Luke 18: 9-14
One thing that can trip up a person in life is having little or no self-awareness. What are your strengths; what are your weaknesses? Good leaders may surround themselves with people who have strengths they don’t have. If you are not a good organizer, have an organizer at your side. If you don’t have a strong voice, have someone with a strong voice, or a microphone near you. If you don’t seem to be able to stop yourself from overspending, have a financially minded person monitor you. If you can’t stop drinking, find a sponsor to hold yourself accountable. If you can’t stop getting angry, a counselor can train you to make better choices than acting out in anger. Self -awareness is a plus in life. Do we acknowledge there are things that we have said or done to hurt others, things that rise to the level of sin? Years ago, Carl Jung described some of our sinful actions as our “shadow side.” Jung said we could integrate our shadow side by exposing our darkness to light…. We all have shadow sides. When we recognize that, we can acknowledge sins and lead our sin-sick souls to wholeness.
Today a parable Jesus tells invites us to give ourselves a “rugged self-examination,” which is generally understood to be a spiritual examination. Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, as I do? How do we agree that we are both children of light and children of darkness? Have you told Jesus that you need him as your Savior, or are you just intrigued enough about the Bible to come and learn about it? And are you open to making changes in your life to truly lean on and count on Jesus?
Before we go through that list, let’s get familiar with the situation in Jesus’ parable. Remember that a parable is often an exaggeration or amplification of reality. Jesus taught with parables so those listening to him would remember “their need to pray and to not lose heart.” [Luke 18:1] That’s why he shared the story of the unjust judge that we studied last week, and why he continued with this story about two men who went up to the temple to pray. He has caricatures here, one is the Pharisee—who in Jesus’ stories always seems to be the bad guy: self-assured, confident, judgmental; and the other a tax collector—one loathed by the community because he took their money, and lots of it. The tax collector was even allowed to keep a hefty portion for himself. The Pharisee said things that were over the top; today we might call them sensationalized statements. The Pharisee said, with a loud voice, “O God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers—and then he stops and points to the other man—or even this tax collector.” He is clearly grandstanding, and he’s decided his own position before God, not because God declared it, but because he declared it! He became his own judge and jury. He believed that he had earned God’s favor by what he had done. He even listed what he had done: I “fast twice a week and gives a tenth of all my income.” He has decided that God approves of him.
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating today. I once visited with a couple who were in our congregation. They have since moved away. At one point the husband said to me: “Why do we have a prayer of confession every week? It’s seems like such a negative and unnecessary prayer.” I replied, “It’s a reminder that we all sin and are always in need of the forgiveness of God.” He then said, “I don’t sin.” “And I said, “Of course you do!” He paused for a moment as if surveying the last months or years of his life. “No” he said slowly, “No I don’t think I do.” “I said “you can go down all of the commandments and answer that you have always honored the sabbath, honored your parents, never stolen anything, never told a lie? You are one remarkable man! I as your pastor know that I have done things wrong. That’s why I need a Savior! And that’s why I regularly pray a prayer of confession.” “Well I don’t think I need one,” the man replied. “I can see why,” I said. Except for that one man who thought he was without sin, and perhaps the Pharisee in Jesus’s story, and Jesus himself, we all have our relationship with God restored when we sincerely offer our prayer of confession. To do so, starts the process of reconnecting with God, something that your sins and my sins have broken. Then the process continues when we also decide to confess wrongs we have done to our family members, or friends, or strangers. Jesus, and later the Apostle Paul, said that we are saved by grace through faith, not by one’s own attempts at righteous living. In Matthew chapter 23, for example, he said:
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,[a] so that the outside also may become clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus never held back his loathing for those who believed they were self-made non-sinners! And he gave this guidance for the rest of us, in Matthew 5: 23:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister[a] has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[b] and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser.
Our task is to avoid the delusion that we are sinlessness. Jesus’ most powerful stories of salvation were about those who were lost, knew it, and were saved. People like Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 18> Jesus came to his house after entering Jericho. As Zacchaeus has a change of heart about the money he took as a tax collector, he squared accounts with the people in his village, and gave them extra. Then Jesus declared, “Salvation has come to this house today!” Also in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, it’s not the loyal, pharisaical son who gets found, it’s the son who hated his choice and returned to the love and grace of his father.
1) Have you established your need for the Savior? I have. I don’t know where I’d be without my Savior. I don’t know how much my soul would be riddled with guilt without the blessing of confession, both to God and even to another human like a priest, a pastor, a chaplain, a counselor, and to the person I have wronged. Confession is good for the soul.
2) Do you join me in acknowledging that we are sinners? Our weekly prayer on Sundays does not seek to cover all the sins you or I might have committed. That’s the job for your own personal prayers. Sundays are reserved for a “General Confession of Sin” that reminds us that we are, as the old song puts it, “Standing in the need of prayer.” We need forgiveness from others and from God. In the words, “not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,” We are not pointing fingers to those around us, “throwing them under the bus.” Instead we are taking responsibility for our actions and throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court. And who shows up as our defense attorney before the court of judgement? Its Jesus! He defends us if we are sorry; he pays the price if we are repent; and he has the role of both Counselor and Savior for those who say, “I need thee every hour, most precious Lord!”
And finally: 3) Are you open to making changes in your lives to truly lean on and count on Jesus? (if you are already leaning on and counting on God, you can ignore this one! :☺) Remember, the tax collector said as he approached God in prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Those prayers have saved people in AA meetings; they have saved men or women who have admitted adultery; but they also can save those who acknowledge the need for a Savior, instead of others who look at Jesus’s outstretched hand and say, “Naw; I’m good.” Today the prayer of confession reminded me of how much I’ve needed Jesus. I hope it reminded you too. Please join me in prayer:
Jesus, many here have decided that they need you; sometimes people don’t act like it, but if they make a rugged self-examination, they may decide that they need you. Enter, or remain in our souls, making it your home so together, you can help us make right choices in our lives. Thank you always. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 27, 2019
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