Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25C

 

Track 1: Finishing the Race

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy:

I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul compared his Christian journey as an athlete running a race. For example, he wrote the Church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Let us look at this race which Paul talks about from three different perspectives: The start, the middle, and the end. How do we enter the race? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of thePharisee and the tax collector:

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’    (Luke 18:11-13)

To inter the race we must first humble ourselves before God. We must acknowledge our sin. This is what the Pharisee failed to do. Jesus said that the tax collector was justified before God and not the Pharisee.

In running the race we must remain humble before God. The Apostle Paul wrote the Pjilippains:

 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:10-14)

Paul was acknowledging mistakes, but that he would not be held back by these mistakes. He would keep moving forward, trusting in Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith, he is also the perfecter of our faith. We are running a race, but Jesus is running with us. We are not alone. Our focus must be on him. He is the power for our race as well as the destination. We will not waste any time comparing ourselves to others in the race. That is what the Pharisee did in the parable, to know effect.

How do we end the race? When I began my ordained ministry, I served communion to a pastor of advanced age who was in a hospice. He had began his ministry early in life and served many years. I asked him to share with me some of the lessons he had learned in ministry. He said that this is what he had learned: Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner. We end the race just as we began it. Everything else we leave in God’s hands.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:

From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:8)

The righteous judge will give us a crown and to everyone who long for him. Let us continue to long for him and keep the faith. Jesus said:

The one who endures to the end will be saved.   (Matthew 24:13)

 

 

Track 2: Blameless under the Law

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading we the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, 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.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

Luke’s Gospel clearly states what the parable is about. The Pharisee justified himself to be righteous because he was keeping the law of Moses much better than the tax collector. It is easy for us to see that in all the Gospels Jesus was critical of Pharisees.

Let us dig a little deeper. Was not Jesus critical of the behavior of the Pharisees more than the Pharisees themselves? Jesus did not come to the world to condemn anyone. He came to save sinners. In order to do so he, by his teaching and example, had to reveal the sin in all of us.

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee. As a Pharisee he boasted:

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But Paul went on to say:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.   (Philippians 3:5-7)

After his conversion, Paul realized that he was not blameless under the law. Only Jesus could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.

Paul stressed that

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.   (Galatians 3:23-26)

Jesus Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on the cross. He received the punishment for our sin upon himself. Our task is to accept his gift of grace by faith.

Have we fully accepted the good news of the Gospel? We are in a much better position to understand what Jesus has done for us. We have the benefit of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisee in the parable would not have jhad this understanding.

If we are comparing ourselves to others today are we not like the Pharisees. Our righteousness had nothing to do with how we might compare to others in terms of keeping God’s commandments. Our righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.   (Psalm 84:4-5)

We will face difficulties in life that will challenge our faith. All we need to do is to hold on. We neither look to the right or the left. We do not rate ourselves compared to others. We look to Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The Apostle Paul told Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

His race was against himself, against his flesh. He was the opponent. He was not running against anyone else. The same is true of us. Our posture before God must be the posture of the tax collector in the parable: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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