Lectionary 30C
Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2019
Text: Luke 18:9-14

Watch Here (Minute 27:49)

 In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth? Said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time? After you spoke the room went quiet with an uncomfortable and awkward silence?

In a way, that’s kind of what it’s like to read this Gospel reading from Luke on this Commitment Sunday.

Look what’s happening here: a Pharisee stood in the temple feeling proud he was giving 10% of his income – gets criticized by Jesus! And the tax collector, a man who worked for the Roman government and scammed money from the faithful, in so doing may have cost the temple more than the Pharisee himself donated, gets commended by Jesus!

Commitment Sunday, when we are attempting to encourage faithful financial generosity, appears to be the wrong time for this gospel story! This day in which each of us will have the opportunity to stand in the temple making our financial commitment in support of the ministry. This day in which some of you may actually be planning on making a pledge of 10% of your income, or are growing towards a tithe, or have gone beyond a tithe.

So what’s going on here in this gospel reading? Is Jesus criticizing tithing and commending scamming the faithful? What is the message this gospel speaks to us on this Commitment Sunday?

First, a reminder … when Lutherans read the Bible, we do so with the understanding that scripture interprets scripture. This understanding helps us read the bible seriously, without reading it literally. We look for the message of individual verses, in relationship with the chapter the verses are in, the chapter in relationship with other chapters around it, the chapters in relationship with the books of the Bible, the books of the Bible themselves in conversation with other books of the Bible.

When we place this story from Luke in context with the stories we’ve read as our Sunday Gospel readings this fall, it begins to make sense. The Gospel stories we’ve been reading in Luke this fall have been about relationships – new relationships with those cut off, and judgment against those who have failed to live in relationship with those in need.

The long stretch of Gospel readings this fall from Luke have highlighted the relationship God has with the lost, with the rejected, those weighed down by the changes and chances of life, those burdened by their sin. The Gospel stories we’ve heard all fall have been variations on the theme of God’s relationship with the lost:

  • The shepherd left the 99 sheep to search for the one lost sheep
  • the woman swept her house until she found the lost coin
  • The rich man failed to live in relationship with the poor man, and was punished in the after life
  • The dishonest manager commended for his shrewd relationship with his owner’s tenants
  • Jesus in a healing relationship with the Samaritan leper, the ostracized of Israel,
  • Last week, the persistent widow in relationship, day after day after day, with the unjust judge.
  • And now today, Jesus justifying the repentant tax collector.

The truth is, Jesus didn’t criticize the Pharisee because he tithed and fasted. Instead, Jesus criticized the Pharisee, because he was selfish, self-centered, and couldn’t be bothered to be in relationship with those around him.

“Thank God,” the Pharisee boasted, “I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  In an attitude of judgement and criticism, he had no relationship with the man he considered beneath him. In a spirit of condemnation, he distanced himself from the suffering tax collector, deeming himself worthy and the sinner unworthy.

Today as Reformation Sunday, we commemorate the teachings and witness of Martin Luther. The Reformation itself, as a critique and response to the church of Martin Luther’s day failing to live in relationship with Jesus Christ.  The church Martin Luther saw was a church that stayed away from relationship with Jesus Christ.

The church Martin Luther saw was led by an Archbishop in Germany authorizing the sale of indulgences in order to pay off the loans he had taken out to purchase his position as Archbishop. The church Martin Luther saw was led by a Pope who approved these indulgences grateful to receive money to fund the construction of a new basilica. The church Martin Luther saw, was a church obsessed with finances, building monuments of glory and letting relationships of faith in Jesus Christ fade from the picture.

On this Reformation Sunday … on this day we celebrate the teachings of Martin Luther who wrote in the Small Catechism that it is the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens the church and makes it holy by keeping it in one true faith,” faith asks:

How is the Holy Spirit revealing us as judging Pharisees today, distancing ourselves from whole groups of people saying, “Thank God, I’m not like [fill in the blank]?” 

How is the Holy Spirit reforming us today, as individuals and as a congregation, so that we may move into relationship with the suffering tax collectors, and thieves, rogues, and adulterers of our day, who are beating their breasts and begging for mercy?

How is the Holy Spirit keeping us today, not in faith in our selves but in the one true faith that it is the healing and salvation offered by Jesus Christ alone?

Today as Commitment Sunday, as we make our pledges, we do not make these pledges to justify ourselves. We are not buying the grace of Jesus Christ. We are not buying forgiveness of sins.

Your pledge, and your faithful financial generosity to fulfill, and go beyond your pledge, is your active participation in, and relationship with, Jesus Christ. Your pledge is an act of faith, a joyful response and participation in the work of God in this place, as God calls this place into mission in the world.

And let me say, it is not the real dollar amount of your pledge that matters. Someone who has the resources to give $100 a week, but only gives $50 per week, actually makes a smaller pledge in the eyes of Christ than someone who gives $10 a week, but who in truth perhaps could only afford $5.

What matters, is that in your personal and honest assessment, your pledge amount reflects your best financial ability to say: YES to the work of Jesus Christ in your life,  .YES to relationship with God’s liberating and healing work in the world, YES to responding to the need of our neighbors.

The Good News on this Reformation and Commitment Sunday, is that we are invited into relationship with God who in the mercy of Jesus Christ is already in relationship with us!

The Good News of the Gospel Story is that Jesus saw, recognized, and received the tax collector burdened by his sin! Where the Pharisee in his judgment only saw scum, Jesus saw a human needing forgiveness and love and proclaimed the repentant tax collector justified in the sight of God.

The Good News, is that when we feel like we are the tax collector, when we know we have wronged the faithful, or hurt those we love, when we feel ostracized and cut off, we can feel the water on our foreheads, we can hear the word in our ears, we can taste the bread and wine in our mouth, and through faith, we can know the promise: God has promised to be in relationship with us, forever.

That’s the story told in this gospel reading today: in Christ, God in relationship with all crying out for mercy. That’s the story told in our gospel readings this fall. That’s the treasure of the Church: God’s unconditional love and grace proclaimed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a story told for all.

Thank you for your generous financial commitment and for participating in the ministry of Jesus Christ in this place.   Renewed in faith, may we go share the good news of Christ’s grace and mercy, with all and any in need.

Indeed may it be so.