Oct. 23, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness. Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the peoples of the earth may find their glory in you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Joel 2:23-32

23O children of Zion, be glad
  and rejoice in the Lord your God;
 for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
  he has poured down for you abundant rain,
  the early and the later rain, as before.
24The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
  the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25I will repay you for the years
  that the swarming locust has eaten,
 the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
  my great army, which I sent against you.

26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
  and praise the name of the Lord your God,
  who has dealt wondrously with you.
 And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
  and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
 And my people shall never again be put to shame.

28Then afterward
  I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
 your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
  your old men shall dream dreams,
  and your young men shall see visions.
29Even on the male and female slaves,
  in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

30I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lordshall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Psalm 65

1You are to be praised, O | God, in Zion;
  to you shall vows | be fulfilled.
2To you, the one | who answers prayer,
  to you all | flesh shall come.
3Our sins are strong- | er than we are,
  but you blot out | our transgressions.
4Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your | courts to dwell there!
  They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness | of your temple. 
5Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of | our salvation,
  O hope of all the ends of the earth and of the oceans | far away.
6You make firm the mountains | by your power;
  you are girded a- | bout with might.
7You still the roaring | of the seas,
  the roaring of their waves, and the clamor | of the peoples.
8Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your | marvelous signs;
  you make the dawn and the dusk to | sing for joy. 
9You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is | full of water.
  You prepare the grain, for so you provide | for the earth.
10You drench the furrows and smooth | out the ridges;
  with heavy rain you soften the ground and | bless its increase.
11You crown the year | with your goodness,
  and your paths over- | flow with plenty.
12May the fields of the wilderness be | rich for grazing,
  and the hills be | clothed with joy.
13May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak them- | selves with grain;
  let them shout for | joy and sing. 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14

9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and the Publican 

John Everitt Millais
Tate Britain
London, England 

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The Apostle Paul wrote that the gospel is a stumbling block. One theologian added that the danger is stumbling over the wrong thing. There is something similar going on in today’s parable from Luke’s gospel.

It is difficult to avoid interpreting the parable in simplistic terms. We too easily judge the Pharisee to be a self-righteous hypocrite. Most significant, we assume that this is a parable about morality, and we assume that the moral of the story is to be humble. 

We might as well end up praying, “Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self-righteous people, or even like this Pharisee. We have learned that we should always be humble.” 

How can we avoid this kind of reading of the parable? It might help first to note that everything the Pharisee says is true. He has set himself apart from others by his faithful adherence to the law. That’s not really so bad. So much of what he lists is good. He has lived a righteous life. But that’s not how the story ends.

After the two prayers Jesus says, “I tell you this man [the tax collector] went to his house justified rather than the other for all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” It sounds like Jesus is advocating for humility pretty strongly, but what does that mean exactly? 

The Pharisee’s problem is not that he is showing off. It is what he truly believes in his heart—that his stack of good deeds is enough to save the world. And he believes it is enough if only everyone else would do what he does. 

What God says in and through Jesus is that human goodness is never good enough to make us right with God. Human goodness cannot reconcile the world. Basically, if the world could have been reconciled by good advice from God, the world’s problems would have been solved just after Moses made it down Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments. 

The law, the commandments, are efforts at morality, humility, spirituality, and above all, are efforts at religion. They have value, no doubt about that. They help us live in community with one another and they can help societies flourish for all. But they don’t help us be justified by God. So, God does not risk trying to save the world by human good behavior. God says that the tax collector, who simply looks at his shoes and says, “I’m no good” is justified. Now why is that?

It is no accident that this exchange takes place at the Temple. On the grounds of the Temple, people were intimately aware of who they were. They were aware of what status they had, of what they could expect from God. At the Temple there were insiders and outsiders. According to these rules there was no question of where the Pharisee and tax collector stood. 

But when Jesus dies, all this changes. As the gospels report, the curtain in the Temple is torn in two at Jesus’ death. This symbolically erases all divisions of humanity before God. This might be pushing our interpretation, but perhaps that act is foreshadowed in our parable today. Jesus proclaims justification not for the one favored by Temple law, but the one standing outside the Temple gate, and aware only of his utter need.

This is what makes parables so tricky. As soon as we give into the temptation to divide humanity into any kind of groups, we have aligned ourselves with the Pharisee. Whether our division is between unrighteous and sinners, or even between the self-righteous and the humble, we are doomed. Anytime you draw a line between who is in and who is out, you will find God on the other side. 

Read this way, the parable reveals that it is not about self-righteousness and humility any more than it is about a pious Pharisee and a desperate tax collector. Instead, this parable, is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly. 

At the end of the parable, the Pharisee will leave the Temple and return to his home righteous. This has not changed. He was righteous when he came up and righteous as he goes back down. The tax collector, however, will leave the Temple and go back down to his home justified, that is, accounted righteous by God. How has this happened?

The tax collector makes neither sacrifice nor restitution. On what basis is he accounted righteous? On the basis of God’s divine rule! We find ourselves, yet again, with nothing to claim but our dependence on God’s mercy. When this happens and we forget if only for a moment, our human-constructed divisions, and stand before God aware only of our need, then we, also, are justified by the God of Jesus. We too are invited to return to our homes in mercy, grace, and gratitude. 

It’s parables like this one that at the end of the day I absolutely love. There is a lot that I preach from the pulpit that people who are not people of faith would agree with—how we might love our neighbor, reminding us of those who live on the margins, care for the natural world, what it looks like to live in community. For me, I’m always preaching with the lens of my Christian faith. 

But today’s parable is about the lens itself and really nothing else. It is about a God whose abundant love is almost offensive to humans because it is so vast. We are reminded that we worship a God not only of second chances, but third and fourth and fifth, and seventy times seven chances. We might love this holy one but we do not always like this God’s method of operation. If you’re like me, you don’t like God’s methods until you have done something so awful or you have left something undone which you so regret, then you pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” and God hears your prayer and welcomes you home.

One of my favorite commentators wrote that what Jesus is saying in this parable is “that as far as the Pharisee’s ability to win a game of justification with God is concerned, he is no better off than the publican. As a matter of fact, the Pharisee is worse off; because while they are both losers, the tax collector at least has the sense to recognize the fact and trust God’s offer of a free drink. The point of the parable is that they are both dead, and their only hope is someone who can raise the dead.” (Capon)

On Saturday I went to the cluster event at Hope Lutheran and listened as a colleague described reading a book and feeling immense guilt that they are not doing enough about this issue. It reminded me of my new bedtime meditation, a sort of examine of the day that is ending. The application asks me to remember when I clearly encountered God. There is time for confession—for sins of commission or omission. It does not matter the day, every day, even my best days, there is something to confess. Words of scripture, different passages each evening, are woven throughout the devotion. But every night, the same words end the prayer: “God of all seasons, the sun has set, the night has gathered in, my soul sinks slowly into Your rest, trusting now in the resurrection to come.” 

With those words, I’m reminded that in the waters of Holy Baptism I have already drowned with Christ and been given new life. The new life was not mine to give or earn; it could only be received from God alone through Jesus Christ. 

There is so much good that congregations can and are doing in this new chapter of life. Scripture, our source for so much, grounds us and hopefully drives us to be leaders in reconciliation, participants in caring for the natural world, and protecting human dignity, to name some big ones. For me and for you, all of that good work stems from the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. You are justified by God’s grace alone, nothing else. It is not up to you; thanks be to God. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection you are justified and made alive each day. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

In gratitude and humility, let us join together in prayer on behalf of all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.

God of mercy, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name. Inspire your church to serve and love all people with the unceasing grace you extend to us. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of all creation, you formed a world where even the sparrow finds a home. Preserve the beauty and diversity of all creatures with whom we share the earth. Lead us to protect all living things. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of peace, you are an ever-present help in time of trouble. Rescue families and nations torn apart by violence and warfare (especially). Unite all people toward common goals of reconciliation and peace for every person. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of hope, you stand with the suffering and give strength. Comfort your people filled with fear or anger, anxiety or shame. Bring healing to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit (especially). Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of restoration, you call us to trust in you and not ourselves alone. Make this congregation a community of humility and repentance, ready to encounter you in love and follow in your ways. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God of eternal life, to you be the glory forever. We give you thanks for (James of Jerusalem and) all who have fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and now live with you. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

With grateful hearts we commend our spoken and silent prayers to you, O God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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