Sermon – Reformation Day – October 27th, 2019
Text: Luke 18: 9-17 (Pentecost 20 Text) – “Trust in Yourself”
The piece of Scripture our sermon is based on this morning is from Luke 18:9-17 which reads as follows:
9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
15Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
This is the Gospel of our Lord – Praise to you O Christ.
Trust in Yourself
“Just believe”, “Only you can control your happiness”, “If you want something you’ve got to go out and get it”, “Believe in yourself”, “Only you can change the world”, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, “If you can dream it you can achieve it.” These are just a few of the sayings we hear a lot of. This IS the wisdom of our time. This wisdom is our wisdom which encourages us to trust in ourselves and our abilities and we can do anything. This is what people believe in. This is what people put their hopes in when they want to lose weight, or start coming to Bible study more often, help fight hunger, work on their marriage, or be a better parent. Only YOU can make things better. Only YOU can fix the problem. Stop relying on other people and blaming them for your problems. If you want to make it better, do it yourself! We take this wisdom and we use it because, well, it works! When you believe in yourself, and get up and do something, it often will get done. When you take responsibility for the world around you, people are fed, and broken things get fixed, and people who are hurting get comforted. People are elected into our government to represent us and our needs to the rest of Canada when we take responsibility to get up and vote.
When we take charge and get things done, we can often stop and pray to God giving thanks. We can pray… “Thank you God that I am so special, that I am fair, that I am committed, that I get things done in the world, that I spend money wisely, and that I am better than so many other people in the world.” Just like the Pharisee in the parable we can thank God for all the things that we do. We thank God for ourselves. We thank God, not for what He has done, but what we have done. We exalt ourselves while at the exact same time trying to be humble by thanking God for how great we are.
The Church in the 1500’s
The Church in the early 1500’s also had this wisdom that we have today. The church would tell people that God exalts them for the good work they do. THE one-and-only Church would say “Give money to the church! It is such a good thing you are doing that your sins will be forgiven by doing so.” “Do good works in general because they are so good God will forgive your sins for doing them.” Be committed and faithful to God because this makes God love you.” “Be the change in the world because God will reward you for it.”
Was this right or wrong of the church to say this?
It is a good thing to give money to the church to keep the building for people to receive God’s gifts in. It is a good thing to care for the pastor who cares for you. It is a good thing to give money to help care for our neighbours who are hurting and need our help. It is a good thing to do good works! It is good to be committed and faithful to God as He commands us to be. It is good to change the world for good. It is not wrong of the church to say these things. But what about the things the church was not saying, or give credit to– and what we often do not say today, either?
Trust Yourself or God?
Do we trust in ourselves or in God?
There is this very jarring reality about God that we can forget about. It makes us ask questions like, “Doesn’t God simply reward me when I do good – like a candy dispenser who gives candy when a coin has been put into the machine?” “God isn’t controlled by us and what we do?” “God is actually doing things and not just sitting up in heaven waiting to reward us for our good works?” God actually cares and gives us good things even when we mess up?” “God gives us hearts that come to Him humbly, ashamed, when we are sorry?”
We forget that God is a person who we have a relationship with. God is not just an object to be used and manipulated. God is hurt by our sin. God is jealous when we abandon Him to trust in other things. God is even jealous when we trust in ourselves more than Him. God is capable of loving and forgiving to heal the relationship with Him that we break.
When it comes to The Reformation, how do we as Lutherans, approach the day? Do we as Lutherans approach God saying “Thank you God that… I understand the Gospel clearly. Thank you, God, that my tradition confesses Jesus and His death and resurrection more clearly than the rest. Thank you, God, that our congregation stays focused on Your Word better than St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, or the Full Gospel church, or the Anglican, United, Free Methodist, or First Baptist churches. Are we like the Pharisee who prays to God thanking God for how great we are?
Brothers and Sisters, we are damned for thinking so. God has said we will be humbled for exalting ourselves before God. As Luther taught from the Prophet Isaiah, all our good works are like filthy rags before God. When we raise how good we are to God, we shove our filthy rags in His face self-righteously expecting praise. We are in the wrong for doing so. Our sin being raised before God so arrogantly is worthy of death. It is despicable.
How does the tax collector, who goes back to His home justified before God, approach God? The man recognizes His sin, cannot even lift His eyes up to heaven, and beats his chest far from the Temple saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
God was merciful to this tax collector and forgave His sin. God gave this tax collector a clean heart which recognized he was a sinner. God gave this man a heart that saw his own sin and did not trust in himself and how good or special he was. This tax collector gave up on believing in himself and instead trusted in God.
Reformation is about God who has re-formed our hearts to trust in Him. Reformation is about hearing God’s promise of forgiveness to us sinners. Reformation is about God and our dependence on Him for all things. Reformation is about hearing that Jesus came down to earth to bear your sin and be your saviour. That we are saved – not by ourselves or our own go-getting attitude or by trusting in our own inherent goodness- but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There is no room for ourselves and the wisdom of our day in Christ alone.
Dependence Like a Child
We simply receive the goodness of God and are humbled constantly by His mercy for us sinners. We simply receive. The last bit of this reading from Luke talks about this. It tells us about how Jesus treated, and still treats, the little children. In Greek it is not the word for “children”, it is babies and infants who are being talked about. Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. These babies bring nothing in their hands before God. They can’t do much other than cry, sleep, and poop for a long time. Just like all we can bring before God is a dirty rag. These babies are claimed by their parents and loved. They are cared for.
Reformation is about hearing that God loves us and cares for us; and most importantly, God forgives us. This not attached to us being good, or not. It is all a gift. It is all because He has claimed us as His own in baptism. It is all because our God is good and we can trust in Him above ourselves because He gives us all good things – even life forever with Him after death.