Sunday Service 23rd October - Harvest
Who are we praying to?
Hymn 226: God, whose farm is all creation
Time for all
Hymn 229: We plough the seeds and scatter
Reading Luke 18: 9-14 John
Hymn 103: Fill your hearts with joy and gladness
Hymn 548: Approach my soul the mercy seat
Welcome to our reflection for 23rd of October.
At this service the church will be celebrating harvest and folk will be encouraged to bring along food for the food bank.
Harvest is a thanksgiving service where we look at what God has done for us and as an act of thanksgiving we give of what we have in the hope that it can help others who might be struggling.
Our harvest gift to you is to consider how we might talk to God in a way that is a blessing to us.
But we will listen to that after our prayer and reading from John.
Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector...
We are told by Luke that Jesus told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everyone else. The problem I have with that judgement call is that it in itself is a statement of judgement, and once you start that where do you finish?
Fore instance, someone else could have written the intro and said, ‘this parable was told to Luke, who was sure of his own goodness and despised Pharisees.’
It is so easy for us to see the wrong attitude in others and miss that same attitude in ourselves. It is so easy for us to dehumanize others.
And even in this parable, if we read it the way Luke wants us to, it is easy for us to dehumanize the Pharisees in the same way that the Pharisee had dehumanized the tax collector.
I remember way back in 2000 Yvette Cloete’s home being attacked. She worked at Royal Gwent Hospital (Newport) as a paediatrician and a local group found out about this and confused it with her being a paedophile and vandalised her house.
Yvette had to leave her house for a while as she was so shaken by the event.
How could that crowd so easily dehumanize someone who had dedicated her life to help people?
And it dawned on me later how quick the news reporters were to condemn the crowd.
How could those locals be so thick as to confuse the two words paedophile with paediatrician?
And in doing so dehumanized the crowd; ‘They were a bunch of violent thickos that didn’t deserve anyone helping them.’
Whereas now we realise that at that time there were thousands of children, many of them in care, being abused and the police not only ignored it, they blamed the victims. They saw these under-aged girls as willing participants.
Refusing to believe that the girls felt they had no choice because no one was there to help them, they were alone facing these paedophile rings.
So if the police weren’t going to help them, who was on their side?
So how do we read this parable without taking the high ground?
How do we read this parable without believing it is for someone else; those other people who are the bad guys?
What if we read this parable believing that Jesus might have been criticizing the Pharisees, but that he also cared for them, wanted to help them?
So here’s the deal.
What if Jesus respected the Pharisees?
I think he did, that is why he was always talking with them.
I think Jesus tried to see the best in the Pharisees.
Remember, the Pharisees were trying to find a good relationship with God.
You could argue that they were trying too hard and instead of trying to have a relationship with God they were trying to force God into having a relationship with them.
With all their rules and regulations they were trying to be good enough for God, which was fine in some ways, but because they were trying so hard they tended to get annoyed at those who weren’t trying so hard.
Worse than that they cut themselves off from others so that the world’s evil couldn’t contaminate them and ruin their chances of being with a good God who wanted people to be good.
What they couldn’t see was that God is love, and anything that stops us from loving others, cutting ourselves of from others, was also going to cut us off from a God of love.
So that is one problem.
The Pharisees are trying to do the right thing, but in the wrong way.
The other problem was that the system was against the Pharisees.
In those days people prayed differently.
You went to the Temple and you prayed out loud.
That meant everyone could hear you...in the same way as in this parable everyone could hear the tax collector and the Pharisee.
Can you imagine how restrictive that is?
Imagine that was the way we did things here.
How would you feel if you are praying about debt problems and everyone can hear you?
Or if you were going through a rough patch in your marriage, and everyone is listening in and before the day is out everyone in Alva knows about it?
Or even talking about good things done for good motives but you are unsure about?
You’ve taken out a loan and given the money to your son because your son can’t get a loan for that amount. If he doesn’t get that money then he could loss his house.
The only trouble is that you haven’t told your husband.
Well you come along to church that day and you give that to God, ‘Should I tell him?’ you ask God.
Well of course, but you need God’s strength.
The only trouble is that has all been said out loud and your husband’s bowling buddy has overheard it, so he phones up to commiserate before the wife tells her husband what she has done.
Imagine you’re a Pharisee. Everyone looks up to you, it is a burden that is tough to handle. If you are struggling then that might make others struggle, so you have to be strong, not just for your sake...but for the family’s sake that depend on you, for the communities sake who see you as an example to follow and find a good relationship with God.
And now you are going to the Temple to pray.
What do you say?
Jesus knew that was a problem.
‘Er God, I’m struggling to put food on the table.
I’m being fleeced in the market because I can’t barter like others. I have to presume that they are telling the truth when I know they are selling their goods at ridiculous prices.
I am struggling with the wife just now. I don’t know what I have done but I can’t seem to do anything right. And everyone else is doing well.’
He can’t say that.
If he says that then everyone hears and will be saying to themselves.
‘Well if the Pharisees can’t make it work then there is no use in trying.’
And now he feels he has let God down.
So instead he says the exact same thing, only differently.
I’m being fleeced in the market because I can’t barter like others. I have to presume that they are telling the truth when I know they are selling their goods at ridiculous prices becomes the more positive I’M NOT GREEDY OR DISHONEST.
I am struggling with the wife just now. I don’t know what I have done but I can’t seem to do anything right becomes the more positive I AM NOT AN ADULTERER.
And that is where Jesus sees the real problem.
This Pharisee isn’t praying to God, he is praying to everyone around him who is listening in. And because he knows he is praying to everyone around him, he isn’t expecting God to answer him.
He’s not talking to God so he doesn’t expect God to talk to him.
Who are we trying to talk to?
The true basic of prayer is working out who we are actually trying to talk to.
If we want to talk to other people in our prayers then forget the prayer and just talk to other people.
If we need to have a conversation with ourselves and work things out in our head then forget the prayer and just have a conversation with ourselves.
Jesus is saying to the Pharisee, and to us as well,
If we need to talk to God, then forget about everyone else, and just talk to God.
That’s why the tax collector felt more right with God, because he was trying to talk to God, not to those around him.
The tax collector found a quite place, no one around him, and was just honest with who he was and how much he needed God. It is as simple as that.
There are other aides out there...
We open the church for people just to find a quiet place to pray.
If you want you can find books of prayers to help you.
For a while my wife used to use the hymnbook and use the hymns as prayer starters.
You can write your prayers, I have a journal that the only person who has access to it is me, and every morning I write some prayers.
Recently I have been reading of a Russian tradition were you just say the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ and you say that phrase over and over throughout the day.
Now it may seem too simple an thing to do, just saying ‘Lord Jesus Christ, gave mercy on me.’
But the book told a story with it. Supposedly one of the early church fathers gave the example of thieves who approach this house to steal from it. But when they get to the house they hear people talking inside, so they go away because it is too dangerous to steal from a house where everyone is in and awake. In the same way when evil tries to steal God’s peace from our heart, if they arrive and hear the words of this prayer they wander round our heart but fear to enter because God is already in the house (from Henri Nouwen; Reaching Out)’
Like everything else in faith, try it out; if it works use it, if it doesn’t then dump it.
But in the end often it is very simple...
If we need to talk to God, then forget about everyone else, and just talk to God.
Find a quiet place, a quiet time, away from distractions, and just be honest with God about how you are doing.
The truth is that only those who have been completely honest with God know the peace and joy that God loves them as they are, not as who they are pretending to be.
Just knowing that truth, changes our life beyond measure.
Let us pray
Our prayer today will be a time of silence and repeating the Russian prayer tradition.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. (x3)