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Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14

by pastorjuhl ~ August 28th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells. Christ teaches us by word and deed not to put off going to church. The four Gospel accounts tell how often Jesus went to synagogue and temple. There are as many regular and conscientious churchgoers as there are lazy and dawdling churchgoers. The latter party finds all sorts of reasons and excuses not to attend Divine Service.

Here are a few excuses: What good is it to have so many churches? People who go to church are often hypocrites. I choose not to hang around hypocrites because I am not a hypocrite. Yes, there are hypocrites who attend Divine Service. Woe to the one who stays away from the house of the Lord because of the presence of hypocrites! You may not want to be with hypocrites now, but you will be with them forever in hell!

God does not allow His Word to be proclaimed to walls and pews, but to His Christians. The apostle James writes, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Jesus says, take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows us the two types of churchgoers. One is for our admonition; the other for our imitation and encouragement.

Jesus has proud, self-righteous Jews before Him. They rely on their piety. They are constant in prayer and churchgoing, yet they scornfully look down on others, especially tax collectors and sinners. Notice that our Lord does not rebuke them because they go to church. He rebukes them because they are self-righteous and treated others with contempt.

We first see the Pharisee. He is a sinner who comes to temple to deal with the holy God. Although he draws near with pious gestures, he lacks humility and reverence toward God. He feigns and contrives holiness. He goes out of his way to have nothing to do with the tax collector over in the corner in order not to be contaminated with his lack of holiness.

His prayer begins quite well. God, I thank you…. That’s the last decent thing he prays. He isn’t thankful for being kept from sin and shame by God. He is thankful for himself. God owes him thanks, honor, and reward. I am not like other men…even like this tax collector. Perhaps he threw a dirty look toward the tax collector just for brownie points.

Not only has the Pharisee fulfilled the commandments, but also he has gone the extra mile of accomplishing more than was necessary. No doubt about it, this Pharisee is a paragon of holiness…the wrongkind of holiness. He doesn’t ask for grace and mercy. Why ask for something you don’t need? God forbid he should ask for forgiveness. He’s done more than necessary. Works of supererogation more than cover anything he may have done wrong.

Jesus says the Pharisee goes home condemned and humiliated. God grants him no mercy and blessing even though he visited the house of God. It’s not the house of God’s fault or those who are in the house of God that he is condemned. The Pharisee condemns himself by what he says and does.

The Pharisee is there for our admonition. The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes says guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. The house of God is not a catwalk to show off the latest fashions. It is not a place to show off your good works or good behavior. It’s not about you, your wants, or your needs at the corner of Second and Pine. Do not overreach yourself and think you’re the reason this house of God is here. When the Law of God is preached in all its sternness, it is preached for you as much as it is for your neighbor.

The Tax Collector enters the same house of God as the Pharisee. He has very different results and benefits. Jesus presents him for our emulation, even though he is at the bottom of the list of the most-despised people in the world.

The Tax Collector confesses he is a poor, lost sinner. He is humble. He is ashamed of his transgressions. He hardly dares to stand before God. He beats his breast as if to say, “I’m scum! My guilt is so great that I could never pay for it. All I see in myself is sin upon sin. My sin is not hidden from you, O God.” The preaching of the Law has killed him. He is a man of death with no place to run and hide except in the arms of God in the Lord’s holy habitation. He comes to temple to find grace, forgiveness, and comfort. He says, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! He believes the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. He appears before God hungry for grace and eager for the pure spiritual milk of the Gospel.

The Tax Collector is free from his burden. He receives grace and mercy from God, Who sees this poor, miserable sinner as a righteous man. He leaves the temple at peace with God through Jesus’ blood and merit. His soul is refreshed and revived.

Consider the Tax Collector and take him as an example whenever you attend Divine Service. Come as a humble sinner who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Your hairstyle, makeup, and clothes do not matter to the Lord. What matters is the condition of your heart. Your senses and thoughts are directed to take and enjoy what God gives you by His grace through the Gospel.

Remember that God dwells with sinners in His Gifts: the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, Absolution, and the Supper. These Gifts are so powerful and certain as if Jesus Christ Himself stands before you to deal with you not according to your sin, but according to His merit. When sin is punished and malice of the heart is revealed through the Law, beat your breast. When God’s grace is offered, open your ears and your heart toward His goodness. Ask diligently that God will give you grace and blessing to hear His Word.

His Word to you today is mercy for penitent sinners. You walk home justified not because of manufactured piety, but because of Christ’s blood and righteousness that covers your sin. God grant it because of His grace!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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