ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 8/7/2016
TEXTS: LUKE 18:9-14/GENESIS 4:1-15/EPHESIANS 2:1-10
GOING HOME THE RIGHT WAY FROM JESUS’ PRESENCE!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


To the saints at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Semitic words for “pray” can be used for both public worship and individual prayer.  The appointed times for people to go up for public worship and prayer was at dawn and at 3:00PM.  The worship and prayers at those hours centered in the atonement sacrifices which included the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb – the sound of trumpets and cymbals – the reading of a Psalm.  When the Priest went into the sanctuary to offer incense those present outside said their prayers.

 

 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Today – 130 (30) or so of us went up to this house for public worship and prayer.  None of us are registered Pharisee’s.  None of us are professional tax collectors.  But, each and every one of us goes down to our house from worship and prayer either justified (exalted) – or not justified (humbled).

In normal temple practice even individual prayer was spoken aloud.  Pharisees often stood aside from others and so did this Pharisee as he prayed - ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  To his comparative moral graph he then adds two trump cards – I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  Pious Pharisees fasted 12 times each year.  This was more than the law required.  His…I fast twice a week more than quadrupled that already heightened practice!  Old Testament tithes were from oil and grain and wine (with exceptions listed by the Mishnah). His - I give tithes of all that I get was went far beyond that and was seemingly sacrificial.  Self-discipline - self-striving - self-esteem were his.

ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 8/7/2016
TEXTS: LUKE 18:9-14/GENESIS 4:1-15/EPHESIANS 2:1-10
GOING HOME THE RIGHT WAY FROM JESUS’ PRESENCE!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


To the saints at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Semitic words for “pray” can be used for both public worship and individual prayer.  The appointed times for people to go up for public worship and prayer was at dawn and at 3:00PM.  The worship and prayers at those hours centered in the atonement sacrifices which included the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb – the sound of trumpets and cymbals – the reading of a Psalm.  When the Priest went into the sanctuary to offer incense those present outside said their prayers.


 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Today – 130 (30) or so of us went up to this house for public worship and prayer.  None of us are registered Pharisee’s.  None of us are professional tax collectors.  But, each and every one of us goes down to our house from worship and prayer either justified (exalted) – or not justified (humbled).


In normal temple practice even individual prayer was spoken aloud.  Pharisees often stood aside from others and so did this Pharisee as he prayed - ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  To his comparative moral graph he then adds two trump cards – I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  Pious Pharisees fasted 12 times each year.  This was more than the law required.  His…I fast twice a week more than quadrupled that already heightened practice!  Old Testament tithes were from oil and grain and wine (with exceptions listed by the Mishnah). His - I give tithes of all that I get was went far beyond that and was seemingly sacrificial.  Self-discipline - self-striving - self-esteem were his.


Remember - Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.  Sometimes this Pharisee is described as pompous - intentionally rude – blatantly bragging for the sake of bragging. 


But what if he was sincere – working hard as a Pharisee – trying to please God!  Perhaps his extra fasting was to help counter temptations to eat too much or to eat the wrong things - to fight overconsumption - gluttony.  You know those temptations.  Perhaps his tithing more than the Law required was to help fight temptations of greed and accumulation and stinginess in giving back to God.  You know those temptations.  What if he thought - “I don’t want to be tight with God’s gifts to me and tithing more helps me fight greed.  Sometimes I even covet the carefree attitude of tax collectors and the big coins they rake in.  But, I don’t want my life to be like that - focused on more money – even like the tax collector I see here.  I’m working on it Lord and I’m thankful I’m not like him.”


Heard this way – it’s the prayer of someone trying to do the right thing – trying to keep the law.  It’s a struggle you understand -  against lusting - overconsuming - being tight-fisted toward God.  Heard this way - he doesn’t sound so haughty.  So would that sincere effort change the status of how he went home from God’s presence in the temple?  Would his status change from – “not justified” to “justified” - before God?  Sadly it would not!  Sincerity and serious pursuit of even good things does not justify before God. 


If the Pharisee feels God should love him more than the tax collector because he feels he’s better than him – then his sinful bragging is pompous and obvious.  But if the Pharisee’s deep confidence is that his lusting and consuming and stinginess are not as bad as they could be – the reality is that he still goes home unjustified.  For the bottom-line is that his heart is still set on earning his standing – meriting his relationship with God.  Israel who pursued a law that could lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.  Why?  Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.  They have stumbled over the stumbling stone (Rom. 9:31-31).  Christians will try hard to do the right thing – to confess sin - to struggle against temptation.  But when comparative effort pushes aside Christ’s forgiving love as the basis for confidence before God - “unjustified” is the status.    One theologian expressed it this way – “Christianity is not a movement from vice to virtue.  It is a movement from virtue to grace” (Gerhard Forde).


But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, make atonement for me the sinner!”  In the Greek the definite article is used – “the” sinner.  He sees His own sin with full clarity!  The verb is imperfect – indicating “he kept beating his chest” in repentance!  He is not looking down on anyone in comparison.  He is despairing of Himself – asking for atonement through the blood of the lamb.


The request he makes - translated - “have mercy” - is not the general term for mercy. In Scripture it is used of Jesus who “makes propitiation for our sins” (Hebrews 2:17). As a noun it refers to the mercy seat – the lid on the Ark of the Covenant where the sacrificial blood was sprinkled. Ultimately it speaks of Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood (Rom. 3:25) for our sins and for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  His prayer is - God be merciful to me the sinner – that is -  God, make atonement for me - God be propitiated to me – God be reconciled to me - the sinner – through the blood of the Lamb!


“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Dear Christians, as always, Jesus turns things upside down with His teaching. It was thought to be inconceivable that a Pharisee should be lacking and that a tax collector could be righteous before God. The office of revenue gathering generally involved squeezing people unjustly to enrich oneself.  But the Pharisee’s theft was far more serious.  Either pompously or sincerely serious - he took credit for glory that was God’s alone!  He stole from God’s gracious name to exalt His own name.


The one dead in sin appears full of life and good works especially to himself!  The one God has given repentance and new life appears spiritually defeated – even to himself!  In the realm of repentance and faith your feelings do not constantly reflect the new creation you are in Jesus.  God works to give His children – His saints – the joy of salvation in His grace.  But the putting to death of the Old Adam and rising to life of repentance and faith is ongoing.  It is Jesus who sustains your hidden life.  Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up.  God is our salvation.  As He first created out of nothing – so He recreates faith out of nothing.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Faith in Christ never stops being a gift of God!

 

The tax collector despaired of himself.  His one and only cry before the Holy Place of God’s presence - in the place of atonement by blood was this - “God be reconciled to me the sinner.”  And God was!  God loves to give to those He has created in His image – now fallen in sin!  Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  Pride in self before God can be expressed outwardly like the Pharisees or just quietly infect one’s inner attitude!  Pride is a nagging temptation.  You see - even to think that one is adequately humble is sinful pride.  It would never have entered the tax collectors mind that he was humble enough – just the sinner - in need of the forgiving blood of atonement. 


God help you to utterly despair of trust in yourself before God’s holiness. God help you to utterly depend upon the unblemished Lamb.  He would soon render the very temple He speaks of here obsolete by His crucifixion on the altar of the cross.  His blood speaks a better word than that of Abel – crying out for forgiveness – for release – not for vengeance.  It is the blood of God!  It justifies you!  It is why Jesus baptized you into His death – where His blood was shed! 

 

In the abundance of His mercy He does forgive even the things of which your conscience is afraid to ask.  So open the files of your conscience – see what lurks there – what hides in the shadows there – what refuses to budge.  The precious gift of individual confession and absolution is given in part for this very reason. 

 

Beloved, united with Christ in your baptism – your conscience is now the main battle ground.  It is where the good fight is fought.  Satan seeks to deaden it or to falsely excite it – oscillating between self-justification and self-accusation.  God seeks to have you see the sinner you are correctly and then to keep cleansing your conscience in Christ – giving then to your clean conscience also good expectation from the immeasurable riches of His grace. 

 

This is why at His Table - Jesus gives you to drink of His blood!  When you drink the blood of the Lamb in Holy Communion it sprinkles your heart and your conscience so that you are holy – through and through (Hebrews 9:13-14; 10:22; 12:24).  The cleansing is done by God!  Your faith in Jesus Christ is His gift to you!  Christ is your righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30) and no sin covers His righteousness.

 

It is therefore good if you come to this house of worship today and each week without all the answers – recognizing that all is not as it should be with you – that there is sin in what you have done and left undone – said and left unsaid – thought and failed to think.  It is God’s gift that you recognize that your greatest problem - is you – the sinner.  Satan tempts you to brood over it.  God leads you to confess it – receive absolution for it and live in the joy of His salvation.   


The one who comes to serve you is the answer!  He is the one who humbled Himself and is now exalted!  It is He who carries you with Him into God’s presence.  He offers you freedom unapproachable by any earthly condition!  You are made alive together with Christ – and raised up with him and seated with Him in the heavenly places. 


Jesus is the unshakeable anchor for your clean conscience and your good conscience and God will not forget the good works Christ is doing through you!  That means you are always free to stop cataloging and keeping a record of them!  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


That’s why on this day Jesus sends you – the sinner - home from the temple of His body- not just spruced up a bit – justified before God!  I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.


In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a