Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sermon August 18-19, 2013 Trinity 11

August 18-19, 2012    Trinity 11        Luke 18:09-14

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One man came down to his house justified.

The first was a Church bureaucrat, a Pharisee in a suit. He had long served his church, helping it to grow, teaching it about stewardship, vision-making, and planning. Coming from a long-line of Church workers, he lived a morally decent life. He had learned that those who do not steal are better liked by their neighbors, that fidelity to one's spouse means a happier and easier home life, that not coveting leads to contentment. He had even learned that charity enriches the giver. And thus, he was satisfied. He had found a righteousness in this life by means of the Law. He had found honor among men. He had his reward, and he sought to help others obtain it.

The second was a tax-collector, a traitor to his people, an oppressor. He was the ancient equivalent of a drug-dealer trafficking in child pornography. He was a scumbag. He was not satisfied. His life was a mess. He was ashamed and afraid. So he came to the Temple, to the House of Prayer for all people, to the place of sacrifice and the ark of the Covenant, to pray. He stood on the blood-stained pavement and beheld the curtain that kept him from seeing the place of God's presence. There behind the curtain, by Divine command, was the Holy of Holies. In it was the ark that held the fragments of Moses' law. That law that condemns men. But over the ark, between the cherubim God promised to place Himself. He shields His people from the Law, satisfies its demands in Himself. That place is called the "mercy seat." And thus, the tax collector came to the Temple to hold God to His Word. He pleads for Him to be true to Himself, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be gracious, to keep His promise of deliverance. And He does. That man, the sinner, went home justified, righteous, holy, innocent, and pure.

This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and despised others. We must despise ourselves as unrighteous, and trust in Him, who is righteous, for mercy. Here we see the irony of Christianity: those who are without sin, those who have been Baptized, Named by Him, belong to Him, such as you and the believing tax-collector, feel sin. It hurts you. You struggle with it. But those who are in sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves, like the Pharisee, they are satisfied and comfortable.

That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Life became Death. He who knew no sin became sin. The King of this Kingdom does not send soldiers off to die in struggles meant to enrich himself and enlarge his territories, like the kings of this world, but this King dies, gives up His life, to enrich rebels and traitors who spoke against Him! This loving Shepherd looks at a pool teeming with man-eating piranhas and He loves those slimy, scaly, teethy monsters. He lies down in the pool, gives His life to and for them. Knowing full well what will happen and able to stop it at any moment, He lets them devour Him. And in the process, by that glorious Death, He makes them lambs, His life for theirs. This God makes something from nothing. It is only the blind who are given sight, the sick healing, and the dead life. It is only the repentant who are forgiven. It is only sinners that He makes into saints.

Come, then, like the tax-collector. Come with your pain, your fear, your worries, your shame, your loneliness and your doubt. Come to where God promises to be, where He extends His mercy, where He gives Himself to you. Come to the Temple made without hands, torn down by men, but rebuilt by God on the third day. Have that Holy of Holies, that embodiment of the Mercy Seat, placed into your mouth, and thus, in that Holy Communion, become the Temple of His Holy Spirit. Go home justified, holding a righteousness that is not your own, and which will not wither and fade. Go home, my friends, forgiven and loved.

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: