9/1/2019 – Luke 18:9-14

by admin on September 1, 2019

9/1/2019 – Wrap-Up Message Audio

I Wish Jesus Wouldn’t Have Said That. 7

Luke 18: 9-14

1 September 2019


Innocently unaware of the prejudices held against him, an old black man, staunchly religious, some years ago applied for membership in an exclusive church.  The pastor attempted to put him off with all sorts of evasive remarks.  The old man, becoming aware that we was not wanted, finally said that he would pray on it and perhaps the Lord would tell him just what to do. 

  • Several days later he returned. “Well,” asked the minister, “did the Lord send you a message?”

“Yes, sir, he did,” was the answer.  “He told me it wasn’t any use.  He said, ‘I’ve been trying to get in that same church myself for ten years, and I still can’t make it.’”


Jesus told this parable—the Pharisees and tax collector—to those people at that church.  Spoken to those whose self-assurance and assessment of their personal uprightness placed them on a higher level spirituality—high achievers for sure.  From this they were able to be contemptuous toward others.

I’m grateful that there are no Pharisees among us there. 


Three major ideas woven into the narrative of everyday scenes of piety at work. 

Prayer reflects theology.

Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Worship has a message.  We now live with many years of experience of seeker friendly churches and their overall philosophy of don’t make waves to upset and offend prospective members.   Big bands, fog machines, upbeat songs, positive thinking messages….no crosses, no robes, no stuffy clergy, and for heaven’s sake, no organ music. 


Almost 50 years the church that started this entire church growth explosion was Willow Creek in the burbs of Chicago.  Seeker friendly was the key in those heady late 60s, early 70s– Viet Nam, campus uprising, Janis Joplin, LSD.   Cast off the bonds of canned prayers and liturgies.  We want to be free.   And so we became.    


About 15 years ago Willow Creek did some hard looking of where they had come and sadly had to conclude that many people who joined as seekers were still just that.  They came to church to be entertained, to feel good, and to sing some songs and pop back home.   But still untouched.


Their prayers built them a theology of just being a good person, and living in suburban Chicago you had to be cool, too.   Bill Hybels, the then senior pastor, said that he was slugged in the face with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase “cheap grace.”    All the benefits, so to speak—just enough of Jesus to keep me out of hell.   Bonhoefferà cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.


Jesus compares two pray-ers and their pious offerings.  Both pray alone, both pray Biblically, but only one get it.  Gets the substance of religion, the substance of faith, the substance of prayer and only one gets it—justified—right with God.   


The tax man pays attention to his self—his inner being, the state of his soul.    Honest to God.   True honesty in prayer concerns acknowledging and accepting your own imperfection.   Pay attention to yourself and allow others to do the same.    Other people don’t need you to point out their problems.


Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove has a humorous scene where two aging cowboys Augustus and Call, are arguing over the merits of an occasional failure.   Augustus accuses his buddy Call of being too stubborn to admit he is ever wrong.


You’re so sure you’re right it doesn’t matter to you whether people talk to you at all.  I’m glad I’ve been wrong enough to keep in practice.

  • “Why would you want to keep in practice being wrong?” Call asked. “I’d think it would be something you’d try to avoid.”

You can’t avoid it, you’ve go to learn to handle it.  Augustus said.  If you come face to face with your own mistakes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful.  I face mine every day—that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave.


The publican’s prayer is dry shave prayin. 



Humility, humanity, humor—humus—dirt.

Humility as earthiness may be less a distortion than humility as groveling or timidity.  Spiritual Casper Milqtoasts.    Humility signifies simply the acceptance of being human; the acceptance of one’s human being.  It is the embrace of both saint and sinner.    ML:  simul Justus et peccator.    


Beginning with the acceptance that being human—being mixed and therefore sometimes mixed up—is good enough.  Humility involves learning how to live with and have joy in that reality. 


Humility is above all honesty.  True humility neither exaggerates nor minimizes but accepts.  Dag Hammarskjold (Markings)à   Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exultation.  To be humble is not to make comparisons. 


I thank you, God, that I am not like all the rest of humanity …..

To be humble is not to make comparisons.  And to pay attention to yourself.


Seeing first one’s own defects and short comings is humility.  The fruit of that vision is tolerance.

Desert Fathers.   Moses the Black. 


A brother at Scetis committed a fault.  A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go.  Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went, taking a leaking jug filled with after and carrying it with him. 

  • The other monks came out to meet him and said, “What is this, Father?” The old man replied: “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the faults of another.”  When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.


This is how God’s Kingdom works.

Jesus tells this story to those who have contempt for and despise others—the rest, the leftovers, those guys not like us.  He tells it to serve as corrective to those pious and holy misunderstandings of how Yahweh works.  For those who wish to justify themselves this is more than a mere moralism; it is the definitive statement of how God’s justice and reign reveal human self-righteousness and hypocrisy.   Jesus says that the only justification that matters is God’s alone.


So how do we put up with ourselves?   The Desert Fathers were a marvelous group of men (and some women) who in their desert sojourn with themselves and others discovered that the secret to putting up with yourself lies in compassion, which begins with putting up with others.   


I am sure that Jesus didn’t just use this story as a onetime sermon illustration.  My guess is that he told it a lot and around the telling a community of thieves, rogues, adulterers and even tax collectors gathered to find relief from the burden of imperfection.    They discovered that we are like others not in our virtues and strengths, but precisely in our faults, failings and flaws.    Evagriusà The nearer we draw to God, the more we should see ourselves as being one with every sinner.


The main benefit of struggle and failure is that it helps protect us against the ultimate enemy of all spirituality—conceit—the self-centeredness that claims absolute self-sufficiency, and the pride that denies all need for God.


God can exercise his mercy when we avow our defects.  Our defects acknowledged, instead of repelling God, draw him to us, satisfying his longing to be merciful.  When we understand this we come to realize that those things by which we feel unlovable are exactly what we have to offer God to attract him.


That is what the community of a spirituality of imperfection looks like.   Instead of trying harder the word Jesus says is “Give up.”   Rest back in the arms of God.    Paul Tillichà Just accept the fact that you are accepted even though you are unacceptable. 


So what do your prayers sound like?   I’m thankful God that I’m not like them?   God be merciful to me a sinner?   The latter is known as the Publican’s Prayer and has a rich history in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the Jesus Prayerà  Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.    


 A long time ago in Czarist Russia a pious man went on a pilgrimage seeking the way to eternal life.  His travels brought him to the hut of a holy man called staritz.  The holy man taught the pilgrim the Jesus Prayer as the way to eternal life now.   How many times should I pray that?   Start with about 15,000.     Let the prayer saturate yourself and you will discover that this is how the Kingdom of God works.

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