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Diverse, not Divided…

Indian CornToday I want to look at a piece of scripture that surely focuses on prayer. It is Philippians 4:1-9. Here is where we find “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” But we must notice that in two verses, just before this one, we find Paul writing about two people who are arguing. Verse 2 says; “I urge Eudia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”

Most of this letter to the Philippians tells us how to live the Christian life, how to persevere to proclaim the gospel. But we get hints throughout, that there is something not quite right at the church in Philippi. And here it is. There are two women who are arguing, fighting, disagreeing on issues, and this is compromising the gospel of Christ.

I don’t know about you, but when I walk into a restaurant, or coffee shop, or even a retail business and hear people arguing, especially the employees, I find it hard to want to stay there. I usually want to leave as quickly as possible. Why is that? I guess we could say that we are looking for a pleasant experience. We don’t want to become a spectator of conflict.

Arguing, badgering, name calling, or other forms on conflict within relationships makes us uneasy. It brings all of our differences to the surface for arguments sake, for declaring who’s right and who’s wrong. The focus is placed on disunity instead of unity with diversity.

Where else have we seen this played out? Where have you seen arguments, fighting, name calling daily? Sure, social media, newscasts, even city council meetings. And when you are on the outside looking in, you can see what that does to the credibility of anyone pushing their own agenda, even if it means at someone else’s expense.

So, what if this happens within the church? What happens then? Do people look at us in the church and think; “oh, that’s just how the church operates?” Do they think about who Jesus is and say; “I think I like Jesus, but if he taught us to act that way, I want no part of him?”

But we can be unified in Jesus Christ. Jesus never said that we should be blindly following along, especially when it comes to worldly beliefs. We don’t all have to look alike or act alike. God has made us different. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in God’s image, not in each other’s image.

We don’t have to all be democrats. We don’t all have to be republicans. We don’t all have to be Methodists, or Lutherans, or Catholics, Presbyterians, Brethren, Non-Denominational, or whatever else you want to throw in there. We are different, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be unified in Jesus Christ!

But showing unity in Christ means that we must handle disagreements differently. We can agree to disagree on some topics, on some ideas, but on the gospel message, the truth of Christ, that we can’t disagree on.

Jesus Christ died for each one of us. That is not debatable. How we decorate for Christmas, what music we worship with, what day we worship on; those we can disagree on. But it doesn’t have to divide us. So, if we find ourselves in the middle of arguments for whatever reason, we can look at this letter from Paul to the church in Philippi for guidance in resolving those issues. This letter is full of ways to put our priorities on Jesus and his teachings which will help us in resolving our issues.

We are to live as a united community, diverse, but not divided.

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Broken to Pieces

Broken-to-PiecesMatthew 21:33-46 is usually referred to as the ‘Parable of the Tenants.’ This is one of Jesus’ many parables in which he taught. This one, however, describes God’s story. It is the bible told in ‘cliff notes’ form. You could even say that this is God’s story in ‘tweetable’ form. It is the story told in 11 short verses.

In this story, we have a landowner who builds the vineyard and all that is within from the fence, to the press, and even the watchtower. He then leaves this vineyard to the tenants to grow and produce fruit. When they do produce, the landowner sends servants to collect the fruit only to be turned away or even killed by the servants. Over and over this happens until the landowner decides to send his son, certainly they will respect his son, right? No chance, the tenants threw the son out and killed him. They never learned. The tenants got a “I want it all” attitude. They didn’t just want the fruit, they also wanted the whole vineyard.

It’s pretty easy to figure out who the cast of characters is within this story. The landowner is God as he has created everything for us. The tenants were the religious leaders of the day. The servants would have been the prophets that God has sent, and the Son is Jesus Christ.

The problem that we run into is that we are sometimes found to be the tenants from this story. We want it all. We want the glory, the acclaim, and certainly the fruit of our labors. We become like Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when we proclaim the we want it all and if we don’t get it, we will scream. I think we all have a little Veruca Salt within us. It’s hard to get away from. Our culture dictates so much of this through advertising. The world tells us that we are nobody, unless we have this or that, unless we have a good job, a nice house, a new car. We want it all, and we want it now.

Then God sends his servants to speak truth into our lives. This can be done through pastors, spouses, family and friends, but doesn’t have to be limited to those. God can use anyone or anything to speak those messages into our lives. He wants to break us of the chains which hold us hostage to the world’s message of wanting it all.

Think of it this way, as we listen to the world’s message of wanting it all, we begin to follow and start to build walls around us, maybe for protection, maybe it’s just stuff that gets in the way of our relationship with God. The more we listen to the world, the harder the shell around us gets, the thicker it builds up. Then we hear a message from God that tells us that the way we are living is not what he desires for us. A crack begins to form, starting to break away all of the stuff that is keeping us from a restored relationship with God.

Matthew 21:44 says, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” This is talking about Jesus Christ as the stone and many have talked about this as a double-edged sword, but I see hope in this passage. Sure, if Jesus’ judgement falls on us, we will be crushed. But what if when we fell on Jesus and we are broken to pieces, what is really happening is that that outer shell of stuff that has been keeping us from a relationship with him is broken to pieces?

Have you fallen on Jesus and allowed him to break your stubbornness, your desire for it all, or your resistance into pieces? Once you have, you can be restored. Your relationship with Jesus can be restored.

Today is the day. You can be restored. All you need to do is fall on Jesus, ask him to forgive you and you will be restored.

Can I Tell You Something?

Hope-is-Found-Here-Sermon-SlideCan I tell you how much God loves you?

I know that you might hear those three little words from many people in your life. Maybe your spouse tells you this every day, your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, boyfriends and girlfriends, even friends. But have you heard or felt just how much God loves you today?

Think about it, God created this whole universe. He created everything around you and yet, he also created you. There have been many times that spent some time outside at night just looking at the stars and being in awe that God also created me. Not only that, but God breathed life into your lungs. We have God’s breath living inside us. Can I tell you how much God loves you?

God pursues us. His prevenient grace reaches out to us every day. Just as he pursued the Israelites throughout the many years, he still searches us out. As quickly as we run away from God, God runs after us. He wants a relationship with us and will stop at nothing to get it restored. Can I tell you how much God loves you?

God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life. God gave up his only Son, Jesus Christ, for you. God loves you with a sacrificial love. Jesus died in our place, so that we don’t have to. Can I tell you how much God loves you?

But even with all of this, we still feel at times that it’s not enough. We feel alone, abandoned, worthless. We have times when we are sick, battling diseases, experiencing loss in our lives through loved ones, family members, miscarriages, and so many others. We face abuse or even are bullied. We feel that our lives have no meaning because of how we are treated by others. We get broken by the world around us and become like the Psalmist writes in Psalm 31 verse 12; “I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.”

If you feel this way today, if you hear these words and say, ‘yes, that’s me,’ then God has some words for you today. You may feel like you have cast aside, beaten, and broken, but God still loves you and he will never leave you. And if we can look at history, we can see that God does his best work with broken vessels.

Job, Moses, David, even Joseph faced times of trial, times when they easily could have felt like life wasn’t worth living anymore. But God was with them, he never left their side, and their best years laid ahead of them.

So if you are facing hard times, if you are dealing with things that are bringing you down, remember that God is with you and that the worst thing is never the last thing. There is hope. God loves you so much that he has plans for you beyond what you can see right now. I know there may be a mountain in front of you right now and it seems like you will never get to the peak. Let me tell you that with God’s help, you will.

God has plans for your life, and it’s not to stay stuck where you are right now. We must remember that God works in all things. He will take your life as it is and work things for the good. We are reminded of that in Romans 8:28 when it says that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. Trust in God, and he will take that life that may look like a broken vessel and put it back together again. He will use that situation that you are in to his glory. You may not see it right now, but I promise at some point in your life, you will see it.

Trust God in all things. Amen.

I Couldn’t See It Then…

stormI always love it when I can preach about some of the major characters found in the Bible. From Abraham and Isaac, to David, Daniel, and Jonah. But one of the most interesting characters we find is that of Joseph. There was even a musical written about him and his technicolor dream-coat. You have to admit, his is an incredible story and journey which can be summed up within a single verse.

Genesis 50:20 says; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph’s life after he was 17 years old was one that was filled with ups and downs, ins and outs, as he is sold into slavery by his brothers, moved up to a position of power with his master only to be thrown into prison by false accusations. He then works his way up again, all the way to being second in command in Egypt. Who would have thought you could actually do all that in just a little over 20 years. But we must remember that God was with Joseph, and it showed.

But we also have to see that this is not just Joseph’s story. It is also our story. We live lives of ups and downs. We get on that roller coaster of a life and live it to our best ability. We have moments of triumph, days when we think nothing can go wrong. And then in a moment’s notice, our world flips upside down and we can’t see how it could ever turn around and get better.

It is in these times that we must remember another passage from scripture; Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

There are many times in my life that I have faced a struggle and a few of those I have been able to witness how God has used them for good. He has used my life experiences to help me in my ministry. He has taken some of the most desperate times in my life and allowed those to teach me things that I needed later on in my life.

My wife and I had two daughters who were born prematurely and consequently spent months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rockford Memorial. I learned quite a bit from those experiences and even though I questioned why this would have happened to us, I got a glimpse of God’s great plan about 20 years later when I served as a chaplain for the hospital and especially for a few patients in the NICU.

God took that moment in my life when everything seemed to be falling apart, and redeemed it into something good for Him. He allowed my experience to give me valuable resources to be able to minister to others in their time of need. Others may have thought that those times in my life were meant to be bad, maybe even break me, but God meant them for good.

So, what is it in your life that you have gone through or that you are going through right now, that God will bring good out of? Do you have a testimony of past experiences that you can point to and say that God was with you, he brought you through a trying time, and now can see the benefits to that experience?

Let me remind you that God will never leave you, and he will use all things for his good.

Peace & Contentment

AutumnLakeHDDuring our Wednesday morning prayer service this week, we shared a scripture passage from Philippians 4, verses 10-13. Let me read those for you today.

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

This passage comes right after Paul is talking about prayer. He says that we should “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Two words stick out to me, peace and content. Are these synonyms? Are they mentioned so close to each other for a reason? Scripture is the inspired Word of God, so yes, I believe they are mentioned so close for a reason. But we must see that the word ‘peace’ mentioned here is not the worldly view of peace, which is the absence of conflict. We are not talking about being at war and then finally at peace when war subsides. We are talking about the peace of God. But what does that look like, what does that feel like?

I think one way we can experience this peace comes through the assurance in our salvation. When we have full faith in our relationship with God and his steadfast love for us, that is when we experience true peace.

But Paul is speaking of another peace we can know in verse 11. He says “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Content in every circumstance. Peace in every circumstance. You see, it doesn’t matter if he is living high on the hog or is struggling to make ends meet.

I hear so many people that will talk about what they would do if they won the lottery, what they would do if they came into a large inheritance. They all seem to think they will be much happier if they had everything they thought they needed. All of their problems would be solved and life would be a joy. They would finally be truly happy. But that never seems to be the case. All of that wealth doesn’t necessarily bring happiness and peace, it brings a new set of problems, a new set of struggles, not the peace that we thought would come.

The main problem is that we are hoping for peace in something that will never provide it for us. Jesus said that he is leaving his peace with us and that he does not give as the world gives. His peace is not the same as the world’s peace.

The peace we all long for is that of an assurance in our relationship with God and the contentment with all that we have, whether it is in abundance or scarcity. So how is it with your soul? Are you content? Are you happy with what you have? Have you learned to rejoice in all times, when we are well, when we are sick, when we are full of life, and when we are nearing the end of the road?

My prayer, is that you all know the true peace that only God can provide through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. May the peace of Christ be in your hearts today!

Overcome

Overcome-Sermon-SlideWatchman Nee was a Christian. He was an evangelist, one who reached out to others with the gospel message. He would tell a story about when he was younger, he was tending his rice paddies at home. You see, he would fill his paddies with water, only to return the next day and find them dry. He would fill them up again, and once again they were dry in the morning.

He finally figured out what was happening. When he would leave the paddies, his neighbor, who did not believe in Jesus, would open up the walls of Watchman Nee’s paddies so that the water would flow downhill toward his paddies. This neighbor was using Nee’s water instead of his own, certainly saving himself a good deal of money.

Well, this went on for a while and Watchman thought about what he should do. Should he confront him, argue with him, blame him, take him to court and get an injunction? What should he do? If he just left it alone, his rice would surely die. He prayed about it, and then came up with a solution. The next day he got up extra early. He first filled his neighbor’s rice paddies, then he filled his own. After a short time of this, Watchman and his neighbor had a conversation which eventually turned to one about Jesus and his neighbor accepted Christ in his life. He was overcome by a genuine demonstration of what Christian love truly is.

We can overcome evil, with the power of good, the power of love. Romans 12:9-21 gives us insight into how we can do this. We can break this passage in Romans down in two main sections, two main themes, two main directives on living. And they are these; teaching on how to live with those within a community of faith and teaching on how to live with those outside a community of faith. Of course, all of this applies to all of our relationships as well. So this may be a gross oversimplification, but it’s worth looking at it this way.

Verses 9-13 talks about ways to live and grow in a faith community. We should love genuinely, hate evil, and love what is good. We should show outrageous hospitality. We shouldn’t be lazy in our service to the Lord. And we should rejoice often, be patient, and pray always.

Sounds pretty simple? But it’s not. This takes work, it takes dedication, and it takes commitment. The first two verses deal with love. Our love should be pure, honest, open and it should include everyone, not just the ones we, quote unquote, ‘like.’ Love is the most important part of this. Jesus told us that all the law of the prophets could be boiled down to this; love your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

But then we look at verses 14-21, and we find that although they could be talking about people within the sacred covenant of the Church, they actually focus on living with those who are outside the community, outside the Church. And no surprise, it’s all based in love.

We should bless our enemies. We should share emotions with those around us, celebrate with them, mourn with them as well. We need to live in harmony with others, not judging them. We should seek peace, always acknowledging that God is the ultimate judge. We should care for all people, including our enemies. And finally, we should not be transformed by evil, but we should overcome evil with good

Paul is writing this in a letter to the Church in Rome, asking them to live as Jesus Christ has called them to live. He is telling them what that looks like, how living in community and outside in the world may look different, but there are still ways to live that will glorify God. And that our attitudes and affections should not be different. We are called to live at a higher standard. We should not allow the world to dictate who we are or how we react. We are God’s children, not the world’s. We are citizens of another world. We have dual citizenship. We are citizens of this world we live in today, but we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that trumps all others.

LUMC O--NPsalm 124 begins “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” That statement is followed by remembrances of things that God has delivered them from. They are thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn’t. This Psalm is a celebratory one speaking of the time following the Israelites from exile in Babylon. They are thankful, grateful, and excited that God has delivered them from those horrible times they were living in.

When I hear the words of God being on our side, there are many times I think of sporting events where people thank God for giving them the victory; like God wanted the Bears to win because he is not a Packer fan. It’s absurd. Certainly, you can thank God for the gifts and talents that you have and that you are using them to glorify God. Professional athletes have a very big stage that they can proclaim God’s love to a very wide audience, that’s what they should be thanking God for, not for providing them victory.

However, if we look at this Psalm and the phrase, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” as it relates to our lives today. I think we can look into our history and reflect on the ways we have seen God’s hand working in our lives. We can see those times when we thought things were not going to turn out like we hoped, that we were going to fail, maybe that things were going to fall apart. But then God placed his hands on a situation and delivered us from pain, suffering, or just a bad situation.

This past Sunday, we shared many things in the history of Lanark United Methodist Church and pointed to the faithfulness of God in all times which has helped his people throughout history. I think we all could see where God has used so many experiences in our history so that we could learn and grow in our faithfulness of him.

So I have a few questions for you. Where have you seen God’s hand in your life? What has God delivered you from; a bad relationship, alcohol, drugs, hate? When you look back over your life, can you see times when God was there, even if you couldn’t recognize it at the time?

Maybe you’re in one of those situations right now and are not sure how you are going to make it. You don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Take heart and trust in God. As we can see through this Psalm 124, God will provide. He has always provided in the past, so why wouldn’t he now or in the future?

This reminds me of a famous poem which talks about a dream that someone was having. They dreamt that they were walking along a beach with God and as they reflected on their lives they noticed that in the hard times, they noticed only one set of footprints in the sand. So this person questioned God about why he would leave them, especially when they needed him the most. God replied, ‘My child, those times when you see only one set of footprints in the sand. Those were the times I carried you.’

God never leaves us, he will never abandon us. When we find ourselves in those troubled times, take time to reflect on times in the past when God has helped, and trust that God will continue, because he has promised to.

Where does our help come from? “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Lessons From A Fig Tree

Storyteller-Series-Week6This week we concluded our series called ‘Storyteller.’ This has been a wonderful 6 weeks considering some of the parables of Jesus. Now we finish with a short story about a little fig tree found in Luke chapter 13:6-9. It is a story about repentance, about turning from our old ways and deciding to follow Jesus Christ. It’s about second chances. It’s about the grace that is given to us all in our second, third, fourth, or whatever chance you are on today.

But there’s another part to this story. We’ve heard stories about the owner, gardener, and the fig tree. But what about the soil, what about the manure that is mentioned here? Where are you planted? I know that physically, you are planted within a community. You may be planted on a farm, in town, a house or an apartment. But where are you planted spiritually? Where is your spiritual life grounded? In family, friends, in a relationship with Jesus Christ? Where?

In our story, the fig tree is planted in the vineyard. It was not planted in the Judean wilderness, not in the desert where almost nothing grew. It was planted in fertile soil, a place where grapevines flourished. This fig tree had ample resources for growth, for producing fruit, yet it still was barren.

Where are you planted? What kind of soil surrounds your roots? Many of you are planted in a church family. You are surrounded by people of strong faith and solid beliefs. You are like the fig tree planted in the vineyard. But some of you are still not bearing fruit, like the fig tree. Some of you are struggling in your faith. Some of you are uncertain of where you stand in your relationship with Jesus. This parable has a message for those of us in this place. It’s not too late. God offers us a second chance, but it is through the gardener who wants to fertilize us. He wants to spread manure. Sounds inviting. I know, just what my life needs, a little more manure.

So, I guess we really should look at what this manure could be. It is fertilizer, and what does fertilizer do? It makes things grow and flourish. What makes us grow and flourish in our spiritual lives? A relationship with Jesus Christ and a devotion to the spiritual disciplines. Jesus Christ, the gardener, wants to help us grow but we must be participating in our spiritual disciplines if this is going to happen.

We need to be spending time in prayer, studying the scriptures, and meditation. This is your 15 minutes alone with God. But there’s more to it. We can also add worship, confession, service, and celebration, especially in the sacraments. This is John Wesley’s view of the means of grace, those things we should be participating in to grow in our faith and our relationship with God.

Where are you planted? Are you firmly planted in your relationship with Jesus Christ or do you need a little manure to help you grow? It all begins with your 15 minutes. That time you dedicate to spending alone with your personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know I talk a lot about this, but it is that important. You need to have that time. It is foundational to all your other relationships. Don’t shortchange yourself by skimping on this time.

Think of this time as getting rooted where you are planted, allowing this time to fertilize your relationship with Jesus Christ. Grow and flourish in the grace of God. Produce fruit that is pleasing to him through your life. Amen.

Where’s the Guest List?

Storyteller-Series-Week5Here we are, in the middle of our series of messages in ‘Storyteller.” And today we find ourselves in the middle of Luke, chapter 14 where Jesus is telling a story about a great banquet while he is attending a dinner party with the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus is a dinner guest at not just a Pharisee’s house, but the ruler of the Pharisees. This is the one with the power, the clout, the influence in the community. This is an important dinner…for those who were invited.

Jesus was invited probably so they could trap him in some of his teachings, show that he was not doing the right things, and better yet, that he was breaking the law. So, Jesus begins to tell more stories, more parables. And these did not sit well with those in attendance.

Imagine that you are throwing this wonderful party for a significant person, and they tell a story which implicates you and how you planned this party. He is telling you that you did everything wrong, or at least had the wrong motivations behind your actions. It would not sit well with you either.

Jesus tells them that their guest lists should not include anyone who can make their lives better. Those who would bring gifts, prestige, acclaim to the party should not be on the guest list. You should invite all of those who can’t bring you anything, who can’t forward your career by ‘buttering them up.’

But even with this story, someone at the party, feeling confident about their place in the Kingdom, blurts out ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God.’ Meaning himself, those at the table with him. So then, Jesus dives into this other story, this great banquet.

In those days, a great banquet or party required advance notice, not unlike today in some respects. But here, everyone would have been invited and when it came time for the party to begin, the notifications would have gone out. Like the servant going into the neighborhood to let everyone know that the preparations had been made and the party was ready.

Here’s where we find three guest lists. The original list, all of those who were initially invited were the ones told about the party being ready. One by one, they all came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t make it to the party. I just purchased land, I just got some new oxen, and I just got married!

For some reason, no one wanted to go to the party. Ever have one of those parties. You were invited, RSVP’d, but then thought that you didn’t want to go? You made up some strange excuse as to why you couldn’t go and hoped the host didn’t mind. But this is God’s party, this is the great banquet that we are all looking forward to, right? So, we’ve made a decision to follow Jesus, living for the Kingdom, looking forward to the great party. But then things come up.

Work is so busy, I just can’t take time out of my schedule to do ‘that’ God. Give me a little time, maybe next month, or next year. “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it.” Verse 18

This new car is sure fun to drive, maybe when I get back from this road trip I can volunteer some time. This new game is so cool, I have to try and reach all the levels. Once I’m done I can help out. “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out.” Verse 19

My spouse and I are so busy trying to keep up with our friends, our kids keep us so busy. But as soon as things settle down, we’ll focus on our relationship with you, God. “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” Verse 20

Excuses, excuses. We are so full of them, aren’t we? What excuses have you given to not follow God’s call in your life? In what ways have you turned down God’s invitation to this great feast? God doesn’t want to hear our excuses. He doesn’t want us to delay in the calling he has for our lives. He wants us to follow him, wherever and whenever he calls us. Amen.

Who Am I?

Storyteller-Series-Week4Luke 18:9-14 is a parable which talks about two characters. We have a Pharisee, a religious leader, and a tax collector. These two give us insight into not only how to, and how not to pray, but also into our views of ourselves.

As we listen or read a good story, even watch a movie or TV show, we try to put ourselves in the place of one of the characters in the story. We feel a connection with one or more of those mentioned in the story and therefore can relate to that character. So the story goes; the Pharisee is praying to God, boasting about how he is living his life and also thanking God that he is not like other people, those sinners. Then we have the tax collector who is praying a simple prayer, God have mercy on me, a sinner. This man doesn’t even look upward, he faces the ground and beats his breast in humility.

The comparisons between these two are great. They both stand far off from the congregation, one places himself higher than the rest, while the other doesn’t even feel worthy to in the temple in the first place. One looks heavenward while the other can’t bear to look even close to where the face of God might be.

Then we have their prayers. One prays about his accomplishments, about how he is living his life. His prayer is filled with “I” statements. Then he thanks God that he is not like other people, that he is different, that he is not a sinner like the tax collector. While on the other side, the other is praying a simple prayer of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. He is praying because he believes he is not worthy of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.

So, who are you in this story? Are you the Pharisee, or the tax collector? Do you find yourself relating to the prayers of the Pharisee, telling God all the good things that you’ve done? Or do you see yourself as unworthy of God’s love, beating your breast and crying out to God to have mercy on you?

Maybe you find yourself somewhere in the middle, not exactly either of these two people. But then you think, you know, maybe I’m not quite like the tax collector. I haven’t cheated anyone out of money, I haven’t lied to forward my financial gain. But you know what? I certainly am not like the Pharisee! God, thank you that I am not like the Pharisee…

As soon as we think this, we realize that we have just become the Pharisee. Without realizing what has just happened, we find ourselves in the shoes of the religious leader. We didn’t want to be there. How did this happen?

Jesus’ parables were meant to teach, but they were also meant to reveal deeper truths. It is so easy for us to take the first meaning that comes along to us, that we should be like the tax collector, humbled before God. But then we miss the other dangers of comparing ourselves to the Pharisee which then places us right there next to him, feeling proud that we were not like him. But yet here we are.

This is a story of being humble, of worshiping God from a place of humility. Those that exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Humble yourself and receive the rich mercy, grace, and love that God has for you this day. Amen.