Sunday, October 23 – “The Gracious and Scary Other”

View this recorded version of Sunday Worship from October 23, 2022.

Bible Verses

Joel 1: 1-4, 6-7, 10-12; Joel 2: 18-19, 21-26; and Luke 18: 9-14

Reflection: The Gracious and Scary Other

Excerpts from the reflection by Rev. Jim Stumbo (as read by Gretchen King):

“Two folks go to the temple to pray, says Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus is purpose with this parable is to address those who trust they are better than others.

One is an honest man, an earnest Pharisee, a person who takes his spiritual life seriously. He acknowledges his gratitude that he is honest, does not take advantage of others, has not committed adultery, is faithful in giving at least 10% of his income to the temple, fasts twice a week, and prays daily.

As a member of the present Church Council, I must honestly confess, if you run across such folks–please send them to us. We have church membership cards and pledge cards for them, and we’ll welcome them.

This is in contrast to the tax collector. He comes in his honest nakedness. He has a Jew who is gainfully employed by the Roman Empire; a government interested in dominating the Jewish people, extracting taxes from them to support the Roman Empire and it’s massive army.

So this Jew has turned against his own people and makes his very lucrative living collecting taxes for Rome.

Here is how it works. Rome says we need $350,000 from this province, go get it. So the tax collector goes to Joe and Hank and Larry and Ralph, and says, ‘Hey, it is tax time, and your tax is $650 each.’ Each of these folks then complain, and the tax collector agrees, saying, ‘Yes, I know, Rome is a greedy master. What can I tell you? Sorry to bring you this bad news, but it will be worse if you don’t pay your $650.’

So they complain, and pay the $650 to the tax collector. The tax collector pays Rome $400, which is the real tax, and then keeps the rest for himself.

Here is a Jew taking advantage of his own people to keep Rome satisfied, and to make a very, very good living off of his lies.

So he comes to temple, looks down at the ground, and can only say, God be merciful to me, a sinner!

Jesus ends the parable by saying it is the tax collector who is justified in God’s sight, not the Pharisee. Pardon the vernacular, but this parable sucks!

Here we are trying to be good people, truly and honestly and we aren’t claiming to be perfect, and the Pharisee wasn’t bragging about himself–simply acknowledging the ways he was seeking to live a very disciplined and dedicated life as a faithful Jew.

Instead, some more weasel–that you would never want your daughter to marry–waltzes is into the temple, is honest about what a moral bum is, and he leaves justified before God.

The problem here is that I accept god’s love of me as a gift of grace, a profound experience. And then I revert back to the moral frame of existence and try to be a good person so God will love me. Or, be a good person here in church, so you will love me.

Now, I am not going to be honest and admit to you that that is too radical, so I just sign up for the Council, or I come here each Sunday, or I give regularly in the collections.

I find some way to be good, to do good, and God says: that’s okay. If you want to do these things, either because you want to or because you want to look like a good person, that’s okay, but it doesn’t make me love you any more. I already love you, even love you more than you love yourself.

It is very, very hard to live by grace. Or, more truthfully, we make it hard for ourselves to live by grace and instead of going to an AA meeting Thursday and saying, My name is Jim, and I am an alcoholic–I come here and say my name is Jim, and I still struggle with wanting to be a good person.

I do this rather than be gratefully open to god’s radical love of me. May God save me from myself!