October 27, 2019

Two Men Went Up

Passage: Joel 2:23-32, Luke 18:9-14

Bible Text: Joel 2:23-32, Luke 18:9-14 | Preacher: Rev. Dennis Howard | Who doesn’t love having control?

Who among us doesn’t hanker to feel like our lives are under control; preferably under our own control?

The fact is our Western culture idolizes control.

The idea of being in control.

We admire those with self control; those who seem to be able to manage everything life throws at them with aplomb, with little emotional strain.

We envy those who seem to have control of their relationships with others; those who go through life easily winning friends and influencing people.

We insist on having total control of our futures; through education, careful financial planning and insurance policies to cover every possible contingency.

Yes, we all love control.

In all areas of our lives we strive hard to be in control.

So, it is no surprise that most of the time we insist on having control of our religious lives as well.

We want to be in control of our lives with and before God.

We really would like to be in control of how God feels about us.

I am pretty sure, that given the chance, if we are being honest, we would all like to actually be in control of God, to be our own gods.

Or at the least we would like to be in control of how God feels about us and so how God deals with us.

Sometimes this desire to control God, this need to control God comes out in our prayers.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about it, I spend a lot of my prayer time telling God what I would like him to do and how I would like him to do it.

This should be okay with God, right?

After all Jesus himself told us to ask so that we would receive.

Jesus did say ask.

He didn’t say tell.

But I don’t want this sermon to devolve into a discussion about whether we are asking or telling God to do stuff when we pray.

However, I would like us to reflect on Jesus’ parable for today because this parable is about prayer.

More specifically this parable is about the way we approach prayer and what our approach to prayer has to say about our relationship with God and even what we believe about God.

This parable is also about how the way we pray can tell us what we believe it is in our life before God, that God actually values.

The parable goes like this.

Two men went up to the temple to pray.

The first man, the man we will call THIS MAN told God who he was; a righteous man, a man who knew that God was obligated to respect him because he was a righteous man who kept all of God’s rules just as he had been taught them from his youth.

THIS MAN professed his righteousness to God, THIS MAN in effect told God that he didn’t really need God because he was doing super fine spiritually speaking, all on his own.

THIS MAN, bragged to God, that he always paid his tithe, implying that by so doing he had God’s hands tied, so God had to respond in kind by counting THIS MAN as right before God.

THIS MAN, declared to God’s face, that he obeyed the letter of the law in its finest details; and because of his scrupulous obedience to the letter of the law THIS MAN had God in a box, God had to bless him, because THIS MAN was in control of his own religious life.

THIS MAN also told God how, because of his religious behaviour, he was superior to others even to those others who God had also created in God’s own image.

THIS MAN informed his God, the God he bought and paid for every time he went to temple, how much better off he was spiritually than the “no-account” tax collector who was standing there beside our Mr. Wonderful, dirtying up the temple with his sinful presence.

Then there was that other man standing before God that day.

We will refer to him as THAT MAN.

In his prayers THAT MAN did not try to tell God who he was, how important he was, how much his fine outward appearances and religious scrupulousness mattered.

THAT MAN took the lower place before God.

THAT MAN stood afar off.

He did not even dare lift his face toward heaven.

THAT MAN beat his breast, confessed that he was a sinner and threw himself on God’s mercy.

Jesus’ parable tells us that THAT MAN went home justified before God.

So, which man or woman are we when we pray?

Which man or woman are we when we come to church on Sunday?

Are we THIS MAN?

THIS MAN, who in his self-righteousness tells God everything he has done for God, tells God therefore how God must have a high opinion of him while sharing THIS MAN’S low and judgmental opinion of others.

Are we THIS MAN?

Or are we THAT MAN?

THAT MAN, who willingly took the lower place before God?

THAT MAN, who threw himself before God in heart-felt confession of his sinfulness and pleaded for God’s merciful forgiveness?

Are we THAT MAN, who did not look to justify himself before God by comparing himself to others who are also created by God in God’s own image?

The question for us today is this.

Who are we when we pray?

Who are we when we come before God in God’s house?

Are we THIS MAN?

Or are we THAT MAN?