Toorak Uniting Church

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Living With Humility – Most Valued Player???

Luke 18: 9 – 14
Rev. Robert McUtchen
24 October 2010

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector raises the question of attitudes, and who a person relies on. It raises awkward and uncomfortable questions for us.

The Pharisee was not a nice man. He did his religious work well. He observed all the laws of Moses to the letter. You could hardly fault him for that. Jews believed the religious laws were a gift of God, which enabled humans to live a life which was as near to complete as possible. So what were the problems for this man?

I suggest 3. Firstly he was deluded. Second, his contempt for others he judged less worthy, particularly his contempt focussed on the tax man who stood nearby. This behaviour was not acceptable to Jesus. Thirdly, and principally, was the question of who this man really relied on, or trusted in. He was assured of his own goodness in obeying the laws. He was satisfied he was doing all God required of him. He thanked God – not for what God did for him, but for what he did by himself. He did not need God – he was – he imagined or kidded himself - doing it all by himself – and this for Jesus was the offence.

In contrast the tax collector. He had no delusions – he knew he was bad. He did not excuse himself, or blame others. He threw himself on God’s mercy. That man went down home justified, rather than the other. Justification – being made right with God, having all offences which interfere in a relationship with God set aside.

The key issues here are not about looking down on others, or judging yourself better than other people. Not even meticulous keeping of the laws given by God to make life better. It is simply – do you trust in yourself to work out your salvation, or do you throw yourself totally upon the mercy of God, admitting that by yourself you can do nothing.

I want to reflect on the dilemma this poses for us. If we sincerely try and live as we believe we are commended to, keeping the great commandments to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves how are we supposed to feel? Should we take the Calvinistic line that says nothing we do is any good? That would be a tad unrealistic because there is good in what we do, and we ought to be honest enough to recognise it, and thank God for what we have done? But once we start to do that – we risk becoming like the Pharisee, and taking pride in what we have managed to do. We might be entitled to do as he did and thank God we have not strayed or sinned (at least in some ways), but where does that leave us? Are we in peril of beginning to believe it was what we achieved by ourselves, or was it purely by the grace of God that we managed to do whatever we did?

The parable was to teach about people who trusted in themselves. The word is – don’t – it does not work. The parable is really good news for all people. No matter how perverse one might be, what God seeks from them is the honesty of heart that realises there is no point in self delusion, and seeks instead an honest and humble naming of who we are. Receiving justification does not depend on how good you are, or what good things you achieved. God asks – have you the heart to name who you are, and depend on me?

Christian life is not about outdoing one another in goodness or humility – at Theological Hall we used to call that "aggressive humility". It is about confessing that God alone can set us right with him, and asking that of God. In baptising Fergus Cameron today, we have admitted him to the community for whom God promises – I will be there for you, where you call on me, I will set aside your offences – they will no longer have power to keep you apart from my love. Sarah and Jamie have been asked to think about how this is also true for them personally, as it is for all of you here. All it takes is to stand as the tax man did and cry – have mercy on me, a sinner.

So Fergus’s baptism is a source of joy and celebration – for him and his family, and a reminder to us as community, of what God stands ready to offer us, and do for us. Who ever you are, this is good news of the best kind. And all you need to do is that – be honest, stop kidding, and receive justification. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Most Valued Player

Announcer OK! Quiet please everybody we’re going to start the presentation. We’ll start with the under 8s. Will the She Cubs stand up please? Stop bouncing those balls! We can’t hear a thing.
Charlie The under 8s! How long is this going to take. We’ve got to wait for all the little kids first. Will you look at those babies. I wonder what the best dribbler in that team gets? A bibby! (elbowing Jem) Heh get it dribbling. a bib!
Jem Yes Charlie I get it.
Charlie (after a pause) This is soooo boring I just want to get my award and go home.
Jem Your award? You’re confident!
Charlie Well, realistically Jem who else is going to get it? That 3 pointer in the grand final pretty much sealed it.
Jem I’ll admit it was a good shot.
Charlie Good shot! It won us the game!
Jem Yes it did Charlie. But don’t you think that the coach will look at everyone’s performance over the season as whole?
Charlie Yes he will Jem and mine will be hard to over look.
Jem But what about Jack’s defence work and Sally’s scoring was pretty consistent.
Charlie They’re steady enough Jem but you know, well they’re basically just hacks. I’ve got to be MVP.
Jem What’s an MVP?
Charlie (amazed and aghast) What’s an MVP? How could you not know what an MVP is? What planet have you been tripping on? MVP; most valued player or to fill in the blanks yours truly. Geez I hope Mum didn’t forget the camera this time, she usually does. What pose should I use when they give me the trophy? (demonstrating the poses in an exaggerated manner) "Unrestrained delight’, Barely concealed amazement I know I’ll play it totally chilled like it happens every...
Announcer The next person to bounce a ball will be removed from the stadium.
Now for the under 16 Overbiters. What a great season! Coach Driver tells me that this year’s most valued player is a real team player. A steady contributor always ready to pass the ball to someone in the best position for a shot at goal. This year’s MVP is. Jem!
Jem looks at Charlie; Did he say what I think he said?
Charlie Yes but he couldn’t have. Jem walks towards the announcer.
Charlie (cry baby voice) He couldn’t have.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010

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