Jim titled this sermon “Announcement or Petition,” but I think another name would be “Is it I, I, I or You, You, You?”
We know that Jesus was a master teacher. He told parables that are great stories but that usually have a twist to them. So many of them end with things turned upside down.
Like this one. In the beginning, there are two Jewish men who go to the
Now this Pharisee is a good guy. We’d give him three cheers. He obeyed the commandments -- he was not an adulterer, he did not act greedily, grasping after every material possession there was. He was willing to share what he had … as long as he was sure that what he shared would be used the way he wanted it used. He was not dishonest, and he never accused anyone falsely.
He was careful about his attendance record at corporate worship. As long as you counted excuses for the time he'd been too sick to be there, he had a perfect attendance record. And when it came to acts of good deeds, he belonged among the best. When the law required a one day fast once a year for the faithful Jew, this particular Pharisee went without food for two days a week. People knew, just by looking at him, that he was a very religious person. A good man.
And when it came to supporting the church, he was one of the pillars of the congregation. The law required that a tithe, 10% be given of all agricultural products for the support of the
He's followed by a publican. Now, I always thought a publican was someone who drank at the local public watering hole, but in this case he’s a tax collector for
No matter how you slice it, tax collecting was a dirty, rotten profession. The tax collector, the publican, got no cheers but rather three boos.
And when these two got to the place of prayer, the Pharisee marched right up to the steps in the
Now, Jesus doesn't tell us what brought the tax collector to those morning or afternoon prayers. Maybe something had happened in his family, like the birth of a healthy baby, and he realized that God did love him, even though he had been dishonest and crooked. God loved him even though he had done nothing to make himself deserving.
Something had happened which brought him to the point that he wanted to pray, “God! Make an atonement for me, a sinner. God! I wish you would wipe away all my sin. I wish you would help me be the person you want me to be, who helps others, who gives of what I have so that others may have enough. God, I need your help to become what you want me to be.”
And Jesus, who could look into the heart of a person, Jesus made the observation that when the two men left the
The Pharisee led the way to the temple, but the tax collector led the way to the
How different was the prayer and the attitude of the two of them. They were both at the
Jesus said God forgave the tax collector because he asked for forgiveness. God couldn't forgive the Pharisee because he was so busy giving God a progress report of his own, really genuine, righteousness, that he couldn't see that he had set himself up as God's equal, and therefore never asked God to forgive him. He was so busy making his announcement that he never got around to petition God to take charge of more and more of his life and his thoughts and his actions.
On December 2nd, you will be asked to bring estimates of giving that will make it possible for Session to build a budget for next year. And I think what we do and the attitude with which we do it is going to be important.
Imagine the Pharisee being part of this pledge drive. Can't you hear him? “God, as I bring these pledge cards, you can see, and so can everyone else, that I've increased my giving so I'm no longer contributing just ten percent, but I've gone up to 11%. I’m not going to stop with just $2 more a week. I’m going to make my increase a whole percentage point. I'm sure you are very pleased with what I've done. If everyone else in the congregation would be as dedicated as I am, we could give away a dollar for every dollar we spend maintaining our church building and our ministry in our community.”
And imagine that the tax collector is here. He brings his estimate of giving card and prays, “God, I need your help. Last year, I spent my income foolishly at times. I wasted the resources you gave me to take care of. I was not always a good steward. And I'm frightened I may do that again. It is so difficult to see all the pretty things, and not fall into the trap of thinking I need them or that I deserve them. I'm making a pledge again this year, but I need your help to see the people in need and to hear the cries for help you want me to answer. Help me to set aside a little bit each week, so that when the earthquake comes, when the fire rages out of control and when the hurricane causes damage to my brothers and sisters, your other children, that I can help them. Help me to gladly give up one dinner out at a restaurant each week so those funds can be sent to help others working to end homelessness and provide food and shelter for the least and the lost. God, help me grow in my recognition that all I have to give is what you give me. Thank you, Lord, for our Deacons who help me see the work you want me to help our congregation accomplish here and around your wonderful world. Help me grow into the person you want me to be.”
How will you come as your bring your estimate of giving? Will you come to make an announcement, or to pray a prayer of petition?
My prayer is that if we have been tempted to come like a Pharisee, we will be enabled, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to leave like the tax collector. My prayer is that our giving of money, as well as our living of love will be done, not in comparison with what others do, but in comparison with the earliest of disciples, Peter and James and John and Mary and Martha and Lydia, who gave all they had and gave all they were in answer to Christ's call: “Come, and follow me.”
My prayer is that your giving will be in response to who God calls you to be and how God calls you to live. And I pray that you will be led to give like the Pharisee gave, but in the spirit of the tax collector.
God, help us to hear what our thoughts and actions say. Help us to choose the kind of discipleship that is expensive, that helps us lose our lives for Christ, that helps us spend ourselves for others, that enables us to open our hearts to the grace you would pour out on us. Take away false pride and free us to rejoice in the fact that we are your children, loved and valued and trusted. In the name of the one who came to show us all that, even Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.