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Sermon

God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner!

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

October 27, 2019

 

Click to Watch Video

 Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)the Pharisee and the tax collector

9 He 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. 11 The 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But 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!’ 14 I 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.”

This parable is one that I often find myself getting caught up in. There are days where I identify with one character or another. This is one of the reasons I often encourage us to use our imagination when we read scripture. It allows our spirit to more fully engage with the Word.

Last Wednesday during our mid-week service we had a discussion revolving around one of the queries found within our faith and practice. We often have one of these discussions when one series ends so we can start fresh with the next study. I love these discussions because the queries become a tool to assist us in examining our spiritual lives. This week we discussed the first query from our faith and practice. That query states:

Do you earnestly seek to maintain a life in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ?  Do you practice the daily reading of the Scriptures in your families, giving time for waiting upon the Lord? Are you watchful not to be unduly absorbed by temporal affairs?  Are you careful to avoid all places and amusements inconsistent with a Christian character?

At times we do not always know what to do with the queries. Frequently, we look at these questions and make attempts to answer yes or no. Do we look beyond the surface? We could say yes or no, but what if we were to ask how?

We have two characters in this parable, a pharisee and a tax collector. When Jesus uses these two individuals in a parable, he is asking us a query of sorts. The parable is told to cause us to question ourselves.

It is at times difficult to understand where and to whom Jesus is speaking when we are reading through the gospel accounts. When looking at the context of this passage we would find that shortly before last week’s passage, Jesus was speaking to a group of Pharisees. During that encounter with the religious leaders, Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God would come. This question is one that is often asked even today.

For two thousand years, the followers of Christ have been anxiously anticipating the coming kingdom. Those of the first century had a similar anticipation. For thousands of years the religious leaders taught about the coming kingdom and one group, wishing to hasten the advent of the kingdom, studied scripture in depth in order to prepare for their coming king. They believed that the hesitation of the coming king was due to the lack of religious piety. This group sought to purify the nation. This group is known to us as the pharisees.

I have often said that we give the pharisees a hard time. We often see them as religious fanatics. But are they much different than us? Their desire was to make the people of their nation holy. Their teachings encouraged adherence to the law, everything they did was to promote greater connection to the teachings they received from Moses. This desire of holiness is an honorable pursuit. It is a pursuit that many religious societies for centuries. Each group sees something within the world that they perceive to be hampering the kingdom of God and they do all they can do to change the course of society. Even our own religious tradition began with this lofty pursuit, the pursuit to encourage a closer walk with God. If the Pharisees were a religious order that encouraged greater devotions to God, why did Jesus continuously oppose their activities?

This brings us again to the parable. I mentioned the context because it is always important consider who is speaking or being spoken to. Since the pharisees were the last group mentioned we might consider that they were the ones who were listening to this teaching. Many scholars say that this is not the case, but I do not know if this is true or not. The only thing we do know for sure is that Jesus was speaking to people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. This is an interesting statement made by the gospel writer. They were not recognized by their denomination but their activity.

Two men went to the temple to pray, Jesus says. One was identified as being a member of a religious order, the other was from a social class that was considered opposed to the kingdom of God. The pharisees were the group seeking to usher in the kingdom of God, while the tax collectors were the ones that collaborated with the kingdoms of the world. I find this symbolism striking.

These men enter the temple to pray. Both those that promote the holy lifestyle and those that seem to be more closely connected to the world. Both come to pray, yet like many of the parables Jesus uses the characters within do not coincide with our perception of reality.

The Pharisee enters, and takes his place in the sanctuary. He stands by himself. Setting himself apart from the others within this holy place, but aware of all who is within. The wording creates this image that this individual set himself up to be the center of attention. Visually dominating the aesthetics. He begins to pray, “God, I thank you.” If we were to stop there, we could possibly write a book about the gratitude of the pharisees, because gratitude is a discipline to desire. It is important to constantly remind oneself of the many blessings that we enjoy. He continues, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” I cannot even at this point condemn his method of prayer, because we are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, so to thank God for who you are is ok. I am very thankful that I am a unique individual. I am thankful that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by the God that has known me even in my mother’s womb. But at this point we can sense a problem. This individual is measuring his against others.

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” I want to be honest; I think I might vote for this pharisee. But this is not the campaign trail, this is the place of worship, and the worst part is he is directly discouraging one of those within his community. The prayer continues, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” This prayer that started, “God, I thank you” quickly turned into idolatry of self.

He speaks of his own personal greatness. I am not an extortioner, I am not unjust, I am not an adulterer, there is nothing wrong with me. Even more I fast not once but twice a week and everyone is aware at how much I give. Look at me God, maybe you should be thankful that you were wise enough to create such a spectacular human specimen.

Jesus then shares the prayer of the other man that went to pray that day. The tax collector enters the worship space knowing full well what those around him think of him. He enters and stands far off. He stands looking down, he beats his breast and you almost get a sense that he is barely able to remain on his feet. And he says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

I am often caught up in this parable. I sit and imagine the scene. There are times when I read through this passage and I must stop and examine my life and consider who I resemble most. There are times where I imagine I am neither of these characters and am just another member of that congregation eavesdropping on the prayers of others. And as I consider this, it scares me.

It scares me because I am an individual that loves the expression of my faith. I love wearing t-shirts that proclaim my faith. I especially like clever t-shirts that highlight Quakers, and I am still sad that Quaker Gear is no longer making shirts because I need a new one. This parable scares me because I can easily be the man praising himself. Because as far as I am concerned the world would be a better place if everyone would just realize that my way is really the best way. It scares me, because I go around every day encouraging people to come join us for worship, and maybe in my zeal for the church I might come across as judgmental and self-righteous.

It scares me, but it also encourages me. It encourages me because I know who I am. Humility is being honest about yourself. And this parable encourages me because I know who I am and where I come from. It encourages me because I know what God has done for me, and I stand within his mercy speechless.

Through all of that it causes me to pause and consider my life. I often speak of my life, and every time I speak about myself, I am afraid that I might be like the pharisee in the story. But I speak of myself because I know who I am. I know my weaknesses and I know what God has done through me. I speak about myself because no matter how elegant my words there is only one person I can control. Me. And the only person you can control is yourself as well. I can plea and encourage, I can scream and berate but at the end of the day the only person that I have any power over is myself.

“God have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Every religious movement begins at that point. Every religious movement looks out at the world around them and they say this is what is wrong, and I am the reason it is so bad. I have not given enough charity to those in need, I have taken advantage of situations for my own gain. I have sinned and God have mercy. People are attracted to the authenticity of that movement because the leaders are willing to admit their own weaknesses. If we were read scripture, we know that the Apostle Paul even says everything I have done is rubbish, is trash, because I am the chief of sinners and I will only boast of my weaknesses because in my weakness Christ is strong. Every religious movement, even that of the Pharisees began in that place, I am the problem and I repent.

We begin with repentance, but quickly we forget who we are. Those groups that blossomed early in their history become institutions, and those institutions can often begin to forget from where they emerged. They begin to say we are great because we did things right, and they begin to maintain exploit the power they have within the institution forgetting where they began. Their prayers become “Look at me, I am great!” and they forget where they began, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!”

As I drove home from the elders meeting yesterday afternoon. I again drove through the flint hills and I looked out over the rolling his of grass. This time I was reminded of our Friends history. And I thought about George Fox and the struggles he had as he began to seek God. He looked out at the world and all he saw was empty words spoken empty people. He earnestly sought God, he desired God more than anything in the world. Many people believe that Fox had the entire bible memorized because he spent so much time reading it, yet he struggled with faith. He struggled because what he saw in scripture did not resemble what he saw in the church at that time. And in his despair, he went to the wilderness and sat. He basically gave up on the church, yet when he was out in that isolated place, God met him there. I looked out at the hills along the turnpike and I wondered what changed? Fox climbed up a hill and saw a vision of a multitude of light overcoming darkness, and I looked out over the hills of Kansas and wondered what changed? Have we become too focused on ourselves and our institution?

As I drove along that highway, I again considered the query we discussed on Wednesday:

Do you earnestly seek to maintain a life in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ?  Do you practice the daily reading of the Scriptures in your families, giving time for waiting upon the Lord? Are you watchful not to be unduly absorbed by temporal affairs?  Are you careful to avoid all places and amusements inconsistent with a Christian character?

Are we seeking God, are we allowing time for God to speak to us? Are we unduly absorbed by temporal affairs? And are we mindful of how our lives affect those around us? Are we beacons of hope or jurors of despair? As we join in this time of Holy expectancy let us consider those questions, but not just consider in a legalistic manner of yes or no but pull back the layers and see the core. If we say we are how are we showing it?

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner!

  1. Each group sees something within the world that they perceive to be hampering the kingdom of God and they do all they can do to change the course of society. Even our own religious tradition began with this lofty pursuit, the pursuit to encourage a closer walk with God…

    As I drove home from the elders meeting yesterday afternoon. I again drove through the flint hills and I looked out over the rolling [hills] of grass. This time I was reminded of our Friends history. And I thought about George Fox and the struggles he had as he began to seek God. He looked out at the world and all he saw was empty words spoken [by] empty people. He earnestly sought God, he desired God more than anything in the world. Many people believe that Fox had the entire bible memorized because he spent so much time reading it, yet he struggled with faith. He struggled because what he saw in scripture did not resemble what he saw in the church at that time. And in his despair, he went to the wilderness and sat. He basically gave up on the church, yet when he was out in that isolated place, God met him there. I looked out at the hills along the turnpike and I wondered what changed? Fox climbed up a hill and saw a vision of a multitude of light overcoming darkness, and I looked out over the hills of Kansas and wondered what changed? Have we become too focused on ourselves and our institution?

    Jared, I can’t tell from the two excerpts above just how familiar you are with the history of the early Friends. The first step to knowing what has changed is an understanding of what caused us to spring forth in the first place. This is more than just an intellectural grasp, but also an intimate experience of the same reality. When Fox appeared at Ulverstone steeplehouse, he began speaking:

    He is not a Jew that is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward; but he is a Jew that is one inward, and that is circumcision which is of the heart.’ And so he went on and said ‘that Christ was the light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and that by this light they might be gathered to God,’ &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine; for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, ‘The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:’ and said, ‘Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; ‘but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?

    Here, we lose the text of what Fox was saying because Margaret Fell, who recorded the above words, was so struck that she could not continue listening. Rather she cried out within herself,

    We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.

    You ask, “What has changed?” Are we thieves carrying around bundles of words stolen from those whose life came from the presence of Jesus in and among them in all his offices? Are we walking in the same power and spirit as did those who, as described by Edward Burrough, know themselves to be chosen by the Lord and made into “an army dreadful and terrible, before whom the wicked do fear and tremble?”

    I am heartened to read that you are asking this question, “What has changed?” It is an essential question deserving your full consideration. Do you have access to the 8 volumes of the Works of Fox? Do you have access to any of the writings of Lewis Benson? These will prove invaluable to you as you pursue the answer to the question.

    Would it be helpful to you to participate in a monthly conference call, hosted by my wife and I, where we read and consider the works of George Fox?

    Posted by Ellis Hein | October 28, 2019, 9:13 PM
    • The question…or actually Query is to spark though. I have read about the early Friends and I know much about what has changed. But the reason of the question is why are we not moved to act like those early Friends and that has more to do with keeping traditions than listening to the Spirits voice to act. I always appreciate your comments.

      Posted by jwquaker | October 28, 2019, 9:41 PM
  2. Perhaps 30 plus years of involvement in Evangelical Friends plus another 30 years of reflection on what I saw and participated in give me some room write my thoughts.

    If you were to take a poll of the members of Willow Creek Friends, asking “Why are you here?”, what answers would you get? If you were to ask Friends of the 1600s why they are gathered, what answer would you get? I could make some good guesses based on the answers I received when I asked a particular congregation, though I have never had the opportunity to ask that question of Friends of the 1600s. (But Fox, and others, are not silent on this subject.) This would tell you/us a lot about what has changed. Maybe I should leave my thoughts here for the moment in case you want to pursue this by asking Willow Creek Friends, “Why are you here?” This is a crucial line to pursue.

    Posted by Ellis Hein | October 29, 2019, 9:57 PM
    • I have actually asked that several times. The answers I will not share because most were given in confidence. But in general what i see as being the biggest reason is very similar to what I observe from the reading in early Friends. Although the application of those things are different. Most deal with spiritual abuse of some sort. Have a great day Ellis.

      Posted by jwquaker | October 29, 2019, 10:03 PM
  3. If you want to continue this conversation, which I can’t tell from your previous comment, I will not pry into your confidences. The answers I received were public answers, and I can use them for the purposes of this discussion.

    During the night, it occurred to me to bring up the following passage from Fox’s Journal as illustration. This took place in New England in 1672. Fox recorded:

    At another place, ‘I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.’ This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ‘ It was time for me to be gone; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.’ For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works, Vol. II, p.128)

    The point has nothing to do with the debate over hireling ministry or released ministry. “…if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher. For this thing…had spoiled many, by hinidering them from improving their own talents; whereas our labour is, to bring everyone to their own teacher in themselves.” Do the people gather to sit down under their own teacher, Christ Jesus, in themselves? When I asked, “Why are you here?” the answers I received included, (a) to hear the sermon, (b) to hear the scriptures preached, (c) to enjoy the fellowship of worshipping with other believers, (d) to sing the songs, (e) to study the Bible, and more. There was no hint of an answer containing listening to Christ, our own teacher in ourselves. There was no hint of understanding that Christ would be present among us in all his offices to teach us himself and that the most important thing we could possibly do would be to spend that time together listening to and learning from him.

    Again quoting from the Works of Fox:

    So in his name [i.e. authority] keep your meetings, in whom you have salvation; and these are the true meetings, and true gatherings, who feel Jesus Christ in the midst of them, their prophet, their counsellor, their leader, their light and life, their way and their truth, their shepherd, that laid down his life for them, that has bought you, his sheep, who feeds you in his pastures of life; and your heavenly bishop, to oversee you, that you do not go astray again from God. And so it is through him you overcome, and he that overcomes shall go no more forth out of his fold, out of his pastures, who shall sit down in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, who is your priest, that offered up himself for you, and sacrifices for you, and makes you holy and clean, that he may present you blameless up to the holy and pure God; and here you come to witness and know him in his offices, by his light, spirit, and power… (Works, Vol. VIII, pp. 77-78)

    I could point to other passages, but perhaps this is sufficient for now.

    Posted by Ellis Hein | October 30, 2019, 8:49 AM

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