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Following the service, a young man who was soon to be ordained a priest found himself alone in the sacristy with the Bishop. Unsure of what to say, he thought to compliment the Bishop: “Your Grace, that was a great sermon, at times I couldn’t tell when you were talking about God and when you were talking about bishops.”
The Bishop responded, “Young man, in your situation, you would do well to blur the distinction.”
I suppose we all sometimes begin to think we’re just a tad bit better than we think we are. As we’ve discussed before, we compare ourselves to others. Everything from our station in society to our work or the car we drive, is a possible point of comparison, so when we look at someone else’s life or things, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves either coveting or judging ourselves better than the other. In Scripture, Jesus also demonstrates how we compare ourselves with regard to our spiritual lives. You’ll recall the religious leader who went into the Temple to pray and first began by thinking very well of himself before God, then turned, and looking behind him saw a tax collector and said to God, “I’m sure glad I’m not a pathetic loser like him.” Today’s Gospel is making a similar point.
Pilgrims from Galilee had been traveling to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Pilate, being the nutcase that he is, believed them ready to start a rebellion, so he sent out his guards and had them butchered. Jesus response, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Put another way, “Because they were killed in such a way, do you think they were worse sinners than you? Do you think you are better than them?” Jesus answers his own question: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” In other words, unless you repent, disaster will fall upon you as well, whether in this life or the next. Same is true of those eighteen that the tower fell on. Were they far greater sinners than the residents of Jerusalem? Were they more deserving of such a death? No, but disaster awaits all those that do not repent.
At the time, and even today, we can mistakenly believe that those who suffer from disaster are deserving, but as Jesus says, The Lord, “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” But, in the context of our reading, the blessings and or disasters of this life, are not a sign or promise of the next, that is why all, the righteous and the unrighteous are called to repent. You know the verse well, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but as an aside, whenever you hear or quote that verse, remember that you are only quoting a portion of the sentence. The whole sentence is this, “There is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” We are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. All have sinned, but through grace and faith in Jesus, we are redeemed. You can’t say the one “A” word, but you can say “Amen!” Even in Lent there is Good News.
Having been with you all long enough, I don’t see any of you acting like the Pharisee in the Temple, that is, looking at your neighbor in the pew and thinking, “I’m glad I’m not like that loser.” If anything, I believe we look at one another and wish we could be as righteous as our neighbor in the pew. The truth is, we all struggle with sin and we are all working to overcome it. We don’t gather in church because we’re the holiest of holies. We gather in this place because we are sinners in need of grace that comes only from a loving God. I’ve shared this with you before, but it is worth hearing many times. It is from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey: “The Church is not the society of those labelled virtuous. It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints. When I say in the Creed, ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ I am saying that I believe that there is a divine society, and the risen Christ is the glory in the midst of it, and the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Wherever its members respond to the reality about themselves and their calling, the marks of saintliness do indeed begin to appear.”
When we gather, if we will humbly respond to the reality about ourselves, that is our sinfulness, and if we will confess those sins, then the signs of God’s glory and the Risen Christ will begin to appear in our midst.
Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit. Straighten our crookedness. Fill our emptiness. Dull the edge of our pride. Sharpen the edge of our humility. Light the fires of our love. Quench the flames of our desires. Let us see ourselves as you see us That we may see You. Amen.