Welcome to worship this day for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost landing on October 23, 2022! It is good that you are here!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it will be the order of worship, the words and responses of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. The words you need to know will also appear on your screen and the sermon is included on this page below the worship video. You may follow along with the service however you are comfortable.
If you would like an enhanced online worship experience, you may have a lit candle in your space for duration of the service until the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. This symbolizes our prayer and praise to God as we are joined together beyond location (and even time). And you may participate in communion as well by having something small to eat and drink in your space ready to consume as instructed during the service.
May God’s enduring grace lift you up out of guilt and shame and grant to you the freedom to live and love!
Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord, that we might with humble hearts hear your Word for us this day, drawing us ever near to your love and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As you have likely heard, Burnaby was rocked this past week by the tragic news of RCMP Constable Shaelyn Yang being fatally stabbed while serving in the line of duty. It’s a really sad story and I totally feel for Constable Yang’s family and friends and colleagues. But that’s not what I want to talk about today, not exactly anyway. As I was reading news article after article and blog post after tweet, I wasn’t surprised to find that Constable Yang was described as the perfect officer, dedicated to her work, caring for all people, and sorely missed. I’m not saying that she isn’t all those things, but I’m just saying but of course she is.
Because isn’t that how all victims of these tragic events are described? They’re usually the absolute nicest people you’d meet, or they can brighten up the room with their smile, or the most selfless person who ever lived. Again, I’m not saying that they aren’t all these things, but it seems like people are often painted in a certain way to fit our narratives of how undeserving they are of what happened to them. Or, on the flip side, we might paint someone as worse than they are so we can feel better about them actually deserving their situations. I’m thinking about how the homeless fellow who stabbed Constable Yang is now being described online and I’m honestly a little worried about what will become of him now that his name is out there.
But you know what I mean, don’t you? We often justify our assumptions by either digging dirt on someone or listing out their accolades. We like to back up our claims with cherry-picked facts to prove us to be right. We squeeze these situations into our pre-existing narratives to make them more palpable, tangible, and understandable for us.
I’m not saying this is good or bad, I’m just saying that we do this a lot perhaps without knowing it. And sometimes, doing so might cause us to lose out on some of the nuances of the story or hide some facets of the truth that could be life changing.
I’m thinking about the parable that Jesus gives us today in our gospel lesson. This is one that is super familiar and we’ve used it many times to help guide us and our attitudes toward a more righteous and justified lifestyle. We already know that the Pharisee, just by that title alone, is the antagonist of the story. He is pompous and arrogant and in his prayer, the original texts actually translate better to say that he’s praying not just about himself, but also to himself. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like this guy deserves any kind of justification. And then there’s the tax collector, the protagonist as we know many underdogs are. He’s humble, contrite, and penitent. He rightfully prays to God and he leaves justified.
Easy peasy, we think. The tax collector is good. Be like the tax collector. The Pharisee is bad. Don’t be like him.
Except… is the Pharisee that bad? Look at what he says about himself (to himself): he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of his income to the church. I’d say that’s not that bad. I mean he’s loyal, devout, and generous. He even volunteers to pray aloud in church. Maybe for the wrong reasons of course, but still. He seems to be like the perfect member of any congregation. Sure, he might be a little arrogant and boastful, but aren’t we all in some way, especially in areas that we actually can be? I mean, he isn’t wrong in what he says, he really does do all those things and helps out the community where he can, so can we really say that he’s a bad guy?
And the tax collector, can we really say that he’s good? He’s a tax collector after all. He cheats and steals from his own people in order to get ahead and supports the very oppressors that they all complain about. He has chosen a profession that betrays his country and culture. He probably isn’t very well liked by anyone around him. But we say sure, he’s done those things, but at least he repents and turns to God. But does he? Nowhere in the text does it say that he quits his job and stops cheating people. Jesus gives us no indication that he changes his ways and plugs back into the community. All that we really know is that he admits that he’s a sinner, which by all counts, he totally is. So is he really that good?
Well, the truth is, both are good and both are bad. Both have different facets of who they are and what they bring to the table. Both have their pluses and minuses that bring them up and down the notches of our own personal judgment books. So we really can’t say definitively whether they are good or bad.
And so thanks be to God, it isn’t up to us. It isn’t up to us who is saved and who isn’t. It isn’t up to us who God welcomes into God’s kingdom and fold. It isn’t up to us who is justified and who isn’t, no matter what our narrative tells us about these two characters.
Because the truth is, there is another discrepancy in our modern translations of the text, and this might ruffle a few feathers. In verse 14, Jesus says in our translation that “this man went down to his home justified rather than the other…” and to us, that makes sense. We say that the tax collector might not have been perfect, but at least he prayed to the right God and asked for forgiveness. So he should be justified. And that Pharisee, as good as he is he only prays to himself and doesn’t seem to care about other people, and so he shouldn’t be justified at all. And so we’re glad with this outcome of the story. We’re glad that the parable concludes in this way. We’re glad that our assumptions about this Pharisee and tax collector are correct and that it is only through humble repentance that we can be saved.
Except… the original text doesn’t actually have “rather than” in there. At least, in my limited Greek knowledge, I didn’t see it. From what I understand, the text might be better translated as “this man went down to his home along with the other justified”.
Huh. This is what I mean about ruffling some feathers. This is what I mean about our assumptions blocking out some of the nuances in the story. This is what I mean about our lives being changed by the truth.
I mean, if this is what the actual Greek is saying to us, that means that both the Pharisee and tax collector are justified? Both are good? Both are loved by God?
I am going to offer yes, except for the good part, sort of. See I do believe that both are justified because both are loved by God, and God’s grace for any one of us isn’t dependant on how good or bad we are, how devout or regular we are in our church attendance, or how well liked we are by our peers. Rather, God’s grace is just that: grace. Given freely to all regardless of who we are, where we’re from, and what we’ve done in our lives and continue to do.
So neither the Pharisee or tax collector are “good” per se. They both have their ups and downs. But their being “good” is not what determines their place in God’s kingdom. Their actions hold no weight when it comes to God’s salvation. Even their attitudes toward God cannot remove them from or put them in God’s expansive and unending and enduring love. Instead, God loves as God loves. That is, all people of all times and all places.
This changes things, doesn’t it. This might not fit with our paradigms and understanding. But this isn’t to say that we can just act however we want and get away with it, but it is to say that our God is bigger and better than we could ever imagine, and that moves us to be better, more faithful, and to live more aligned with Christ. Because just as we begin to grasp how much we are loved in spite of how bad we don’t care to admit that we are, we can see how we too can learn to forgive, to gracious, and even loving toward all people in knowing that we are equally sinners and equally saved, and recreated as God’s beloved people for the sake of a world in need.
In this season after Pentecost, may our outlook on life not be about the drawing of lines in society between demographics, but more on the erasing of them as we move toward a society full of God’s grace, peace, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.