Sunday, October 27, 2019

Year C Proper 25 2019 Sola Fide

Year C Proper 25, 27 October 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Sola Fide” 

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In seminary, there is always a class that people need to take. It could be called Homiletics, or just Preaching. Whatever the title it is, it is about taking the myriad of ideas possible from our readings (whether we select them in the free church tradition or the lectionary in a more liturgical approach) and speaking to the people of God the Word of God. At our sister church, Shiloh Baptist, there is a wonderful mat at the pulpit that declares, “Preach so they’ll see Jesus.” I think that is most of Homiletics in a nutshell.

When I was in seminary, my “graded” sermon was on this passage. I know it very well. I have preached on this probably more than any other passage in my preaching career. I got a good grade on it, and poor Stephanie has heard my sermon on this 20 or 30 times. When in Seminary, one way to make some living money was to take preaching opportunities, mostly in rural areas, as they became available. And being busy with classes and part-time jobs, having a decent sermon I could pull out helped a lot.

I could do most of that sermon today, but I won’t. As I shared last week, I read Scripture so that it will read me, and I am so different from the young man who preached on this 25 years ago. Very different. (THANKS BE TO GOD!) In that sermon, the sermon was on the story. How the Pharisee would have been assumed to be the good and righteous one, and that the tax collector would have obviously been the cautionary tale, but the Gospel has done its work and our assumptions have reversed after 2,000 years. But when I read it now, much like last week, I look to Jesus and his intended audience as where my heart leads this week.

Last week, Jesus’ intent for the parable was to remind us to “pray always and to not lose heart.” This week we see it directed in very different way. Last week was on hope. This week asks us directly what exactly are we putting our hope in? Too many of us trust in our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and take care of ourselves, particularly in regards to our spiritual life. Jesus points his parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

The parable speaks clearly that the one who was doing everything right could not have been more wrong. And the one who was doing everything wrong, with his humility, honesty, and attitude was made right. It is not in the doing, it is found in the faith. 

We are told that in his faith, Abraham was found to be righteous. It states it explicitly in Genesis, Romans, Galatians, and James. It is not about the actions, but the attitude. It is not about the laundry list of goodness, but the gratitude.

So often, especially as USAmericans, we want to use the active voice. I run. I pray. I act. I work. But there is no active voice here. We are the recipients of the action. I was run to. I was prayed for. I was acted upon. I was recreated. We are the recipients of the work of God in Christ. We are the indirect objects of Grace. That is why Jesus said of the Tax Collector: “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

The Tax Collector knew he was not righteous, yet he was exalted. He knew he could not act on his own. His prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

There is hardly a man in history who knew better this idea of faith alone, Sola Fide, more than Martin Luther. In fact today is Reformation Sunday in much of the Protestant Church, and Martin Luther’s story of realizing that he could not make it on his own transformed him. Stuck on reading Romans, he wrestled mightily with Paul’s repeatedly coming back to the idea of our faith is where our righteousness comes from. It is said that before Luther was able to grasp this he drove his confessor crazy. He would go into confession, and before he walked a block, he had had another sinful thought which drove him back to the confessional booth. He knew it was not what God would have for us. And then he was able to receive Grace by faith in Christ. Not through acts of Penance or Piety. That was not and will never be enough. Grace by Faith was an epiphany. It was a revelation. It was the turning point in his life. He wrote: “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

I think of the Pharisee, who by his accounting had everything and had no need for anything. He was justified in himself, and he was justified by himself alone. He looked around, and once again, by his accounting he was doing so much better than anyone else, especially by his own standards. He even had the audacity in his prayers to thank God that he is not like these thieves, rogues, adulterers, or especially like this tax collector over here. Luther had been a lot like the Pharisee, and finally, in coming like the Tax Collector to this idea of righteousness by faith, he knew that one of these approaches had to go. And 500 years later we are still sharing the Good News he found. Thanks be to God. It was hidden in plain sight throughout the Scriptures.

Now according to our planning, this is our Stewardship Season, and this is my Stewardship sermon. When I first saw that this was the text, I could not think of a way to ram Stewardship into this. But that is if I only thought about Stewardship being about money. And Stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is about being FAITHFUL, and this text is all about FAITH!

Faith is acting on our beliefs. I could believe any sort of thing, but without acting on it my supposed faith means nothing.

The Pharisee had faith in himself, that he could and would do the right thing, and has always done the right thing. The Tax Collector had faith in God, throwing himself on God’s love and mercy.

Stewardship is an act of faith. A statement of faith that all we have comes from God and is God’s. And God asks us to trust that of all that has been entrusted to our care is enough and that we can give a portion back. The biblical amount is a tenth of our produce. In farming times that was our actual crops. In these days it is our money. And it is not about an amount or a percentage, but about the faith that goes into it. We still teach the biblical tithe, 10%, as our aim.

In regards to our giving, if it is something you will not miss, it is not stepping out on faith. Now some faith communities have set levels, and you have to get a share or that level to be an active participant in the faith community. We do our process even by faith. We step out with a budget naming amounts before the pledges come in. We trust that the people of this community will respond in faith to what God is doing and where we are going. There is always some adjusting, but this community is very faithful and has been.

Next Sunday, November 3, is our ingathering and we will be blessing all the pledges that have come in and will be coming in that day. We will feast, or have a lunch anyway, in celebration of all that God has done for us and in response to what God is doing.  

Now a word of caution in this whole conversation. We do not give to gain God’s notice, nor do we give or work or believe to win God’s favor. If we do that, then we are no better than the Pharisee. In his list of accomplishments he said, “I give a tenth of all my income.” It was about Works and not about Grace. 

But neither is there inaction. If the Tax Collector who has been justified in his Faith by “leaning on the everlasting arms,” does not go home and start acting differently then it does not matter at all. Faith is what justifies, not works. It is not by works he is saved, but what we do is the result of the faith we have. Faith bears fruit, and fruit is the outcome of our faith. As Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith is never alone.”

We are a people of Faith, and because of our faith we sing, we pray, we disciple people of all ages in our programming, we have a free medical and dental clinic, we have a food pantry, we host a Stew, Brew, and Blue Grass Fest for the hundreds that are heading our way in a few weeks. We do this not for the outcome, but these outcomes are the response to the faith we have. “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith is never alone.” 

And our giving to the Church is the same. It is a thank you, a statement of hope and faith, a declaration of abundance, a humility in abundance. This week as you prepare your pledges to God, realistically think on what you have given this year, and what you can potentially give next year. Be realistic, but be faithful. What is one percent more? Are you working toward a tithe? Our giving units went down last year for many reasons, but what was so moving for me what that our giving amounts went up.

I give to this Church because I believe in who we are and where we are going. I believe God has brought us together “for such a time as this.” (Esther) I believe that we will shine the Light of God we have received and people will see our “good works and glorify our Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) And I can say I believe all day, but it is when I prove those beliefs by acting on them that my belief becomes real and is shown to be faith. 

Sola Fide! BY FAITH ALONE! Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! Thanks for wanting to comment. Please add it here, and after a moderator reviews it, it will be posted if appropriate. Look forward to hearing your opinion.
Blessings, Rock