The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Luke 18: 9-17
A Life of Repentance and Faith
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, 31 August 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A legendary Sunday School teacher many years ago told of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector). When she was done, she asked the children to pray with her: “God, we thank you that we are not like the Pharisee…” (Pause)
Sometimes we can hear something over and over again and still not get the point. We giggle at this Sunday School teacher’s story because she did exactly what the Pharisee did, saying “ God, I thank you that I am not like…” That can be a temptation for us, especially for us Lutherans and Christians.
Consider our October holiday, Reformation Day. Reformation Sunday is not about Luther, nor is it about us. Nor is it about Lutherans being better than every other kind of Christian. Primarily, we celebrate the Gospel, the comfort that is the very forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, reconciliation with the Father, and gift of heaven in Jesus Christ alone.
The Church in Martin Luther’s day had lost sight of the Gospel. Sermons were not a guaranteed part of a church service, which was still in Latin, a language the people and sometimes even the pastor did not understand. Bibles were rare because they were copied by hand. And forgiveness of sins was sold in the form of an indulgence. If one of those were included in a Monopoly game board set, it could be called a “get out of purgatory free” card (and forget the FREE part). Forgiveness was sold so a man could buy the job of archbishop. The pope was ready to sell in order to raise funds to build St. Peter’s in Rome.
Early on, Luther saw a problem with these practices because he was reading the Bible. And then he did what every Christian and every pastor should do: he compared what was going on to what the Word of God said. He saw a gap between what was and what should be. He wanted a theological discussion to close the gap between God’s doctrine and actual practice. That’s what nailing those 95 Theses was all about. In his list of topics for discussion, Luther called for repentance and a return to God’s Word.
In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about two men going to the temple. One trusted in the good person he was and the good he thought he did. Don’t do that. The other man looked within himself and saw a gap between what actually was and what God intended. He said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” So should we. In fact, we already have this morning. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” is part of the confession of sin in Divine Service Setting 4, page 203.
The man who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” understands well what Luther rediscovered in the 1500’s. In fact, the very first of the 95 Theses says this: 1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matthew 4:17], he willed that the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. In every time and every place, people are in need of repentance—even us!
9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There’s more to this reading from Luke 18, but that is enough to talk about for now. The word of the day is Repentance. Jesus calls for a life of repentance from those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. Salvation in Christ is a gift. The Lord also gifts you with repentance and faith. Repentance is the result of looking at ourselves inside and comparing what we find to God’s Ten Commandments. Talk about a gap between what is and what should be!
Faith receives gifts from the Lord. That’s what it does. Faith says, “Amen!” Faith doesn’t talk about itself, but holds on to Jesus.
Repentant hearts do not exalt themselves over anybody, no matter the color, language, gender, or behavior of any other person. Repentance and humility go hand-in-hand. Repentance and hypocrisy cannot co-exist. Repentance does not treat others with contempt. Repentance and respect are good friends. The repentant respect each other and treat one another well. All are in need of God’s grace. Repentance confesses sin and faith asks for grace, with the desire to live differently and right any wrongs that may have been caused.
Faith does not say “No” to God. Faith is eager to receive all of God’s good gifts. It is the Old Adam—not faith—that says, “I don’t want to go to church today.” It is the Old Adam—not faith—that says, “I don’t want to give to what the Lord considers important.” Faith does not boast in itself, but in God. Faith boasts in Christ. Faith boasts in who Jesus is and what He has done. And faith remembers that gifts are gifts. Faith holds onto the promises of God. Now we are ready to listen to the last three words of our sermon text.
15Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Infants! The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Jesus said so. Can’t argue with that, though some try to. No, infants cannot yet exercise their God-given reason. No, they cannot speak much at all. This is a reminder that reason and the ability to speak are not the same thing as God-given repentance and faith. Jesus calls for childlike repentance and faith, not childish thoughts, words, and deeds. Children can be selfish, self-centered, and love to say, “No.” Sometimes we adults are more childish than children. Jesus calls all of us to be childlike instead, with a trusting, simple faith that holds on to Jesus. Faith brings children, even infants, to the font for Holy Baptism. Faith brings the baptized to Church, Sunday School, Bible Class, Vacation Bible School, and Catechism Instruction. Faith does not hinder the growth of another, keeping young or old away from Jesus. Faith remembers that gifts are gifts and holds on to all of the promises of God.
We see God’s faithfulness throughout all of salvation history, from the promise of Genesis 3:15 through the Old Testament, the silent time between the testaments, the earthly ministry of Jesus and His apostles, and through all human history since.
The Church in Martin Luther’s day had lost sight of the Gospel. May that never happen in this place, or to our church body. Lutherans are not better than other Christians—we’re forgiven sinners, too. Yet, God’s pure teaching has been preserved in our church in a way unlike any other. Thank God for that. God grant to every Christian, pastor, and congregation an enduring reformation that cherishes the Scriptures, the Gospel and Jesus Himself, and to all Christians and all of us lives of repentance and faith. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.