Paradox

I was privileged to preach at my church yesterday.

Listen to this sermon here.

The readings for today are at the bottom of this post.

 

I really like the parable from the gospel reading for today.
I like it because it contains several paradoxes, depending on how you approach it as a story. One of the definitions of paradox, from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:

a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.

Paradox to me, represents ideas and situations that surprise us,
it is like a person surprising us – but only after we feel we know them,
it is a puzzle or problem that takes some time to work out.

It is from the paradoxes in our lives that we learn and grow.
How boring it would be, if everything just behaved exactly as we expect it too?
These paradoxical surprises are, for me, what makes life so interesting.

One paradox presented to us in the parable of the Pharisee and the the Tax Collector is that the religious man who does everything he can to live his life according to the law of Moses,
who fasts twice a week,
who tithes one tenth of his income,
who often prays in the temple,
is not as justified or forgiven in the sight of God as a Tax Collector who is genuinely remorseful and humble.

How can this be?

How could this Tax Collector,
a man who works for the local Roman authorities,
a man who some might think is a traitor to his own people,
just because he is humble,
and recognizes his own faults,
who beats his breast and pleads for forgiveness,
how could God – hear this man and forgive him?

But as Christians we know that God listens to everyone.
We know that God forgives everyone.

This is such a simple story, but it has such power.
It contains the living heart of the good news of Christ Jesus, that we,
no matter how good we try to be,
we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
That we can be justified or forgiven,
that God is ready to grant us forgiveness, if we would just ask for it.

There are many paradoxes that contain a trick.
Sometimes a word or phrase,
sometimes the situation as it is presented, and this trick contains the paradox.

In this parable with the Pharisee and the Tax collector, the trick is that we are told the inner thoughts of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Something that we typically have no way of knowing.

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.

Whereas 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!’

We all fall short in what we should be doing.
We all fall short of what we should be.

The biggest difference in God’s sight between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is that the Tax Collector is aware that he is a sinner,
the Pharisee thinks that he is good and that he does not need God’s forgiveness.
The Pharisee is not asking for forgiveness because he is unaware that he needs to do so.

Jesus addressed this parable to a particular audience:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt

I believe, Jesus was addressing this parable to an audience of pharisees, the most religious of his fellow Jewish people. The word pharisee means ‘separated one’, the pharisees organized themselves into communities apart from both other Jewish people and gentiles. They felt that to truly practice their faith, they had to keep themselves separate from others.

If Jesus were telling this parable today, who would he be addressing?

This is not a parable for thieves and rogues.
The thieves and rogues of this world know that they have sinned against God and their neighbors, they know they are in trouble. If they pray, they pray for forgiveness, healing, and help for themselves.

Once again the surprising, paradoxical nature of this simple parable becomes apparent when we imagine Jesus’ telling this parable today.

This is a parable for church folk.
This is a parable for the faithful.

Jesus would probably be telling it to us.

How many of us are as faithful as the Pharisee in this story?

He fasts twice a week!
(point at my own stomach)
Maybe I should be fasting every week?

He tithes a tenth of his income!
Speaking for a moment as your Treasurer, during the Fall season, when we are asked to estimate what we can give back to God for next year.
I have got to say that this Pharisee is a better man than I am with regard to his support for his temple.

The Pharisee in this story is a fine, upright, church going man!
He represents the very best, most righteous among all mankind, just as the Tax Collector represents the thieves and the rogues.
This Pharisee also in the privacy of his mind, in his thoughts and prayers,
this good man the Pharisee despises his fellow men and women, and regards them with contempt.

Both of these men of the parable, like every one of us, has sinned, and fallen short of what we all should be.

According my favorite Science Fiction writer, Roger Zelazny, in his novel “Lord of Light”

A sermon is a warning

The warning in this sermon is very simple.
That we must always remember that we cannot save ourselves.
Our good works can make us better neighbors,
better parents,
better friends,
better members of our congregation,
and help us to spread the idea of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

But, if we fool ourselves into believing that we are good, that we we don’t need God’s help and forgiveness,
Our self-righteousness,
our pride in ourselves,
our regard of others with contempt,
will separate us from God our Father, and this belief condemns us.

for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted

I believe, that it all begins with humility.
Practicing humility, helps us to keep our egos in check.
Humility helps us to be honest with ourselves, to know our limitations and our faults.
With our own faults firmly in mind, we may then pray to God for help, for strength, for support and guidance.

I will close with a paradox, the paradox of salvation.

Humility and honesty before our Creator helps us to remember that we have sinned.
Humility before Jesus the Christ, allows us to accept God’s grace of forgiveness, which is always available to us.
Humility helps us to maintain that inner silence necessary to hear the small quiet voice of the Spirit.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Amen.

Joel 2:23-32
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.
Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.
The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved;
for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape,
as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus 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.”

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