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Archive for February, 2013

In my last post, I referenced the story of the self-righteous Pharisee and the penitent tax collector. The Pharisee attempted to hide his self-righteous disdain for other sinners behind a veil of gratitude for his own supposed godliness. He was quite happy to report to God that he was not “like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Yet, by the end of his prayer of thanks, it is quite clear that he is no much grateful as he is ignorant of God’s own law – the very thing that he takes pride in keeping. He had forgotten what Jesus called the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These weren’t just Jesus’ new ideas – these were actual Old Testament commands. However, Jesus does take them farther than anyone ever had before, saying, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Maybe if the Pharisee had remembered that his first duty was to love God with all of his being, he would have immediately recognized that he had fallen way short, and his prayer of thanks might have actually been a prayer of repentance. But, because he saw no sin in himself, he saw no need for the God who is fully of mercy, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to forgive. And if you don’t know this God, you just don’t know God.

Perhaps he should have prayed this old prayer of the Church:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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Pharisäer und Zöllner - Fresko (F3), Basilika ...

Pharisäer und Zöllner – Fresko (F3), Basilika Ottobeuren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But 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!’  I 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.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Before God, we are all miserable sinners. The only difference is that some acknowledge this and plead for nothing but mercy. Others thank God that they are not the same kind of sinner as their neighbor.  The Pharisee in this story thinks that because he has not committed the obvious taboo sins of his culture, he is fine. Even more he fasts regularly and tithes on everything. All good thing things. Yet, he forgot about the one sin that leads to all others: Pride.
It was pride that caused the fall in Eden and it is pride that causes my fall and yours today. We compare ourselves with others, seeking to justify ourselves in the sight of God and men. To do this, we must paint a very bleak picture of our neighbors’ morality, and a very charming portrait of our own goodness. In highlighting our goodness and focusing on others’ failures, we become self-deluded, thinking that our sins are trivial. We begin to see no need for repentance and mercy, only “thankfulness” that we are not like those we hold in contempt.
The remedy for us is humble repentance. As Jesus said, “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That’s why we have the Lenten season – to humble ourselves once again so that we may be exalted with Christ as Easter.

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Titus 2:11-14 looks at salvation and grace from a different perspective than we normally do:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

God’s grace has been given to enable us to lead self controlled and godly lives in the present age. We often think of salvation as the thing that will give us rest and an easy future in heaven. Salvation does bring rest, but it also brings a challenge as it “trains” us to give up our worldly passions and exchange them for a life of Christian discipline.

Our culture often bulks as the idea of self-control, and I must admit my own guilt in this area. We often find discipline to be a vice – an invention design to suppress  our authentic expressions of our true selves. The gospel brings us back to reality and says that actually much of our “authenticity” is the problem: our true selves are like sheep that have gone astray, with every one going along on his own way.

This gospel of Jesus Christ brings salvation to the lost sheep, with God forgiving them for straying from his path. The gospel also brings transforming grace that enables us to live with more self-control, as we put off our old selves and become his new creation here on earth.

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