So only two more weeks: two more weeks of the contention, the ugliness, the gossip, the despair, and the absolute hatred rut amuck. At least it would be nice if there were only two more weeks of that left, but the Gospel this morning reminds us of an incredibly harsh reality: it did not start with a Donald or a Hillary, and it most certainly will not end with them either. That’s us! That Pharisee standing there with a pride to fill an entire temple and then some: that’s us! We continue to define ourselves on who we are not: “Thank God I’m not like that tax collector, those sinful people that wreck the fabric of our community! Thank God I’m not like those candidates! Thank God I’m not associated with that political party! Thank God I don’t stand on that side of the issue!” It didn’t start with a Donald or a Hillary, and it most certainly will not end with them either, because humanity will continue running strong on all the disgusting ways of how we treat each other long after November 8. And after that night, we will still need the Savior. We will still need the God to save us from our very selves. We will still cling to the hope that no nation can deliver, but only the Messiah of the entire cosmos.
It takes a tax collector, the bottom-dweller of society, the one whom we would belittle with all our mental energy, to put us in our place; to make us realize who we are: first and foremost not Americans, not members of a certain political affiliation, but children of God, children who make mistakes, to say the least, from time to time, who still need guidance, who still search for wisdom, who still desperately need the divine parent to be with us through all the struggles in this life.
And unfortunately still, as children do, we get fascinated with the not so beautiful things in this world. We pretend that we don’t. We act as if we are better than that. We’ll talk down such things to our family, friends, and coworkers to make ourselves look better. But nevertheless we are fascinated with our fellow human beings who spew the hatred. We watch. We talk about it. We are infatuated with it, because the behavior did not start with a Donald or a Hillary, and it most certainly won’t stop with them either. We’ll keep it going just fine on our own. We may not be able to broadcast it to the world as much. Maybe we won’t even use as harsh of words out loud, but it’s embedded on our hearts. It infects our minds: the way we look down on others, the way we treat them even in the simplest, but most dangerous of thoughts.
That Pharisee with so much pride of who he is not to fill an entire nation: that’s us! And yet who we are, children of God, still need the Good Shepherd to guide us on that path between that Pharisee down to the lonely tax collector overwhelmed with unrelenting humility and sheer desperation: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” “God, be merciful to us, sinners, your children, when time and time again we forget how much we still desperately need you, how much we overlook our own behavior, when we try to make ourselves feel better in comparison to other people’s hatred, when we refuse to accept that we cannot save ourselves. Be merciful on all of us, O God.”
And God most certainly is merciful. Yet again God will extend soothing mercy through something as miniscule as bread and wine, because God’s mercy triumphed over the contrition, the ugliness, the gossip, the despair, and the absolute hatred rut amuck that took over leaders people trusted and even Jesus’ closest friends and allies. One night turned into His doom to the point of a brutally hideous cross. This didn’t start with a Donald or a Hillary, and it most certainly will not end with them either. However, hatred did not start the world. Love did. And hatred will not conclude the world. Love will. Because not even the worst that humanity could unleash on the Son of God could contain His unquenchable mercy.
So together we stand with the sinner. We stand with the tax collector. We stand with bottom dwellers of the world, because that turns out to be where our Savior shows up. That turns out to be where God’s love becomes the most visible of all. But we don’t like to go there. That means we aren’t as great as we think we are. That means we have to admit we’re wrong. That means we have to confess our shortcomings in our day-to-day life. That means we’re human. It means we’re still children in the eyes of God.
And yet that’s exactly where we need to be, because that’s where God claimed us from the beginning. That’s when God pulled us out of the waters of baptism: cleansed, redeemed, saved for a lifetime and beyond. That’s when God told each and every one of us, “You are mine, and I will never ever let you go.” Nothing that can happen in all of this world can take that away from us. The hatred will not stop in two weeks’ time, but neither will God’s mercy. That lasts for an eternity. No one can stop that. And for that Greatest News of all, we most certainly give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon