First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon & Weekly Bulletin~ October 27, 2019

10-27-2019 Bulletin PDF

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. All Your Heart, All Your Being, All Your Strength
    3. Ever been in an argument when you were both arguing for the same thing?
      1. Furiously agreeing \ got a hold of the wrong ends of the right stick
      2. Made assumptions, didn’t hear what they were saying, mis interpreted how they were using words, or understood a word two different ways
  • Many key words in today’s scriptures and themes have this potential
    1. Sinner
    2. Stewardship
    3. Pharisee
    4. So on
  1. In Luke – Jesus continues to discuss what’s important in prayer
    1. Again, very nice of them to tell us exactly what we are to take away from it
    2. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.
      1. Yet, this passage often gets interpreted too extremely, in multiple directions
    3. Pharisee is a more sympathetic character than they are often portrayed
      1. Again, in terms of their religious observances, they are doing the right things. They fast, which is a spiritual discipline, and they fulfill their duties to the temple and the community by tithing 10% of what they earn
      2. Just like a good, solid, church member. Doing what they are supposed to to get by in this hard time, and they are trying to maintain their religion in the face of societal pressures
  • The issue is that they are not content in their own selves, but must measure themselves compared to others.
  1. Tax collector – Sinner –
    1. Reviled because of perceived greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers
    2. Yet, he didn’t try to cover up or justify his position.
  • Yet, we know nothing about how they lived their life
  1. We are always have both impulses inside us
    1. Exterior vs. interior measures of faith
      1. Pharisee conflated the ideas that doing good means that they are doing better than others
      2. Tax collector – does not see their worth as a child of God
    2. Danger of “self-righteousness”
      1. Distance our selves from others, cut ourselves off from empathy
      2. In reality, both the Pharisee and the tax collector were stuck in the system of Roman occupation of Jerusalem and came to different accommodations.
  • Using only outward measures. Checklist.
  1. Danger of “sinner”
    1. I am very leery of the word sinner, as it carries a lot of cultural baggage. So often, when people, particularly people in power label people as sinners, it is used to incite guilt in the person, or to discredit them.
    2. In this story, Jesus didn’t call the man a sinner, the tax collector called himself that.
  • In a different Bible story, Jesus said, let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone.
  1. Hasidic teaching of the two slips of paper
    1. There is a Hasidic teaching that says you should always carry two slips of paper with you in your pockets. On one slip of paper, write the words “For my sake the world was created “On the second slip of paper, write the words “I am but dust and ashes.”
    2. Put these in your pockets. These messages are now available to you whenever you need them. Which message you should reach for at any given time will depend on what your needs are at that particular moment.
    3. This is the direction that Jesus wants us to head towards.
    4. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.
  2. Inward vs. outward measures of success, faith
    1. VERY counter-cultural idea
    2. Using outward measures to achieve inner goals does not match up
      1. Task to be finished vs. journey that continues on in new ways
    3. Deuteronomy – one of the central passages of Jewish faith
      1. Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!
        1. Central prayer, the Shema, prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening
        2. Put nothing before God – Not our outward measures. Not our successes, winnings, or perceived status compared to others
      2. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
        1. Jesus requotes this.
        2. Reminds us that we dedicate all of our selves to God
          1. Heart – shown by tax collector, inner condition and being, seat of courage – intangible self
          2. Being – body, – tangible self
          3. Strength (ability, gifts, talents) – shown by Pharisee
        3. Integrate this into each part of your life – it should frame your present, be affixed to you, and passed on to the future
      3. Jesus wants the inner focus, and values it highly
        1. Tried to come up with a Bad word association ”at least the sinner is aware of the inner“. I’ll keep working on that.
        2. No dichotomy, not a choice between the pharisee and the tax collector in the story. Be both
        3. Humble and giving.
      4. Stewardship of everything God’s given us
        1. Stewardship Sunday is about so much more than just annual pledges, yet it continues to be reduced down to that.
        2. Easier to quantify external measures – budget, attendance, etc.
        3. Danger of focusing on church as the end, and not the means to the end.
        4. internal measures and goals.
          1. Main valid question is, “is it worth it?”
          2. Are the promises you make of your self, your heart, being, and strength, going towards that which is “worth it?”
        5. Do you think Is it worth it?
          1. As a Pharisee and as a sinner?
          2. Continue to do the work of faith, as it is unending.
            1. Not in a tedious way but in a joyful one
              1. Again, don’t confuse the goal and the means to achieve it
  • Why I think this congregation is “worth it”
    1. It embraces the wide welcome of Christ. Doesn’t seek to use fear of sin to control or shame people.
    2. It is a worshipping community that has what many people are seeking,
      1. a way of faith that engages individual thought and belief, and values collective wisdom and faith experiences
      2. It recognizes the freedom and accountability of that style of belief
    3. We are a church that sometimes furiously agrees with itself
      1. and relationship is what helps get beyond the confusion
    4. Seeks to be honest about its faults – not perfect
      1. Wrestles with the same tendencies as the Pharisee in today’s reading
      2. Doesn’t handle conflict well and tries to avoid it
  • Finds it hard to hear that the church of the future will be radically different than the past, focused on old, external measures to gauge “goodness”
    1. Not about attendance, but changed lives
  1. Yet when it remembers that it is sinful and is also beloved children of God, it helps make room for others needing that same forgiveness and acceptance.
  2. History and tradition help it move forward, not hold it back
  3. God is Still speaking
  • Stewardship Sunday
    1. So, if this is a place that feeds your soul, that inspires you to be part of God’s work,
    2. If you see this as a place that lives into our stewardship scripture
      1. the trees of the Lord are watered abundantly … in them birds build their nests.          Psalm 104:16-17

Deuteronomy 6:4-9   Page ____________________

This reading from Deuteronomy is one of the most influential passages in Judaism. It forms the basis for the shema prayer, which is prayed twice a day.

4 Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. 9 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

Luke 18:9-14   Page ________________________

This reading from Luke continues Jesus’ discussion last week about persisting in prayers. 

9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”