Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for Oct 27, 2013; Reformation Sunday; Luke 18:9-14

Rev. George Miller
Luke 18:9-14
“God of Mercy”
Oct 27, 2013

A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her holiday cards. She says to the clerk, "May I have 50 Christmas stamps?"

The clerk says, "What denomination?"

The woman says, "Lord have mercy! Has it come to this? Give me 15 Methodist, 13 Baptist, 9 Lutheran, 7 Catholic and 6 UCC."

Today’s joke is brought to you on behalf of the fact that today we are celebrating Reformation Sunday. We heard Mel speak about Reformation. One of the things that struck me was the radicalness of what Martin Luther had done: a brave set of thoughts and actions that broke against the popular, prevalent powers of the time.

A radicalness that in its very essence was about developing a closer relationship with God and it was about the freedom to do so: the ability to pray, worship, read scripture and, as Mel wrote me, to “rely on being justified by grace through faith.”

Martin Luther spoke up to say that people had the right to personally experience God and to experience God’s mercy and grace.

Much like today’s reading.

Since chapter 17 Jesus has been on his journey to Jerusalem. He is on a journey to his death and he’s not making things easy for himself.

He’s reaching out to people with dreaded diseases. He’s healing foreigners. He’s welcoming children. He tells a wealthy man to sell all his possessions. He shows compassion to a beggar on the street.

That may be good for those poor, unfortunate souls, but it’s causing discomfort with the status quo.

To make matters worse, Jesus starts telling stories about the Kingdom of God; about this holy state of being in which the powerless prevail and the powerful are cast in questioning light.

These stories, called parables, are not cute or simple. They are meant to be wrestled with and to leave the listener limping and with a mind teased into active thought.

Today’s parable features three characters; the first a Pharisee. He would be akin to the elder of an established church. Someone who gave their time, talents and money; someone who was on council, who helped to preserve the faith and ensure there was a place for folk to worship.

The second character is a tax collector. Back then Jerusalem was under the foreign rule of Rome, their enemy. They hired local residents to collect their taxes, a form of economic oppression that kept the Jews in place and the Roman government strong.

To be a tax collector meant one was a puppet for the enemy; a traitor to the people and a traitor to God, worthy of hate and scorn; worthy of rejection from the Lord.

In this parable, Jesus lures the hearers into what they assume is a straight forward story. The church leader stands in the holy space and gives a soliloquy thanking God that he is not like those despised and dejected and reminds God of all the good that he does.

The tax collector is so weighted down by his sin that he can’t even muster the courage to approach the sacred space or lift his eyes. Instead he beats his chest and says a few scant words “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Yet, as Jesus tells us, it is not the Pharisee who goes home justified, it is the taxman.

How can this be? One man gives his time and money so others can faithfully worship, the other spends his time taking away their money so Rome can rule.

How can this be? Because there is the third character in this story; the one we have not yet talked about: God.

Because this story isn’t just about a Pharisee or a tax collector, it’s about the Holy One.

It’s about how God’s ways are not always the ways of the world; it’s about how God enters into our lives and finds ways to bring vindication and transformation.

This parable is designed to be wrestled with and to tease our mind into active thought and to ask ourselves once more “Who is this God we believe in?”

In fact, Jesus’ life and ministry becomes a living parable that forces us to wrestle and to tease our mind into asking “Who is God?”

And although the answer to that question is not so simple, we can start to formulate an idea by reading through Luke 17 and 18.

Who is God?

God is the One who cares about justice, who cares for the diseased, the foreigner, the child, the widow, and even our enemy.

Who is God?

As Psalm 51 will tell you, God is the One who has mercy in abundance; who acts according to steadfast love.

Who is God?

The One who knows our trespasses; who sees the sins we have done.

Who is God?

The One who will turn from our transgressions and blot out all of our inequities.

Who is God?

The One who has mercy in abundance for us; so much so that God is ready to usher in a new state of being if we simply admit we are weak, admit we have wrongs, admit we could be better, admit we can’t do it alone.

Who is God?

The One who finds the lost and lonely, who heals broken souls with love, who frees the prisoner from all chains.

Who is God?

God is the One who is free. So free that God came to us in the form of a child, walked with us in Galilee, died for us on Golgotha and rose three days later.

Who is God?

The One who is so free that each and every one of us can be loved into that freedom; a freedom which allows us to flourish, a freedom which allows us to live, a freedom which allows us to persevere.

A freedom which allows us to return home, no matter how muddied our clothes are so that we can have a clean heart; so we can have a new and right spirit within.

Who is God?

The One who is so free that no Temple, no church building, no church doctrine, no Pope, no priest, no pastor, nor no cross or tomb can control God.

A freedom which says we are exalted and we are free to worship, we are free to pray, and we are free to rely on being justified by grace.

No matter what denomination we are a part of; no matter who we are or how much we have wrestled with God.

For that we are humbled; for that the faithful can say “Hallelujah!” For that all God’s people can say “Amen.”

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