Where Your Treasure Is: Initiative for the Future 10/27/13

Luke 18:  9-14 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” 14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

October 27, 2013.

Where Your Treasure Is: Initiative for the Future

Really, we get a lot of reinforcement for comparing ourselves to other people.  Our grades in school compare us with other students doing similar work. On sports teams, we’re always comparing ourselves with other players – who’s the fastest? Who scores the most? Who plays the best defense? Comparison is the name of the game, in sports, in school, and often, in our social life.
Is it any wonder then that comparing ourselves to other people becomes habitual?  Like this guy in the temple who prays, “Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers, or heaven forbid, like this tax man.  I go to church; I tithe on all my income, I don’t smoke. I’m healthy. I’m smart – or least I’m not dumb, and I can chew my own food.”
And then when something difficult happens, we say, “Well, it could be worse. I could have cancer like so-and-so.” Or “It could be worse. At least my house didn’t get wrecked by a hurricane and I can drive to the Acme and get Halloween candy, and I can still breathe through my nose unlike some poor schlubs!”
People ask how we’re doing and we say, “‘can’t complain. I got mugged last week, and I got diagnosed with multiple myeloma, but I’m doing better than some people.” Somebody somewhere is having a worse week than me – that’s what we use for consolation and comfort.

Comparisons to other people are most often not very useful. It’s understandable, even laudable that some people want to look at the bright side of their own situations. It can get problematic though, when we celebrate our own good fortune as opposed to other people. Each of us have our own relationship to God and our own difficulties and our own reasons to rejoice. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others. It’s alright to have a bad week, and it’s alright to have a good cry about things being hard.  God loves us as we are – every one of us.

The tax man, the other guy in our story today, sits in the corner of the temple, and his prayer has no comparison in it, no tinge of self-pity, not really even excessive self-judgment.  He prays, “God, have mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.” In humility, he doesn’t look up, does not look around, does not compare or bewail. “God, have mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.”
Jesus says that one of these two left the temple that day right with God. The other was still twisted into knots, trying to figure out who he really was in comparison to somebody else. This is really interesting to me. We look to other people so much; we learn from other people, we can’t help comparing ourselves to other people. We only get right with God on our own, however. We only get right with God through our own personal relationship with God and our connection with our own deepest self.
The community of God helps us in that connection. Our relationships with others helps us understand our relationship with God and our connection with our own deepest self. Finally, though, we get right with God not by being better than somebody else, but by being ourselves.

How do you feel when you go home from church? I know a lot of us go home from church feeling glad that we came – because we learned something, because we were lifted up by the music, or whatever. I hope you sometimes go home feeling connected to God; feeling like you somehow realigned some part of your life to make things right – not that you figured out that you’re better than the next guy or girl, but that your life is ok the way it is.
Despite the ways in which you know you fall short, despite the ways you know you mess up and get confused, despite even the fact that sometimes you compare yourself to other people or console yourself by thinking at least I’m better off than the next schub, you can feel right with God like this one who prays, “Have mercy, God. Forgive me, a sinner.”

God loves us as we are, because our God is an awesome God. God in Christ, through Jesus life, death, and resurrection, makes our shortcomings irrelevant with a love that has no bounds.  Our God is an awesome God. The Spirit lives and moves among us, flawed as we are. Our God is an awesome God.
Let’s sing “Our God is an awesome God. God reigns with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God.”  a song by Rich Mullins. We have sung this popular song before and it’s easy to sing. Mullins was a dedicated Christian and fine musician. He thought this was not one of his best, but it really caught on. He died in a car accident when he was 41 years old, leaving a bunch of great music. If you want to deepen your own relationship with God in this community, I invite you to to the altar for prayer during this song to renew your dedication of God’s love.

Responsive Hymn: 2040 Awesome God