Friday, August 21, 2015

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity)

Two men opened the doors to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wittenberg to pray. Both men sat in their pews. One was a life-long member of the church, the other man, the town-drunk, just happened to stumble in, still hung over from the night before.

The first man was successful in every way. As the saying goes he counted his blessings. And prayed, saying, “God, I thank you, that I am not like other men. I’ve never had a divorce, my children are all successful, and what’s more they are all married. My reputation in town is pretty close to impeccable. Sure, I’m a sinner, but overall, I’ve done fairly well, I’ve done my best, at least much better than that trouble making drunk on welfare in that other pew. I thank you God that I am not like him.”

But the town drunk, gnarly looking, and still smelling like booze from the night before, kept his head down through the entire service. When it came time to confess his sins, he meant it, oh did he mean it! He considered the mess he had made of his marriage, and the neglect of his own children, how he had let them down. He felt ashamed of his anger, his mistrust of God, and what he had become. He pounded his chest, saying, I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you.”

Jesus tells us this morning, that this man went home to his house declared righteous and forgiven by God, rather than the first man, the life-long Lutheran, who remained in bondage to sin and the devil. The man who the whole community considered great and blessed was damned, and the town drunk, was saved.

Dear Christians this parable this morning is not difficult to understand. We are warned of the dangers of complacency. Measuring our goodness in comparison with others is an easy road to hell and we are all guilty of it. It’s easy to be a Pharisee. It’s easy to scoff and ridicule politicians or celebrities about their affairs, their shortcomings, their weaknesses. In our families we are quick to find fault with each other rather than recognizing how we contribute already to a bad situation. Even in a church congregation how easy it is to blame others, to dwell and meditate on the flaws and defects of others.

Let us confess the truth! That when it comes to spotting the sins of others we have the eye of an eagle but when it comes to seeing our own sins we are as blind as a bat.

Repent, beware, because in the kingdom of God tax collectors enter before Pharisees, prostitutes are called rather than self-righteous saints, and drunks walk into heaven before life-long Lutherans.
This is what the Pharisee this morning didn’t understand. He thought he could stand before God based upon his own righteousness. He thought God was impressed by him.

How foolish. St. Paul tells us this morning in our epistle that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. All of us by nature are children of wrath. No one is righteous, no not one, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. This is what the Pharisee did not get. So while he was holding up his chin in arrogant rebellion against the God of love He was sending forth his Son to die for him.

Like a greedy tax collector the Lord Christ was collecting the sins of the sins of the world. He was baptized, taught, suffered for rebel man. While we pray “God I thank you that I am not like other men” it is Jesus who prays for you “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

For proud and rebel man it is God who humbles himself, taking on the form of a servant. Lowered in the earth he dies with your sins. He takes your place. He dies your death. It is complete. He stands victoriously in hell, crushes the devils throat and leads the captives out. The tomb shatters, and there he stands, raised up, resurrected, a man of mercy for the likes of you.

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Like the tax collector you go home justified, declared righteous through the atoning blood Christ. The chalice is pressed to your lips and you go free. You enjoy the benefit of a good conscience before God your Father.

The saying is true that Jesus eats and drink with tax collectors and prostitutes, but it’s equally true that he also eats and drinks with Pharisees. And that’s good news for us. So let us no longer dwell upon the sins of others but let us dwell only upon the love of God. In the name of Jesus.  

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