11th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 18:9-14 + August 7, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #294 O Word of God Incarnate
Hymn #342 Chief of Sinners Though I Be
Hymn #526 In God, my faithful God
Introit - pg. 77

2 Samuel 22:21-29
1 Corinthians 15:1-10
Luke 18:9-14

Collect for Trinity XI

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. Amen. 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Jesus’ target audience for today’s parable were those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Christ shows the righteousness of the Pharisees for what it truly is, that it is not righteousness at all. “Two men went up the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” The Pharisee who enters the temple to pray really has no reason to pray, other than that he desires to be seen by others. He has no reason to pray because He doesn’t need anything from God. Apparently he has everything he needs already. You might say, “But Pastor, He gives thanks, and isn’t that a reason to pray?” And while that is most certainly true, that we should at all times give thanks to the Lord, this Pharisee is not truly giving thanks to God because he thinks he has received nothing from God. He’s done it all himself! He thanks God that he isn’t like other men. He gives thanks for an imagined moral superiority. He may very well not rip people off. He may very well be quite righteous and upstanding. He may be faithful to his wife. But in the end he is thanking God for his own righteousness, his own faithfulness, his own goodness. This is the first trap into which the Pharisee falls headlong. He imagines that he is righteous before God and gives thanks that for that righteousness. He needs nothing from God.

2)         That feeling causes him to simultaneously fall into a second and related trap, which is that, needing nothing from God, he offers his own good works to God as a sign of his righteousness. Good works are necessary. The Lord commands His children to do good works. But they are not necessary for salvation. They are necessary because they are the Lord’s will. Notice which works the Pharisee wants to offer to God. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” The good works he offers to God aren’t even the good works God has commanded. Someone might answer, “But Pastor, fasting and tithing are indeed good works, aren’t they?” But works are only good and God-pleasing when they are the works that God has commanded. God did not command the Israelites to fast twice a week. There is nothing wrong with fasting in order to discipline one’s flesh so that you learn how to subdue sinful desires in your flesh. But fasting is not commanded by God, therefore it cannot be a good work. We are commanded to subdue the flesh and not live according to its desires, so if fasting is done to subdue the flesh, then sure it is a good work. But it if this Pharisee fasts just for the sake of fasting, then it is not a good work. Tithing as well is a good and proper practice. Without faithful tithing, the ministry would suffer in any given place. Tithing is one way of saying “thank you” to the Lord for that He provides the Holy Ministry for you. But the Lord does not command tithing. If you tithe out of thankfulness and appreciation for the gift of the Holy Ministry, then tithing is God-pleasing, since we are to gladly hear the Word preached. But if one tithes because He has to, or so that others will see his piety, then it is not God-pleasing.

3)         This Pharisee shows us how not to approach God. He trusted that he was righteous in and of himself and he offered his man-made good works to God as if they would impress God all the more. The Pharisee, though, aside from being a grotesque picture of the spiritually smug and self-righteous, is a picture of what sinful human nature does without the aid of the Holy Ghost. Everyone is tempted toward spiritual pride, to think that they are righteous because of their works, or because they abstain from certain evil works. From time to time we all face the temptation to think ourselves better than our neighbors because they do certain things that we don’t do. There are moments when each us is tempted to think within ourselves, “I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” When we look down on others for their sins, without seeing our sins, whatever they might be, we fall into the first trap of this Pharisee, to trust in ourselves that we are righteous. If we dwell in that place for too long we soon fall into the second trap of the Pharisee, to begin to imagine that our works, no matter how good, churchly, or helpful they are, gain us God’s favor. From this, good Lord, preserve us.

4)         But Jesus isn’t just telling this parable to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” He is also telling the parable so that those who do see their sinfulness and lament their sinful condition. For the parable continues, “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Here you have the very opposite of the Pharisee. This man looks inside himself and sees no righteousness at all. He can’t play the game of “good by comparison” because he’s at the bottom run of the ladder. He might very well be the extortioner, the unjust, the adulterer. What’s telling is that we don’t know exactly what sins plagued this man. It’s not necessary to the story. In fact, it’s better that we don’t know what sins were his pet sins that beset him and tormented him regularly. If we did, we couldn’t put ourselves as easily in his shoes. Whereas the Pharisee “gave thanks” that he didn’t do certain sins, this tax collector doesn’t confess specific sins. He confesses that he is “a poor, miserable sinner,” who has “justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.” He most certainly has specific sins which stick to his flesh, actual sins which he has done which he regrets and desires to be rid of. But they are so numerous and run so deep that he can only let out a penitential cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It is not wrong to confess our individual sins to God. He desires that we do just that. But Jesus here teaches us that it is not simply our actions that need forgiving, but our entire person. We don’t just bring individual sins to Jesus, we bring the whole sinners before Him.

5)         This man has no good works to rely upon. He knows that the best of works is not good enough and that all a sinner does is sinful, no matter how glamourous it looks in the eyes of the world. This man does not want to meet God at the tribunal of divine justice and try to argue that He is already righteous and has no need for God. Those who approach God with their own works and righteousness will only find judgment. Even the great saints of the Holy Scripture know better than to seek God at the tribunal of the Law. David says in Psalm 143:2, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous.” This tax collector knows this. He feels his sins. He is ashamed of them and wishes he had never committed them. He does not flee to the tribunal of the Law to be judged by God according to His works, for he knows what awaits him there. Instead the tax collector flees to the throne of God’s grace and there he approaches God not on the basis of his own works, but on account of God’s mercy. This is what Jesus teaches us to do as well whenever we feel our sins. All sinners are to flee to the throne of grace, which is Christ Jesus Himself. We know that God will be merciful to all who seek mercy from Him in Christ. St. Paul teaches the gospel to us this morning when He says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3). It is to this gospel that sinners are to flee for refuge from their sins, the guilt of their sins, and its consequences, for there and only there has God promised mercy.

6)         This is what Jesus teaches in the parable. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” God only declares sinners righteous through faith in Christ. Righteousness cannot be won through works of the Law. Nor does God declare all men righteous at the cross and absolve them from all their sins before faith in Christ, for faith alone justifies. Jesus does not teach a pre-existent justification as the Synods teach just as He does not teach a righteousness through works of the divine or human law. He speaks this parable to us so that we who are His Christians will be on guard against spiritual pride and arrogance, lest we think we do not need a Savior from sin at all times. He tells this parable to console us when we are convicted of our sins so that we might immediately flee to Christ as the place where God promises to be merciful to sinners. He tells this parable so that we might remain humble towards ourselves and others. For He says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” As we see neighbors caught up in trespasses and sin, we out not to think ourselves better than they are. Rather we ought to truly give thanks to God our Father for His mercy toward us, so that like St. Paul we can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:10). When we see our neighbor in sin we do what is in our power to restore them through repentance and faith in Christ, always in truth and humility, remembering that we too are sinners in need of mercy.

7)         This is a wonderful parable. By it Jesus clearly teaches us the gospel that we are justified by faith in Christ and not our own works or merits. We are also taught what it is truly give thanks unto God, so that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins and rejoice, not that we are better than others, but that we have a God who is merciful to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, a God who is “wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” Amen.

May the peace of god, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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