The essence of all Christian worship is "conversation with God".
The essence of Sabbath is dialogue with God.
In our Gospel text this morning, Jesus tells us how two people spent God’s gift of Sabbath. Jesus says "Two men went up into the temple to pray ..." and describes the prayers of both men.
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.”
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.” I find it extremely significant that Jesus describes what the Pharisee is doing by saying he "prayed thus with himself".
In the temple the Court of the Women which is the area in the lower part of our diagram and in the picture next to it is only for believers. All believers were welcome but the sign at the entrance warns that all non-believers entering those sacred confines would be subject to a death sentence. The Pharisee would go to the far end of the Court of the Women – though Nicanor Gate – into the Court of the Men which actually occupied only a narrow strip by the entrance where the men could look into the Court of the Priests as they offered sacrifices on the huge altar in front of the Sanctuary. There the Pharisee stood for all to see all men and priests offering sacrifices to see and loudly proclaimed his prayer. 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess."
First the Pharisee tries to build himself up by comparing himself to people whose sins are obvious and grievous. Then he tries to make himself feel really good by listing his own catalogue of credits. As Jesus points out, this man "prayed thus with himself"- talking to himself - hoping God is listening in and endorsing his self-evaluation. He leaves the temple as he came - without speaking with God – having only "prayed thus with himself".
“God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
The tax collector remained there in the Court of the Women – over to the side – barely visible. "And the tax collector, standing far off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'"
TIME OF SACRED REST
Could there be any greater contrast than what we see in these two men as they use God’s wonderful gift of Sabbath. Jesus says "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other."
The tax collector experienced both he and his prayer being accepted and responded to by God. He had spoken with God and his sins had been forgiven. The tax collector’s God-given gift of Sabbath was spent in dialogue with God – even as Jesus The Lord of the Sabbath did.
The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable relied on his own physical, mental, emotional - and even spiritual - strength - "I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." - I try not to be materialistic or to cheat my fellow man - I help my neighbor and I give to the poor.” He is fully able to catalogue his list of virtues. 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” And he is fully able to find obvious sinful people to compare himself to.
Where is the dialogue with God – where is the faith? It’s there, but tragically misplaced in a person’s ability to point out his or her strengths and virtues and to point out the weaknesses of others. Such faith is of little value for it leaves a person drowning in the sinfulness that inundates every human life.
The tax collector is turned by The Holy Spirit into a Christian thirsting for what only God Who came to us as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ can give.
A person is justified by faith apart from works of the law - "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" “God, forgive my sins - cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Continue to enlighten me with Your Word so I can recognize my sinfulness and my need for what only You can give. Continue to enlighten me with the Grace, Forgiveness, and Life revealed in Your Word. Continue to give me that theological, moral, and ethical road map through this temporal stage of life contained in Your Word. In Your side of the dialogue that is Christian worship, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"
Jesus Himself said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am there in the midst of them." (MATTHEW 18:20) And Jesus' Presence is never passive. When Christians gather as the Church - as the Body of Christ - Jesus does things to us and through us. His Power - always active - takes on a special force in His Church. And we - all empowered by His Holy Spirit as His Priesthood of all believers - are involved in having that Power unleashed upon us and through us.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS – THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE OF ALL WHO TRULY KNOW HIM AND BELIEVE IN HIM. AMEN.
24th Sunday of The Trinity Season
November 11, 2018
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio