Proper 25 2019
This week we mailed to each of you your stewardship cards. I hope you will consider them prayerfully and fill them in. You can mail them or bring them to the church and place them in the offering plate. Over the last few weeks the lessons have been about stewardship. Maybe every Sunday is about stewardship because stewardship is how you offer to God your life. This Sunday is no different. The parable offered by Jesus this morning sets two extremes together; the pharisee and the tax collector. They were about far apart as two people could be. We have been hard on pharisees just as Jesus was. I don’t know what your image is when you hear the word pharisee. Mine is a very bad person, but the people that Jesus was talking to would not have seen it that way. Pharisees were people of great character. They loved the Lord God. They worked and gave for the kingdom of God. The minimum in Jesus’ day was ten percent; they started with that and then they gave more. They prayed all during the day. The worked and hung around the temple. They had good manners. They wore good clothes and followed the rules. If you met one you would have been impressed. You would want them to teach Sunday school. You would want them to lead whatever group you were in. They loved God. They worked hard. They would have been very impressive.
On the other side was the tax collector. He was about as low as a human could go. He was a Jew stealing from Jews, stealing God’s resources and giving them to the Romans; taking what was Holy and giving to the unholy and unclean. He was taking from his own people not just what they owed, but more for himself and then turning that clean Godly gift over to the unclean Romans. He was a carpetbagger. Everyone knew that his sin was so bad that he was condemned, and that God did not and could not love him. He was lost. His sin was unforgivable, even by God. Even he knew that. And Jesus stands them side by side and points to the tax collector and says that he is justified; God is listening to him and God will answer his prayer. Everyone who heard this would have been shocked. Jesus was saying that the unacceptable to the people was acceptable to God and that the acceptable to the people, was unacceptable to God.
What is it that separates these two men? Because, whatever it is, I want what the tax collector had. I want what the sinner had. I want what Jesus lifts as faith; that spiritual insight that changes one into God’s beloved.
The gift clearly held by the tax collector and absent from the pharisee was humility. The gift was in knowing his own sin and then asking to be forgiven. The difference between the pharisee and the tax collector is their ability to recognize their sin. The pharisee came to God proud and confident. He knew how good he was, and he came to prayer to remind God how good he was and that he deserved everything he got and would get. He really didn’t need God. Not really! He came to God to thank God that he was so much better than the sinner over there.
The tax collector needed God. The tax collector knew his sin and sought God out because he knew that he could never know God’s kingdom without God’s mercy.
For almost three years you have allowed me to be priest here, to be pastor and teacher. I have shared with you the joys and pain of life. I care about you and I care about this place; this wonderful Church. I care about the grace of God proclaimed here; this Eucharist shared; this communion offered. I care about you and all God does through you. I hope and pray that the love of Jesus that has been given for and to you means something. I hope it means so much that not only do you want to know it but share it through the ministry of this place. I care that you support God’s ministry through your pledge to All Saints’ and I pray that pledge represents you. I pray that you will give sacrificially.
The question I wonder is; does your pledge have any meaning in your life? Does your pledge represent at all your willingness to trust God? Or is it a second thought? Don’t come to God as a pharisee. Don’t come haughtily. Do not come if all you have to offer is look how good I am, but instead come as the tax collector. Come here knowing the transforming grace of Jesus Christ that has touched your life and that you are being changed day by day. I pray you are transformed by God’s love and that whatever you give, whatever you pledge, it is a response to what you have been given; whatever you give comes because you have a relationship with God through Christ which is transforming.
Don't come to this altar without the humility of the sinner but do come filled with joy. You see, stewardship is not about what's in your head and it's not about what's in your wallet. Stewardship is about a response to something you don’t deserve - God’s complete love for you.