Oct 23, 2016 – humbled
In the OT lesson and the psalm, we hear echoes of those whom the Pharisee represented in the story Jesus told in the gospel lesson. In the Old Testament lesson, Amos says in the 1st verse, woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria. Indeed, the Pharisee’s first words reveal what’s in his heart when he says, I thank you God I’m not like others. That’s a man who feels secure in himself.
There’s no humility in those words. And then in the psalm it says the arrogant cannot stand in the presence of God. And yet here is the Pharisee standing in the temple with nothing but arrogance on his lips. He compares himself to those whose sins are outward and generally easy to spot, robbers, evil doers, adulterers and then the tax collector.
This Pharisee’s a man easy to dislike and easy to separate ourselves from. We can easily get caught up in this trap as did one little boy in Sunday school. After doing some very fine teaching on this parable with his class, the teacher asked the boys to each say a prayer before they left. One little boy’s prayer was, ‘we thank thee God that we are not like that Pharisee!’
And while it may be cute, that prayer is in fact at the heart of Jesus parable. That boy’s prayer was the Pharisee’s prayer right? That’s because we generally like to identify with the tax-collector when we hear this story since he leaves the temple justified before God through his humble confession. After all we have made our confession today so we’re like the tax-collector. Easy – peasy, lets go home, right? Not so fast.
Why did the tax collector go home justified? Because he confessed his sin, his sin! He not only confessed his sin, he was not even able to look upon the altar of God because of his fear of his sin and the wrath of God. Remember in our opening hymn we sang: Savior, when in dust to Thee – Low we bow the_adoring knee; When, repentant, to the skies Scarce we lift our weeping eyes. Those words call to mind this tax collector.
If you’ve ever watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, there’s a character in the second and third movies called Davy Jones. And Davy Jones’ job is to take those who die in shipwrecks at sea down to his ‘locker’ – to death. But very often before he does that, if there are any survivors in the wreck, before he kills them and takes them away, he very coldly and cruelly spits out this question to each one, ‘Do ye fear death?’
Do you fear death? If you wish to identify with the tax collector and not the Pharisee, then your answer better be yes. After all it was his sin and the fear of God’s punishment of death on sin that lead him to confession. Let me see if I can help each of us with identifying with the sins of the tax collector.
Isn’t it true you’ve been petty this week? How about jealous or mean? And of course, you haven’t ‘stretched the truth’ at all this week, have you? You really were feeling bad, really and going to work just wouldn’t have been right. And then again there’s that person you just really can’t stand. So what if what I said wasn’t really the nicest thing about them, it’s trruuue after all, isn’t it? And I am a truthful person!
Have you gotten the idea yet or do you need more? Perhaps lets listen to Luther:
For if someone is not a murderer, adulterer, or thief, and abstains from external sins, as that Pharisee did, he would swear, being possessed by the devil, that he is a righteous man; therefore, he develops the presumption of righteousness and relies on his good works. God cannot soften and humble this man or make him acknowledge his misery and damnation any other way than by the Law. Therefore, the proper and absolute use of the Law is to terrify… and crush that brute which is called the presumption of righteousness. Thus says Luther.
Back in the psalm from today it says of God, that – you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies. Lies to himself and about himself are why the Pharisee left the altar still condemned in his sin. And Jesus didn’t use the tax collector because he was so noble. Jesus used him because he was so humbled by his sin. He was such a wreck of a person that he only had God’s mercy to rely on to relieve his guilty conscience.
I once told you about a man who died and went to heaven and St Peter met him at the gate and said, here’s how it works, you need a million points to get in. You tell me the things you’ve done and I’ll tell you how many points their worth. So the man starts – I was a faithful husband for 37 years. Great St Peter says, that’s worth 3 points. 3 points, the man thinks, oh wow! Ok, he says, I attended church nearly every Sunday, that’s got to count, right? Sure, says Pete, that’s 2 points. You’re kidding, the man says, how about this, I helped start a soup kitchen ministry and paid for most of it myself… and besides I was a regular tither to church. Wonderful, says Pete, that’s a point and a half. The man is sweating now and cries out, ‘at this rate the only way I’ll get in is by God’s mercy!’ ‘Now you’re catching on’, says St Peter. That’s the tax collector.
The tax collector knew, knew for certain that he had done wrong against God and His will. His burden of sin brought him to his knees. That is what it means if we’re to identify with the tax-collector. To him the Pharisee was better than he was, because it was true, as far as the tax-collector was concerned. And the tax collector knew it in his soul. That, that is why he feared death; He feared God’s wrath because he knew without a doubt that that was all he deserved at God’s altar.
Again, back in today’s psalm it says, Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you. Who of us hasn’t rebelled against God? Who has not succeeded in sinning? So, what are we to do? Where are we to turn in our despair and fear of death?
Listen again to what Jesus said at the end of His parable, after the tax-collector had gone home justified, Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Did you catch the mood of the verbs here? That’s important for us. Those who humble themselves, active mood will be, passive mood, lifted up.
And back in the psalm today again it says, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.” Refuge is what God grants us here at His altar. That is why we come here. That is what we seek… because of our sin – because of our desire to presume our own righteousness. And the fear that that brings.
Jesus by His blood from the cross and by His resurrection from the dead has become for us our refuge and protection. Yes, we fear death. Yes, we fear God’s judgment.
But, yes we also trust in His mercy and rely on His grace to redeem us from death which we know, like the tax-collector, we deserve. Like him and the psalmist, we trust in God and His righteousness that is made ours, (passive on our part), through Christ’s all sufficient death for us. So, we can join the tax collector in being lifted up… by the mercy of Christ alone. We do not exalt ourselves, that is done for us.
Again that’s passive on our part. A true humbling is all we bring. We humble ourselves in faith, in trust, that God and God alone through the sacrifice of Christ will exalt us. Our closing hymn will remind us of this when we sing, my faith looks up to thee, and then in the second verse, may thy rich grace impart, Strength to my fainting heart. Reminding us again, that it’s God’s work to grant us righteousness, faith and strength. We need only to trust in His work. And in that work of God we have, like the tax collector, our hope and peace.
We come to this altar each week and we declare His death to be the death we deserved. We don’t come expecting that we deserve His mercy, but that we come humbled by our sin in the light of His righteousness. And here, every time we gather at the altar of refuge we gratefully receive His gift of forgiveness that exalts us to the heights of heaven, made ours by Christ love. We have come in His name and like the tax collector, we leave justified by Jesus grace alone. In His name, amen.
Sermon #850 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Amos 6:1-7
1 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
2 Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours?
3 You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror.
4 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
Epistle 2 Timothy 4:6-8
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Psalm 5 (is read responsively) antiphon v. 11a
L But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
L Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
C Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
L In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
C You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.
L The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.
C You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.
L But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
C Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies— make straight your way before me.
L Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.
C Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
L But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
C For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
L But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
Holy Gospel Luke 18:9-17
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”