take your money – and extra for themselves.

This is a recipe for valid resentment, rejection, revolt, revision of your values – I mean why should you give these kinds of people time of day?

Think of other teachings of Jesus – like walking the extra mile. The contrast is equally radical! A Roman soldier had every right to make you carry his heavy pack for a mile. No more. And you would hate that – that sense of powerlessness and being trapped by other peoples’ rules.

Jesus says – carry the pack two miles! This is extending grace to an enemy and an occupier – one who threatened all you stand for and believe!

So the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying is also radical.

It’s a church goer who shows up and does the stuff – paying their 10 percent (we could do with more faithful people paying their ten percent here! ) and a rotten deceptive sneaky embezzler coming into church – like one of those guys who sold you a great investment – only for you to see your retirement money gone in a flash.

Everything in us wants to punish those horrible people.

REFORMATION SUNDAY

Lucky for us this is Reformation Sunday! All have sinned (Romans 3:23) – that’s the point. Romans 6:23 talks about the gift of God. Romans 8:1 declares those in Christ to be free from condemnation.

It’s actually about grace! Unmerited favour and lots of forgiveness.

How good to see our mayor in the local paper this week – saying that he has received real compassion from Christians in Auckland.

Oh we should be careful not to judge!

THE DETAILS OF THE CONTRAST

Look at Luke again:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable

Well that’s a good warning – as self-righteousness is a serious problem. So too looking down on everyone else. I guess that’s pride or arrogance.

The prayer itself needs examination:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

We may think – gosh these Pharisees were bad – what a bad attitude?

And yet we are equally dismissive of the three categories

  • Robbers – creative bunch. We’ve opened our home to homeless people – and they’ve wandered off with our things! (Tell the story of the Smiths in Witbank – or the thief that came back after being prayed for… )
  • Evildoers – nice broad category really. We tut tut and the terrible things people do these days – forgetting that this is nothing new. Sometimes you read these historical quotes about bad people and you think it’s something written yesterday – only to find it came of some Pharaoh’s tomb or the writing was found on the wall of a cave dating back thousands of years!
  • Adulterers – gosh Auckland has been really in a tailspin about this one and our mayor.  Trouble is Jesus again – look at what he said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).

Tricky one isn’t it?

And of course the Pharisee lists his strengths! And they show discipline and generosity don’t they.

But it’s this line that gives away the arrogance: God, I thank you that I am not like other people…

And that’s exactly how Luke introduces this story: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.

What we need to really examine is verse 13:

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The heart of the matter is humility. I have real issues with this. Humility is the virtue, the attitude that enables people to follow leadership, to trust others’ judgement, and to be teachable.

Being teachable – just by the way – is the thing that I look for in people – especially leaders. You may remember the acronym FAT – I’m looking for Fat people. Faithful, available and teachable!

What can we say about humility?

Lack of humility – its antithesis – is probably pride. Its part of every marriage argument, every case of broken relationships. And its there in the hearts of people who can’t for the life of anyone see the need to have God in their lives.

Because they are self-sufficient!

The longer I serve Him – the more inadequate I feel in myself.

Sin is there because we are sinners by nature.

And the inner battle goes on until the day Jesus takes us home.

So how is your prayer life going?

Persistence (last week – from the story of the unjust judge who got a black eye from a  little old widow).

Be careful that persistence doesn’t come from a sense of entitlement and pride – that you think you actual deserve your prayers to be answered.

Luke 18:14  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Too many of us get the words of the song confused – the one that goes like this…  I’m thinking of the Michael Smith Song – It’s all about you Jesus. It’s called “The heart of worship”. The chorus goes like this:

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus

Too many of us change the words and sing” And it’s all about me, it’s all about me Jesus…”

You get the point. Bruce Larson gives us this formula to help us get the humility thing right. We’ll end with this:

Being a new being in Christ means reversing our natural tendencies. Someone once said to me, “Larson, do you know what’s wrong with you? You judge other people by their actions and yourself by your intentions. If you could reverse that, it would change your life.” Since then I’ve been trying to judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Try judging yourself not by what you meant, but by what you did—which is how people perceive you. That’s a giant step on the way to humility.

And on this Reformation Sunday there is one extra thing – central concept – that is here:

The humble man went home justified before God”. (v14)

Justification is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in his letters, especially His letter to the Roman church.

He was made righteous because his sin was blotted out! Pardoned.

That’s the heart of it.

It’s a dangerous parable. I last preached on it on the Sunday I came here with a view to a call. I did a pretty bad job of the sermon. And some of the people rated me badly and voted against me coming!

You see you rated me and decide whether I was okay or not. Clearly that is the grace of God (if it was based on the rating of that sermon!) Most – almost all -voted to have me as pastor here! 🙂

We’re always rating each other.

And on that Sunday I preached I warned of the danger here.

That all too easily we might say – “I thank God that I am a repentant sinner and not like that arrogant Pharisee!”

Justification by faith – the heart of the reformation – is what it is. We don’t deserve God’s love – and it is bounteous. I once tried to quantify it in a children’s chapel. We had glasses, then buckets, then wheely bins to answer the question – how much love is there?

The answer is – it reaches to the heavens – and to the end of the universe – to the multiverses out there – and beyond – way beyond where the Star Ship Enterprise and Captain Kirk will ever go.

What a relief! Enjoy this love today and always!

God bless you as you seek Him.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on October 27, 2013, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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