20th Sunday after Pentcost
Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Light of Baptism. Celebrate the light. It is not that the Pharisee is righteous but that he relies on His own righteousness, not on the light, the wisdom and the power of God.
For with you is the fountain of life; and with your life we see light. Psalm 36.9
“I am the light of the world. Whoever walks with me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
What is the mantra of our Appeal for Stewardship this season? You are the light of the world.
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” We get it, Lord. None of us has reason to boast or to toast ourselves too much. None has reason for crowing or chest pounding. We are all both Pharisee and tax collector in Luke today. We are all sinners and, yes, yes, thanks be to God, we are all redeemed by the saving light that is Jesus Christ. We all, to say it another way, have the light of Christ in us, the divine spark that marks us all as God’s own. We are, in other words, the light of the world. Jesus did not say “you might be the light of the world,” or “you should be the light of the world.” Jesus said you ARE the light of the world. We are all equally blessed, equally loved, equal receptacles of God’s sacraments and the grace they offer us. What we must ask is, first, in what ways do we cover up the light of the world that is within each one of us and, how do we uncover the light of Christ that is in us? And, through it all, we must remember that It is not our light but Christ’s that lives within us. We don’t make it on our own steam, by our own righteousness; we are not exalted but Christ is. Let our light, which is His light, shine on the world and it will shine back at us.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an interesting one. I think it is easy for us to say that Jesus is telling the people that the Pharisee in the parable and, by extension, all Pharisees, is a villain. Not so. The Pharisees were actually devout religious leaders who sometimes got too caught up in their own sense of personal piety and their “rightness.” The Pharisee in the parable actually not only follows what is required by the Law but does more than is mandated – he excels in righteousness. The tax collector is no marginalized figure, either; he’s no saint. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day collected for the Romans, enemies and occupiers, often extorting extra money from the poor that they lined their own pockets with. Tax Collectors were considered unclean by righteous Jews, traitors to their own people. So, it is not that the Pharisee is bad and the tax collector is good. What Jesus is honing in on is that the tax collector acknowledges his need for grace, his unworthiness. He is justified, saved, only by God’s grace, while the Pharisee honors himself and despises the tax collector. The Pharisee denies his own light and that of the other man. He makes himself God, really, and does not see the humanity, the Christ-light, in his fellow human.
Jesus says, over and over again, in all four Gospels, that those who lack humility and place themselves ahead of another will face consequences. The consequence, primarily, will be a wasted life full of self-imposed agony. Despising others who, for whatever reason, we see as less than we are, will also lead us to our own spiritual destruction. Part of our lesson for today is that we are all, regardless of who we may be, are in need of grace. None of us is so lofty, holy, or righteous that we don’t need the redeeming work and forgiveness of Christ. We do well to remember that. When we see someone who is homeless and we say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” we are engaging in pretty much the same behavior as the Pharisee: thank God I am not like that homeless guy or gal over there.” What we are called to is an extension of the mercy we understand is the light of Christ, the will of Christ, the promise of Christ.
You are the light of the world! We are the light and that light is the brilliance, the grace, the gratitude of Jesus, the Savior. How do we experience the light, the love, the endurance of Christ? Paul experienced it when he was decked by Christ, knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, blinded as he attempted to Lord his superiority over the Christian community. Later, he is saved, healed, and a become so aware of the Light of Christ inside him, as he is baptized, that he must go out into all the world and praise the name, the light, of Jesus. How do we discover the light of Jesus that dwells inside of us? How do we uncover the light?
It is hard to see ourselves as candles for Christ, burning lanterns of grace, when we don’t see how much God loves us. I relayed this story, I think, in a recent feed my sheep, so forgive me if I seem to be repeating myself. Near the end of my sabbatical time, after I had returned from England, I went to NC to visit my father. I was there over a Sunday, something that rarely happens, and he really wanted us to go to church together, to his little, tiny, Methodist Church near his house, that has about 20 members … maybe. He is so proud of me, not that I feel I deserve it, but his pride humbles me, for so many reasons. So, we went, and he introduced me around, “This is my son, he is a pastor in CT.” After people got over the fact that I actually choose to live in CT, they would greet me. Later in the service, which had no real form, we all stood and sang The Old Rugged Cross, a song from my childhood, accompanied by a piano (they have no organ). And I … for no reason that I could put my finger on in the moment … I began to feel emotions rising up deep inside of me. I kept really trying to choke it back, but it kept rising up in me. Tears flowed down my cheeks and yet, I was smiling.
Every once in a while, I get a complete glimpse of how loved, held, safe, blessed I am by the saving grace of Jesus, and I see the Christ light shining brightly within me and I know it would be selfish to keep that light to myself. I believe it is vital to our spiritual growth and life to open ourselves up to the possibilities of a light in ourselves, one that shines so brightly that it changes all the world. In the movie and book, Cry the Beloved Country, there is a wonderful ending. The black, rural, south African priest in the story is near his church, outside, praying, at the time that he knows his son is being executed by hanging in J-Burg, for a murder that all know he committed. The man’s son, a wealthy landowner, rides up on a horse. It is during the time of apartheid. The two men have met earlier, and the landowner knows that the umfudisi, the priest’s son, has killed his son. The man has no anger in him, only compassion. The two men have a moment. The priest says to the landowner, of his murdered son. “I used to see you ride by, when your boy was little.” Then he looks at the landowner and says, “There was a light in him.” The landowners smiles and says, “Yes, there was a light in him.” The young man had grown up to work as a lawyer to end apartheid, to show that light in him to the world. Even though he died young by violence, the light was not extinguished.