Have you ever had an idea for what you thought could be a great sermon? I did this week. Or at least I thought I did. There are never any guarantees that ideas that seem great on Monday turn out to be a great ideas let alone great sermons by Sunday. Or much of the time, even a good ones. But this week was different. Just a few days before I had planned to sit down and write, my great idea was preempted by someone else?
Here’s what happened.
A couple weeks ago I carved out some time to look ahead at our Sunday morning schedule and to think about what was already being planned for upcoming Sundays, and to reread portions of the Bible and to think about the questions that are pushing up against your life and mine. It is that creative and sometimes challenging intersection of a passage in the Bible and something I have read or the headlines in the news which catches my attention and creates a space for new ideas to take root. Sometimes it is what I know about or read in the Bible that starts that process. Sometimes it is the headlines in the news. This week what caught my attention was this story in the Bible. From Luke’s Gospel. This story which the writer of the Gospel tells about Jesus.
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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.”
If this were a Bible study instead of a sermon we could research the role of the Pharisees and talk about who the tax collectors were and how they were viewed by others. We could discuss whether a prayer at the Temple or how one says a prayer in a sacred space matters more or less than what one does when one returns home. All of that would be an interesting discussion, but as I read this story none of that really caught my attention. But, one sentence did. It was this:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people…
And, if I can extend the thought and paraphrase the Bible,
“Especially like that person over there.”
It is this sentence from scripture which intersects our lives today.
Because we are living in a time of name calling and finger pointing.
Not just in the chambers of Congress and on Pennsylvania Avenue.
And, not just in state houses and on news programs.
But on Main Street and my street and your street, as well.
Too many of us have a tax collector over there who we look at and say,
“Thank God I am not like them.”