Trinity 11, 2015

 

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The Gospel. Luke 18:9-14

 

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

 

If we are really sharp when it comes to our theology and we have an eye for spotting the subtleties, we will have perhaps thought twice about our Collect this morning.  As noted in your bulletin inserts, the Collect we have is a slight revision by those in the 17th century from its original version.

 

Originally we would have prayed in part, “…Mercifully grant that we running to thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure…”

 

But instead we said, “…Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises….”

 

Do you hear the difference?  Its subtle, but different and important.

Neither is incorrect.  The older is probably more clear and precise.  The new is clear in what it says, but has what the Prayer Book Commentary calls a ‘legalistic overtone’ to it. 

 

Legalism is a term that means there is a focus on obedience to a certain set of laws or moral codes and it assumes that obedience to them is a means of gaining divine favor.

 

We are not legalists.  God is not legalistic in His saving grace and purposes.  Salvation is a free gift of God. It is not a work…..so that we have no room to boast.

 

Do we view salvation, then, as a future reward for obedience or a present possession as a free gift?

 

So are we running the way of His commandments, to obtain His heavenly treasure?  Or are we rather receiving His heavenly treasure by faith….and loving His Commandments and Laws as our duty?

 

It may sound like splitting hairs.  It may sound like we are making more out of something than really is there….. but we should be ever alert concerning salvation and how it is attained.

 

The way we view these things will determine the way we will live. 

 

The theology of our Prayer Book is orthodox.  But all of our theology is subject to the Word of God, and so, it is important to understand the Christian faith correctly….and to be in tune to even the subtleties. 

 

If salvation is a free gift of God, and it is, then looking to how we are performing each day and thinking that in some way we are performing well enough to earn that heavenly treasure, then our theology is not where it should be. 

 

This is shown to us in very clear terms in our Gospel lesson for today.

 

We are all well aware of this Parable of Jesus.  Two men go up to the Temple to pray.  One is a Pharisee, the other a Publican or a Tax Collector.

 

The Gospel lesson opens this way.  Luke first says, “He [Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt….

 

Now notice that Jesus is not aiming this at anyone in particular. 

Pharisees were of course going to be involved, but not all Pharisees were guilty of hypocrisy and contempt for others. 

 

And we should read this or hear it with ourselves in mind here as well.  We can all be guilty of this.  This is also part and parcel of what I opened the sermon with as well.

 

Who or what do we in trust for salvation…our righteousness….our Justification?  Do we think we are righteous and can earn it or do we fall back on the mercies of God?

 

Do we run to receive the prize that is held out to us as a free gift?  Do we view salvation as a future reward for obedience or a present possession as a free gift?  Something we already possess….

 

Again, a subtle but real difference.

 

First, who are these two men? 

 

The Pharisee is a member of a specific Jewish tradition who emphasized and focused on morality, tradition, purity laws, strict observance in eating, washing, tithing, Sabbath keeping, etc. 

 

Jesus confronts them (or they confront Him) quite often because they seem to rely on the strict observance of these laws and neglect the very spirit behind all of those practices. 

The Publicans or Tax Collectors, were a group of men who were hated by their fellow Jews because they saw them as collaborating with the occupiers.  They worked for Rome, so they worked for the enemy.

 

One of these men, as we will soon see is the model of trusting in his own righteousness rather on the grace of God and the other will go home justified before God on account of his acknowledgement of his unworthiness before God.

 

The Pharisee begins by thanking God that he does not conduct himself like the commoners…. including the tax collector who is also nearby.

 

He begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.”  This first line is already difficult to decipher.  He is thankful to God, but it is a misguided thankfulness because he goes on the take credit for his supposed piety and righteousness. 

 

He begins to not confess his own sins, but he confesses the sins of others for them.  Other men, he prays, are extortioners, unjust, adulterers.  Implying that he is not.

 

What James says about Law obedience should be jumping to our minds at this point.  “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” 

 

None of us are law keepers as we should…or as we think we might be.  How many of us have spoken to someone who thinks are a pretty darn good person….and that God will judge them on their goodness and let them into heaven on the basis of it…..and if there is anything not so good, God will look past it?

 

That is the theology of the world.  This is bad theology.  Everyone is a theologian…and this is bad theology.

 

He goes on to list his “over and above” accomplishments and routines.  He fasts twice a week whereas the Law prescribes a public day of fasting once a year on Yom Kippur.  Other days are voluntary.

 

He gives tithes of all he gets.  Even if something has already been tithed before purchase, he tithes of it anyway.

 

But lastly we should note that he has disdain for others who don't measure up to his standards.  The Tax Collector is somewhere present for him to at least see and the Pharisee actually thanks God that he is not like him either.

 

Disdain for others.  Are we looking for ourselves in this parable?  Do we have disdain for others?  At times we do. 

 

But the Tax Collector.  What does he do as he is in the Temple praying?  All we hear about him is he stands far off.  He would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’

 

There is no pretense.  He is not concerned with the sins of others.  He does not list any good deeds or law abiding.  He does not concern himself with how other men are doing.

 

He is concerned with his own sin. 

He is convicted of his sin. 

He remains at a distance from the altar. 

His prayer is simple, to the point and summarizes the condition of all men before God.

 

He beats his breast….the place….the origin of sin…the heart.  He is heartily sorry for his misdoings. 

The remembrance of them is grievous unto him.

The burden of them is intolerable.

And what does Jesus conclude in telling this story?  He has no comment about the Pharisee.  We know only by implication the state of the Pharisee once he is finished praying.

 

Jesus says, this man….the Tax Collector….the one who is truly contrite before God is the one who went down to his house justified.  Justified before God not for his righteousness but for acknowledging and bewailing his manifold sins and wickedness.

 

It is a passage worth repeating.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

 

I ask the question again: Do we view salvation as a future reward for obedience (as the Pharisee did in this parable) or a present possession as a free gift?

 

Because how we answer this is how we will live from this day forward. 

 

Justification is the question here.  How are we justified before God?  Is it a future reward for Law keeping?  Because only Jesus kept the Law.

Or is it a present possession as a free gift?  The Scriptures say it is the latter.

 

There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile….for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But, we also are all justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul says that we are justified apart from works of the Law.  The Law is not overthrown by us having faith….rather the Law is upheld.

 

This is the fine distinction the Collect and the Collect’s revision make.  The Law is upheld, but it is not the way of salvation. 

 

Here is how the Law is dealt with for the Christian.  God has done what the Law (weakened by the flesh) could not do. By sending His own Son in the flesh….in the likeness of sinful flesh….He condemned sin in he flesh….in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. 

 

So we could say, “yes, salvation is through Law keeping, but since we are unable to keep the Law as we should, Christ kept it for us and by faith in Him, we are now considered Law keepers.

 

We are called to faith in Jesus Christ and His Blood to be justified.  We are called to faith.  Abraham way back in the Old Testament was justified by believing in God….

by his faith.   And we are granted that same status and privilege as Abraham when we put our faith in Him as well.  It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

 

Therefore, being justified is a declaration about us now.  Our status before God is Justified now, by faith.  The free gift of Justification is a present possession…not a future reward for obedience….because we cannot obey well enough to justify ourselves. 

 

From time to time throughout Church History, this has been at the heart of the Christian Faith.  It was a great concern in the 16th century during the Reformation.

 

How we stand before God….how we know we stand before God and what is required before God makes all of the difference as to how we live now.

 

So, we run to His promises because they are lovingly held out to us.  We are made partakers of God’s heavenly treasure because we are Justified through faith and faith in Christ alone.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.