Proper 25 year C, October 23, 2016, Gretchen Rehberg
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in their own righteousness and treated others with contempt.
Sometimes the gospel writer sets up the meaning of a parable for us by letting us know who it is that Jesus speaking to. Luke is telling us why Jesus is speaking this particular parable, and the why is the key for understanding it. It is for those who trust in their own righteousness and treat others with contempt.
The arrogant, the sure of themselves, the folks who believe that they are doing just fine thank you very much. ‘And all those other people would be much better off if they would follow our example. Those other people who aren’t as good as we are. We are righteous, no real need to confess or look at our own lives and repent – what would we possibly need to repent of!’
It is to the self-righteous that Jesus give the words we hear this morning, words which say that the proud will be humbled and that the humble will be justified before God. Words which remind us that our prayers are not suppose to be occasions of putting down other people, not supposed to be on the order of “look at how great I am and how horrible that person is.”
The curious juxtaposition between the election of a bishop and the presidential election has led the to reflect on some of the differences I experienced. Both are election processes, but one was wrapped in prayer and discernment. One started with a listening process to hear what people desired and then a call went out to ask folks to consider responding to the hopes and needs expressed. One election expected that candidates would honor and respect the other candidates, not speak negatively like about another, and always be in prayer for each other. One election process does not. One election process might have been stressful, but I do not believe that it was harmful.
Does the church always get it right – of course not. The Pharisee in this story was religious observant follower of God who got it wrong, just as we will many times. The issue is not “getting it right” the issue is recognizing that all are sinners who need forgiveness. When we see our own sin the sins of others are less important, we learn to be much more humble about our own foibles. But we also need a community which supports that humility and penitence. Our cultural election process does not allow for humility or penitence, and so most of us just want the whole thing to be over. Just think what our cultural political process could be like if candidates were expected to respect each other and pray for each other! We should not simply blame politicians however, for the way that the elections are run, people respond in the way that society has taught them to respond, if we want civility and decency in politics we need to model it and reward it.
As you know I was elected the 9th Bishop of our diocese last Saturday. I said then and will say again that I am incredibly humbled by that election. I also know, even more clearly after simply one week as Bishop-elect, how quickly our culture can lift up the trappings of authority and power in ways that are not necessarily healthy. It is probably way too easy in our society to become proud, to become like the person who sees only their own good instead of their need for forgiveness – I thank you that I am not like those other people… Our society tends to put people on pedestals, and then when we get disappointed in those we have placed on that pedestal we throw stones. How much better it could be for all of us if we could be reminded of the example of Jesus, who showed the power of God is best expressed by emptying that power out in service to others.
I thought it might be useful for the rest of this sermon time to simply speak to the reality that I was elected Bishop, and what that means for me and for this congregation. I invite your questions, lets simply have a time of conversation about what will happen next…