A friend asked me where I ended up with my sermon writing today.  Here is is.  I stole much of the content; I did try to acknowledge the sources.  The ‘structure,’ if you will, is my fault alone.

 

THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

October 24, 2010

 

God Bless The Outcasts”

Luke 18:9-14

 

I just began reading Greg Carys book: Sinners: Jesus and his earliest followers. I thought about much of what Dr. Cary has to say, and how we might ‘mis-hear’ this parable because we are so familiar with it. So, let me complicate this story Jesus tells. I need to do so, because otherwise we cannot ‘come along’ with Jesus in this story.

Look carefully at the Pharisee in this story. Because of their adversarial role in the gospel, we are used to looking down upon the professional clergy. The Pharisees and Sadducees, with a couple of notable exceptions, like Joseph of Arimethea, are always mis-using their position and the faith itself. But to Jesus hearers, these religious leaders might be thought of differently. “The Pharisees preserved faith in God even under the crushing force of Roman military domination, and they preserved it by maintaining clarity about the way the goodness of God ought to shape all of faithful life” (Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Luke)

Then, we have the second primary character in this story. Throughout the gospel this character is one which we might be willing to exchange places. Often, people note that these professionals appear at Jesus’ table fellowship.

In much the same way as shepherds, tax collectors, at least in the Gospels, have a more positive image for us than they would have had for Luke’s earliest audience. In fact, as long as they stay in the ancient past, those people Jesus ate dinner with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners of all kinds are the ones we want to identify with; we’d like to think we’d be included in those meals with Jesus. And we certainly don’t want to identify with the religious hypocrites. But the tax collector was hated by the people, and not without cause, because he was the instrument of economic oppression by the Roman Empire. That makes him a collaborator, and ritually unclean as well. “Tax collectors are not merely ‘misunderstood’: they are on the wrong side religiously, politically, and economically,” this man is not publican with a heart of gold” (David Schnasa Jacobsen writes in the New Proclamation 2007).

And so now we have a very complicated story, just the way it should be. The religious leader, who is not the villain we’d like to think; and the tax-collector, who is, surprisingly, an outcast. He is the one you would not want to be.

What we have is a situation that is so much like real life it is amazing: a person of poor character, doing the right thing. A person of good character, doing the wrong thing. And for most of us, we stand somewhere in the middle of all this. I wanted to explain this story to you so that we might be less quick to identify with the Tax Collector. Why? Let me explain…

I once heard the story about the Abbott of a monastery in Egypt. He told this parable to his monks, he did not use it to make his monks stop bragging, ignore their own good deeds and acknowledge that they were sinners. Dorotheos1 said that the Pharisee was doing the right thing when he thanked God for giving him the ability to do good — as should they (the monks) themselves. The Pharisee only did one thing wrong: he passed judgment on the whole person of the tax collector and with scorn dismissed him and his whole life as worthless.

We live in a world whose favorite way to interact with others is through scorn. This is problem here. It is an open and obvious dislike. It is mixed with a certain indignation. It is the stuff of election advertisement, so-called talk radio, and the general lack of civility in most of our public discourse. For one to participate in this you have to be convinced that you are of a certain station above others.

Two weeks ago, when our mission team was in Boston, one of the most difficult adjustments that some of us had to make was to simply acknowledge, to greet, to talk with the homeless. But that was what many of the ‘guests’ said they wanted, simply to be acknowledged as ‘one of us.’ I suspect that everyone who is cast out, no longer in, but out, has this simple desire. To be seen as someone of value, to not, with scorn, be dismissed and their whole life seen as worthless.

Let us not think more of ourselves than we are. Let us NEVER use our goodness and wealth as a tool to brutalize others. We are all more alike than we are different.

“There is no other sin than that of being scornful,” as another one of the desert Fathers used to say. Allowing ourselves to experience gratitude to God for the good we can do may truly provide some healing for our scornful souls. And as we do, let us also remember that God Blesses the Outcasts.

1Dortheos of Egypt (or Gaza); a Orthodox Saint, lived as a hermit in the desert for 60 years in the sixth century. Known for his sermons.

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