When life is rough, PRAY. When life is great, PRAY.
Pastor Cliff titled his message “justified, now what?” with the Gospel lesson from Luke 18:9-14. Last week, the parable of the “persistent widow” ended with the question: “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8)
Last week Pastor Cliff told the story of the Runge UMC that showed us much faith, how the righteous suffering maintained their faith in God. Their response to the loss of their building in a fire was humility, obedience and servant-hood as they faithfully praised God and prayed for His guidance.
This week, Jesus taught the disciples with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else.
“Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer:
‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector – standing over there! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NLT)
Well now, what is Jesus teaching us now? I would suggest to you that the Pharisee is trying to be “obedient” to God. How often did the Torah require that Jews to fast?; once a year, on the day of Atonement. John Wesley recommended that all preachers fast twice a week (fasting meant no food or water, sunrise to sunset). And the Pharisee in the story? twice a week.
And in that day, what about the Torah requirements for tithing? Was it gross income, or net income after taxes? He said he tithed his “income”. The Torah required only the production of their fields, Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 22.
This Pharisee is devoted to God. He is taking a “defensive approach” to righteousness. He is trying to separate himself from sin AND sinners. In his prayers, he doesn’t even ask God for anything. Jews were “expected” to pray daily. Pharisees were very highly respected among most Jews because of their devotion to obeying God.
And the tax collector? Well, Tax collectors bid for and purchased the right to collect taxes for the government. And there were many kinds of taxes: poll taxes land taxes, toll charges, sales taxes and inheritance taxes. And here is the sweetener for anyone thinking about bidding for the right to collect taxes; anything raised “beyond” their required contractual tax amounts were to be sent to Rome: their profits. As you might guess, these folks were notorious for the dishonesty. They were “classified” in the group of murderers and robbers. And since they were in that group, the “rules” of living were that you did not have to tell them the truth! They were so notoriously crooked; they were not allowed to be a witness in court. I suppose you get the idea.
Let me remind you that the Pharisee did not ask God for anything.
The tax collector “didn’t lift his eyes, BUT he beat his chest” meaning “extreme anguish” in that culture. In his anguish, the tax collector prays: ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ This is when Jesus tells us that the prayers of the tax collector were heard and answered by God. The tax collector returned home “justified” before God. The tax collector knew he was not able to save himself because he was knee deep in sin. He knew that left him totally dependent on God for salvation. He was “justified” [“JUST-AS-IF-I-NEVER SINNED”]. He had a clean slate, was good-to-go, was “saved” from hell and death and destruction. He was “justified” and will he change his ways?
Our Methodist Book of Discipline says this, “God reaches out to the repentant believer in justifying grace with accepting and pardoning love. Wesleyan theology stresses that a decisive change in the human heart can and does occur under the prompting of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (Section 60). Jesus Christ has made possible this forgiveness of sin, and so we bind ourselves to him. In justifying grace, we also find freedom from guilt, opportunities to develop new relationships with God and other people, and areas of ministry in which we can live out our discipleship.
Understanding sin is essential to understanding justification. One biblical word for sin means “missing the mark.” Grace means that in spite of missing the mark, we are made one with God through grace and our broken relationship with God is restored. I suggest the tax collector understood “sin”.
So, I suppose the question is, how do we “get” from being “justified” to the finish line? How do I “get” from being justified through all of the demands of today? Jesus told us to be “perfect”. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46-48)
How in the world could we even begin to be perfect? Well, your gut is right. It’s not “humanly” possible.
BUT! We can pray for grace. Sanctifying Grace is a purifying and cleansing process that continues throughout our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. I believe it was only by God’s grace that the saints of Runge were able to remain “faithful” in their walk with the LORD. What they did was not “humanly” possible. Sanctifying grace is the “bearing fruit” part of God’s grace. Through sanctification, according to our Book of Discipline, “we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor” (Section 60). For John Wesley, sanctifying grace is the power that leads us on toward becoming more Christ-like. Not “BETTER THAN” than anyone else, but certainly not the same jerk I was yesterday.
The tax collector goes home “justified” by God. His plea for mercy “should” result in right behavior. When Zacchaeus accepts Jesus’ invitation and becomes justified, he promises to repay what he has stolen. If you find yourself remembering when you prayed for God’s mercy but did not change your ways, today is a good day to get right with God. Does anyone here want to come forward and get right with God? Now is a good time to come forward.
Or maybe you find yourself feeling like the Pharisee. Maybe you have been trying to “earn your way into heaven” with tithes, and prayers, and right behavior but you heart has been cold with the judgment of others. Would you like to accept God’s mercy and be completed justified by his grace, grace alone? Now is a good time to come forward. To be perfect, as God is perfect, is not a matter of moral perfection or keeping the law of God as it is embracing the love of God. When our hearts are filled with the love of God, our behavior will reflect it. HEART CHANGE PRECEDES BEHAVIOR CHANGE. This is what Jesus is teaching us.
Daily Savings Time ends Sunday, Nov. 3rd. (Fall Back)
Cookies are due for KAIROS Prison Ministry Sunday, Nov. 3rd Kairos inmates begin to replace old ways of thinking with new and they learn they are not alone on this journey. They realize there is a hope for a future. Start cooking cookies.
Today is my birthday. There will be a large celebration in San Antonio.
Willie Bauer has a birthday party on November 1st.
Remember Belinda Donop’s birthday on November 5th.
The UMW Bazaar Fundraiser is Nov. 9th. Call Joyce Mutschink at 347-5638 for details.
THURSDAY – Fall Festival at River of Life church, 5-8 pm.
BUILD THE RAMP Being able to unify as the body of Christ, and build the ramp in harmony is equally important as the ramp itself. Jesus prayed that the love and unity among his believers would be what caused the lost to believe that God sent His Son.
“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”(Luke 18:17)
KAIROS Prison Ministry Update For those who repent and receive Jesus as their savior, they are encouraged to take responsibility for their life choices and their relations with God. They are invited to engage in small accountability groups called “Prayer and Share”. Kairos inmates begin to replace old ways of thinking with new and they learn they are not alone on this journey. They realize there is a hope for a future. The prison environment begins to change; family relationships start to heal. The Kingdom of God on earth becomes real and present to our incarcerated brothers and sisters, and their families in the free world. ‘I was in prison, and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:36)