the one where we remember Jesus was for all...
October 24, 2016, 8:00 AM

Sermon from October 23, 2016

Text: Luke 18: 9-14

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Before we dive into our gospel text today, I wanted to mention something about a question I’ve received throughout my ministry that I never thought I’d receive so much. That question? “Pastor – why do we share the peace?”

I’m glad you asked that question. And, be honest – there’s a lot of you who’ve thought that question, but have never voiced it. The sharing of the peace. At a specific point in the service people get up and share the peace with one another. They shake hands, they might hug. Smiles are shared. Words are exchanged, usually ‘peace be with you, peace, or Christ’s peace.’

Why do we do that? I know that for many of you who have been in the game of life longer than I has noted that the church didn’t always have that. So, even after years of doing it – it still feels a little weird. It takes you – and everyone – a bit out of their comfort zone. Especially if you practice the roving and walking sharing of the peace where you literally move from your pew to share peace with those around you.

But, why do we do it? Throughout the history of the church, think about all those who have come to sit in the gatherings of churches from all over the world. You’ve got people from all walks of life, you’ve got people who hold on to wildly differing views on a whole range of topics, you’ve got people who identify themselves differently from one another. All of them – all of us – come to our respective places of worship to gather, hear, sing, receive, and be sent.

Within that service there is one time where each one of us treats those around us specifically as equals. There is one moment that we put aside our differences, look past our prejudices, look one another in the eye and say, “Peace be with you.”

The sharing of the peace is that one time we specifically and intentionally engage in what Paul has written that in Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. We’re one body. We’re all children. God loves us all. Christ has shared peace with each of us and in turn we share that peace with one another.

Think about that as we hear this parable. Jesus talks about two men who’ve come to the temple to pray. The first talks about his accomplishments and feats in faith. He then goes off thanking God that he’s not like ‘those others.’ Those who are less than him – especially that guy in the back.

We then hear from that guy in the back – the tax collector. His prayer? Just have mercy on me. A sinner.

Normally, I’d probably turn at this moment and say, “Be like that humble tax collector – not the braggadocios Pharisee. I think most people would be OK with that. And, it’s probably good advice.

But, if I moved in that direction, I’d be cheapening this parable.

You see, parables themselves always tell a story about who God is. How God acts. Where God is present. By focusing just on these two individuals, we miss out. As the adage goes, we’d lose sight of the forest because of the trees. In fact, praising the humble tax collector here (and imploring that we should be like him) would potentially lead each of us to pray – as theologian David Lose writes, "Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self-righteous, or even like that Pharisee. We come to church each week, listen attentively to Scripture, and we have learned that we should always be humble." If we do that, we end up sounding a lot like the Pharisee we pray that we aren’t like.

As, I read this parable I can’t help, but notice where these two are. They are in the temple. The place where God is said to be present. They both have come to give prayer and honor. They both do it in vastly different ways, but they’ve both come.

But, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection when I look at that parable I begin to see a big problem in how we should interpret Jesus’ words and story here.

These two men are different. The Pharisee is the one that is looked up to, the one who has the right – whose earned the spot – at the head – closest to the seat where God is. Within his belief system – his righteousness has been proven because he is successful – he isn’t like the others. The tax collector is in the space where he ‘should’ be too. Within his faith culture – he’s not seen as ‘important.’ He’s someone that you know would probably cheat you. He collects money for the occupying army of Rome. He’s sold out.

That’s how the temple worked before Jesus comes along. Jesus’ death and resurrection has put aside that thought and belief.

Jesus’ ministry was for all people. Of course, he was particularly caring for those who are outcast, down trodden, and oppressed – he viewed those lives as urgently important. But, Jesus shared meals with all people from all walks of life, from all stations of life. Rich and poor. Young and old. Those from here and those who lived over there.

There was not a group of people that Jesus didn’t speak to, didn’t proclaim to, didn’t ask to be watchful, didn’t attempt to see where God was truly at work and present.

Jesus did all of that – proclaim, share, tell – with everyone.

So, naturally his own death and resurrection was for all people.

Jesus didn’t die and rise just for the rich folks. He didn’t accomplish victory over sin and death just so the poor and oppressed would have hope.

Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension helped change how we understand how both we experience God and how God experiences us.

That God blesses and love and forgives and invites us all equally because we are children of God. All of us.

God doesn’t love the Pharisee more than tax collector or vice-versa. I don’t believe God desires us to be the desperate humble of the tax collector nor the just about bragging prayer that is the Pharisee.

In Christ – both are loved and welcomed into the temple to worship and give thanks for what God has done.

In light of that knowledge and faith into who and how God is. We can begin to see a bit into how we experience one another.

It isn’t so much that the Pharisee should be knocked down a peg or three. It isn’t that the tax collector should pray in such a way that he feels he has no worth.

Instead, in Christ we look to one another and say, “Yeah – I’ve been blessed. God, thank you for the life I’ve had. You’ve helped me from following into paths that don’t seek you fully. I’ve strayed from time to time – I know I’m not perfect – but, you’ve always been there. I see my brother over there. His life hasn’t been as smooth as mine. We’ve taken different paths. Yet, I know you are with him too. Help me – help us – to see where you are so that we might both live in faith together.”

Conversely, I feel that the tax collector’s prayer could be more like, “Father – I’m a sinner. I know you forgive me, but I keep taking paths that don’t lead to you. I know you love me, I know it even when it is hard for me to understand or even feel it. I see my brother over there. He can be a little loud and speak in such a way that I don’t agree with. But, I know you’re with him too – that you love us both. Help me – help us – to see where you are so that we might both live in faith together.”

With this parable, we get sucked into identifying as one or the other in this story. The truth is – we are both. Sin filled and filled with pride. Yet, we – especially as Lutherans – understand that God still loves us. Not so that we just stay the same, but so that we continually live the life of faith that Jesus has called us into.

That life that tears down the borders, the stereotypes, the walls of our lives. Living in such a way that all are welcomed in this space. That all gather – together – recognizing that we are one body of Christ. We are all children of God. For there is another saying that I love, this one not as old as that one about forests, but just as impactful. Whenever we find ourselves in a spot where we draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ God normally shows up on the other side.

Where we share the peace – and our lives – our smooth and rough edges – in this life of faith. Where we see one another as equal in the eyes of God. Knowing that all of us have worth, grace, and love. Where we live into this life of faith together, rising up – together – as we give praise and honor to God through our words, our deeds, and thoughts.


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