Today we heard Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The point of the parable is clear: don’t be like the Pharisee! Now, the parable is so clear, so self-explanatory, it may seem that it needs no further explanation. Even so, I will proceed with the sermon!
The first point I would like to make is that the Pharisee in the parable lives a righteous life according to the standards of his society. He does what the Jewish Law requires of him—and then some! He is not, in fact, a hypocrite. That is not the issue here. But there are issues with his attitude—two issues, to be precise. The first issue is that he thinks he has earned his salvation and he is complacent about it. The second issue is that he holds others who do not meet his high standards in utter contempt.
The Pharisee may be righteous with regard to his actions, but he is not right with God because of his attitude. His “prayer of thanksgiving” is no prayer at all, but a declaration of self-satisfaction and self-praise. And there is no hint of contrition, no hint of repentance, for in his mind he deserves his salvation. After all, he has worked hard to earn it. But Jesus warns his followers to turn to God for salvation. He teaches that we humans are incapable of saving ourselves. Even so, we are not without hope. For what we can do is to turn to God, confess our sins, and receive our salvation as pure gift.
On most Sundays, we recite the General Confession. You may have wondered why I leave that uncomfortably long pause between the bidding to confession and the joint recitation. The purpose is to give you, and me, time to recollect, to think back over the past week, and to offer up to God our most grievous sins. For only then can we hope to receive absolution for them.
This Sunday, life is made easy for the preacher, because there is a clear theme to all of today’s readings. And that theme is made explicit in the Collect of the Day: we are to “persevere with steadfast faith.” We find perseverance in the story of Jacob struggling all night with his mysterious opponent. We find the author of 2 Timothy urging his readers to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” And we find perseverance in the parable that Jesus tells about a widow and an unjust judge, which will be the main focus of this sermon.
Now, Luke tells us that the parable of the widow and the unjust judge is about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” And I won’t gainsay him. But I think that there is more to be learned from this parable than just that. In this story, a widow repeatedly comes before a judge who has no respect for God or man. Again and again, she appears in court demanding justice. Now, in Jesus’ day, a woman would not ordinarily plead a case in court. That was the job of her nearest male relative. So we may assume that she had no male relatives and was forced by her need to violate custom and plead her own case before the unjust judge. She fails again and again, but rather than give in to despair, she bravely, and obstinately, keeps on demanding the justice that is due her.
We are told that the unjust judge eventually gives in. Most English translations have the judge saying that he decides to give in because otherwise the widow will “wear him out.” But what the judge literally says is that he is giving in because he fears that the widow will “punch him in the eye”! Modern translators literally take the punch out of Jesus’ punch line!
The gospel we just heard is part two of the story we began last week And the change from Part One to Part Two is really amazing, even frightening. This is, I think, a gospel not easy to hear, not easy to take in, and not easy to respond to.
I said we heard the first part last week, but other things were going on last week and you may not remember, so let me take a leaf from the soap opera serials first of all and summarize “the story so far.” When we tuned in last week we heard Jesus preaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The custom in those days was to honor a stranger in town by calling him up to the bema to read from the scriptures and to say something about the text. It’s not very different from what happens today when a boy or girl comes of age and reads from the Torah for the first time at a bar or bat mitzvah.
Jesus had come home again after beginning his ministry. Already he had some reputation as a teacher and healer so there was a special interest in what he might say and do back now in his own hometown. So they gave him the scroll to read and he read from the Prophet Isaiah: The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind… To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
It was commonly assumed that that wonderful passage had to do with the coming of the Messiah. So Jesus read it and rolled the scroll back up and sat down there at the front of the synagogue to teach and he began by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled…” That’s the story so far. That’s where we ended last week and that is also where we began today full of hope and promise.
Jesus says in effect, “You have this wonderful expectation and right now right here it is fulfilled. You are waiting for the Messiah? I’m here.” Good news, right? And that’s where we ended last week, but it’s not the end of the story. This week we find out what happened next.
2015 Christmas message from the General Secretary of the World council of Churches.
“As Christians we share the belief that we see in the other the image of Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46) … The experience of migration and crossing of borders is known to the Church of Christ. The Holy Family were refugees; the very Incarnation of Our Lord is a crossing of the border between the Human and the Divine.”
“As churches this is an opportunity to share more widely experience and expertise in offering spiritual and pastoral support, ecumenical and interfaith cooperation and building bridges between diverse communities.”
At this time of the Christian year, we remember God’s great love for the world in the gift of Jesus Christ. And we read once again of the flight of his family in search of a safer place than home. We also remember the Master’s later teaching, as recorded in Matthew 25:40,
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
In this festival season celebrating the Incarnation in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, let us honour every gift we receive from God in Creation, and let us respect every member of the human family!
As we learn about the violence in San Bernardino, our first response is to go down on our knees and pray for those who have been killed or wounded. We pray for families and communities that are broken and scarred by senseless violence once again.
As disciples of Jesus, we are those who see the image of God in every human being. In the hours and days ahead, we learn more about what is already a profound tragedy. To underscore how close this travesty hits, I have learned from the Rev. Andrew Green that one of his parishioners from St. Paul-in-the-Desert, Palm Springs was present at the facility and is now safe.
There will be time to ponder the deeper implications and our response to this moment, but this night let us pray deeply that God may assuage the sorrows of those most harmed by today’s evil.
I wish you blessings and peace this night.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, 124
Three gunmen have killed 14 people and injured 17 or more at a social services facility in San Bernardino, California.
A call for a month-long prayer cycle ahead of the Nov 1st installation of Bishop Curry as the 27th Presiding Bishop of of The Episcopal Church
The Acts 8 Movement invites you to join with us in a month-long cycle of prayer for our church in the lead-up to the installation of Bishop Curry as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, on Sunday, November 1, at noon Eastern time. Each day on the calendar, beginning October 1, holds a specific intention for prayer, ranging from the local to the church wide.
If you’d like to use prayers from your Book of Common Prayer for this, there are many prayers devoted to the church on pages 816-819.
On Friday Sept 11 at 7:30 pm, please join us for our monthly Taizé meditation service where we will offer special prayers to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 and pray for victims of terror and violence. Pray with us for peace.
Venue: Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122
Last Thursday was Ascension Day. Next Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost. And you might very well expect today’s Gospel reading to take place during the ten-day period between the Ascension and Pentecost. But surprisingly it doesn’t. Instead, we go back in time, and we get a snippet of prayer that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper. I say “snippet,” because today we hear only the second of three sections of Jesus’ so-called “high-priestly prayer,” which he prays at the conclusion of two lengthy farewell speeches extending over three whole chapters of John’ Gospel. The first section of the prayer is for Jesus himself. The third section is for the future Church. And the second section, which we heard read today, is for the disciples reclining around the table at the Last Supper.
In a sense, we are eavesdroppers. This section of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer is addressed to God—not us—and it is offered on behalf of the original disciples—not us. So why does the lectionary have us listen in? I think there are two reasons. The first is that, as baptized Christians, we are meant to continue the ministry of the original disciples, and we can expect to encounter some of the same struggles that they did. The second reason has to do with a tradition of the Early Church to expound on the sacraments at every sermon during the 50 days of Eastertide. (The technical term for this practice is mystagogy.) And believe it or not, today’s Gospel has some profound implications concerning both baptism and Eucharist, despite the fact that neither sacrament is explicitly mentioned in the prayer.
But there is a problem! As we eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer, we find that he is speaking in code. One of those code words is the word world. We get a sense that something cryptic is intended when we hear Jesus say, “I am not asking on behalf of the world.” Why would Jesus refuse to pray for the world? The answer is that, in John’s Gospel, the word world almost always refers to humanity in its fallen state. More specifically, it refers to those who willfully defy God’s will for them and who actively oppose the message proclaimed by God’s Son. Given this understanding of the world, it is not such a surprise that Jesus does not pray on behalf of the world. For the only prayer he could make is that the world cease to be the world, that sinful humanity cease to be sinful humanity.
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.