Grace and Peace to you Beloved,
We confess as broken people
That we are so enraptured in our own righteousness
Attached to doctrines and dogmas
Instead of the living Word of God
That we have for so long ignored the invisible
Crying over again for Jesus to “Save our Church”
Instead of clinging to our Faith,
Embedded deeply in the roots of the Word,
The Word which is Jesus
“What have we done?”
“What can we do?”
There is so much paradox in this Word
Let’s face it
We are always slamming the Pharisee
every time they come up in our lectionary
We belittle them-
“How could they be so rude!
Thank God we’ve learned our lesson
And we are not like them!”
I have a confession to make
(When I was in my second year of Seminary, I spent time in the midst of what we call Ministry in Context or our teaching parish at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Chicago Heights, The Pastor there referred to his interns his “minions” and there was the air of smugness at our roles being heightened with importance because we were experiencing church, liturgically, “in the right way.” We are talking high church: smells, bells, how to genuflect and when and where; I was engrossed in high liturgical orthodoxy. And yes, I also confess in that there is something very soothing about ritual, sacred ritual that brings joy deep within-speaking to how my people, my Ancestors-for them, ritual was everything in daily life. When I went off to my internship year, that church definitely did not do any high church anything and in fact, my internship supervisor understandably had his own impressions, with much humor And so, I rebelled! I tried to incorporate where I had utmost control during those three months my supervisor was on sabbatical, high church liturgy with the director of Music as my accomplice. I returned back to Chicago and continued this role of “minion” , being privileged to be a part of many a Synod worship service; being a part of the liturgical in-crowd”
So I confess,
I have been that Pharisee.
Can we all confess,
We have been that Pharisee?
Let’s face it-
The Pharisees were indeed,
Deeply entrenched into their religious tradition.
They remained in the temple,
Memorized the laws
Could quote sacred text
They were the ones who went to study at the feet of the Rabbi,
Went to university and got their Bachelor’s in Religion
Their Master’s in Biblical Studies
And their Ph.D in Old Testament Studies, concentrating on Exodus
Everything in the way they lived,
Was parallel to the LAWS
They were the go to people
when the rabbi was not available to teach
Or the pastor not able to conduct Bible Study
They were the ones always in the libraries
And were the first to get the mobile app
of the Augsburg Confessions
(by the way, that is not a thing, ya’ll)
They felt as if they were being dedicated to the faith,
That had taught them
Aren’t some of those the same qualities we expect in our own leaders
In this church?
That we expect them to tool around with the Book of Concord
And a worn copy of St. Augustine’s
We want to ensure that our children know
Luther’s small catechism backwards and forwards?
That we want to be by the book good Lutherans?
Which then orders our steps for daily living?
Our own doctrines
From serving those that Jesus calls us to serve,
That ain’t right.
(Tell the story about Tuhnia and her experience as a Woman of Color and Hindu descent, serving in this church-and being not afraid to be called a sinner, like one of those tax collectors, because she decided that God, and the Risen Christ calls her to profess and proclaim a Gospel for those oppressed. When she goes back to her alma mater seminary to preach and does such-and because she pushes the envelope, using the GOSPEL, USING God’s WORD, as the vehicle that we as followers of Christ should be serving those people made INVISIBLE by the Church and a BISHOP, an ELCA BISHOP refuses to take Communion from her? Oh yes, the path to being a Bishop-say all the right things in Seminary and agree with Lathrop and the standard Lutheran about how things should be done, and meet all the right people and do all the right things, moving through the ranks until your name is lifted high and you finally achieve that goal of being a BISHOP.)
I thought the whole point of being in the midst of God,
In this sacred space
Was to lift up to God our praise
And our lament,
Be merciful to me,
When you follow everything by the book,
Then your life will be easy.
When you are out in the midst of life’s journey,
And you come across someone
who is dragging their whole self in the street
Caught up in the darkness
You smile that false smile,
And say quietly to yourself
“There by the Grace of God, go I”
Your voice is mixed with the Pharisee,
“God I thank you I am not like other people,”
These protesters who are out here making all this noise
About rights of those who are struggling in bad mortgages
And immigrants who are failing in a red tape visas system
And voting rights for everyone;
These people protesting and interrupting
Bringing up ridiculous motions and resolutions
about the Doctrine of Discovery
And more visibility of those who are LGBTQA
And of African Descent
And divesting any further from Israel
When all they need to be doing is being faithful to prayer
And trying to get more people into the pews
And telling people they should except
Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior”
Why was it okay for Luther to act a complete fool,
And call the wider Church out,
And suddenly it would be passe for us to do it now.
I thought we were followers of Christ,
I thought we were baptized in CHRIST’S NAME
And not Luther’s.
We miss what is important in this text,
Because Jesus never condemns the Pharisee,
And see that is Good News,
Because Jesus Christ loves US
Even when we get self-righteous
And stuck on ourselves-
“Jesus also told this parable to some,
Who trusted in themselves
That THEY were righteous
And regarded others with contempt”
How often have we told our children,
When we are driving past a scene,
Where the cops are arresting someone,
Watching programs like
And the First 48
Or in our own neighborhoods,
When we see people associated with the wrong crowd,
Like this tax collector
Do we tell our children,
“You need to live RIGHT
Otherwise you are going to end up like this-
So thank God that you are not like..them.”
That we identify them BY THEIR SIN
Instead of seeing brokenness,
Radically living into our call and purpose
That the Creator gives us,
How can I be a resource for others?
Give me the opportunity,
To be a part of the transformational change
That you call us TO!”
And that does not mean
That we are praising those
Whose behavior is questionable!
Jesus did not praise the tax collector,
Because the Pharisee was still righteous
But the tax collector leaves,
Knowing they have been heard,
Knowing they have been justified
Knowing that they have been FORGIVEN
“This man went down to his home justified
rather than the other;
for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted”
Luther set out to reform the Wider Church
500 years later,
we are called to transform the Wider Church.
We are not losing anything that we have come in with,
we are gaining knowledge
from every nook and cranny
of this global society.
We are not losing what it means to be Lutheran
or what guides our steps,
which comes from Romans
-what separates us from the rest is that we are
SAVED by GRACE through FAITH!
When people come through the Wider Church’s doors,
they don’t have to prove themselves
-because we all know
we come from the Creator God!
We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy from Baptism;
we are born from,
and our souls are filled with Holy Breath
from the Creator God!
The Good News is
Jesus Christ stands with those
Left in those leper colonies
and we are CALLED
to TRANSFORM the WIDER CHURCH
INTO LOVE EVERLASTING!
Thanks Be to God.