Summary: A Reformation Sunday Sermon based on the grace of God making us into new creations.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Grace of God - Re-forming us!
Today, is reformation Sunday. It is a day we decorate the church in red to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit… moving in the hearts of people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingly, and John Knox. We remember how 500 years ago… these men stood up against a corrupt church that was selling lots in heaven for monthly mortgage payments.
All in all, the church’s theology back then wasn’t completely out of left field. It was based on the idea that we have to earn heaven… no… even more… MUST earn heaven. You can see that theology at play all throughout the Old Testament… can even catch glimpses of it in the New Testament when you sneak a peak at a book like James.
We must be good Christians. We must live good lives. We must avoid sin. We must do good things. All in all it doesn’t sound too bad… right? But then you push it… just a little more… you see, no matter how hard we try… no matter how good we are… we will forever and always FALL! It is like a letter recently submitted to the advice columnist Dear Abby. The letter reads: Dear Abby, I am 44 and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits. She signed her name, “Rose.” Abby replies: “Dear Rose: So would I.” You see… none of us are perfect – we all have flaws. We are humans… all humans fall down. And then what happens if we need to be perfect to earn heaven?
500 years ago the church had an answer… for every time you fall you make confession… for all the times you are going to fall… you gaze upon holy relics to earn favor… for all the times you will fall and don’t even realize it… you can pay a price… you buy an indulgence… and reserve your spot in heaven… printed on paper… notarized… stamped… and filed with the rest of the deeds, a 150 by 150 lot… in your name… you can even pay extra for an oceanfront view.
And men like Luther and Calvin… could no longer stand by and let the gospel of Jesus Christ be ignored.
***** And so it was, 500 years ago that the Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church doors. And people began to hear the real gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a gospel that is as true today as it was 2000 years ago. We fall down, and Jesus picks us up… every single time.
That is the one thing that connects us all. Whether it was 2000 years ago, 500 years ago… or today, everyone suffers from the same thing – we are fallen. In the book of Romans, Paul puts it in plain language. He writes, “There is no difference between people. Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.” We’re all in that same fix – we’ve fallen. The good news is that God is willing to forgive when we confess. That is the heart of the message taught during the Reformation… it just so happens to be the same message being taught in our Scripture text today.
It has been a while since we read the text… so let’s review. There are two men being presented in this parable of Jesus’. Unfortunately… 2000 years later… we have lost a bit of the cultural significance behind these two men. I guess we could look at it this way… have you all seen one of those old spaghetti westerns where the villain is always wearing a top hat and a really long black mustache and the hero is always a fearless cowboy dressed in white… with a name like Stainless Steel! Its one of those plays that they sell peanuts to audience to throw at the villain, and have people holding up signs encouraging us to cheer for our hero and boo at the villain.