First Lesson: Joel 2: 23-32
Responsive Reading: Psalm 65
Second Lesson: 2 timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 9-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Former Minnesota Golden Gopher and Notre Dame Football coach once had a public speaking engagement where he made a keen observation about human nature. Holtz’s advice to the assembled audience was the following: “Don’t tell other people your problems because ninety percent don’t care and the other ten percent are glad you have them.”
If anything Holtz might have underestimated on his numbers about the number of people glad that you have your problems.
Today’s Gospel lesson drives Holtz’s words home. The lesson serves as a sermon unto itself. The lesson tells the tale of two characters both walking up to the temple.
The first character is a Pharisee. The Pharisee would seem to be the definition of the world’s greatest guy! He was up at 5:00 A.M., doing push-ups and then jogging. The Pharisee knew the scriptures well; he could pray the most beautiful prayers and was in church every Sabbath where he gave generously. The Pharisee didn’t smoke, didn’t drink; he never looked in the direction of a woman other than his wife. He never used foul or inappropriate language. If a daughter brought home this Pharisee to mom and dad, mom and dad would brag to everyone they knew about what a great catch that their daughter had found.
Now let’s look at the other character in this tale. The character was a Tax Collector. Here’s the thing that you need about Tax Collectors in Jesus’ day is that they were the absolute worst.
Brett Favre was the Green Bay Packers starting QB for sixteen seasons. Favre was arguably the greatest Packer ever. Favre was a Super Bowl champion; nine time Pro-Bowler and three times NFL MVP. Favre threw more touchdowns for the Packers than any player for one team in pro football history. The Packers most heated rival for many of those years was the Minnesota Vikings. Now imagine the reaction among Packer fans when Favre wants to play for the Vikings. The word “traitor” was thrown out with a vengeance by Packer fans.
Now as you think of Brett Favre, here’s the thing that made Tax Collectors so despised among the Jewish people. Tax collectors grew up good Jewish boys and now they were going to work for the hated, Roman government. Not only did these Tax Collectors work for the Romans, but it was also widely known that Tax Collectors were often corrupt and extorted extra money from people through the shadiest of means. Tax collectors were the worst because they were taking other people’s money and working for the hated rival at the same time.
So this is the backstory of the two men. Now here’s the incident described in our Gospel.
Both men walk into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee begins praying, his long flowing, beautiful prayer with his head held high and his chest puffed out. The Pharisee began his prayer sounding as smooth as any preacher. As the Pharisee said his prayer, bits and pieces came out that stood out.
“Thank you for not making me like robbers, evildoers, or adulterers.” “But thank you, Lord, for making me not like this awful Tax Collector standing near me.” “That guy is truly the absolute worst!”
Another way to think about the Pharisee’s prayer is to picture our recent Presidential debates. Picture how the candidates talk about each other. Now imagine someone praying like that!
Now the Tax Collector stands up to pray. Here’s what you should know about the Tax Collector. It would mortify the Tax Collector that others would listen to his prayer. The Tax Collector barely knew how to pray. He would hide under the table if asked to pray at a holiday meal. The Tax Collector as he stood in the Temple saw others looking upon him with nothing but shame and judgment. The Tax Collector’s confidence in his religious standing was such that he could not dare look his head heavenward.
The Tax Collector’s prayer was as simple and direct as any prayer could be. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
The Gospel for today tells the tale of two very different men, two different moralities, and two different approaches before God. What can we take from this tale?
In our lesson for today, everything the Pharisee says about the Tax Collector and others is true. The Pharisee’s problem is that he could not understand that in many ways that he was just as broken as they were.
Samuel Colgate from that Colgate family told the story of something that happened at a church to which he once belonged. Colgate’s church was having an evangelistic meeting, where a prostitute responded to the altar call. The prostitute’s past sins had broken her; she begins crying as she approached the altar. She then expressed an interest in becoming a member of Colgate’s church. She knew some people would be uncomfortable with her presence so she vowed to attend and merely just sit in a back corner.
Well in this congregation, you had to be admitted by member vote. The pastor brings up this prostitute for a vote. Everyone just sits there in silence. No motion. No second. It was so quiet in the sanctuary that you could hear people’s breath. Finally, a member stands up to speak. He suggests that they table the motion for a later date, maybe until she can prove that she deserves to hang with the churchy crowd. Finally, Samuel Colgate rises to speak.
Colgate says “I guess we blundered when we prayed that the Lord would save sinners. We forgot to specify exactly what type of sinners. We pray for forgiveness of this oversight.”
As soon as Colgate’s congregation heard these words, every single person in the congregation was embarrassed. They realized they were no different than the Pharisee in our Gospel lesson for today. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” After Colgate’s remarks, they adopted the woman’s membership with a unanimous vote. Every church will admit gossipers, but very few will be bold enough to admit prostitutes.
We hear stories like this and it’s real easy to wonder whether it can be too easy.
Homer Simpson in a prank gone wrong got a bucket full of glue stuck on his head. When traditional removal means wouldn’t work, Homer decided to go along with his son Bart to visit a faith-healer named Brother Faith. Brother Faith notices something about Bart. Bart was nothing but a ten-year-old hell raiser armed with a slingshot.
Brother Faith admitted to Bart that he was previously that way too until he saw the light which caused him to change his wicked ways. Bart could be like Brother Faith.
Bart Simpson though, thought he had this whole Christianity thing figured out. As Bart said "I think I'll go for the life of sin, followed by a presto-change-o deathbed repentance.”
Brother Faith is speechless by this answer responding in kind “Wow, that's a good angle... But that's not God's angle.”
Bart Simpson sort-of was preaching the Gospel. Jesus did say to a common thief hanging alongside him on the cross “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”
There are a couple of problems with the death-bed conversion angle.
Karl Weber gives the following anecdote.
“The 19th century Spanish general Ramon Narvaez was on his deathbed, and toward the end, was visited by a priest. Eventually, the discussion came around to the condition of the officer’s soul.
The priest asked him “Sir, have you forgiven your enemies?” “I have no need to forgive them” the officer weakly replied, “I’ve had them all shot.”
In many ways, death bed conversions are rare because as pointed out by Saint Augustine one’s life up till that moment ultimately defines them at those moments. If people’s hearts are hard for a generation, there is no guarantee that they will become soft. If you spend your life running from the Holy Spirit, there is no guarantee that you will find him in the darkest of rooms.
The second problem with the death bed conversion angle, we can see in the tale of the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector by hook or crook had hurt a lot of people on his way to the death bed. The Tax Collector had hurt himself. The issue isn’t whether God could forgive him? The issue is rather why to live in the poverty of our selfishness, rather than the riches of God’s ways.
Here’s the thing about the tale for today about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Their stories are messy. I was reading a book by Andy Stanley who is the pastor of one of the largest churches in the country. Stanley said the Church will always be in a continual balance between “grace” and “truth.” Finding the right balance will define the success of people’s ministry in life.
The Pharisees would have sought out a church that was all truth. Sitting around telling others how right they were and how wrong other people would be. The Pharisee would belong to the type of church that will excommunicate a member for the slightest deviation in belief. A church that is all truth though will never embrace tax collectors and prostitutes. To paraphrase Ed Markquart, such a church will never gather drug addicts, drunkards, divorcees, sexual deviants, jailbirds, and those who have never spent a day in the church.
When I was in seminary, as part of my education I had to spend a summer working as a hospital chaplain. One time, I visit a patient whose, daughter proceeds to interrupt as soon as I open my mouth. She begins to inform me that she’s Southern Baptist that she needs to know “What do I think about Abortion and Homosexuality?” As I left that encounter, I saw the problem with an all truth but no grace approach. The church ultimately becomes defined by what it’s against rather than what and who it's for. The church becomes more concerned with purity rather than proclamation.
“When any church adopts us vs. them mentality it’s already failed in its mission to bring forth the Gospel to all nations.”
While I love “Grace.” Churches can also overdo this message if they deny the fundamental realities of human brokenness leading people to long for resurrection. If people try to deny that, there is not real pain out there caused by sin; then they will never find the Gospel. If everyone’s o.k. all the time then the Gospel speaks to nothing.
As Stanley points out, Church should be messy. Church should be unfair. Such behavior as displayed in Today’s lesson where Jesus declares that terrible Tax Collector justified is the epitome of our Gospel. We often have a hard time grasping this reality as Christian people. We were taught when we were young children that fairness is important.
The Pharisee's resume was way, way better than the other guy’s resume. In the end, they would receive the same gift of eternal life. Here’s the thing about the Gospel though if God chooses to save people with different sins than ours, then why in the end should we care? Amen.
 Luke 18:9-14.
 Luke 18:11.
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.” Sermon Central.com. October 2004. Web. 17.Oct.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.”
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.”
 “Faith Off”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 17.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.18.2016. “Faith Off” is episode 11 of season 11 of The Simpsons originally airing on January 16, 2000.
 The text from this episode is taken from “Bart Simpson vs Christianity.” Taken from Blogger’s Sky and Field published in July 2013 by Ian.
 Luke 23:43
 Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?” The Brothers John the Steadfast. Sept.19.2013. Web. 18.Oct.2016. General Narvarez Illustration taken from the Ends of the Earth Weblog, Sermon, Inspirational, >>http://endsofearth.wordpress.com/category/sermons-inspirational/feed/ accessed by Pastor Weber on June 10,2011.
Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?”
 Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?”
 North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia outside Atlanta.
 Stanley, Andy. Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Zondervan Publishing. Grand Rapids.MI. 2012, 2016. Print. P. 72-83.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Pharisee and The Tax Collector: Pentecost 22: Year C” . Sermons from Seattle. Web. 17.Oct.2016.
 Stanley, Andy. Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. P.78-83.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.