Sunday, October 22, 2017

Parable: A Friend in Need


Are we an earthly being formed of the very humus to which we will one day return?

Are we a spiritual being that only transits the time and space of this age?

Are we from the earth or of the Spirit?  Yes.                
                                   
God formed Adam out of the dust and breathed life into him.   He breathed his neshamah (nesh-aw-maw')—his spirit into him and only then did he become a living being.

Jesus talked with Nicodemus about the flesh and the Spirit.  What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is spirit.

Paul wrote that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  The perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. 

So how did we get from needing bread in the middle of the night to flesh and the spirit?  Through a parable, some count this pericope as two parables; that’s how we got here.

Imagine awakening in the middle of the night to knocking at your door.  You recognize the voice.  Even though you recognize the voice you still say to yourself, or perhaps out loud, “Just who in their right mind would be knocking on my door at zero dark thirty?”

You talk through the door and discover that a long lost friend had dropped in on one of your friends.  Did you have some lunch meat, a microwave dinner or two, or even some Pizza Rolls would be fine.

Your still half-asleep mind repeats, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  This town really needs a Denny's.”

“You are really not over here in the middle of the night asking for food, are you?  Are you?”

But that is surely a rhetorical question as this zero dark thirty conversation is no dream.  So what do you do?

As much as you didn’t want to drag yourself out of bed, you have.  As much as you want to tell your friend to hit the road, you can’t.  As much as you wish you had a drive through window to just slide your  buddy a six pack of Ramen, you don’t, so you let your friend in and search though the fridge, get him a couple partial loaves of bread, some cold cuts, a tomato that you had been saving for a BLT, and you remembered that you did have a big bag of Pizza Rolls in the deep freeze, and send him away with more than he asked for—that’s what you do.

Then, of course, since you are awake now, you post it all to Facebook.

Only a friend would have such audacity to come to you at zero dark thirty.  You know that you are not going right back to sleep.  You know that with a house full of kids you are always two years or more behind on your sleep and this morning’s food search for a friend will only add to that deficit.  Such audacity for a friend to come to you in the middle of the night—that will keep you up another hour or so just thinking about it..
But that’s what he needed.  That’s what your friend needed.

Jesus then moves from parable to practice.  This will be in a little different verb from that you might have learned it, but consider our Lord’s guidance to us.

So I say to you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Again, Jesus has taken this quality of persistence that we visited with the Parable of the Persistent Widow—and extended it to other areas of our lives.  If we continue to ask,  it will be given.  Really?

If we keep seeking, we will find what we are looking for?  If we continue to knock, the door will be open unto us?  That sounds like everything is in our control.  If we keep after it then we will get what we want.  Is that the message?

I related this parable in modern terms—adjusting the time a couple hours because we seem to stay up later in this post-modern era—and did it from the perspective of the friend who was awakened in the middle of the night.  What if, as in the original telling, you were the one knocking on the door in need of a little food?

How did you bring yourself to wake up someone at such an unreasonable hour?  The answer is that the person whose sleep you have so rudely interrupted is a friend.  He or she is a friend.  This relationship is already in effect.

The story doesn’t read that you went to a stranger’s house and started knocking and asking for food at 2:47 a.m.; at least that’s the way it might read in the police blotter.  If you do this in this part of the country, you will likely hear a round being chambered in a 12 gauge or someone saying, “I’m calling 9-1-1.”

Someone who is not a friend might answer the door with a glazed look in his eyes and the smell of whacky weed knocking you back a couple feet.

The story said that which one of you shall have a friend and go to him at midnight.  The key word here is not midnight but friend.  It doesn’t matter which side of the door you might be on—the knocking side or the suddenly awakened side—the governing word here is friend.

You will ask things of friends that your reasonable mind would tell you not to ask of anyone else.  And your friends will give things to you that they might balk at giving to anyone else.

You can be audacious.  You are a little bolder.  You might just persist a little more with your friends.

Jesus continued in his teaching with some rhetorical questions.  If you son asked you for some bread, would you give him rock instead?

If he asked you for a fish, would you surprise him with a live snake on this plate?  And don’t say, “It tastes like chicken.”

Mom, if your kids asked you to scramble some eggs, would you serve them plates of scorpions?  If you have kids who are teenagers now, you are exempt from answering that question.

We who try to be good parents but sometimes let our anger or frustration or just that generally overwhelmed feeling get to us when we deal with our kids—we still know how to give good things to those that we brought into this world.  We want to give them good things.

Baseball gloves and bicycles and dolls and trucks and good meals and even pizza or pizza rolls all seem to make their way to those little darlings even when they have truly tested our patience and burst our budget.   We know how to give good things to our kids.

We give to our friends.  We give to our kids.  We who are still imperfect at least know how to give to friends and family.  We have figured some stuff out.  But what is it that we give?

Food, money, stuff, and sometimes help and instruction and counsel are all on the list.  Sometimes the list grows to smart phones and cars and car insurance.   We like to give good gifts.

So does our Father in heaven.  He likes to give us good things.  If we seek his kingdom and his righteousness before anything else in the world, he gives us so many tangible things that the ungodly have made into their gods.  He meets our needs.  When we strive to follow him, he goes beyond what we need.  We know abundance.

James tells us that every good gift is from above.  Let’s get back to Luke and what Jesus is specifically promising those who continue to seek God.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

Yes, God will provision us with our daily rations.  Remember that the daily ration in the desert was Manna but it was an all you can eat affair with no leftovers or doggie bags save on the Sabbath preparation day.  He will make a way for us to not only survive but navigate this world with the tangible things that we need. 

God will take away things that we don’t need if we will ask him.  Worry, anxiousness, bitterness, covetousness, and so many other things that detract from our abundance he will simply remove from our gotta do or gotta have lists if we will seek the life that he has for us and be persistent about it, not just on occasion say, “I’ll give God’s way a try this once.”

But more than the things that our hearts desire now—things that so often occupy most of our prayer requests—God will grant us his Spirit.  God wants his Holy Spirit to live inside of us more and more each day.

He wants us to stop asking for the things of this world and seek the things of his kingdom.  He wants us to believe him that if we seek him and his kingdom and his righteousness first—at the center of everything else in our lives—the things of this world that we must have in our lives will be given.

So many people have this upside down.  They say, “When I get my life together, then I will seek God.”
When I can pay all of my bills…
When the kids get out of school…
When I get a better job…
When I get everything in this world sorted out, then I can think about living for God…

Jesus tells us that God wants to live inside of us now so that he can give us the things that we need the most, not the things that our selfish nature craves, but the good life that God made us to live.  In the course of this good life, we get a lot of those things that the self-centered person craves but they are just frosting on the cake for us.

Flesh seeks fleshly things—bread, money, cars, a good movie and popcorn on a Friday night.  That’s our nature.  Humankind after all, was made from the earth.  We need physical things.

But we are also of the Spirit.  God breathed life into humankind.  We are not just from the dust of the earth.  We have a spirit within us and God desires so much for his Spirit to live more and more abundantly inside of us.

What’s it like to give ourselves totally to God’s own Spirit?  Jesus when he finished talking to a woman at a well in Sychar, Samaria was met by his disciples who offered him something to eat.  That’s why they had gone into town.  Jesus told them that he had food that they knew nothing about.

What?  The disciples were still thinking of carnal needs.  Did Jesus have a couple loaves of bread tucked away somewhere.  Did he get delivery?

Jesus told them and he tells us that his food is to do the will of the One who sent him.  His food is to finish the work given to him by his Father in heaven.  His sustainment is living his purpose.

That’s more filling that bread or pizza rolls.  Jesus did eat the food of this world.  He dined with Pharisees and with sinners.  He ate with his own disciples.  He did fast for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry that would conclude on the cross.  For most of this three-year period, he ate much like those who live all around him.

He ate regular food but he had food that was so much better than bread or wine or even a lamb roasted for Passover.  He had the food of purpose.  He lived to fulfill the will of his Father.

That is the gift that God so wants to give us.  He wants to fill us with his Spirit.  He wants to take away our selfish cravings.  So that:

We when ask our Father in heaven for something, it will be exactly what he wants to give us.

When we seek after something, it will be exactly what the Spirit has led us to desire.

When we knock, we will be knocking on the door that God has longed so much to open unto us.

The disciples did not yet know the Holy Spirit as they would later.  The day of Pentecost was still something to come for them and it would change their lives more than they could have ever imagined.

God’s own Spirit has always been available to us.  When we professed our faith in Jesus Christ, knowing in our hearts that God not only sent him as an atoning sacrifice but raised him from the dead, the Spirit came to be a part of us. 

We became more than clay vessels.  We have more than the human spirit that God breathed into humankind and makes us a living being.  We now have God’s own Spirit alive within us.  The Holy Spirit lives within us.

The answer to most of our prayers already lives within us.  God’s own Spirit is not in some faraway place but is dwelling within this temple that we call our bodies and that Spirit has made this a holy temple. 

We know that Jesus intercedes for us with the Father in heaven, but how often do we forget that God’s own Spirit is within us?

If a friend knocks on your door in the middle of the night asking for bread, you will give it to him.  If you do the same to him, he will give you bread as well.  How could anyone deny such audaciousness from a friend?

When we come to God asking and seeking and knocking in lives governed by his Holy Spirit that lives within us and not by selfish desires; how could he not give us what we ask for?

Think of the absurd things that we do for our friends and family—that defy reason sometimes but that we are compelled to do because they are our friends or family.

Now imagine how much more your Father in heaven wants to give you the very things that his own Spirit is leading us to ask for, or prompting us to seek, or showing us a door to knock on that we have walked by so many times.

Before Jesus would go to the cross and finish the work that he had been sent to do, he told his disciples that he was leaving them, at least for a time.  Knowing their worry and anxiety and that they would scatter as the scriptures promised, Jesus promised that he would not orphan them.  He would go and the Holy Spirit would come. 

Jesus even promised these few very nervous men that they would do very great things.  With God’s own Spirit with them, they surely did.

We have not lived a single day since professing Christ when God’s own Spirit has not been with us and within us.  But how many days do we just forget about this?

How many trials do we withstand forgetting that God’s own Spirit is within us?

How many times do we pray and feel like God is so far away and doesn’t understand?

How many days do we feel like we are in this struggle all by ourselves?

I don’t know what your answers are, but I would like you to put zeros by all of these questions going forward.  From now until the end of the age…

How many trials do we withstand forgetting that God’s own Spirit is within us? 0

How many times do we pray and feel like God is so far away and doesn’t understand? 0

How many days do we feel like we are in this struggle all by ourselves? 0

So many of our prayers are already answered by the fact that God lives within us now.  He is available to us now.  He is leading us to ask and seek and knock exactly where we need to now.

Let us not live just knowing that God’s Spirit is alive within us.  Let us live Spirit filled lives that desire to do the will of the Father so much that some days, we might not need bread or money or even pizza rolls.

Let us be so governed by the Holy Spirit that God will grant our every request because the things we ask for are exactly the things he was been waiting to give us. 

Thanks be to God that his Spirit lives so abundantly within us.  Amen!


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Good Samaritan



Had there been Cumberland Presbyterians when Jesus walked the earth in the first century, we would have never received the Parable of the Good Samaritan, at least not on the occasion that we have just read.

When this lawyer told Jesus that we should love the Lord with everything we have and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and Jesus said, “You’ve got it.  Do this and live;” Cumberland Presbyterians  would have broken into a hug-fest followed by a fellowship meal.

The follow-on question would have been swallowed up in the fellowship of the moment.  But that’s not what happened.  This educated young man had a follow-on question.  The text says that it was selfishly motivated.

Perhaps this man just wanted to confirm his comfort zone.  This Jesus that had made such a stir surely had not directed him to do anything that he wasn’t already doing, would he?  Let’s just find out what love your neighbor really means.  Just who is my neighbor?

Surely, neighbor must be limited to the Jews.  God chose a people for a reason and excluding everyone else from his mercy had to be one of them.

Surely, neighbor must be limited to the educated elite in this case.  Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Teachers of the Law must have formed a neighborhood.  No need to look elsewhere for neighbors.

Surely, Jesus didn’t expect those who were already scoring high on their Law of Moses Compliance Standards to have to do anything extra.

So, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a story.  It may or may not technically constitute a parable, but it surely has a lesson or two for all of us. 

A certain man…

Once upon a time, a man…

Jesus starts this story with an unnamed man.  He doesn’t say whether he is Jew or Gentile, slave or free, tall or short.  This man doesn’t even get a name.

Now human nature is that people associate their own beliefs with the unnamed man.  In a crowd of Jews, if he wasn’t named as something else, he was probably a Jew, though surely not one worth of a title.

Now as the story progresses, the crowd might assume that he wasn’t very bright.  Everyone knew not to travel the Road to Jericho by yourself.  Everyone knew this.  Yes, but did you know that you could save 15% by switching to…

Everybody knew not to travel this day’s walk alone.  Well, except his guy.

He is a nameless man who is the victim in this story.  He is left for dead.  That’s storyspeak for I am not going to tell you the specific injuries because they would only distract you.  Today, people would be going to WebMD or Google to see how long the guy had to live based on his wounds.

Here is a man and he is in very bad shape somewhere on the road that runs between Jerusalem and Jericho.  And it just so happened that a priest then a Levite were walking along the same road.  They were not walking together as might have been wise, but one came and then a time later the other.  Both did nothing for the wounded man.

They saw him and they walked on the other side of the road.  The Levite might have come to take a closer look than the priest, but neither did anything to help. 

It would have been interesting to have known the crowd’s reaction to this part of the story.  Did they gasp as each did nothing?  Did they just shrug off what happened in a matter of fact way knowing that the priest and Levite had special rules that applied to them about remaining clean?

Did they think, well if they were leaving Jerusalem, their tour of duty in the temple would have been over?

Did they get cynical?  What do you expect from those sanctimonious, never get their fingernails dirty, know it all priests?

We don’t know.  Again, that is not the main part of the story.  Details distract when they are not essential.

So far, it’s all been pretty much prologue.  Now we come to the Samaritan. 

In that identification comes a whole lot of baggage and hate.  There is history with this hatred, but hatred does not always abide strictly in history.

Almost 800 years before Christ, the Assyrians conquered and deported many of God’s Chosen People from the Northern Kingdom.  They also sent some of their own to colonize the conquered areas.  These colonists brought their own gods. 

Not all of God’s Chosen were removed from the land.  Many remained and married these pagan colonists and worshiped their gods and also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  That’s an easy foul to call and the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah had plenty of yellow flags to thrown.  These Samaritans had made of mess of things.

Besides that, when the Jews later returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans were part of the resistance.  They didn’t want these Jews back.

As I said, hatred does not always adhere to its historical roots.  Hate is hate and sometimes you just grow up learning to hate a certain group of people.  The Jews hated the Samaritans.

So when Jesus came to the last traveler in this story and noted that he was a Samaritan, there were probably a few hisses in the crowd.  There were probably a few side conversations.

“I’ll bet the Samaritan spits in his face.”

“Just watch, the no-good bum will probably check to see if the robbers left anything.”

But Jesus was telling a different story.  This Samaritan not only stopped but helped.  This wasn’t one of those where he said, “Hey, I’ll pray for you buddy but I’ve got appointments to keep.”

He treated his wounds with what he had, put the wounded man on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn.  We don’t know where the inn was or how long it took to get him there or if the Samaritan had to change directions in his travel.

What we do know is that this man despised by all Jews had mercy on the same man the two very righteous religious leaders did nothing for—and this Samaritan went the extra mile in doing it.

The Samaritan paid the inn keeper and promised him if the expenses were more than what he had provided, he would cover that expense the next time he came by.

Jesus now exits the story and asks the lawyer, “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied with great enthusiasm, “The Samaritan!”  That’s not exactly correct.  The word Samaritan never crossed this man’s lips.  He said, the one who had mercy on him.  He was surely thinking, just who is this Jesus to make a Samaritan the hero of the story.

Jesus doesn’t push the point about the man who had mercy on him being a Samaritan.  He said, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise.

So, did this parable answer the lawyer’s question?  Did it answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

This well-educated man wanted some boundaries.  He wanted to define his comfort zone.  He wanted to justify himself.  He probably didn’t want to have to make any changes in his life.

Why couldn’t Jesus just say, “Your neighbor is someone—let’s make that a Jew—who lives within a quarter mile of your dwelling place, is roughly in your socio-economic group, and knows not to bring a BLT to the company picnic. 

Let’s jump to the present day and locale.

Your neighbor is American, middle class, has a job, keeps his yard mowed, scores at least 85% on church attendance and at least 70% in staying awake for the whole sermon, participates in 11 out of 12 of this month’s youth fundraisers, and occasionally makes BLT’s for the fellowship meal.
I could handle that sort of neighbor without ruffling my comfort zone much at all.

But what if our neighbors were of various ethnicities, some unemployed, some hooked on drugs or alcohol, seldom came to the church building except for help, dressed provocatively, had tats all over their bodies, and never made BLTs because their gas had been cut off.

What if there is no cookie cutter model for our neighbor?  What if the intent of this parable is not to answer the question put forth but to direct us to be a neighbor?   The directive from our Lord and Savior is to go and do likewise.  To what does “likewise” refer?

Have mercy on those who need mercy.  Help those who need help.  Be God’s love.  Be a neighbor.

In this local body of believers, we are a neighbor to many in Africa.  We are a neighbor to many in our own communities.  We are a neighbor to many who are not connected to this church family or any church family.  We are a neighbor to the people who live next door and in the next town.

Jesus didn’t say that a good man left Jerusalem for Jericho.  He didn’t say that a rich man went on a trip.  He didn’t say that a Pharisee or a sinner walked alone along a road where it is not wise to do so.  He said, “A certain man.”  Today, we would tell a story saying, some guy

He was just a person—maybe any person.  He was a human being.  He was someone made in God’s image and not too far into the story, he would need help.

We could focus our exegetical skills on this man, the two men who should have been in right standing with God, the treacherous road that should not have been traveled alone—yet 4 men did just that in the course of this short story; or we can listen to the message delivered upon conclusion of this story.

The story sets the stage for setting aside our comfort zones and preconceptions and gets to the heart of the matter.  We Love God and love one another by being a neighbor—by showing mercy to those who need mercy.

I think we understand this parable, perhaps better than most.  Our church motto is God’s Love in Action not because it sounds good, but because that’s who we are.  It has fidelity to what we do.  I think that we understand what Jesus was saying here.

 I think we do try to live this, but we must be on our guard not to want to justify ourselves as the lawyer did in this parable.  We must be discerning that we don’t try to reinforce our personal comfort zone so as to dismiss the leadings of the Spirit.

I will tell you that it is easy to walk on the other side of the road.  It doesn’t take much.  I fight the old man’s counsel—the old self’s nagging to do this.  Not that I won’t stop and help someone on the side of the road but that when people come into my office needing help with a bill and the smell of cigarette smoke over powers me before the get to my office; I think, there’s six months’ rent in cigarettes.

I look at an arm filled with tats and think there’s a year’s worth of water bills.  Glancing at the other arm I see the cost of several months of gas and electric bills.  It is very tempting to say, “You walked down the road to Jericho by yourself, this is what you get.”

Then the smart phone comes out and it would be all so easy for me to walk on the other side of the road, pick up my pace, and do nothing to help.  But if we look only a few chapters earlier in Luke’s gospel we read these words of JesusBe merciful as your Father is merciful.

Be merciful just as your Father in heaven is merciful.  We enjoy salvation and favor not because of our resume, but because of God’s incredible mercy.  Part of the mercy that we show is helping people who want to live a better life get there through godly wisdom and obedience to God, but mercy most often begins with treating wounds.

Love and mercy not comfort and convenience must govern our lives.  We are the body of Christ in this world and it is through us that people come to know God.

It is through us that people realize there is a God of love.  It is through our mercy and goodness that people see what we do out of love and this brings glory to God.

The religious leaders of the world into which Jesus came put heavy loads on the backs of those who wanted to do right by God, but these leaders wouldn’t do anything to help the people carry those loads.

We should always be ready to profess our faith before others.  We must be ready.  We are commissioned to do just that.  That’s our mission.

But we must not hesitate to show mercy.  We must not get wrapped up in rules and causes and forgo mercy.

We can’t walk on the other side of the road saying, “I’m on a mission from God to take good news to the world.  Good luck buddy.”  What good is it if we take these most precious words to the world as we are commanded, but don’t have love and mercy in our hearts?

Let’s be God’s love.
Let’s be God’s mercy.
Let’s be a neighbor.


Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Parable: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector





 Read Luke 18:9-14

I am so, so glad that I am not like so many Christians.  They look good on Sundays but by Tuesday you can’t tell them from the pagans.  They say the love Jesus but never break out their check books to tithe or make special offerings.

I am so glad that I am not like those people who use God as a vending machine, talking to him only when they need something.  I give thanks to God that I am not like those people.

I am so glad, that God has chosen me to be with him for all eternity.  So long suckers.

I am so glad that I do the things that I am supposed to do.  I can’t wait to see the reception committee that God has waiting on me in heaven.

And I am so very glad, that most everyone who knows me, knows that I sometimes get a little tongue-in-cheek in my messages, hopefully getting your attention in the process.  I am actually glad that I get to work out my salvation as the most important thing that I do and there is a little truth in these statements.

I don’t want to be a Sunday only Christian.  I am thankful that I tithe.  I do spend a lot of time listening to God.  I do try to do the things that should do.  And I do very much look forward to the age to come, but only in jest will I speak these things as if they were because of my own righteousness.

I will boast in Christ but not in myself.   Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.  Those words keep me humble.

If I feel a good case of hubris coming on, then Micah’s words keep me humble.  Seek Justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Jesus told a parable of a religious man, a Pharisee, whose prayer was more boast than prayer. 

Thank you, God, that I’ve got it all together, unlike the rest of the world.

Thank you, Lord, that you needed an All-Star Team and I was available.

The Pharisees were sticklers for the rules.  They frequently checked the boxes of compliance without fail.  They often scored high, higher than most of the common people on living by the rules.  Most of these rules came from the Law of Moses, some were additions that the Pharisees had penned themselves.

But they were good at following the rules, and some thought that everyone needed to know about it. 

Jesus could have just said a religious man offered a prayer, but he used a Pharisee for his parable.  The Pharisees were the epitome of following all the rules while missing the heart of God altogether.  They checked their boxes and had a keen eye for whether others checked their compliance boxes as well; but they missed the boat on mercy.

Confession was surely something reserved for sinners.

Jesus also included a man in his story who was often being lumped in with sinners, a tax collector.  Collecting taxes was not a sin but using the authority to collect taxes to feather one’s own nest was surely missing the honest scales standard.  Tax collectors were despised by the people.  Being despised for what he did likely registered more than whether this was an honest tax collector or not.  He was a tax collector.  He was despised.  Enough said.

If you wanted to be scorned among the Jews and you were not born a Samaritan, being a tax collector was the next best thing.  If you wanted to receive a little scorn from Jesus, just show up all self-righteous and your phylactery would promptly get put in its place.

A man whom was despised by about just about everyone he knew for he was a tax collector came to pray.  He had nothing to boast to God about.  He had no reason to show off before the people who might have been present.  He came in simple, humble, confession.

He would not even look up.  He beat his chest—not in a Tarzan fashion but in absolute repentance.  He was humble before God.  He cried out to God:  Be merciful for I am a sinner.

Jesus uses this comparison and tells those listening that this tax collector—this very despised man—went home made right with God.  There was no grain offering or blood dispersed upon the altar, but there was humility and confession.

Jesus said this man and not the other who had enumerated all of his righteousness was the one that pleased God.

Next, Jesus makes the parable applicable to all.  Whoever humbles himself before God will be exalted.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.  

We have looked at the last will be first model before, sometimes in service and other times with regard to stature and humility, but this parable puts us in the context of prayer and identity.

I am a Pharisee.  I am right because I do the right things.  I tithe.  I fast twice a week.  I set the standard for good.  You are lucky to have me on your team.

I am a sinner.  Have mercy on me.

Jesus liked to teach using extremes.  He would not be straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel nor would his teachings send us down that path.  He wanted some stuff to hit people squarely between the eyes and stick.

Humility is essential to every believer.  We approach the throne of grace with confidence but not hubris.

We rejoice that God has called us friend but never at the expense of reverence.

We are thrilled to be brothers and sisters with Christ but we do not forget the price that was paid.

We love being a child of God, we know we are loved beyond imagination, and we rejoice in the plans that God has for us, but we never harbor the thoughts and attitudes that we have been blessed with what we have because of our own righteousness. 

God has made us right with him.  For all the joy that we know, we must have humility in our hearts for this is all of God’s making.

We have been down this road before, but I ask again:  Am I a sinner saved by grace?

No.  I am a child of God loved more than I can explain in anything short of a lifetime; but my history that let me realize who I truly am is that I was a sinner and I was and I am saved by grace.

To identify myself as a sinner saved by grace makes the work on the cross transactional—tit for tat.  It surely took away my sin but this divine sacrifice goes beyond transactional to transformational.  My sin is not just paid for; I am now a child of God who can stand holy and blameless before the Lord.

I am not just a sinner whose debt is paid.  I am put in right standing with holy God as his very own son or daughter.

We must never forget our history as we enjoy being who we are, a child of God.  Remembering our history as a sinner, as the old man, as the Adam-natured creation is what keeps us humble. 

Compare this with God identifying himself with his Chosen People as the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  They were no longer slaves, but were wise to consider their history in relationship with God.

We could not make ourselves right with God.  We could not and were not getting right with God as the human race or even in our personal lives in this modern time.  None of us can boast.  So while we were not loving God, he loved us and made us right with him through the blood of Christ Jesus.

What God did for us is cause for joy—eternal joy.  Remembering our history helps us remain humble as we live out our salvation.  Remembering that Christ Jesus stepped out of heaven to live a human life and give that life for us gives us a model of humility.

I think most of us understand parable and this model of humility.  I think that we want our lives to please God so we wrestle with boldly putting our gifts and talents to work—game on if you will—and being ever so humble.

Do we look to the heavens when we pray or do we bow our heads?  Yes.

Do we run a race of faith giving it all that we have or do we kneel before almighty God?  Yes.

Do we boldly proclaim the good news of life in Jesus Christ or humbly live lives of light and love?  Yes.

The world likes to put things into dichotomies—either/or choices.  God has not restricted us so.  We have a much simpler model.

God, his kingdom, and his righteousness are first in all we do.  If that is our starting point and our direction, our choices are clear.

We live in humility; yet our lives are abundant.

God is first in all things; yet we are blessed in great measure.

We humble ourselves before almighty God and God almighty exalts us before all creation.

I am not going to live out my life hanging my head because I was a sinner.  I rejoice in what the blood of Jesus has done for me; however, I will not forget who I was and that God rescued me.

I will lift my face to the heavens and I will bow and kneel before holy God and I will pray all day long in the middle of so many other things.  I can do this because my heart is humble, yet full of joy.  God made room for both.

Now that old person that I used to be keeps trying to get his old job back and sometimes gets the better of me.  God made this wonderful sort of prayer that we call confession. 

But the good news for us is that we don’t confess wondering if God will forgive.  We confess with the assurance of his pardon.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

He is faithful and just to forgive, and James reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  We are not right because of what we have done but because of what God has done for us.

Living in the right standing that God has granted to us through the blood of Jesus, we can go beyond confession and petition God for what we need.  We do so exercising great humility which translates to thanksgiving in the prayer of the redeemed.

Jesus puts two extremes in his parable.  He follows with a clear explanation of his Father’s heart.  He humbles those who exalt themselves and exalts those who come humbly before him.

Humility does not restrict our abundance. It very much enables it as we are liberated from the world’s metrics.

Humility does not preclude using our gifts and talents.  It beckons us to exalt holy God before men with what he has equipped us to do.  Jesus said that would bring glory to this Father.

Humility does not slow us down, but gives pause to consider the plans that God has for us thus eliminating rash decisions.  In modern vernacular, if you don’t have time to do things right, make time to do them twice.  

Humility says I don’t have to live at the world’s pace.  I will live by God’s pace.

Humility does not leave us orphaned in wisdom but leads us to trusting God with all of our hearts and away from being anchored in our own understanding.

Humility always puts God first and above any selfish desire.  In turn, God grants us so much including many of the things that the self-exalting world desires as their gods.

I am thinking that I would like to get really good and being humble.  In my humility, God does for me things that I could never do for myself.

Remember our history.  We were sinners.  We are saved by grace.  We are loved by holy God beyond any measure that we can comprehend.  We rejoice in being his children and brothers and sisters in Christ, but we will remain humble before almighty God.

Amen.