The Pharisee and the Tax collector

Todays sermon is straight from the Uniting church lectionary. From hearing our first readings you may like me think, how do these two go together. What theme is this sermon meant to follow. Well, honestly sometimes its better to jump straight in rather than think about and have a theme to compare it too. Just like at jumping in the beach water when you know its cold at seal rocks. But once your in, its beautiful.

So lets go, Our first reading was written by Luke. It was spoken by Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and not that far out from the city. some historians place him in an area just outside of Jericho and with in a few weeks of his crucification.

Jesus knew the time was coming for his death. It would be fair to say these words spoken by Jesus would be concentrated on what was important to him and to ensure his teachings were heard understood by his disciples before he left.

But, before we look a the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector , I think its important to refresh ourselves with the parable before this and the event after according to Luke’s Gospel. These are believed to have occurred within days of each and on the on the home stretch to Jerusalem and most likely along the River Jordan. The red line shows the believed route Jesus took south to Jerusalem via Jericho.

The parable before was of the persistent widow. Which Steve spoke of last week and Meredith provided the wonderful acronym NGO Never Give Up to us and the kids. The parable taught us all to be persistent in prayer and our faith and trust in our God.

As unlike the judge in Luke 18:1-8 where the widow was persistent in asking for justice to a judge who did not care about her or love her. Our Judge, and our God loves us and cares about us. Stop and take it in again, if the judge in the parable, found the widow irritating and only finally granted her justice just to stop her annoying him and aware of her strong will, to prevent her coming after him. Imagine how our God who loves us and wants us to come to him, will act for us. The judge in the parable, was saving himself, protecting himself. Our God doesn’t need saving, we do. I wonder if we treat God like the judge in this parable?

This is a fair question as the last sentence of this parable, Jesus ends with a question, When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus loved asking questions to his disciples in his teachings. Ending with questions is not simply thought provoking. It was a clever way for Jesus to engage us and involve us in his teachings and be a part of his ministry. Answering these questions produces change and growth in us and focuses us on who God is to us.

The event after the Pharisee and tax collector is the little children and Jesus. Luke 18:15-17. Here Jesus states, Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, will never enter it… Notice this was not a question.

Little children depend on the love of their mother and father. They trust their parents as soon as they are born, even though they have never physically met them before. They are totally dependant on them for everything and so so vulnerable. Their survival is purely and holy in the love of their parents. As they grow, they are taught discipline, respect, love, kindness, patience and the children in turn as they grow and need help, turn to their parents for advice, comfort, love and wisdom.

Can you see the link here. This is how our relationship needs to be with God. Total trust in his love and faith that he will provide and care for us. Don’t get me wrong its hard to do. Especially when your bills are more than your income or a sickness has come onto us or our loved one. We as humans try to control what happens in our lives, but we don’t have total control. When we trust others, sometimes that trust is broken which affects are ability to trust again. But we have the answer in God, these are the times God uses, for us, to come to him for help and strength and peace. God has never broken a promise. And if you are having this battle right now, I encourage you to hand them over to God. Don’t worry, he knows you and what is best for you. He wants to love and reside in us, seeking a beautiful relationship so he can help us.

Armed with this knowledge lets re visit the Pharisee and Tax Collector parable. Two men both at the temple to worship. The Pharisee standing by himself confidently dressed in his pretty clothes as a pillar of society, looked up too and respected by all around him. The first words out of his mouth, Thank you, I am not like other people. Even Like this tax collector. He then went on to list how good he is. How righteous, effectively justifying his holiness.

Mean while the TC, stood back, he couldn’t even look to heaven. He then, beat his chest and said, God have mercy on me a sinner.

Why would he be like this. Simply because he new he wasn’t good enough on his own. He knew he had flaws and he was ashamed and frustrated with the ease it was too sin in our world. He was sorry and needed Gods mercy and forgiveness. He needed help like a little child.

We see the Pharisee is on show, telling God how great he is and even thanking God for his greatness. The fact that the Pharisee was aware that the TC was present up the back further tells us he wanted people to see him and how righteous he is, he wanted to exalt himself.

It appears as though his life is fed by vanity, his own self importance and ticking boxes whilst judging others to show God how he is more deserving. We can all slip into this sin, I don’t want to admit it, but it reminds me of myself last last year in the Bulahdelah Show, men’s chocolate cake division. I made a beautiful cake, smelt great and looked awesome. I had a few large cracks on top but I had a way to cover my sins……I mean cracks and I used some icing sugar to pretty it up so it looked appeasing for the judges. To me the cake was fantastic. I went down and entered it in the show. Judgment time came, I was looking for a blue ribbon. I couldn’t find one, I started looking for 2nd and 3rd place. Nothing..

I was taken aback. I followed the recipe, my cake to me, looked better than the others and stood out near the front of the pack, you know closer to the people to see it. Alas, I got a commendation for entering along with 20 other guys. A thanks for trying. Phillip Mason actually won last year. Initially, I started to think it was rigged, corrupt and my own self righteousness didn’t want to accept that I wasn’t good enough and begun to justify how I lost because of no fault of my own. The loss was humbling. As like God, the cake judges were more concerned as what the inside looked like. My cake was dry and had cracks in it. These faults couldn’t be hidden. But they can be acknowledged forgiven and worked on.

We all see the obvious lesson here of self righteousness and being humble before God and that The parable is quiet humbling as straight way I like many of you, I have judged the Pharisee, as a self righteous fool.

But don’t fall for the open trap door of vanity, being aware of Matthew 7:1-5, and in particular verse 5, You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brothers eye. By judging that Pharisee we have shown our own self righteous faults. Don’t worry, Just be aware. We are only justified through Gods Grace made righteous through Jesus death and sacrifice.

And this is where our Paul reading comes into play. 2Timothy

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy whilst he was in prison in Rome. It is his last New Testament letter before his death. He knew this as well so keep that in mind as we discuss this. It is believed to be the Mamertine Prison, it still stands today and functions as a church. It is also believed to be the prison Peter was kept in before his death as well.

This time Paul was in a real dungeon. It was a place were criminals were taken before trial which meant death, they were lowed into the dungeon by an opening hole. He had been arrested for proclaiming the Christian faith under Roman Emperor Nero’s rule and he had already been before the judges for a mentioning of his crime and had been placed back in his cell. He was alone, in a dark cold rock walled dungeon with nothing but his own thoughts knowing these were his last days.

What would you write to someone you cared for deeply knowing your last days had arrived. What message would you want reinforced and conveyed to them, this is the thinking mindset of Paul as he wrote this letter.

I hope the Ireland family don’t mind, but this was a reality to one of church members recently, it will be for all of us one day.

Jack Ireland, before passing, the one message he wanted conveyed, was Trust in God. It was displayed on our church sign.

This is also what Paul is saying to Timothy and us. I understand, that Timothy was a church leader and possibly based in or near Ephesus, and Paul was writing to encourage him to continue preaching the word during this time of Christian persecution and to stay focused on Christ and to preach the word in season and out of season. Some people say this book is more relevant to ministers, training and ordained. But I disagree, this letter is for all disciples, are we not all leaders of faith, in our families, communities, workplaces, friendships. Last Sunday, Merydeth gave each child a sticker with NGO on it. Scarlet, on taking it home, removed it and placed it on our bathroom sink mirror. It has been there all week and is still their today. Never give up. A daily reminder. Her actions as a child, were that of a leader of Christ in our house hold.

At the start Paul in 2Timothy 6-8 identifies himself as a drink offering which is a form of sacrifice and offering of the Law of Moses, used during feasts of celebration.

Paul continues to write that the time for his departure is near and that he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race. He has KEPT the faith. And his reward is the crown of righteousness that only the lord can give, and not just for him, but for all who believe.

Paul is telling Timothy, looking back over the last 30 years of his own ministry, it was tough at times, and long, but through his strength, trust, perseverance and dependence on God, he maintained his course of walking with and being guided by the holy spirit to spread the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ. It is easy now to imagine Paul’s life work and ministry as a drink offering for us, to quench our thirst for wisdom and to grow, renew and refresh our faith to go and make disciples like Jesus commanded. Just like on a hot day, nothing really quench’s your thirst like a glass of cold fresh water.

2Timohty:16-18 reinstalls our faith that God is with us when we feel alone and afraid and he give us strength. The lord WILL rescue us from evil, as long as we allow him. Paul uses the analogy of being rescued from the lions mouth. We can safely say Paul is talking about being placed in front of his accusers for proclaiming Christianity, and whilst being questioned about it to find him guilty, he has maintained his faith and continued to proclaim Christianity although it would have meant certain death.

You see Paul understood his role as a servant of Christ. He understood the strength that God provides. He understood the importance of proclaiming the Gospels and staying firm in Christ to guide and help him in his life and to use that to help and teach others. Paul didn’t know it at the time but he had in the conclusion of this letter, finished writing half of the new testament.

Paul in 2Timothy 4:3-5 warns us to be aware as a time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will turn their ears away from truth and turn aside to myths. He tells us to keep our heads, endure hardships and do the work of an evangelist.

I wonder if those times are near? What will we do? What will you do?

Remember, Paul used to persecute Christian’s. His understanding and experience of the love, beauty and strength of God helped him, have a faith like a child, totally dependant on God. It enabled him to be like the tax collector, humble and sorry for his sins, knowing that he was not worthy and that acts alone did not make him righteous and that in his death he would be justified purely by the grace of God.

The fourth beautified states, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew5:6.

Our readings today come together to let us know we are all sinners and It’s not our acts or great works that we do that will earn us a place in heaven. It is Gods grace and our relationship with him. Our relationship with him starts with prayer.

A quote by Billy Graham sums it up beautifully. Prayer is for every moment of our lives, not just for times of suffering or joy. Prayer is really a place where you meet God in Genuine conversation.

It rings true for wether your a tax collector in the temple or an apostle in a Roman dungeon.

By being humble, honest and thankful in prayer, asking for forgiveness, recognising God as our saviour and the answer to our problems it will equip us for our own life and ministry and like Paul, will rescue us from evil and bring us safely to Gods heavenly kingdom. It will both create the thirst and hunger we need for wisdom and to be more Christ like, bearing the fruits of the holy Spirit with an understanding of Pauls confidence that we are all justified and made righteous by God.

I again have a challenge for you when you leave today, to have an open honest and emotionally charged conversation with God. Just like the tax collector. Recognising you are not perfect, and asking God for strength, guidance and wisdom as a leader in your own personally ministry.

Trust God. Like Paul. Like the tax collector. By trusting God and living with him, you too will finish your race and have the reward of crown of righteousness.

Our benediction today is Pauls last ever written words. And I hope you say it with the purpose, that Paul wrote it, knowing it could be his last. The Lord be with your spirit, Grace be with you all.