Monday, October 25

Sermon on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, by Larry Kamphausen

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

[This is a re-presentation a sermon I preached on Sunday. I had not written down what I was going to say and had few notes so this has been re-writen today and may in fact be as influnced by our discussion after the sermon over supper, as a recall of what I preached last night. LEK]
Where to begin? These passages aren’t so much difficult as oddly familiar. So where to begin with these familiar but also possibly unsettling passages?
My heart is heavy, heavy with events related to my licensing and ordination, with events in the life of the Community of the Holy Trinity, and with events in the Episcopal Church. All is grey and brown stripped of all fruit and absent of anything green. Can these texts speak to me? Can they speak to us? Can we hear?
Two quotes from the collection of ancient Christian teaching called the Philokalia speak to where I hope we end up: From St Mark the Ascetic “When you read scripture seek the Hidden things in the Scripture.” And from St Hesychois the Priest “The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ’s holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.”
When I read verse 9 of chapter 18 of Luke, I wanted to shake Luke and say what are you doing, you ruined the story you gave away the punch line, what were you thinking. It’s bad enough growing up already knowing that Pharisees are bad. As I read this parable of the Pharisee and tax collector praying in the Temple I know what to expect I know that I shouldn’t be like the Pharisee and that in some sense what the tax collector does is illustrative of how we Christians should be. I am already identify with the tax collector and already distanced from the Pharisee.
Saturday night Kate and I were out drinking with couple of friends one of whom is a lawyer. At one point one said “Oh I have a good lawyer joke.” There was a pause and then she said “Oh, I gave away the punch line.” We insisted she tell the joke anyway. “There was this woman sitting alone at a bar. A man walks up to her at the bar and asks may I buy you a drink? The woman says “Listen I’ll screw anyone at any time for any reason!” The man said “Oh you’re a lawyer too, what firm do you work for?” We laughed the lawyer friend said “I think that’s funnier knowing the punch line.”
Can we hear this parable knowing the punch line? Can we let this parable impact us even knowing what we know already?
If we recognize that for Jesus’ audience the Pharisee would have been seen as a good person one concerned with doing all that God required of God’s people, does it change our reading? When the Pharisee prays “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers…” isn’t he thanking God thus admitting that in some sense that God is at least in part responsible for who he is? What so wrong with that? Our Pharisee is looking a little less the hypocrite, and perhaps more like you and I. The Pharisee continues, “….or even like this tax collector.” A bit tacky perhaps but really perhaps he is thanking God that he has never been put in the place to have to make the compromises the tax collector has made. “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' Isn’t this just a good sense of self? He knows he is disciplined and again isn’t he thanking God for the ability to do these righteous things? Is this really that different from what we think? Aren’t we glad even thankful that we are not like other people? Frankly the Pharisee doesn’t seem like a bad guy in fact he just seems like someone from a good family with a good sense of self and his place in the world.
Now the Tax Collector: let’s be honest when you hear “O God be merciful to me a sinner” don’t you want to just say “brown noser”. Common are we to take all these antics seriously?! Does God really care about all that groveling?
Yes! This is the shock the scandal of this parable, the brown nosing schmuck goes away justified and the upstanding citizen, the self assured man with a good sense of self, does not. Why? Jesus answer is this “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted”
“God have mercy on me a sinner” is a prayer Christians have been saying for centuries in the form of the Jesus Prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.” Yet, I have to admit it’s so demeaning; can a self assured well adjusted person say this? Isn’t it humiliating? Yes, humble yourself Jesus says. And I have found reciting this prayer to be deeply transforming. You see what the Pharisee didn’t recognize is that he and the tax collector were on the same level before God. In a sense self assurance before God and certainty that one is right and everyone else wrong is simply empty words. These words fail to recognize the source of our relationship with God and others.
“Have mercy on me a sinner” communicates a proper relationship between self and God and self and others. When we pray this prayer we recognize that even in the midst of all the good we do it is in the end not enough. There are always already things left undone, secret sins, and selfishness that denies God. Any other approach to God displaces God’s proper place and places ourselves in the center of the universe. Sin in this life pursues us even if it is only the sin of failing to do what should have been done. Or even simply not being able to extricate ourselves from the sins of our society and culture and government.
I wonder if all who are butting heads around the issue of homosexuality (including myself) in the church were praying this prayer if we would find ourselves so polarized so stuck in animosity and fear. Can we admit that it is not enough to simply assert that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin, speaking the prophetic reminder that certain acts are simply seen as sinful before God. Can we admit it is not enough to speak the prophetic word of justice by recognize the genuine love between two people of the same sex recognizing it as holy because we see the work of the Spirit in their lives and ministries? It is not enough to be right and to see the other as wrong.
“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.”
When it comes to the issue of homosexuality (and the issue of sexuality in general) in the church the landscape looks bleak: locusts have eaten up everything and there is nothing green and full of life. I know I am disheartened; the responses to the Windsor report are not encouraging. Then I hear the words of St Hesychios the Priest, “Christ's holy name gladdens the ear of our heart the more we call upon it. And then the words of Joel become gospel and I realize that in the midst of all this turmoil God has already sent rain and the promised abundance of new life in Christ is here if only we could pray like the tax collector and not the Pharisee step aside from our confidence that our conclusions are right and just and from God and together lift these things to God praying. “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God Savior have mercy on me a sinner.”
This is not an abdication of responsibility or turning aside from seeking truth or justice or holiness, but recognizing from whom all these things come and look to the one who is truth just and holy, simultaneously recognizing our own limitations selfishness and desire to be right.
All our certainties are not enough and will tear us apart eating our souls like locusts. But “Christ's holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.” May we learn to truly pray and pray always this “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God savior have mercy on me a sinner."