"God yearns for all"
October 22 and 23, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
I had the privilege of serving this past weekend at Holy Trinity, the congregation I call “home.” Added benefit was visiting the family here. I return to WA on 10/31 – this was just a quick trip. Bob and I return in December for a longer stay.
9 He 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. 11 The 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 But 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!' 14 I 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."
Two moms ran into each other at back-to-school night. Judy told Jill that thank goodness her son was accepted into the gifted-and-talented program; otherwise he’d be bored and a headache to the teachers.
Jill said how grateful she was that there was a speech therapist to help her daughter with her words as well as a reading specialist.
Judy went home continuing to be proud of her son, which she had every right to be. Jill went home with a heart filled with gratitude, or, we might say as Luke did, justified. My hunch is that Jill was happier than Judy, Jill’s daughter happier than Judy’s son. Of course, one can not generalize. We are speaking here only of the attitudes of these two fictitious moms.
Judy cared little for the feelings of Jill. In her heart of hearts she seems to have looked down at both Jill and Jill’s daughter, as well as the children whom she deemed “not above average.” Jill could admire Judy and Judy’s son, and also acknowledged her own need and was grateful for the help she and her child received.
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Jesus’ parable also stresses the attitude of the two fictitious men at prayer. The Pharisee – a model of religious piety -- trusted in himself and his good behavior. He despised the other man. He is much like the unjust judge from last week’s story, who respected neither God nor others. The tax collector, on the other hand, who worked for the Romans was regarded as a traitor to the nation; he knew his need for mercy and was grateful for it.
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Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a match.com app that we could access to find out just whom God loves most!
We might hazard guesses from how we feel about others. We know whom we love, but whom might we be allowed to despise? Fundamentalists? Other kinds of Lutherans? Followers of Donald? Supporters of Hillary? ISIS?
So we ask, whom would Jesus despise? He certainly spoke negatively of the unjust judge last week; he portrayed the Pharisee in a bad light today. But would he despise them or the adulterers, the tax collectors, the oppressive enemy Romans who were fond of crucifixions?
I think not. It’s been said that whenever we draw a line and put ourselves on one side, Jesus is on the other.
This is not to say we are to accept or condone the horrible acts of our enemies, or adultery, or injustice, or dishonesty. We strive against all of these – but we remember that every man, woman, and child is redeemable by God.
Kind of hard to swallow, though, sometimes. A wise old pastor told me last Sunday after church that he feels called to pray without ceasing for our candidates and our election process. And called not to lose heart.
David Lose suggests that we sometimes pray like this: "Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self righteous, or even like that Pharisee [in that story]. We come to church each week, listen attentively to Scripture, and we have learned that we should always be humble." Or, have we ever said or thought, "There but for the grace of God go I."
Dr. Lose also points out the significance of this story taking place in the temple. There were very clear boundaries in the temple practice of Jesus’ time. Insiders, outsiders, priests, Gentiles, women, men, learned scholars and illiterate peasants -- all kept in their proper place.
And what happened on the day Jesus died? The veil of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:45), “symbolically erasing all divisions of humanity before God. That act is prefigured here, as God justifies not the one favored by Temple law, but rather the one standing outside the Temple gate, aware only of his utter need.”
Both men are objects of divine yearning. One receives healing and wholeness; one does not. But God yearns for both, for all of us, no matter how wrong our thoughts or prayers or attitudes.
Our weakness is truly the means by which God’s strength and power become apparent. Asserting ourselves before God and others does not persuade God to bless or love us.
Rather, as we pray, God strengthens our weak faith. As we accept God’s love even when things don’t turn out the way we think they should, then God strengthens us even more.
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Here’s another angle in our learning from this story.
Two pastors went up to a meeting of ministers to discuss church growth. In the course of conversation, the first said things like, “My church” does this and “the church I run” did that.
The other pastor at the meeting when talking about his work, spoke of “the people I serve” or “the church I serve.” His wording is more than a simple phrase. It indicates an attitude of humility and gratitude.
Similarly, when you speak of Holy Trinity, a wonderful congregation, you need not say “my great church” does this or “my church’s great programs or generosity” did that. Rather I trust you will say things like, “The congregation I’m privileged to be part of does such and so” or “The church I serve is blessed to be able to….”
And yet, before we start analyzing one another’s words or attitudes, remember we are only called to analyze our own words and attitudes. And let us remember that this parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who is determined to justify the ungodly. We are totally dependent on God's mercy. When we stand before God aware only of our need, then we, too, are invited to return to our homes in gratitude, justified.
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Looking at the children of Judy and Jill, one gifted intellectually and one with special needs, we ask, “Was there a difference in the school’s mission for these children? Did the teachers love Judy more than Jill? Or care for Judy’s son more than Jill’s daughter?” NO, of course not.
Similarly, God yearns for righteousness and grants grace to both the Pharisee and the tax collector, to all the kids in that school, to you and to me. That’s the good news today! The sad part is that the Pharisee doesn’t take it to heart.
Luke closes the story with these words, “…all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." I think that’s what our mothers and kindergarten teachers were trying to teach us all those long years ago.
God have mercy on our attitudes and bless us with truly humble and profoundly grateful hearts. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord, help me to know
that you are with me,
that I am in your care,
and that I am in your love. Amen.
Pastor Beth Orling