Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?


     


  


    


 


   


 


    


 


      



Heroes and Villains


Keith McFarren


September 16, 2018


Luke 18: 9-14


 


 


     When you look into the mirror who do you see looking back at you?   Oh, I know you see yourself looking back at you.  I know you see someone who has aged quite a bit, whose skin isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be, whose face has a few more wrinkles than it did in the past.  Whose hair may not be quite the same color or may not be as thick as it was when you were younger.  But what I want to look at this morning is who do you really see when you look in that mirror?


 


     Jesus said that one was a Pharisee and one was a tax collector.  Between the two of them it’s kind of hard to decide which one is the hero and which one is the villain. 


     On the surface, the people admired and looked up to the Pharisees.  The people admired their righteousness, their holiness, and their Godliness. 


But then again, the people didn’t really like the Pharisees, because the Pharisees always thought they were better than everyone else…more holy…more righteous.  The Pharisee’s always looked down on everyone in a disapproving or condescending manner because no one knew the scriptures or could follow the Law of Moses or live a more holy life than they could.


 


     Tax collectors weren’t a whole lot better.  They were a breed of their own.  Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the enemy – the Roman government – collecting taxes from their own people.  And while their friends and neighbors struggled to make ends meet, the tax collector had no worries because they were well paid for what they did.


     But tax collectors did have a purpose.  They played a key role in defining the moral values of Israel by being someone that no one wanted to be like.  No matter where you were in life or what your status, no matter how bad you thought you were or no matter how bad other people thought you were, there was always one person worse than you were…and that was the tax collector.


 


     Our scripture reading tells us that both men prayed at the temple.  The Pharisee stood up for his prayer, all straight and bold and majestic looking, and as the New International Version of the Bible says, “and prayed about himself.


     “Thank you Lord for not letting me be like everyone else.”  And then he began to list the people he was glad he wasn’t like: “Extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”


     And then after comparing himself with the rest of the world, he began to tell of all his positive points including fasting twice a week and his record of tithing.  All in all it was an impressive record because Jewish people were only obligated to fast one day of the year and that was the Day of Atonement…yet here was a guy who went above and beyond what was expected of him by fasting two times a week.


     Meanwhile, over in the corner stood the tax collector.  A shameful man.  A man so frustrated and so upset with himself because of who he was and all that he had done with his life that he couldn’t even raise his head to face God.  If ever there was a sinner – this man knew he was one of them.


 


     So tell me, when you look in the mirror, who do you see?  Do you see the Pharisee?  Or do you see the tax collector? 


     Do you see yourself standing in front of the altar telling God how great and holy you are and how much you give to the church and how much you do for the church and how the church couldn’t get along without you…or do you see yourself standing up here as a humble person so embarrassed by your sins and so frustrated by the fact that you continue to sin that you can’t even face God let alone be deserving of his unconditional grace.


     Raise your hand – Pharisee.   Raise your hand – sinner.


     We all see ourselves as the tax collector; we all see ourselves as the sinner because that’s how the story has always been read and preached and taught.


 


     But maybe Jesus wants us to view this story from a different viewpoint…from the viewpoint of the Pharisee.  Luke starts out like this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  


     He wasn’t talking to the sinners, to people like the tax collector, to make them feel better about themselves…instead, he told the story to stir the consciences of the other people…the people that think of themselves as holy, the people that think of themselves as being better than others…he was talking to people like you and me.


    


     I do a lot of typing on my computer.  Not only do I type my sermon every week but I also used to have do papers when I was in school for the ministry.  Some of the papers I used to have to do I can remember as being what I would call nothing less than “brutal.”  Example of Question:  Study the baptism and communion service in The United Methodist BOW.  Read Worship Matters (vol.1, chap. 5-8, 16, 18, 19 23; Read Worship Matters (vol. II, chap. 6, 11, 12, 17).  Write 10 pages about baptism and 10 pages on communion, using what you have learned from these sources.  Then the next question says read this book and that book and then answer this question – your answer must be a minimum of 20 typed pages.  A lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of hard work went in to what I was doing. 


     So I’m typing along and all of a sudden my computer would freeze up. The arrow on my computer screen wouldn’t let me save my work…it wouldn't let me close out what I was doing…it wouldn’t let me do anything.  And so I would do what we would all do…I would panic!     


     What if it doesn’t save everything like it’s supposed to?  What if I press the wrong key and I lose everything I’ve typed?  What if I hours and hours of work and all the pages I’ve typed?


     And so the first words out of my mouth are:  “Why me Lord?”  “Why, with all this stuff to do, does this have to happen to me?”


     And I’m sure that you’ve said the same thing at some point in your life as well.  You take care of your car…and at the most inopportune time, it doesn’t start.  You take care of your furnace and on the coldest day of the year it doesn’t start…why me?


     You watch what you eat and you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, yet you go to the doctor and they tell you that there’s something wrong with you…that you’re not well.  I go to church every Sunday and look what happens. “Why me Lord?”


 


    Let’s face it, it’s a question we all ask…and it’s also a question that a Pharisee would ask as well.  You see when we ask God, “why me?” we are assuming that there are other people in the world who deserve to have this happen to them, but not us.  This type of thing shouldn’t happen to me!


     After all, I take care of my computer.  I don’t abuse it.  I clean it and I back up my work and I do everything the book tells me to do so that nothing happens to it.  I take care of my car; I take care of my furnace; I take care of myself.


     If something bad happens it should happen to someone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do.  It should happen to them…they are the ones who deserve it.  I did what I was supposed to do and look what happens – it’s like God turns against me and I get punished for being good, for doing what I’m supposed to do.


     So we should be able to empathize with the Pharisee.  Let’s look at his credentials:  He hasn’t committed any horrible sins.  He wasn’t dishonest; he wasn’t an adulterer.  He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anyone.  In fact, if everyone in the world was like him, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night and security alarm companies would go out of business.


     All in all, he was a model citizen.  He paid his taxes and he kept his yard mowed.  He was a good religious man.  He tithed and he fasted twice a week.  In fact he was probably a better person than any of us here this morning.


    


     And what about us?  We’re good citizens.  We pay our taxes.  We keep our house up.  We don’t let our dogs run around the neighborhood.


     We very seldom ever miss church.  I pray for the church and there’s not a week goes by that I don’t drop my offering in the offering plate during our worship service. 


     And I do my share around the church.  I serve on committees and I take part in all the extra curricular activities.  I do my share…as a matter of fact I think I do more than my share…more than a lot of others in this church…and if they were all like me we’d probably have more people here on Sundays and we’d be a bigger church and we could do more things and on and on and on.


 


     The Pharisee did a lot of good religious things and we have done a lot of good religious things but God doesn’t appreciate your goodness and holiness because it all focuses on you.  All you care about is what “I” have done or what “I” do.  All you care about is building yourself up…for your neighbors and for God to see.


     The purpose of religion is not to keep God at arm’s length and to put all the other people in the world at a level or two below us.  The purpose of religion is to draw us closer to God, to make us feel our need for God and to bring us closer to our neighbor, no matter who they are or where they come from.


     God wants an active place in our heart but all we are willing to do is follow a set of rules and try to impress him with all our rituals.  We like the kind of religion we can measure.  There is nothing wrong with tithing, but tithing is measurable, tithing is calculated.  All you have to do to tithe is to find out what 10% of your income is and drop the money in the offering plate…and you’re home free.   We like to be able to say I was here every Sunday, or I put X amount of dollars into the offering plate.  The more we do the better we feel…because the more we do or the more we give the more God knows what we’ve been doing.


    


     But God raises an issue that can’t be measured or calculated.  It’s an ongoing issue that has to be continually worked at…that has no time limit…that has no ending – “Love me with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.”  And he goes on to say, “Don’t only love me…but love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


     Whoa…“That’s too much of a commitment.  I’d rather tithe…or I’ll just fast or I’ll just come to church because it’s a lot easier.”  And we say, “Love my neighbor as myself?  That’s something I’d have to do everyday of my life.  That’s something I’d really have to work at.”


     God, through the Prophet Amos, says this about people who put themselves up on a pedestal with their religion, “I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.  I won’t accept your offerings.  Away with your hymns of praise!  They are only noise to my ears.  Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5: 21-24)


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense.”   That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  God isn’t impressed with our calculated religion or our measured flamboyancy.  He’s not impressed with who you are or where you come from or how much you have.  God dislikes, no, God “hates” people who only go through the motions of religion for no other reason than to put themselves up on their own self-made pedestal, so that they can not only try to impress God but try to impress and separate themselves from the rest of the world. 


    


     Jesus couldn’t justify the tax collector’s way of life; in fact he hated it.  But on the other hand, Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee’s charity and honor; in fact he would have probably approved of them had the Pharisee not had his own agenda.  The tax collector had a heart that was open to God and all of God’s people while the Pharisee regarded God as a type of Corporation…he was a man who acted as though he owned a large amount of stock in God’s kingdom and expected God to ask him to join the Board of Directors…a man who lived and cared only about himself.


 


     “I hate all your show and pretense. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry” (Amos 5:21, 24).


     You can put on the show for me and for your friends and even for God but your salvation can’t be guaranteed just by looking and talking as if you’re really religious.


     Go home and look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Who do you really see?  Are you living for yourself…or are you living for God?