St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-23-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-23-2016

Doin’ the Best That We Can

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

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

(Chorus) Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cause I get better lockin’ each day.
To know me is to love me I must be one [heck] of a man.
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doin’ the best that I can.

I guess you could say I’m a loner, a cowboy outlaw, tough and proud.
I could have lots of friends if I want’r but then I wouldn’t stand out from the crowd.
Some folks say that I’m egotistical. [Heck], I don’t even know what that means.
But it must have somethin’ to do with the way that I fill out my skin tight blue jeans.
                   Mac Davis

Oh I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to read those lines with a straight face!

That’s the chorus and just one verse of a song by Mac Davis. And, yes, it’s okay to laugh; he intended it to be funny; it’s his satirical treatise on egotism. It reminds me of my father’s own story of a girl he knew in high school who, in his words, “was very nice and really pretty too. But then somebody told her she was pretty and everything changed; she wasn’t very nice anymore.” Funny, yes, but also filled with truth. 

I can guess that we’ve all known such people sometime in our lives. If I’m correct, I would also imagine that we have all, when in the presence of them, scratched our heads in disbelief at their delusion; and I would think that all of us know just how repulsive they can be.

In regards to delusion, in the song, just notice that the character is lonely yet he deludes himself with proclaiming that he’s “tough and proud” and reminds himself that it makes him “stand out”.

And as far as being repulsive; even if he is otherwise something to look at, his exceedingly large head would make anyone cover their eyes in disgust.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, addresses just such a thought. He may even intended it to be funny, I don’t know, but I can imagine satire in the beginning of the story, and I can imagine his disciples getting a chuckle out of it too; at least until he turns the story to the remorseful tax collector.

Either way, we tend to see the story as a lesson in the importance of humility. It is just that! But is it about the importance of humility in the presence of God for the sake of our own salvation? Or is it about the importance of humility in the presence of our fellow humanity; avoiding being so obnoxious that we turn others away in disgust. Or, or is it another of those multifaceted messages?

If thinking about humility in the presence of God, we get the message that none of us should “exalt” ourselves lest God knock us down a rung or two on the ladder. Truth here, I believe! First, we all know we don’t “earn” our salvation; salvation and all the lifting-up we get are gifts of God through grace alone. If we believe we make ourselves worthy, through our actions, we negate the wonderful reality of God’s Grace. In short, we are delusional.

If thinking about humility in the presence of our fellow humanity, we get another message. Jesus was often in conflict with the beliefs of the Pharisees; but he didn’t just say “I’m right, they’re wrong”, he gave clear reasons for his argument. For insistence, Luke records a string of such reasoning in chapter 11 where we read…

42“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” 46 And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.

In these 4 “woe” proclamations, Jesus contrasts what shows on the outside with what is hidden within. Tithing can be seen by others, but neglecting justice and loving God effects others. Having the seat of honor and being greeted with respect can be seen, but the false piety is hidden within misleads others. The things hidden within are like unmarked graves; others don’t see them and are then defiled by coming in contact with them. And loading others with the burdens of the Law causes others to unload the burden, and their faith along with it.

The message, then, is humility in the presence of others reveals our true selves; makes what we are inside visible on the outside; it speaks truth, not falsehood, and leads others to the truth!

Both sides of this lesson on humility are very important. But one is important to us and our relationship with God while the other is important to our fellow humanity and their relationship with God.

Humbling ourselves before God, who can see what we try to hide inside, opens us to God’s grace in forgiveness and God’s grace in leading us to true righteousness.

In the same way, humbling ourselves before others, letting them see that even people of God have weaknesses and flaws just like everybody else, we open them to the possibilities of the graces of God, whereas otherwise we make that grace seem unattainable.

Now, look at today’s reading again. The Pharisee makes himself stand out; standing by himself saying “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”. The tax collector stood “far off” saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”!

Jesus tells us which one went home justified. But we must also ask ourselves why he is justified. Is it only because he confesses that he is a sinner? We don’t hear that the Pharisee had anything to confess. Or is it his acknowledgement and demonstration of his reliance on God’s Grace that justifies him? Or, or were all required; confession, acknowledgement, and demonstration?

It might be easier to humble ourselves before God. After all, we know how great God is and that God loves us in spite of our flaws. But then, when we dwell on the wonderfulness of God’s love for us , the grace he pours over us, and the forgiveness he is ready to give us freely, it might be a little harder to be humble before our fellow humanity. But that, too, is what we’re being called to do so that others will be attracted to the light that shines from us, not repelled by it!

It is very unfortunate that there are still, to this day Pharisee-like Christians in this world. They insist on standing out from the crowd; laying unbearable burdens, real or supposed, on others; setting unattainable goals; and projecting false righteousness on everyone they come in contact with. They are as delusional and as repulsive as the character in Mac Davis’ song.

In fact, listen to the song of the Pharisees paraphrased from Mac’s song and see how repulsive it may be to the not-yet believing.

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when I’m perfect in every way.
I see you when I look in the mirror, you look more like me every day.
To know me is to love me I must be your favorite man.
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doin’ the best that I can.

I guess you could say I’m a loner, righteous, above all, and and proud.
I could have lots of friends if I want’r but then I’d be just like the crowd.
Some folks say that I’m sanctimonious. [Heck], I don’t even know what that means.
But it must have somethin’ to do with the way that I stand above all human be’ns.

Laugh, it’s ok! Just don’t be the one being laughed at, don’t be a Pharisee! Amen.

Joel 2:23-32
2:23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.
2:24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
2:25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.
2:26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
2:27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
2:28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
2:29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
2:30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.
2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
2:32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.


2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
4:6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.
4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
4:8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
4:16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!
4:17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


Luke 18:9-14
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”