Trinity XI - Luke 18:9-14 - August 16, 2015
Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn#329 Fromthe Depths of Woe I Cry to TheeHymn#342 Chief of Sinners Though I Be
Collect of the Day
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who art always more ready to hear than we to pray and wont to give more than either we desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of Thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
1) Spiritual pride is a most deadly sin. It is undetectable through self-examination unless the Holy Ghost, working through the Word of God, exposes it in our hearts. Spiritual pride causes us to glory in our own good deeds so that we begin to think that we have something, anything, worth offering to God that He would want. Sometimes it manifests itself the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude but not always. More often such pride does such a good job of pretending piety that we don’t even realize it’s happening. It causes us to think that we just don’t need God all that much. Spiritual pride is ultimately a first commandment issue. Who is your god? Whom do you fear above all things in this life? Whom do you love more than anything else? Whom do you trust for every good thing in your life? Spiritual pride leaps up and says “God, of course!” But the honest Christian will have a bit more introspection than that. By the power of the Holy Ghost working in our hearts we are beginning to fear, love and trust in God above all things in this life. But only beginning to, never arriving at complete fear, love, and trust in God. The Christian always has something to confess because they realize they are always sinning. The Christian always needs the grace that Christ offers because the Christian realizes his entire spiritual life flows from God, not from himself. The Christian always lives in God’s mercy because the Christian acknowledges that without it he has nothing and is nothing. But spiritual pride, it sees great improvements in itself. It sees magnificent victories over sin. It sees little of mercy because it thinks itself above the need for God’s mercy.
2) All this has been in the abstract. But Christ gives us a concrete example of spiritual pride and spiritual humility in today’s gospel lesson. He is moved to tell this parable because there were those around him who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. Christ could tell these hearers what they were doing. He could have accurately diagnosed their prideful condition. But they would have heard none of it. So he speaks a parable of a concrete reality that everyone could relate to. Two men when up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee is the good guy of the parable. Almost 2000 years of history has taught us to automatically pin the Pharisee as the bad guy. But in Jesus’ day, they were the pious. Pharisees took the Law of Moses seriously. They’re problem was that they also took the Tradition of the Elders to be nearly equal to the Scriptures. They were far better than the worldly Sadducees and the Biblical version of modern day preppers, the desert dwelling Essenes. A Pharisee going to the temple to pray would not have been a big deal. It was expected. But the tax collector, the Roman revenue farmer, his presence there is unexpected. Tax collectors were in the bottom rung of society. Only hookers were below them on the social food chain and not by much. The Pharisee knows how to pray. He has been taught and teaches others. The Tax Collector is a sinner, so often stealing from others.
3) The Pharisee begins his prayer in a manner that is nauseating to hear, but is so often our own prayer. God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. Thank you God that I am not a terrible, outward, public sinner. Thank you that I am righteous! Thank you that you that I am not like that pitiful, impious brute standing afar off, who has nothing whatsoever to offer you. I do not bring you a sin offering of a calf of lamb. I bring you only the sacrifice of my good deeds. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess. What the Pharisee, steeped in spiritual pride, is really saying it, “Thank you that I don’t need mercy. My own self-righteousness is plenty for me.” The tax collector, on the other hand, brings a sacrifice altogether different. He has no good works to lay on the altar and present to God in righteousness and holiness. He IS the extortioner, the unjust, and the adultery that the Pharisee was praying about and He knows it. He is the bad guy. Yet he brings the kind of sacrifice that the Lord desires. King David sung in the 51st Psalm, For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17) This is the sacrifice the tax collector brings. Instead of tithes, he lays his spirit, burdened and broken by his sin, at the Lord’s feet. Instead of fasting twice a week, he offers to God a contrite heart which sorrows over its sins, regrets it and wants to be free of it.
4) His prayer is much simpler than the Pharisee’s too. God, be merciful to me a sinner! No good works to offer. No thanksgiving that he is unlike other men. There is no reliance upon his own righteousness. He has none. Spiritual pride hardened the Pharisee’s hear so that he thought He didn’t need God and that he was doing just fine without mercy. But the tax collector seeks mercy. He needs forgiveness. He desires absolution. That is the highest form of worship, after all. Worship is not wrapped up in what you give to God. He doesn’t need anything from you. He doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor does. God doesn’t need your animal sacrifices, the cattle on a thousand hills are his. True worship of God is to desire forgiveness of sins. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says it so plainly: The chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive the remission of sins. (Ap III:189) It also says that faith is the worship which receives the benefits of offered by God. . . God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers. (Ap II:49) And what does God promise to give? He promises to forgive sinners when they acknowledge their sins and their wretchedness, that no good thing lives in their flesh, only wickedness.
5) The Pharisee does not approach the Lord desiring forgiveness. He sees nothing major that needs forgiving. The tax collector though approaches the Lord in humility, seeing himself for what he truly is: a sinner. Those words never come out of the Pharisee’s mouth because his own righteousness is good enough for him. But the tax collector comes in faith. Why else would He pray to God for forgiveness? If his heart did not think God would forgive him, why did go to the temple that day? Christ shows this tax collector came in true faith by the outcome, I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. Sinners are only justified by faith in God’s promise of forgiveness. There is no justification that happens at any other time than when the Holy Ghost creates faith in the heart. There is no justification that exists apart from faith either, as many are in the habit of teaching these days. This man, this sinner, came to offer God true worship. He came to confess his sinfulness so that he could receive forgiveness. The tax collector goes home justified because of faith in God’s promise. The words of St. Paul therefore belong to him, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1) The Pharisee had no peace with God. He was still in his sins because he trusted in himself that he was righteousness by his own deeds.
6) Dear saints it is so easy to fall into spiritual pride. Once we fall into thinking that we are righteous by ourselves, even to the tiniest bit, and that pride is so difficult to detect because our flesh likes it. By nature we are the Pharisee, always striving to outwardly be the good guy, the upstanding, the ‘good person.’ But Jesus tells us that we can’t worship God with that attitude in our heart. It is impossible because the only way to truly worship is to desire the forgiveness of sins. At times we don’t think we sin that much. That’s a lie for which we must repent. Most of what we do is sin. At other times we think too much upon our sinfulness and despair because of it, and that too is sin, because Christ invites us to trust in Him that are sins are forgiven. We are all, every one of us, infected with such spiritual pride that we must always be on guard against it. The only way to be on vigilant against spiritual pride is God-given humility. Jesus says, everyone who exalts himself with be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. May we so humble ourselves every day so that we see our sin for what it is and offer to God the sacrifices He desires, a broken and contrite heart. Coming to Christ, seeking forgiveness, we know that our Lord desires to forgive sinners. He wants to apply His work at the cross to our burdened souls so that we are freed from our sins. Then, having our sins forgiving, going from this place justified before God, made righteous by faith, it is His will to create true good works in us. Not the works of the Pharisee but works of true love for our neighbor that issue from faith and a clear conscience that our sins are forgiven, that God reckons us righteous, and that we are His. Having been justified by faith in Christ’s death and merits, go in peace. Amen.