This week I have been playing listening to one of my favorite songs.
It is a song by that famous singer, Larry the Cucumber.
It’s called: “Cooperation”
“Cooperation gets the ship in shape
Cooperation makes everything great
Let’s all help to turn the tide
Put our differences aside
Here’s the plan
Lend a hand
“Cooperation” is a word that I believe we have deleted from our vocabulary.
We have forgotten what it means to work together.
And we have become very comfortable with an “Us Vs. Them” ideology.
You see it every day especially in religion and politics.
It’s become more and more a “my way is the only way” kind of world.
And God doesn’t like it when we don’t cooperate.
Today’s Gospel Lesson explains why we don’t cooperate.
Because we spend a lot of time bragging and not a lot of time begging.
The Pharisee spends a lot of time in his prayer bragging.
Not bragging ABOUT God, mind you,
Bragging TO God.
If the Pharisee wore a t-shirt it would read “Look How Humble I Am!” on the front and have a handprint on his shoulder where he has given himself pats on the back.
Then the Pharisee plays the game most of us are familiar with:
The Haves and Have-Nots.
The Pharisee believes he is one of the “haves.”
And if we were to be really honest:
Haven’t we all said this?
Haven’t we looked at another person’s circumstances and said, “Phew! Glad I am not that person!”
On the inside, that is.
But the Pharisee does not keep in the inside what he feels, he says it out loud for all to hear.
Let me remind you that this Pharisee is a self-proclaimed “Man of God” who has no problem reminding people about that.
And he has no problem bragging how awesome he and his life is.
And he has problem comparing his life with the life of “those people.”
“Especially the man over there.”
This is still a problem today.
I see too many Christians who talk about how blessed their life is, how God has given them money, fortune, fame, success, and they like to boast about it on TV, radio, social media.
And I see too many Christians, especially Pastors, who spend a lot of time preaching on the differences between “the special people” and “those people.”
I have seen and heard and read some Pastors who like to talk about how THEY are worthy of being a Preacher and how others are not.
When I see this Bragging Brigade, I want to shout out “Let me know when you want to preach about the Gospel, ok?”
And then I shut them out.
Being a Christian is not to tell people “I am better than you.”
So that is what is going on with the Pharisee,
Let’s see what the Tax Collector does.
The Tax Collector comes to God from a different angle.
Rather than coming from a place of delight,
the tax collector comes from a place of desperation.
He does not come to God to brag,
He comes to beg.
Begging for forgiveness and mercy.
We are not sure why he is asking for forgiveness, but back in Jesus’ time tax collectors were not the some of the most popular people in society.
In fact, they were some of the most hated.
Tax collectors were Jewish men who worked for the enemy Roman Empire.
They took money from their Jewish brothers and sisters and gave it to the enemy.
And many tax collectors took more money than they were legally bound to attain.
And when you mess with people’s money, people are going to notice.
So that might be WHY he is asking for mercy.
But there is another WHY,
WHY does he come to God in the first place?
Because he knows he CANNOT find the ANSWER in himself.
His ANSWER, his only HOPE, comes from God.
THAT is the lesson Jesus is teaching us today.
All we have comes from God.
Rather than having a t-shirt that reads “I am good” we need to be wearing shirts that say, “GOD is good”
A key part of our stewardship appeal this year has focused on just that.
Every thing we have comes from God…and God is VERY generous.
Our giving to St. Paul’s is our way of sharing God’s generosity.
Actually, it should read “God Is Good…To Everyone.”
And because God is Good to everyone,
Jesus teaches us over and over again to treat everyone with the same love that God has given us.
The attitude the Pharisee had towards other people was unacceptable to Jesus.
And it is still unacceptable.
Think about our society now.
Do these sound familiar?
“That politician is evil.”
“That church is CRAZY.”
“That pastor is judgmental.”
“That guy is a loser!”
“That religion is all about death and destruction.”
I know for a fact I have heard these things,
Because, sadly, in the past the one who has said these things is me
But thanks be to God,
in this Gospel lesson,
Jesus opens my mind and heart to a new way of thinking.
The only way to think.
This lesson reminds me that I am called…not as a pastor…but as a Christian
to walk humbly before God,
and not shout hate and disrespect to God’s children.
This is not just my calling.
It’s our calling.
And we need to do better.
And it’s hard.
We are quick to judge another person’s sins.
We are quick to separate
We are quick to make this about us and “those people.”
But now all that has changed.
God has changed the rules.
And it changed on the Cross.
When Jesus dies on the cross, everything changes.
The divisions that humanity makes are gone.
The boundaries we place in our hearts.
The closed doors we create in our minds.
Those are all gone.
We are made anew.
And our lives and purpose are renewed.
When we don’t work together, we abandon our calling.
And we abandon God.
But God is still pulling for us to get it right.
Pleading with us to do right.
And to do it right is to remember that we have been made one people through Baptism.
We have been Brought together to proclaim GOD’s saving deeds.
We have been sent to serve and love…NOT to ourselves…but to OUR neighbors.
Let us be grateful for what we have been given
Let us be gracious to those who have been placed around us.
And next Sunday when we make our financial commitment and sign our names to helping other people.
Let us become better people.
Let us be what this world needs.
Christians who do not use terms like:
But use terms like:
“Instead of criticizing
Let’s agree to more high-fiving
Let’s say amen to being friends
Say amen to being friends