Monday, October 25, 2010

God I Thank You That I Am Not Like Other People...

Sunday's sermon was based on the gospel Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I had a lot of fun telling this gospel with full disgust during the Pharisee's prayer and lament during the tax collector's prayer.  But I also had struggles with this text for to tell someone to be like the tax collector is to judge another (aka acting like the Pharisee).  But in the end I enjoyed both writing and giving this sermon.  


The Pharisee was grateful that he was not like other people. And aren’t we at times also grateful that we are not like other people? However there are different ways to be grateful.

The Pharisee was not thankful because he had been kept from a living situation that made him resort to stealing, lying, cheating others or breaking Levitical laws. He was not grateful that God had given him the ability to live a life were he was able to fast twice a week by choice and made enough money to tithe.

Instead he was regarding the thieves, rogues, adulterers and tax collectors with contempt and distain – how dare they be that way! He looked down on them because they would live such a life. He looked down on them because they did not fast and tithe like they should, like he did. He was not grateful for what he was given but smug that he had earned his own righteousness and those poor fools were just kidding themselves.

Instead of looking up to God and being thankful that God had blessed him with such a great life, he looked down on others and wondered why they couldn’t be more like him.

The Pharisee made a clear divide in his mind between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the just and the unjust, between who is “in” and who is “out.” And we often do the same thing.

As the country is gearing up for the midterm elections, I, at least, have not heard from candidates so much about why I should vote for them as why I should not vote for their opponents. In the attack ad era of politics we now live in, we have heard and seen speeches, television and radio ads, and campaign flyers that might as read like the Pharisees prayer: “Voter, I thank God that I am not like my opponent: a thief, a liar, an adulterer, and even a spender of your tax dollars. I will vote for issues that you care about; I will care about the people of this district.” Though in all frankness, regardless of who says this, I don’t think that last part is always 100 percent honest.

And it is not just in politics that we create in and out groups where we consider ourselves, the in group, just and the out group unjust and therefore look upon them with distain. In the wake of multiple suicides within the past two months of teenagers who were bullied for being gay or perceived to be gay, and with the political and legal battle that is happening in the nations courts about the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, we are reminded of how often in and out groups are formed on the based of sexuality. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: bisexuals, transgender, transsexuals and even like those homosexuals. I have never questioned my sexuality; I am completely comfortable in who I am, especially as a teenager.”

Or in the immigration debate. “God I thank you that I am not like other people: Hispanics, recent immigrants, Muslim immigrants, or even like those people who are putting a strain on our social welfare programs. My family has been here for generations (ever since my grandparents came over from Sweden or Germany), and I would be more than willing to work a grueling physical job for less than minimum wage with no benefits.”

Or with the economic recession. “God I thank you that I am not like other people: the Wall Street tycoons who created this mess, the bankers who are not lending, or even those people who have lost there jobs and homes. I would not have let my own personal financial advantage allow me to scam others out of their money; I would have read all 45 pages of my mortgage contract that is written in legalese and point 8 font.”

And even in sports. “God I thank you that I am not like other people: Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Giants fans or even like those Patriots fans. I would never be so upset over a lost; I cheer for the fun of the game and never yell insults at the players, coaches or refs.”

We create in groups and out groups in just about every aspect of our lives. We mentally put people into categories by if we consider them righteous or unrighteous, just or unjust, friend or enemy, a person of like belief or not.

But when we step back and consider these groups that we, humans, have created, we realize that God is with both groups. And God loves both groups. The Pharisee told the truth and Jesus did not criticized his deeds, just his despite for others. In fact, one pastor mentioned in a study on this text how much most pastors would love having many members just like him, someone who worship regularly, gives a tenth of his income and is willing to pray out loud! God is with the Pharisee in his works, his praying, fasting and tithing. God loves the Pharisee!

But God is also with the tax collector. Jesus commends the tax collector for his humility but he does not excuse him of his wrongdoings. God is with the tax collector in his humbleness, in his calling out for mercy. And God loves the tax collector.

God is with us, and God is also with the others. God loves us and God loves the other. God loves Democrats and Republicans, Independents, Green Party and the Tea Party. God loves the people who are bullied and the bullies. God loves homosexual, transsexual, transgender, bisexual and heterosexual people. God loves recent immigrants and first generation Americans, just as much as God loves people whose ancestors came to this land 50, 100, 200, or 300 years ago across an ocean from Europe or Africa or those who ancestors came here a few thousand years ago across a land bridge from Asia. God loves those who are homeless, unemployed, underemployed and even those who greed has cause others to be homeless and unemployed. And God even loves sports fans of all types and sizes, of all teams and all sports, in winning seasons and in losing seasons, God loves them all.

God loves the whole world, and through Jesus’ death on the cross we all have been forgiven; thieves, rouges, adulterers, tax collectors, Pharisees, those belonging to the in group and those belonging to the out group. We all are loved, we all have been forgiven. In God’s mind there is just one group, the beloved children of God, and each one of us is part of that group.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for being my church on Monday after a weekend of sick kids!