Sunday, October 24, 2010

Luke 18:9-14 - Looking Up, down, and all around

Luke 18:9-14
Looking up, down, and all around.
Preached October 24, 2010
Ranchos de Taos Presbyterian Church - Jicarita Cluster Pulpit Exchange Sunday

When my wife and I went to an aquarium some years ago...we came across a marvelous fish...It’s eyes were set high on the top of its head, but its mouth was well down its face on the belly side.  The ridge of its forehead was on about a 10 degree angle, sharp and steep, and yes, its eyes for the most part looked down. In fact, that is what it was called a look down.  Trasie saw it and she said...that’s it. That’s you!  You are such a look down fish!  And she laughed and laughed.

Me? I asked. What did I do to deserve such a label?  

Well, I’ll let her give you some of her rationale after the service at breakfast, but I will say that it stems from a long line of family lineage of look downs. I mean, of people who see the world around them, who see the people around them, and are able to see very well the things they do not do as they should.  Why after all, I did go into ministry. Isn’t that our job? 
Well, certainly the pharisee in our story from Luke’s gospel thought; that looking down on others was his job.  This Pharisee looks around, and looks down on people around him, and then looks up at God, and says, See God, Thank you I’m not like THEM...Thank you God that I’m not like,,, Like HIM!

Because there he was...a tax collector... standing off by himself, head down, pounding his chest like a gorilla  (you ought to see my daughter do her best gorilla impression).  In those days tax-collector were usually rich, but their money was dirty.  It was occupying Roman Empire taxes imposed on the people; it was pagan money that made him unclean according to Jewish law.  Collecting taxes has never been a popular job.  Believe me, my suegra works for the IRS.   

It wouldn’t be unusual today for society to side with the good behavior of the Pharisee, who don’t cheat people or his wife, and who goes to church regularly and tithes; and be opposed to this swidler tax-collector.  But, but for some reason, Jesus says the Tax Collector, who has beat his chest and looked down while praying, Lord, have mercy, I’m a sinner.  Ten piedad, soy pecador.  This Tax Collector is the one who leaves the temple justified .

The tax collector looked how he stood before God and saw that he was far from the mark.  The Pharisee looked how he stood compared to others, and thought he was all that.  The message is simple. We are not to judge others. We are never justified when we compare ourselves to others.  It is in humility that we are to live in love; and not seek to exult ourselves.  

How many of you watched some football yesterday or plan to watch a little today or tomorrow?  Cowboys probably going to lose again. Any Baseball last night?  Pastor Mell and I watched the Giants clinch the National League, and he’s from San Francisco....He said, “You have no idea how happy I am right now.” When we watch these games we see the fun and obnoxious behavior of fans who try to say they are number one.  They are the best!  Always in comparison to others.  This is what we are trained to do from a young age.  To not be like that little boy who is always getting in trouble, or dress like that little girl.  Make good grades so you can leave everyone behind, and become successful. And so we kind of get this look down type attitude.   And it seems we thrive on it. You know where we’ve seen this attitude most in recent days...(hold up a campaign sign). Received any of these in the mail? Heard any adds on the radio or tv.  Oh...I can’t even believe that this is the main political strategy
...a politician pointing out the faults of her competitor.  ha! are you kidding me? Let’s elect the least worst!

That does not seem to be the attitude that Jesus seems to care for.  

But this is the catch.  When I, or any of us, start saying well, I’m glad I’m not like that politician...a real hypocrite. Or wouldn’t it be terrible if I were like that sports fan, real obnoxious.  ...I fall in the same trap as the Pharisee.

The minute we try to make ourselves feel better about ourselves by looking around and then looking down on others ...we are just like the Pharisee. But it’s hard to break this pattern, because it’s what we have been trained to do. It’s how our mind works. And it lives out when we judge, when we gossip, even when we say something like But for God’s grace, there I go, when we see a homeless person.  We think we are showing gratitude toward god, but really we are looking down.    

Rather than be grateful for his blessings, the Pharisee is a look down...even despises others, and tries makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments compared to others; while the tax-collector relies entirely upon the God's benevolence. He isn’t worried about how he looks compared to people around him. He goes up to the temple then looks down pleading for mercy. His hopes and claims are not on anything he has done or deserved or how he compares to others, but entirely on the mercy of God.

” MERCY”  Please have mercy!

Of course, mercy. “Have mercy!”

Mercy!” That’s what my buddy from school John Curlin would always say when he got one of his tests back and saw that he passed, barely: Mercy! He said it when he spotted an attractive young lady: Mercy. Don’t ask me why? Mercy. Mercy. That’s what you cry when you play that hand wrestling game…[demonstrate], and when you’re on your knees and your wrists are bent all the way back till you can’t take it any more you beg for mercy. Don’t ask me why?

Mercy, that’s what he prayed for...that what we pray for

But what does mercy mean?

As he went down from that temple that day, he was justified...and mercy made all the difference.  Does mercy make any difference in our lives when we think about our relationships with others?

Let’s think about mercy for a second: Was there a time in our lives before we knew the good news? Do we remember the time before we knew we were loved and forgiven? The time before we were called to be disciples? This was the time of “pre-mercy.” In the time of “pre-mercy,” we had to reinvent ourselves every day, we faced daily pressure to achieve, accomplish and impress. Good enough to impress our boss or our coach; smart enough to impress our teachers and peers; and romantic enough to impress our significant other. That seems to be where the Pharisee is...he’s in the pre-mercy stage of life.
“But of course it is never enough; Because today ends, and then the next day it has to be done all over again, until we’re simply exhausted and left in despair.” Do you remember: Once you had not received mercy. (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81)

“And then the miracle! The miracle is that Jesus came into the world; gathered up the stranded people and made them into a new community. He called disciples, he called little children, he called the tax collectors and sinners...and fishermen…all sorts of people who did not belong to each other, did not know or trust each other.” (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81)

But everywhere Jesus went, things were made new. Of course he does. You know it. You have lived it.  You have been made new too. Don’t you remember?  The time when you left this church and didn’t look around and see how much better you were than others, but you left this church justified.  Forgiven.  Mercified This is what God incarnate was about. Mercy. He has shown us mercy. We have been made clean; baptised in the water. And our lives take on new meaning. Each has been made new. Newness…forgiving, healing, cleansing, feeding…this was the life of Jesus: and our lives today when we claim God’s grace and live freely for others in humility, instead of using others to make ourselves feel better about our own wretchedness.
Jesus gave his life as a continuing act of mercy. That’s all. That’s everything. And you know: that’s what the world in its desolate anxiety does not know.

God is not a hypothesis or a good idea, but instead God is an agent who turns what was into what will be. (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 83- 84).

Mercy me! This means so much to me. “Mercy is God’s response to us, and then through us and beyond us.”

I mentioned that I come from a long line of look downers in my family.  We could quickly see what others were doing wrong.  But, we can also quickly see what we do wrong.  And it makes us very insecure, so of course, we have to look good.  

Who in your life are you always trying to measure up to?  Who in your life are you constantly looking down upon?  Don’t be a Look Down Fish! But be a look down sinner, who in humility pleads for mercy...Because God breaks God’s own law, because God says, I forgive you.  You are justified.  Now live a life in love.

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