So in the world of homiletics, you have (unofficially) several different options. You have sermons, homilies, the dreaded sermonette, and the few words about the Collect of the Day. Sermons can be long or short, but most often carry the connotation of what you might hear at a Baptist church for 45 minutes to an hour. Homilies are shorter and usually have one point – perhaps I preach homilies, as understood to much of the Christian world. Sermonettes are dreaded because the great John Stott once said the “Sermonettes create Christianettes.” Sermonettes are usually 3 to 4 minute collections of thoughts. You can guess what a few words about the Collect looks like.
I tell you this because for the next few weeks, you might be getting a few Sermonettes. Many of you know that I don’t feel so hot. I am, or hopefully was, a couple steps away from clinical exhaustion, and my doctor has ordered me to drop all non-essentials and rest, lest I drop altogether.
So perhaps my ego has gotten in the way of my health, which would not be the first time for me or for religious leaders in general.
In the story we get from Luke today, there are two men. One is an egotistical religious leader, and the other is a tax collector who knows his place.
Both of them have done a good thing: they’ve gone to see God, to be in God’s house, but they’ve gone through the doors of the Temple in very different ways.
Now, it’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who walk into a room and say, “There you are,” and people who walk in and say, “Here I am!”
The Pharisee, obviously, walked in and said to God, “Here I am!” He went to present himself to God, to show God how wonderfully suited he was to be in His presence, as if he was doing the Lord a favor by being there. “I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” He actually thanked God for how awesome he was.
Then there’s the tax collector, who walked in, found God there, and said, “There you are!” He went not to present himself to God as much as in the hope that God would be present to him, a sinner, one who is not worthy of being in the presence of God. “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” He thanked God for how awesome God was.
Jesus tells us that it was this man, the sinner, who went home justified, rather than the Pharisee. What does justified mean in this context? It means to be in right relationship with God. It means knowing who God is, knowing who you are, and knowing that when you show up to church, who’s doing who the favor.
What is this parable saying to us today? It might be saying that accomplishments are good and righteousness is great, but you still can’t earn your way into the Kingdom of God, here or in the hereafter. To be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, we must first be justified, put into right relationship with God; and being justified is not something you can earn or win – Jesus has won that for us. It’s our job, so to speak, to remember that; to let that give our souls rest so that we can give our egos a rest. It’s our job to walk into this place, feel the presence of God, and say, “There you are.”