Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Joel 2:23-32; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

God’s prophecy through the mouth of Joel might easily come from the mouth of our President as he tries to rally the enthusiasm and hope of a people who have suffered mightily at the hands of those responsible for our economic downturn and the Great Recession.

In the case of the captives who have been living in Persia after the fall of Babylon, the same effect is hoped: take heart, the good days are coming when there will be plenty again.

But right behind that is Joel’s prophecy that the great and terrible day is coming, heralding the end of time. Yet those willing to call upon the name of the LORD God Almighty will be saved and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD has called.

Whom has the LORD called on this morning that we have a baptism at the 10:45 service? The short answer is that all of us are those whom God calls if we take to heart the promises we made each time we rehearse the Baptismal Covenant.

In fact, the answer for all who observe the requirements of the Baptismal Covenant should be not to fear for we are a resurrection people, bought with the self-sacrifice and obedience of Jesus Christ.

All of us are called to make a difference in God’s world, not just in the life inside this building. When the marketplace has failed to provide adequate shelter, food and medical care to all who live in this country, who then?

When regulations are eased and inspections don’t occur, who in the end suffers? We all do. Jesus is very clear that it is our obligation to make a difference for those who have been marginalized and they don’t even need to be Americans.

In this farewell to Timothy, Paul returns to an earlier analogy comparing himself to a soldier, an athlete (not on steroids) and a farmer.

Paul found that the farmer is the one who keeps the faith, for a farmer plants without knowing future temperature fluctuations, the amount of rain which will fall, or that the seed is vibrant enough to sprout and grow.

And again Paul reiterates his faith in the resurrection and his entry into the heavenly kingdom.

With all the challenges facing us at this moment in our history, can we pray for the faith of the farmer? I hope so, for all prayer makes a difference.

Jesus told the parable to some who trusted in their own ‘right-living’ and thought less of others. He was addressing a particular group but we all can take some benefit from a reflection on this.

In the Greek-influenced world in which Jesus ministered there was no worse sin than to have overweening pride in oneself and one’s accomplishments. The Greek word is hubris.

Jesus here applies it to those in the Jewish religious system who held others in contempt while patting themselves on the back. When the Pharisee brags of his accomplishments of fasting and tithing, he is elevating himself without cause, for observant Jews of this era were expected to fast on Monday and Thursday and give the tithe. He is doing no more than what was expected of him.

The tax collector, on the other hand, we know little about other than he felt he was unworthy to approach the Holy of Holies because he was a sinner. We do not know if he also fasted and gave the tithe but we do know that he earned his living by the taxation of others and was considered a collaborator by the Zealots. And we know that he did not feel a false pride.

I was thinking of a contemporary analogy to Jesus’ story and living in Cornwall, I found it easy to use a sports analogy. I see many of the actions of the pros when they accomplish an on the field play mirrored in our children. After all, they look to the best in particular sports as examples. But such demonstrative behavior can breed a sense of triumphalism which is unworthy of a true athlete.

It was not too many years ago that a girl broke the jaw of a Cornwall soccer player after losing in a playoff match. It was uncalled for but I fear it is the flip side of triumph—the desire to hurt when one has not triumphed.

I watched just a bit of the postgame interviewing in the Yankee locker room last night after the loss to the Rangers. There were no walk-off home run antics but reflection.

We all want to win, but life is more about overcoming adversity. That is a lesson being lived out in the multi-trauma centers treating casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan. That is where I suspect the physical accomplishments are truly heroic.

What will we teach our children as they engage in competitive sport and learn lessons for life? I believe that sportsmanship is above all about playing hard but fair and while playing to win, always remembering what it means to have lost. Life goes on, and we are still called to love our neighbor even if they rooted against the Yankees.

Amen.