Rev. George Miller
Oct. 23, 2016
Today is a day in which I’m going to talk like I am a Big Boy. And I trust that you all here are Big Boys and Big Girls, and like Stephanie would say, that you are each able to pull on your Big Boy and Big Girl pants.
Because it is about time that we talk about this election. It is safe to say that this is an election unlike anything we have ever seen.
All these issues of lies and misbehavior, misbehavior and more lies.
But I got news for you- I was born in 1970, which means I came to consciousness during the Watergate Era, and in a country still dazzled by the Kennedy Legacy.
So I have never known a time in which presidents didn’t lie and politicians did not misbehave or cheat on their wives.
Call me jaded, call me a realist, but when I hear about these things I’m like “Yeah, so?”
I’m not looking for my leaders to be my buddies, or my friends, or my Sunday School teachers.
I’m looking for them to be the best leaders they can be who put the welfare of the people and the land before themselves and their cronies; leaders who can protect but can also play well with all the other leaders of the world.
In other words-justice. But not- perfection.
It’s a shame that we expect people to be so perfect. We live in and have co-created a society in which we expect everything to be so black and white.
Either everything is all good or all bad.
Someone is either all saint or all sinner.
Things are heavenly or they are hellish.
Where is the in-between?
The truth is that we are all in-between. We all are composed of good and bad, saint and sinner, heavenly and hellish.
Question is- do we hide it? Do we deny it? Do we push people away if they get too close to our truths? Do we attack those who stumble upon our shades of grey?
What if…what if Hillary had said 2 years ago, upfront, and on her own “Guess what- I made a HUGE mistake. I used my own personal server and in the process received and sent confidential e-mails.”
What if Hillary said “I admit that what I did was wrong, and once it was brought to my attention I stopped and sought council on how to best address my mistake.”
Would she have been justified by the American voters, humbled by her honest confession of non-compliance?
What if…what if Trump spoke up immediately and said “I have said some inappropriate things in private that I now realize were harmful to others. And I acknowledge that there are instances in which I have disrespected women; some of these are on tape.”
What if he said “I never meant to harm anyone, but I am seeking council and advise on how my words and actions can affect another, and I intend to learn and grow from these unfortunate experiences.”
Would he have been justified by the American voters, humbled by his honest admittance of objectification?
Is either candidate all good or all bad? All saint or all sinner? All heavenly or all hellish?
Today’s reading is one of those scriptures that if one is not careful, it can place people in a one or the other category.
Jesus is telling a parable.
A parable is a story that defies description. It seems to go one way, and then veers to the other. It shakes up pre-conceived notions of the world.
Parables challenge us to think, and no matter how much time we devote to them, we can never quite fully grasp them.
Parables force us to wrestle with God, and it is in the wrestling that we become closer to our Creator.
Here Jesus tells a parable in which he talks of 2 distinct people.
First, there is the Pharisee. Pharisees back in the day were akin to our church elders and church leaders.
They were the ones who served as deacons, they were the ones who sat on the boards, they were the ones who ensured things kept running.
They were the ones who gave greatly, tithed ten percent, and made sure the bills were paid and the lights were kept on.
The Pharisees were also notorious for being big on following the rules, and not straying from how things were done.
They preferred the old hymnals, and liturgy spoken in the proper language, and everyone to dress a certain way.
The Pharisees kept the Temple going, but they could also be overly righteous, quick to judge, and assume that only they worshipped God the right way.
Then we have the Tax Collector. Back in the day tax collectors were seen as greedy, untrustworthy, and unclean.
Perhaps worse- they were seen as traitors to their own people. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government, collecting the taxes from their Jewish peers living in Jerusalem.
They made their money off of commission, so they could charge people whatever they wanted. If the person refused or was unable to pay, they could be fined or arrested.
It would be akin to Isis conquering America and your neighbor going to work for them collecting taxes to strengthen their army.
So, who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? The one who is holier than thou but keeps the Temple running? The one who works for the enemy but is humble?
Does it make a difference on how we view them if we realize there’s a good chance the Pharisee was born into a Pharisee family that was well-to do, had power and position, so he had the luxury of fasting, tithing and following all the laws of the land?
Does it make a difference if we realize there’s a good chance the Tax Collector was born into a poor family that struggled every day, had no power, no position, and none of the luxuries that allowed for fasting, giving, and following all the laws of the land?
What kind of desperate background may someone come from that they would be willing to work for the enemy?
What if the Tax Collector had a family to feed and needed some way to earn money?
Who is good, who is bad?
So you are being asked not to see either man as black or white, good or bad, saint or sinner, heavenly or hellish.
But to see them as doing what they know, and doing what they can in a complex world.
As the parable continues, Jesus tells us what the Pharisee says. It is interesting to note that his prayer features
-1 reference to “God”
-5 references to himself, and all the good he’s done
Clearly, the Pharisee’s prayer is not so much to God or about God, as it is about him.
Jesus then tells us what the Tax Collector says. It is interesting to note that his prayer features
-1 reference to God
-1 reference to himself as sinner
Clearly, the Tax Collector’s prayer comes from a heavy heart.
The twist in the parable is when Jesus tells us that it is the Tax Collector who is justified.
Why? Because he was honest before God. He spoke his imperfect truth, he confessed his sins, he admitted his flaws.
He sought mercy.
Therefore mercy is what he received.
Justification is what he got. Grace is what rained down upon him as he returned home.
Does this mean that he was the better person? Does it mean he is now the one who is all good, all saint, all heavenly?
Does it mean that upon being justified he changed his ways? Does it mean he stopped collecting taxes and working for the enemy?
We don’t know; we will never know.
Jesus doesn’t tell us, because a parable is not meant to be easy.
A parable is meant to make us think. Make us uneasy. Make us wrestle with God.
If the world was only in black and whites we’d be left to wonder:
-Is it better to be holy but unhumble?
-Is it better to be unholy but be humble?
We do not live in a world of black or white. We live in a world of grays.
Which means we are constantly surrounded by people who are like both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We are surrounded by people who can boast and be humble.
And truth be told, we all have a bit of the Pharisee in us, and we all have a bit of the Tax Collector in us.
We have all done things for the benefit of others, and we have all done things for the benefit of ourselves.
We have all bragged upon how much better we are than another, and we have all had times in which we said that we were worms in the dirt.
Today’s parable does not give us an easy answer or easy insight but maybe we can take a bit of what we like from each person in today’s tale.
That we can be inspired to try our best, and to admit our worst.
That if we trying to do what we need to get by, we can still find ways to help another.
That we don’t judge so quickly, but we are brave enough to present ourselves before God to be judged.
That we can be honest enough with God about how we have messed up, and humble enough to receive the gifts of grace.
To not only see ourselves in shades of grey, but to see others in grey, realizing that people are not all good, people are not all bad.
…No one is perfect; everyone is perfectly flawed…
…As we near the close of today’s message, I have a brief story to share.
A few weeks ago for the adoption class, I had to find someone to sit down with and to share my fears.
My real fears. The ones I keep hidden, even from myself.
I invited my friend Aisha over, she’s a mother of 7 and radiates a spirit of love.
So in the comfort of my sun room, I talked. I shared my fear, and as I shared one fear, another came out, and another, and another.
And with the admittance of fears, came the tears, and admittance of other feelings, like anger, doubt, and even joy.
And Aisha just…listened.
She didn’t cut off. She didn’t critique. She didn’t shame or explain away.
Aisha was simply there, hearing every word.
At the end she smiled. We hugged.
I felt like five pounds from each shoulder had been removed.
That moment became, for me, an example of how God is. That God is there. God listens.
And when we give ourselves the gift of confessing and speaking our truth, God is there to release, to embrace, and to justify.
Days later, Aisha confided that there wasn’t a single thing I said that she herself had not felt or experienced, confirming that my grays were here grays too.
In conclusion, today’s scripture has so many things to say. Today is can be a reminder that we can come before God and be who we truly are and to admit what we truly feel.
To know that God can handle it.
God is a Big Boy.
God’s got Big Girl pants.
There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that God is shocked by.
There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that God doesn’t already know.
There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that would ever make God take God’s love away.
For that, we can say amen and amen.