Sermon, October 27, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
2 Timothy 4: 6-8; 16-18
Luke 18: 9-14
“Humility & Respect”
The extremes of prayer are represented in a parable that Jesus tells on this day. One of the temple goers, the Pharisee who believes himself to be beyond reproach. The other seems to consider himself worthy of all blame and humiliation that comes his way. In the midst of these two extremes, where is God? At one end? At the other? In between? In it all? This parable helps us to explore God’s presence as a sign of our beloved-ness. The Pharisees were a group within Judaism that sought to follow God’s rules as strictly as they were able, according to their interpretations. They were especially concerned with prayer, but typical prayer praised God rather than the accomplishments of the one praying. In this parable, the Pharisee sings his own praises of devotion, which is shown by his fasting and tithing. The tax collector is the other character, one whom the Pharisee would have considered lowly and shameful. The tax collector beats his chest in a sign of deep humility. For the author of Luke, such a sign of meekness and modesty is the way people come to God. The tax collector who comes to know God and God’s presence in this parable; Jesus notes that this person goes home “justified,” just as the widow did in the previous parable of last week. In walking humbly, the tax collector is brought into the divine love that paves the way for humility and respect of the neighbour. In humility, we find an end to shame; we find God’s presence. In God’s presence, we find the satisfaction with life that allows us to enter in, ask for mercy, and know that God kneels alongside us. Like the Pharisee, we can compare ourselves to others but such comparison keeps us from recognizing God in our midst. God is the one who sustains. God is the one who provides, and God’s sustenance and provision are not based on our undertakings. God has promised to be present with God’s beloved children in all circumstances. In a world that likes to boast of its achievements, we would do well to remember this.
For we who use All Saints Day to celebrate the lives that have been particularly Christ-like, this day provides an opportunity to remember other Christian friends and family who have died. Our simple lighting of a candle provides an opportunity to invite those who have been bereaved during the year to gather to remember their loved ones in prayer. Hallowe’en is coming, the night before All Saints Day. Nov. 1 was originally known as All Hallows’ Eve and, over time, became shortened to Hallowe’en. Tracing its roots to an ancient Celtic day of the dead known as Samhain, it was believed that souls and supernatural beings would wander the night. Various traditions have merged over time, ranging from praying for saints and “lost souls” to children dressing up in costumes and going from door to door in search of treats. The lost saints in our lives have stood for humility and respect for others; at least that is what I was taught; Don’t be like the Pharisee who brags but like the tax collector who asks for forgiveness for his wrongs. We all make mistakes says the wee voice in my head, known as my parents past.
Have you known people in your lives that stand off in the distance in a group? The person who doesn’t think he/she is good enough to be in the circle. Many have often stood off in the distance at a function and just look at the inter-action of the group. For the most part of their life, they may have fought against low self-esteem, perhaps because of the poverty or abuse in their childhood that made it impossible for them to go to places that other children went; school outings, holidays, birthday parties and having loads of Christmas presents under the tree. They know what it is like to be excluded from the group as was the tax collector. There are others in our society who feel outside the circle of norm; the refugee, the poor, the widow, the un-educated, the list goes on…
The image of the tax collector standing far off is important for us today. The first thing it brought-to-mind was this idea of comparison as a burden. Before, I had only thought of the locations of the two men as significant because of where they were in relation to the temple, but with my reflections of how people with low self-esteem compare themselves to others fresh on my mind, I was more aware of the positions of the two men relative to each other. The Pharisee defines himself in contrast to the tax collector. He builds himself up by tearing someone else down. The tax collector did not compare himself to anyone at all. Rather, the text relays that he was “standing far off.” We know that both men went to the temple to pray, but we don’t know whether the tax collector even saw the Pharisee. The tax collector never mentions the Pharisee, because he doesn’t need to. Of course, this is a story about God’s grace—that God would exalt those sinners who humble themselves, but the tax collector’s focus on himself alone and with God is the very place from which he is exalted.
But what can we do to be in that humble place, such that we can identify with the under-privileged in this story? I propose that we can “stand far off” ourselves. In an age of oversharing; of a constant knowing about the lives of others, we can step away. We can make an effort to refrain from comparing ourselves to others. Comparison sows seeds of discontent—often for no reason. No doubt the Pharisee was also a sinner, but he wasn’t going to say so while at the temple. To some degree, every one of us filters the messiness of our own lives when presenting ourselves to others.
The Pharisee told God how good he was and how valuable he was to God. The Tax Collector hung his head and begged God for forgiveness. He could not even look up when he considered what a sinner he was. Jesus said that the Tax Collector went away “justified” because of his humility. Being “full of yourself” is something we encounter daily in the world in which we live. We see politicians who stand as the Pharisee spouting how great thou art and who are “full of themselves.” They cannot see that their self-absorption is so far out of line with the norm that it is ridiculous. Every once in while when we meet up with such people, one might secretly wish that life would take them down a notch or two so they can see themselves a bit more like other see them. Perhaps their ego is their guise that they use for cover from accepting the real person that they are. Maybe they are, actually very insecure, and that outward covering is their protection from considering the way they really are. The humble will be in my prayers and will have my respect. We are asked this day to be meek and modest for this is your path to God. Amen.