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Oct 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 23, 2022



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community.            May the Goodness and Mercy of God be with you!

This past week, I had an encounter with Mercy! Really, it just came and overwhelmed me—God’s mercy.  You know that verse in Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….”  Well, maybe I just slowed down enough for mercy to catch up with me.  Sometimes the goodness and mercy of God can catch us off guard—and I mean that literally.  If our Ego-defenses are down, there’s a crack where the light can get in (hats off to Leonard Cohen here).  James Finley says that the crack is realized when our brokenness is deeply accepted.  That often happens in prayer.  It did for me.

Then this week I heard a quote by Julian of Norwich that “Mercy is God befriending our suffering,” so I followed the trail of Julian. Some of you know her writings quite well; but, if not, Julian was a celebrated mystic who documented her experiences with God in her book “Revelations of Divine Love.”  She was born in 1342 and lived through turbulent years for the Church and for the life of the people who were suffering the consequences of a long-drawn-out war and the Black Death, which was the most fatal pandemic in human history.  Julian came to understand that the central message for spiritual life is this: “God is love and it is only if one opens oneself to this love, totally and with total trust, and lets it become one’s sole guide in life, that all things are transfigured, true peace and true joy found, and one is able to radiate it.”

She taught that prayer is the deliberate and persevering action of the soul. “Prayer fastens the soul to God,” she says, and that “God is honored and truly delighted if we faithfully pray for His goodness, because His goodness is full and complete, and in it there is nothing lacking.  Goodness comes to meet our humblest needs.”

Goodness comes to meet our humblest needs; Mercy befriends our suffering;  Goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.

I’d like to begin our opening prayer with her words before I add mine.

“Lord, let not our souls be busy inns that have no room for thee or thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise, where thou mayest find fit company, where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away, and wide, sweet spaces kept for thee; where holy thoughts pass up and down.”  Yes, Lord, may mercy and goodness overtake us and help us to keep the pace of grace and give us the light and life our souls seek.  May we also be blessed with revelations of divine love.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Luke 18:9-14

Intro: Before we jump into these verses, take a breath

Remember who is telling the story – he is not a stranger
– we know this person – this storyteller
• we met him when as children we were dragged to church
◦ or when a friend first introduced us
◦ or when we picked up the Bible and read one of the Gospels
• we know Jesus, we trust him with our lives, and we love him
– it’s good for us to occasionally clear our calendar,
• perhaps go on retreat or find our own place of quiet solitude
◦ and there, renew the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus
• God sent Jesus into our world to reveal himself through him
◦ in Jesus we have discovered the depth of God’s love for us
◦ I will always want to know Jesus better than I do now

In this story, Jesus shows us a way to fix our broken prayers

Prayer is not the main point or purpose of the parable
– verses 9 and 14 provide Jesus’ specific purpose and lesson for telling it
• but in this series of talks, we’ve been culling through Luke,
◦ paying attention to each time Jesus prayed and everything he said about prayer
• prayer is at the heart of this story–it’s the central action
◦ and there’s some really good stuff in the parable on prayer

Luke provides an introduction to the parable
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt Luke 19:9

Luke tells us the type of people Jesus had in mind
– two words describe the behavior of those people: trusted and treated
• these are the essence of Christian spirituality
• they specify how we keep the two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-40)
◦ we love God by trusting him and love our neighbor by the way we treat them
– immediately we can see the problem that troubled Jesus
• the people he had in mind trusted in themselves
◦ specifically, that they were righteous
• and they treated others with contempt

The people Jesus is describing couldn’t see the problem with that
– they worked hard at obeying the commandments, at being righteous
• at least as far as they understood the Scriptures
◦ they were doing what they learned to do from the Torah
• as far as they were concerned,
◦ other people who did not obey the law and keep the commandments,
◦ belonged to the camp of the wicked, and deserved to be treated with disgust (e.g., Ps. 139:19-22)
– the key theme of the parable is the word “righteous”
• two men pray, but only one of them will be “justified” (to be declared righteous)
◦ righteous is a relational term – in love, do what’s right
◦ two verses worth committing to memory:
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Ro. 13:9-10)
• the tendency of religion is to forget the relational nature of righteousness,
◦ and substitute it with moral or legal righteousness
◦ the law may be hard to keep, but it’s a lot easier than to love as Jesus loves and calls us to love

The two main characters are like the two we met last week
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector Luke 18:10

What I mean, is that they are both standard stereotypes
– in the New Testament, Pharisees are the epitome of rigid legalism and hypocrisy
Tax collectors are classed with sinners
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at [Jesus’]disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk. 5:30)
– for most people listening to Jesus,
• the Pharisee would be the good guy (devoted to obeying God’s law in every detail)
• tax collector would be the bad guy (a defiled person, perhaps even a traitor to Israel)

First, Jesus lets us eavesdrop on the Pharisee’s prayer
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:11-12

He begins, “God, I thank you” – he is offering a prayer of gratitude,
– and for what? “That I am not like other men”
• do you hear what Jesus puts into his mouth–it’s classic!
• it’s like a Saturday Night Live parody
◦ Jesus definitely has a sense of humor
◦ except this is not as funny as it is sad
– there’s a difficulty translators have with the Greek text
• the Pharisee was either standing by himself or praying to himself–i.e., silently
◦ scholars debate which phrase is correct, but preachers prefers the secone
• people who trust in themselves, tend to pray to themselves
◦ but it may be, he kept his distance from the other worshipers to maintain his purity
◦ Pharisee means “separated one”

The Pharisee offers a short list of what he didn’t do and another list of what he did
– one of these words he uses deserves attention: “unjust”
• we came across the same word last week, “unrighteous”(v. 6)
– justice and righteousness are related,
• and appear together frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures
righteousness: doing what’s right given the circumstances
◦ it applies to our personal lives and all our interactions with others
justice: is also doing what’s right given the circumstances, but on a broader scale
◦ justice is how a society practices what is right rather than individuals
◦ if in a Christian context we were to make America great again, it would have to be based on this verse:
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people (Pr. 14:34)

Now we listen in on the tax collector’s prayer
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Luke 18:13

Like the Pharisee, the tax collector stands off from the others, but for a different reason
– his body language reveals what he feels about himself
• when Jesus prayed, he often looked up to heaven (Lk. 9:16)
◦ this man cannot do that
• thumping on his chest was a sign of grief and remorse,
◦ he was punishing himself, as it were
– his prayer is brief and to the point,
God, be merciful to me, a sinner! – or “the sinner”
• as if he were the worst

I have not said anything about various types of prayer
– it did not seem necessary, because lots of people have done this for us already
• or we have figured them out for ourselves
• typically we use the following:
◦ petition is prayer we pray for ourselves
◦ intercession and supplication are generally prayers for others
◦ communion is resting in our closeness with Jesus and the Father
◦ confession is admitting our sin and seeking forgiveness
◦ praise and thanksgiving (speak for themselves)
– the tax collector offers a prayer of confession
• but notice, he does not mention any specific sin
◦ the Psalms contain many confessions of sin (see especially Psalms 51 & 32)
◦ but never confess anything specific
• that leaves the confession open-ended, so that we can pray them too
◦ it also eliminates the need to comb through minutia to seek forgiveness

Jesus illustrates how these men themselves in prayer

Not intentionally, perhaps – they may not even realize they’re doing this
– nevertheless, coming to God in prayer exposes us to what he sees
• in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote:
I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted [justified]. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor. 4:4)
Jean Mouroux observed, “These words mean that he recognizes that the Christian has such a partial awareness of his actions, that his seeing himself as justified does not by any means mean that he is justified, and that the final judgment on the value of his acts can only be made by God; it means that the ‘heart’s intentions’ are absolutely dark secrets,’ to oneself as well as to others . . . .”
• this would explain why the Pharisee could trust in himself and treat others with contempt, even while he was praying
Gerald May, “I think most people have trouble with prayer because prayer is really an act of love, and therefore demands vulnerability. As with love, the more we try to control prayer, the less prayer can happen. Yet the desire to defend and protect oneself is understandable. Prayer is where we most directly face the truth of ourselves and of the world: it is risky business indeed.
[Prayer] should be the most honest, loving enterprise of the human heart [but] sometimes becomes one of the most dishonest.”
– our prayer–even if dishonest– reveals us
• that is what happens in the parable
◦ and it’s what explains the surprising reversal
“I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other” Luke 18:14a
• Jesus wants us coming to God in honesty and humility
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” Luke 18:14b
◦ we do not have to hide anything from God!
◦ we just need to be honest, humble, and to trust God to be loving and merciful

Conclusion: It is not necessary for us to identify with the Pharisee or tax collector

We are probably both
I get upset with Pharisee-type Christians
– their unholy zeal for right (their) doctrine,
• their certainty they know what’s right and the precise ways that everyone else is wrong
• I am upset by their misrepresentation of God and Jesus
◦ and, consequently, how they turn many others away from God and Christianity
– but then Jesus tells me, “Yes, but you must love them too”
• and then I have to pray, “Be merciful to me the sinner”

What have I learned from this parable?
That when I pray, I need to know myself as honestly as I can
I must present that self, with all its strengths and weaknesses to God
And from him I must receive the love that will warm my heart to others
For prayer moves along a vertical and horizontal axis
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Mt. 5:23-24)

Trust God and treat others as you would have them treat you,
for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 7:12)

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