Sunday, October 27, 2019
Have I been Faithful?
The Rev. Gill Keyworth, Deacon
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, Texas 77493
October 27, 2019
What do you see when you look into your bathroom mirror each morning? Do you see the image you expect or want to see? Do you perhaps see a younger self, free of cares and wrinkles and puffy eyes? Do you gaze into the mirror carefully looking only at the individual details until the shaving and hair combing and make-up application is complete? Does your mirror tell the truth of who you are? How much of God’s truth are we willing to see? I believe the answer is directly proportional to our willingness to gaze at our own sinfulness. To gaze into the mirror means looking into God’s eyes and seeing the truth of who is reflected there. To see it is to know the truth.
So I asked you how you see yourselves. Now I ask: “How do you want to be remembered?” What do you hope people will say about you after you are gone? How will people who knew you best summarize your 60 or 70 or 80 years of living? Lots of very difficult questions.
Today we heard Paul’s answer to those questions. Writing from a Roman jail, with the certain knowledge that he would soon be dead, he looked back at his journey with the Lord, and then he looked forward to what would happen after he died.
He says, in effect, “My life hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it all.” And qualifies it by saying:
Firstly, “I have fought the good fight.” Life can be a battle. Just as Paul did, we experience trouble, distress, tribulation, trials, and hardships. It says much about us as to how we deal with the struggles of life.
Secondly, Paul writes: “I have finished the race.” You see, life, the Christian life especially, is a marathon, not a sprint. Winning, in this case, means not giving up. Finishing is victory. Do we finish well? No promise that it will be easy. It is often hard, and sometimes you wonder if you will make it. But know that Jesus led all the way.”
Thirdly, Paul declared: “I have kept the faith.” This simply means he refused to compromise the truth. When other people fell away, Paul preached the Word. When the world was against him, Paul paid no attention. He didn’t back down, he didn’t compromise, and he would not preach what people wanted to hear. The Lord gave him the strength of honesty to keep the faith!
I am blessed to visit and talk with many of you when you are experiencing problems. It may be in your home or in a hospital. I cannot count the number of times that I have been asked by those who may be close to death “I am not afraid, but what how will it be? What am I to expect? Have I been faithful?”
I believe that what we feel and know about ourselves is important. But only when we believe in the goodness of God and truly see Him, for who He is, can we see ourselves for who we are. Life needs to be theocentric not egocentric. We should not be so overtaken by the temporal things of this life that we fail to remember that our reward is in Heaven. Paul writing to Timothy reiterates the fact that even though things may be very severe at times and we may have a great deal of uncertainty in our lives, it is our faith that will show the way.
The parable we heard today presents two people coming to the Temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee, who was a member of a small but influential group of deeply religious laymen in Judaism. The man stood by himself. He thought himself too good to pray with ordinary people. The Pharisees were prideful of their own accomplishments.
When we look at the prayer this man made, all of this pride comes out. He gives thanks first for what he is not. He is thankful that he is not a cheat and a swindler. He is not an adulterer. He fasts twice a week and tithes everything he made. Looking down in contempt at the tax collector who is also praying, he is most thankful that he is not that wretch. The Pharisee is a man praying about himself. Prayer is meant to be primarily God centered, but here is a man with an “I” problem. His prayer is about himself and to himself not to God at all. To quote Kierkegaard “ The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Then there is the other man, a tax collector, who stood and would not look toward heaven. It does not say that he noticed the Pharisee praying or anyone else. He knew who he truly was. Tax collectors were known to be traitors to the Jews. They had a reputation as being dishonest, corrupt. swindlers and cheats and unclean religiously. He was everything that the Pharisee gave thanks that he wasn’t.
However his position and posture reveal a man who wants to come into God’s presence but who feels profoundly unworthy. He stands at a distance. His eyes are downcast, his body language is that of guilt and he beats his breast in the well-known gesture of grief and sorrow. Everything about him speaks of humility, and brokenness. His prayer is a cry from the heart. ”God be merciful to me a sinner”
And Jesus’ reason for the parable is to teach us that “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The closer you get to God, the more you realize how far away you are from Him and His perfection. It’s easy to be a Pharisee today. We can physically show what we do for the church and in the church while the world outside is hurting. We can carry on with our way of life shielding our eyes from seeing those who are homeless, with no health coverage, scared and wanting safety, food and clothing at our borders. We want to build a wall to hide from their plight. It is easy to be egocentric.
Jesus teaches a message in our gospel reading today that most of us do not want to hear: Isn’t this what Jesus often does? The way up is to go down. We cannot earn God’s approval by showing ourselves to be loyal, and disciplined. Rather, we fall into God and God’s mercy, compassion, and love through humility and the acknowledgement of our brokenness. The crack in our hearts, the broken place that this tax collector seems to be keenly aware of, is where the light gets in.
Now, the things that the Pharisee is doing, fasting, praying, almsgiving, are all good and necessary parts of authentic religious practice. But the Pharisee has committed the greatest sin; he has given into the greatest temptation. He is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. We are invited to fall into the mercy of a loving God who recognizes and embraces our brokenness, and our problems. And still loves us.
Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian Philosopher and Theologian who says “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” How true!
So that brings me to my final point and the reading from Sirach. This book in the Apocrypha is a work of ethical teachings. This morning you have looked at yourself in a mirror, you have determined how you want to be remembered, you have been told to keep the faith and to be humble. Now you hear “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.” and as we are told in Micah:6 “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We hear the spirit with which we should offer sacrifice. Jesus calls us for authenticity of motivation; calling us to do the right thing for the right reason. It is stewardship time so I am going to interpret just one meaning of the admonition of Sirach. In addition to your time and talent St Paul’s church needs you to financially give generously and sacrificially. Not only to pay the costs of upkeep in the church but to increase the amount that we can use to continue our Outreach to those outside of our walls. To fulfill our mission to help and love others.
Return to the Lord with grateful joy, because you know full well that is how He gives to you. Give thanks for all the gifts He has given to you. When you complete your pledge card start with what you gave this year and then add a mission offering.