Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25

Track 1: Freedom from Condemnation

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Last Sunday we talked about the New Covenant, where God would write his laws on our hearts, Today, let us explore how God doer the writing that he promised.

Through the Prophet Joel, God spoke to Israel:

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.

And my people shall never again
be put to shame.

Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.   (Joel 2:27-28)

On the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled. The Apostle Peter preached by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, the Church of Christ was born, and the New Covenant was now in effect.

The key to the new covenant was the pouring out of God’s Spirit. Jesus for told that this would happen. In speaking to his disciples, he said:

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.   (John 16:4-11)

The New Covenant has to do with sin, righteousness, and judgment. Only the Spirit of God can establish the effectiveness of this covenant. God is a loving God, but he is a just God. He must punish sin. This he has done on the cross where his Son bled and dies. Jesus bore all our sin, and God the Father accepted his sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. On the cross a righteousness was established, a righteousness based on faith in Jesus and not on any of our good works. Our good works were not good enough. Lastly, and perhaps the most misunderstood part of the New Covenant is condemnation and judgment. The Apostle Paul wrote:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?.   (Romans 8:31-35)

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The condemnation belongs to Satan alone, and his minions.

The Apostle Paul goes on:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:38-39)

We have not been condemned. The ruler of this world has been condemned, that Satan. He has been condemned for ever over what he has attempted to do. Satan is said to be the accuser of the “brethren.” He condemns us with his own condemnation. He trick is to say exactly the opposite of what is true and then convince us that what he says is true. Let us not fall for it.

When Satan thought he was victorious, he was defeated. When he was defeated, the power of sin was defeated.

What happens when we attempt to stop sin on our own? We run into a wall. The psalmist wrote:

Our sins are stronger than we are,
but you will blot them out.

Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there!
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.

Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.   (Psalm 65:3-5)

Our sins are stronger than we are? Have we experienced the great difficulty of ridding ourselves of sin? The Apostle Paul did:

For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.   (Romans 7:18-19)

We cannot win any victory over sin on our own. We must put our trust and hope in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we do not accept his victory we are left still dealing with sin. This awareness of sin without the redemption of the cross caused twisted thinking to take place.

In today’s Gospel we are given a clear picture of this thinking:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

The humble tax collector knew that he had no right to justify himself before God. Even though the second covenant had not yet been established, he was well on his way to understanding that he needed the mercy of God.

Where do we stand today? Are we free from condemnation or are we joining Satan in condemning others? The Apostle Paul wrestled with sin, but he came to this final conclusion:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:57)

 

Track 2: God’s  Strength Working in Us

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Reading from Luke:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income,”   (Luke 18:9-12)

The Pharisee was comparing his walk with God with that of someone else. Why would be doing that? Perhaps he realized that his walk with God was less than it should be. from A Pharisee claimed perfection. A Pharisee wanted perfection. Realizing that he has not justified before God, he wanted to console himself by believing that he was, at least, ahead of someone else.

Sin was weighing on the Pharisee. Do we ever feel the weight of sin? The Apostle Paul did. In Romans we read:

I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.   (Romans 7:18-19)

The difficulty with sin is that we cannot do anything about. The Pharisee was relying on justification by his good works. But this left him feeling empty. His good works were not enough.

On the other hand, the tax collector in the parable had simply given up on defeating sin:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:13-14)

The tax collector realized that he was not justified before God. But note, that in the parable Jesus says that the tax collector “went home justified.” How could that be? It has to do with the power and good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our justification before God through his death on the cross.

Giving up on justifying ourselves is the best thing we can do. Self-justification does not work. The tax collector was well on his way of understanding the good news of the Gospel. He threw himself on the mercy of God. This is what God needs to hear from us. Do we ask for his mercy? Dd we humble ourselves before God. Do we acknowledge our sin?

We need to give up trying to defeat sin. But there is a deeper step. We need God’s power to defeat sin. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.   (Psalm  84:4)

As Christian disciples, we are on a pilgrimage. God wants to eliminate the power of sin in our lives, the very thing that ww cannot do. He is able to do that when we put our full trust in him for justification. We need to continually do that. As we do, God pours into our hearts the power to defeat sin.

The good news is that we can have victory over sin. But the victory is only when we identify with Christ’s victory. The Apostle Paul, who wrestled with sin and lost, came to the realization that Jesus has won the victory for us. Writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul joyfully exclaimed:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:57)

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Filed under Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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