Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: 10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11 The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12 I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ 13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’ ” 14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Luke 18:9-14 (MSG)
For a legalist, spirituality is tantamount to saying, “I think the right way, live the right way, associate with the right people, read my Bible, pray, go to church, and avoid worldly ways; therefore I am spiritual.” This person might be a “good” person, live a straight and disciplined life, be a good friend and neighbor, and support the church and its ministries. But legalism is not true Christian spirituality, for in the end it looks to self to achieve a condition of spirituality by adhering to a predetermined set of rules and fixed doctrinal interpretations. It goes beyond what the Bible teaches and what the common tradition embraces.
Legalistic spirituality is not directly situated in God’s story of creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Legalistic spirituality is situated in derivative rules and doctrines determined by a particular cultural expression of the faith. This sort of spirituality, instead of contemplating the mystery of God’s vision and participating in the life purposed by God, measures a person’s spiritual state by the secondary rules and doctrines that ask: “Are you keeping the rules?” “Are you adhering to the doctrinal particulars espoused by this particular church?” Legalism focuses on the self and how well the self adheres to the group expectations.
As I read the Webber’s words, into my mind popped a number of legalists that I deal with, or have to deal with the consequences of their actions. They frustrate the heck out of me, and to be honest, the consequences of their actions and their decisions scare me. I’ve seen too many people give up on the church, and some even give up on God because of the legalism.
But as I re-read the words, I have to wonder, how often do I (and you can and perhaps should) turn into the very thing I struggle against, the same thing that frustrates me, the same thing that pisses me off.
Is it possible that I could become what Webber calls a legalist? Have I become so antagonized by their actions that I justify myself in order to feel more righteous than those I can’t understand, or for that matter stand?
It is all too easy to become the Pharisee, to find the attitude inside myself that finds others less holy (usually those I catch doing that to others – but that doesn’t excuse or justify my sin)
As Webber says, I can be good, I can know all the right doctrines, I can express them fluently, but the moment I count out that to justify me, at least compared to them.
And that is the point, I stop comparing myself to Jesus, I stopped seeing my own faults, and therefore the need to cling to Jesus, who justify me and would justify them. That’s what spirituality is to Webber, the reason he called the book the Divine Embrace.
It is there on the cross that I can find the peace I need, and the ability to love those that frustrate me, to realize that those who I find as legalistic I can find compassion for, and I can find the hope to not be legalistic.
For God is with us….. and therefore, there is hope!
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Travelling Companions of the Cross
Lesson 6: Will We Be Companions to Whom He Was?
† I.H.S. †
But Wisdom is shown to be right by its results
That last line of the gospel reading is interesting to me.
“Wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”
It sounds at first, like an intellectual version of faith without works is dead. And the more I think about it, the more I realize it is not the intellectual version of faith without works is dead, it simply is the same statement.
Not the normal phrase to preach on, as we celebrate the 498th anniversary of Martin Luther insisting that we aren’t saved by works, but simply by having faith in God.
Having faith in God =Trusting in God = Depending on God = Wisdom.
And that trust, that wisdom, is seen as our lives, and our hearts and minds, are transformed into the likeness of Christ.
We aren’t saved by our works, or our results, or even our knowledge. Wisdom knows this!
But all of those are evidence of our relationship with God.
That is the reason He saves us. To have a relationship with us!
So let us see how that is recognized in our lives.
When I hear Jesus describe the generation of the apostles, I realize our generation doesn’t get it any more than they did back then.
They got everything backward, they didn’t repent when they should, and they didn’t celebrate when God brought together what should be together. Heck, they didn’t even know how to play, to pretend, to imagine what the future held.
That is why they criticized John the Baptist for calling for people to be united to God, and why they criticized Jesus for celebrating that fact that God dwelt among His people.
Would we welcome them? If so, their sin?
Which brings about an interesting question.
Would we be companions to the people Jesus was a companion too? Would we be worried if people thought we were drunkards, I mean, the glutton thing is hard to deny. What would people say if they knew the pastor of this church enjoyed hanging out with politicians, or drunks, or people whose morals were loose, heck if they were non-existent? Would there be a scandal, if the world knew the leaders of this church hung out with a bunch of dirty rotten sinners?
I mean – wait – would it be really any different than any other week around here?
This place is a place for broken people to celebrate that God has given up on them. To find in God, the Lord, who would heal them, and love them. Who would draw them back to Him? That is what the church is supposed to be, a place where a sinner haunted by his sin like Luther was could find respite in the cross.
Where the church was supposed to share God’s mercy, they didn’t. They didn’t offer comfort to those who were broken by sin, by the loneliness that sins can often result in, for sin divides.
Would we welcome the broken? Would we celebrate their being here?Would we help them realize he healing, comforting presence of God in their lives? Would we celebrate with them as God makes them His own?
That calls for a feast – and so we shall!
That may make us different from the world, and even from other churches.
But it isn’t just the comforting of those broken by sin… it is calling people who need to, to repent.
Not the ones already broken by sin, but those who play God, or who hide their brokenness, or ignore and deny it. For Jesus called people to repentance as much as He comforted the broken.
The difference is he called to repentance those who others believed were holy and perfect. Those who pretended they were good and faithful. We need to repent, allow Jesus to heal our brokenness and forgive our sins.
We need to mourn, and we need to dance, we need to repent, and we need to celebrate the love of the Lord who draws us to Him.
Not crush the sinners and applaud the self-righteous….
But to let the Holy Spirit draw the self-righteous to repentance, and lift the prodigal, broken and desperate to the throne of God, to be welcomed home to a feast.
The Reformation – these can be saved.. and so can we…
You see, that was what the Reformation was about.
The theology was important, but more important was helping the church realize that our lives are to be like Jesus Christ’s. We’ve been anointed in our baptism, united to Him, not only because God wants us to be holy, but because He wants the world to be Holy, and He will use us to draw people to Jesus.
To bring sinners into grace, to help the self-righteous to realize that they are sinners, so they too can know the grace, the love and mercy of God.
That was Luther’s issue…it drove him crazy thinking he couldn’t be forgiven. It didn’t just bother him; he was driven nuts, screaming late into the night, trying to find some hope, some sense of love.
The goal of the reformation then was to help people know the peace He found, the peace we each need to find… the peace of Christ given to us because God loved us enough for Jesus to come and die on the cross.
The results of God’s wisdom was our being saved, sinners being comforted. Broken folks being healed…
I said earlier in the sermon, one of the problems of the self-righteous was that they wouldn’t play because they don’t have the ability to imagine that which they can’t see, especially the future.
The humble, the broken, simply struggle and hear the hope of God’s love, of a life of peace, and they can’t think of everything else.
There is a time to mourn our sin, to mourn the brokenness and death….
And there is a time to feast, to celebrate the love of a God who dwells in our midst…
Because He is here… AMEN