The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 25C (10/23/2016)

Lessons:Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17 Psalm 84:1-7 (5) 2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 St. Luke 18:9-14

Semicontinuous Series: Joel 2:23-32 Psalm 65 (11)

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness.  Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the peoples of the earth may find their glory in you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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.”

St. Luke 18:9-14. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Faith

At the heart of living as a follower of Jesus is to have faith. Most Christians would probably agree with this statement, but here is where we often disagree: what, exactly, is faith?

When I went away to school, my parents gave me a copy of “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language; New College Edition” (© 1975). It lists, as the first definition of faith: “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.” There are actually six definitions listed, most of which have to do with ideas, doctrines, loyalties and principles. In fact, our culture has often thought of faith as getting it right. Believing the right doctrines. Embracing the right principles. Holding to the right commitments. There was a time when faith had to do with abstaining from drinking, gambling and dancing. These days it often seems to have to do with what we’ve decided about sexuality, abortion or politics. If faith has, primarily, to do with ideas, doctrines, loyalties and principles, then at its core it is about getting things right.

But consider this: Jesus never says, “Faith is believing correctly.” In fact, he seems to have a different understanding about what faith is, and this becomes apparent in this weekend’s Gospel lesson.

It is the familiar parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. We’ve heard it countless times. Two men are praying in the temple. The Pharisee seems quite impressed with himself, and the tax collector seems overwhelmed by his brokenness. One first suspects that this is about humility, and if we agree with the approach to faith described two paragraphs above, we might conclude that to be faithful is to make the commitment to humility. If you are able to be humble enough then congratulations: you got it right!

But let’s revisit the introduction to this parable, and remember what it is about. St. Luke informs us that Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. We see here that Jesus is making the exact opposite point. If faith is believing correctly — getting it right — then we are bound to “trust in ourselves” and “regard others (who don’t get it) with contempt.” The problem is that the Pharisee trusted in himself. He thought his own understanding, his own piety, his own behavior was his source of justification.

But no. Faith has nothing to do with trusting in ourselves, and whatever behaviors or beliefs we can muster up. It has everything to do with approaching God in humility, and trusting. Trusting in the promise of Christ. Trusting in the goodness of God. Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we abandon the quest for correct belief, we become open to the simple (even “childlike”) trust that Christ wants us to have.

So, dear friends, let us humble ourselves and trust in the promise, presence and power of our God, so that we too, like the tax collector in Luke 18, might go home put right by God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What difference does Jesus point out between the Pharisee and the tax collector?
  2. What is objectionable about the Pharisee’s behavior in the temple?
  3. What is commendable about the tax collector’s behavior in the temple?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How have I understood the difference between faith and belief?
  2. When has it been necessary for me to trust someone, or something?
  3. How might faith as trust (instead of belief) change my relationship with God?