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Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

This Week's Sermon !

October 2316, - Season of Petecost 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Psalm 65
Luke 18: 9-14

Proud of Our Humility!?

Did you hear the story about the guy who won a medal for humility - he didn’t have it very long though - they took it away from him - because he wore it with pride!

In 1784 Ben Franklin, American politician, penned these words for his autobiography:

“In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should 
probably be proud of my humility.”

On the surface, today’s gospel passage is about prayer, but it is primarily about grace, humility and our utter dependance on God! It is about the very real danger of the kind of excessive pride that looks down on others.

Quite a few years ago a research firm rated all the high schools in the province in which I was living. Many people were quite upset to find out that the high school in “my” community was almost at the bottom of the heap. I spoke with a teacher in the school and she was very upset; not at the school but at the criteria of the evaluation. Apparently, for example, the people doing the rating thought it a sign of a good school that students would take only three years to finish three grades! It soulds good on paper, but she knew enough about her students to know that while many did not pass every course the first time the number who graduated was average if the survey had allowed them to take an extra year or two. Many of these students were coping with higher than average rate of socio-economic factors that meant students could not devote as much of their energy to schooling as their counterparts in other parts of the province. She thought the school did a very good job at meeting the needs of the students and giving them a good education.

I remember a young man in one community in which I lived. He was, how shall we say it, “different”. While he was well-liked, I know some people looked down on him. He came up in conversation one day and I was told that he had come from a very dysfunctional home, had lived on his own in a cabin in the woods since he was a young teenager and had finished high school without any family support whatsoever. Many people either did not know this or chose to forget it. When you know someone’s “story”, it can make a great deal of difference!

Today’s passage concerns stereotyped representatives of two groups of people. Of course, this story and the people in it are made up! The story is not designed to point fingers but so that people will see themselves in the story.

One of the people in this parable is a Pharisee. He is all of the negative characteristics of a “typical” Pharisee all rolled into one. He is very religious. He keeps the ten commandments and other laws. He is not corrupt. BUT, he is self-righteous. Arrogant. He was proud he had earned God’s favour.

The tax-collector was humble to a fault. He believed he was so bad he could do nothing to redeem himself, but cast himself upon God’s mercy.

The Pharisee in the parable thinks he’s pretty good stuff - he follows all the rules and he goes over and above all of the standards - all this is true - he IS a good man. But, his prayer is that of a braggart - it is like he is running for office - looking for God’s vote and as if God can only vote once he’d better leave a good impression.

Like the recent political attack ads that were even common in the last Canadian federal election, he wants to make sure God knows that the tax collector over there is to be lumped in with thieves, rogues and adulterers. The Pharisee reminds God that “that man” over there does not deserve ANY votes!

It’s easy to see why thieves, rogues and adulterers were used as examples of “sinners” but what’s this about the tax collector? What we need to know is that tax collectors were not, as they are here and now, civil servants. Some of you may remember the Corner Gas episode in which an auditor from the Canada Revenue Agency went to Dog River to talk to Oscar!

My mom was once a tax collector! Back in the days before school board amalgamation there were hundreds of people like her in PEI who collected “school taxes” from her small district and who then remitted the money to the school system. In Jesus day the tax collectors were self-employd and as long as Rome received what it wanted the tax collector could charge as much of a commission as he wanted - and kept it as his salary. Some, if mot many, lived very well at the expense of their neighbours and family. IN ADDITION what goes without saying is that they collected taxes for the hated occupying force of the Roman Empire.

We don’t know much else about this tax collector - except that he was not at the temple to pray for God’s vote, he was there to pray for God’s mercy.

At the end of the day, all parables are about us - not about other people! They are like a baiteed fish hook, it all tastes good until we hit the barb! Like the parable of the prodigal son, this parable challenges us to look at the attitudes we “good church people” hold toward the “other.”

I’m sure you all know the song sung by a fella called Mac Davis, “O Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble when you are perfect in every way.”

As this particular story is introduced in the scripture, we are told that there is a specific context and audience. There were certain people in mind - this is not a “listen up everyone” type of address. It was spoken to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”

One of the problems in Jesus’ day was this enormous divide between the rich and the poor; between social classes. The working poor were often looke down on by the religious elites. They had barely enought for basic survival. In other passages Jesus criticized the Pharisees for placing heavy burdens on the people without being willing to do any of the heavy lifting. This Pharisee does not even have a hint of acknowledgement that his privilege comes at the expense of others. He can keep all of those rules because he employs others to do his “dirty work”.

I spend a day this past week serving as chaplain of Conference Interview Board and was reflecting on that yesterday. We want ministers who are confident and articulate but not arrogant or excessively proud.

Yesterday I met Caribou Legs, aka Brad Firth, who is running across Canada (about 6,521km) to raise awareness about the plight of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. He was in Hantsport yesterday running the Pumpkin Pacer, then ran to Wolfville and left a hour long presentation on the run as well. This “cause” is important to him. Too many indigenous women and girls have just disappeared and until very recently no one is looking at the disappearances and murders as a whole. I suspect that one of the reasons this has been allowed to go on so long is much the same as one of the reasons why Robert Pickton was not caught for so long long - the people he preyed upon were largely invisible, under-valued, ignored by middle-class white society and blamed, in many ways, for their own plight. I maintain that if it were middle-class soccer moms, for example, the investigation would have begun and long ago been wrapped up! I guess the message is: if you want to get away with murder - kill someone no one important will miss! Well, ITS TIME FOR AN END TO THAT ATTITUDE!

When he spoke to us yesterday at Acadia University, Caribou Legs spent a lot of time telling us that we needed to raise our children differently so that both boys and girls learn and internalize better attitudes toward girls. Family violence and street justice are not just private matters between those directly involved, they are everyone’s business!

We cannot make ourselves feel better by negative thoughts and feelings toward the faith and practice of others. Thinking of others as heathen savages has led, time and agan to all sorts of atrocities, We are called to look at the other and see a child of God, loved by God for the same reason we are - God’s own grace!

Its part of our journey - working hard, trying our best, trying to be better than we were and then leaving the rest to God.

I think that’s what Paul was trying to get at in today’s other passage: he has run the race and fought the good fight - but in the end it comes down to God’s grace. Amen.

1995- 2016 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
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