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Humbling and Exalted - Sermon on Luke 18:9-14

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Doing all the right things doesn't mean squat if you treat your fellow human being with contempt. We all need to remember that most of us think we're doing the right thing, and want to do the right thing, even when we're not.

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

October 23 - 23st Sunday after Pentecost 

"Humbling and exalted".  Text is from Luke 18:9-14

Click here for sermon audio 

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

A Pharisee and a tax collector walk into a temple.

Stop me if you've heard this one.  

Both of these men are coming before God with their own idea of what they want to receive from the experience. 

Now when you think about it, the temple is quite a daunting place and it can be such for anyone coming forward who does not feel that they are in a right place with God. But the Pharisee has been here many times and is certain of himself. He follows what he's been taught to follow, God's law, by the letter, or so he believes himself. And he's doing what he thinks is the right thing to do, thanking God for the gifts that he has given him... and that he is not like all those sinners that he lists off, thieves, rogues, adulterers, and even that tax collector over there that came in when he came in here. 

Whereas the Tax collector is in a different frame of mind. If anyone knows what a tax collector is, this is considered by many to be the lowest of the low. Someone who colludes with the state to collect money from people and makes a profit from it besides. The tax collector is someone that knows he is involved in a questionable enterprise, knows that he has a lot to account for. And he therefore his prayer is not about thankfulness for not being a sinner but for forgiveness for being one. 

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn

Jesus's response to it was that of the two men, the tax collector was justified, the implication being that while the Pharisee might "do the right things" on paper, he certainly doesn't have a right heart about the way he's doing them. And in fact the contempt that he shows for those other people in fact, puts his heart away from God, and ultimately whatever justification he thought he had before God was essentially undone.  In his own self-glorification he will be made low, because nobody escapes from judgment. The one who humbly came before God is the one who is to be praised. 

How can I not read this parable and see the current political climate? In particular the objectification that many people do. Self-righteousness is rampant in our culture these days. It's hard not to be certain of our vote when you feel that the candidate that you are trying to prevent from being in power seems so despicable. So suddenly it's all right to cast aspersions on people we know that support that candidate, other human beings, giving them objectifying names based on their particular political bent. And it becomes easy to forget that maybe those people who appear to be supporting that candidate are doing so because they so ardently believe that the other candidate is so vile that anything must be better. We forget that there are a lot of people willing to overlook many of the things that our preferred is known for, and so much easier to disbelieve what they're accused of, because, very simply, the stakes we've been told are so very very high. 

There are names that people get called which are more than simply the words "liberal" or "conservative" said with a sneer. It's bad enough when someone starts off a sentence with "You liberals think" because it's objectifying and inevitably depredating, without the added weight of the new line of terms invented in the last ten years. Furthermore, pigeonholing someone into a specific ideology without considering that they are more than an ideology limits the discourse one can have with another person. Yes, I realize that the stakes are high in this presidential election, that not only the direction of the country but the supreme court is at stake. Yes, I realize the person you're voting against is awful. Maybe, however, we've been, as a people, been whipped into a frenzy by stakeholders who have more of an interest in an extreme level discourse than improving the actual day-to-day lives of the people they're serving. And we, as individuals, because of the way media is laid out, see a lot more reporting about why the other candidate is awful and not so much that other people are seeing about why our candidate is awful.

And the Pharisee becomes therefore self-justified, forgetting that it is his family members, his   neighbors, co-workers that we are objectifying. That in turning against them he regards them with contempt. That in idealizing his behavior as perfect, his voting record unblemished, his inability to acknowledge any wrongdoing, he is in itself committing a sin, made more grievous by his blindness to it.

Last week I talked about my seventh step and being aware of my character defects in particularly while I'm in the midst of my seventh step. The key word in that step is about being humble. Being humble means that we are fully aware of our place in the world and our level of discourse, and when we're ignoring the way we view and treat others, we cannot be fully aware. Humility is not the same thing as being humiliated--humility is admitting one's culpability, that nobody is an island unto themselves. That simply being in the world and around others means that we affect others, for good or for bad. 

The tax collector in his humility, understands how he affects others and perhaps sin--at it's broadest definition--is that which one does that can actively harm one's self or others. 

The stakes, as high as they are, are not worth beating people up. I believe that the discourse, as it is, won't end on election day, that no matter the outcome it will continue. That people will continue to pigeonhole other people. But we have the capacity to move on. We have the capacity to be better people, to, rather than being self-justified in our contempt for other people we can be humble, willing to see a little bit why others feel the way they do, voting for the other candidate, voting for the third party candidate or not voting at all. Because the very simple fact is that the vast majority of people are doing what they believe is the right thing to do, in their hearts, and to humbly acknowledge that, to speak to our fellow human being with that understanding, even as we do what we believe is right is the road to real justification.

The good news, my sisters and brothers is that when both men went into the temple, they got what they went for. The humbled one was exalted and the exalted one, was humbled, which was what he needed as well. We are all of us subject to the same salvation as one another, and God's forgiveness extends to each and every one of us, because Christ bought that salvation for all of humanity. And in that sanctification, God's spirit lives among God's people, impelling us to look past the faults of others and to share the good work that God's kingdom calls us forth to do.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on October 26, 2016 2:42 PM.

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