|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|➤Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
|Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 16, 2016||Proper 24, Year C||Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 9, 2016||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 2, 2016||Proper 22, Year C||II Timothy 1:1-14|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 25, 2016||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
|Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 4, 2016||Proper 18, Year C||Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33|
|Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 28, 2016||Proper 17, Year C||Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14|
Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:October 23, 2016
Scripture: II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 25, Year C
“Pharisee and Tax Collector" -Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872)
We Americans love to fight!
After all, we won our independence as a nation by fighting the British.
We love our sports and the vicarious fighting that goes on in team rivalries. The headline from Monday’s sports section describing last week’s Redskin’s victory over the Eagles is three words in huge one inch high letters. “Smash and grab.”
We fight over ideas, over rights, over politics, over religion.
We’re tempted to take offense over anything that disagrees with our own world view.
We’ve seen fighting erupt in the public arena (see, there’s a fight image) and I question whether our public discourse will ever return to some modicum of reconciliation after the vitriolic and very public and increasing violence during this election cycle.
Fighting is even used as a metaphor in scripture.
In today’s epistle, the writer of II Timothy has Paul saying these famous lines at the end of his life as a way of encouraging the young leader Timothy.
Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
So what does it mean to fight a “good” fight? Is there any such thing?
No question about it—Paul was a fighter throughout his life. When he first found out about the followers of Jesus, Paul fought them.
Luke tells us in the book of Acts that after Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death and buried, Paul, who at that time was known as Saul, approved of Stephen’s killing and soon led a persecution of the young church.
Saul “was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).
Saul was fighting to preserve his religious norms as he understood them. This fight must have seemed good to him.
As time went on and his fighting against the church grew more intense, Saul experienced a sudden conversion when he was blinded by a brilliant light as he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Because of his conversion experience, Saul got a new name along with a new understanding of the world and of God. He got his physical sight back and became, no longer a persecutor of the Christians, but an ambassador for Christ, a phrase he uses to describe Christians in his second letter to the Corinthians.
But even after his conversion and his name change from Saul to Paul, Paul never quit fighting.
What changed though, was what he was fighting for and what he was fighting against.
Instead of fighting for a set of religious rules and regulations from a self-righteous certainty, Paul is now fighting for one thing, and for one thing only, and that is “Christ crucified.”
“But we proclaim Christ crucified,” he tells the Corinthians in his first letter to them, and this Christ crucified “is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Note that Paul says that Christians are to proclaim Christ—crucified.
That reference to crucifixion is because the death of our Lord and Savior, an ignominious and violent death on a cross, Jesus being killed because of fear, and because of religious cowardice and the political misuse of power and might, revealed to Paul, and hopefully to us, that the only thing that is worth fighting for in this life is Christ crucified.
Because in Christ crucified, we come to see and understand God as compassionate, merciful, and righteous– Jesus, who suffered a violent death in order that we might live in hope of ending violence as a way of life forever.
Jesus suffered a violent death in order “to guide our feet into the way of peace,” as The Collect for the Renewal of Life in The Book of Common Prayer puts it so poetically.
Paul, after his conversion, preached and fought for Christ crucified, because Paul realized that Christ crucified was the way that God leads us into resurrection and the eternal life of love for God and one another starting here and now, rather than to continue living in the endless cycle of violence and fighting that defines a great deal of human history.
And in addition to fighting for Christ crucified, Paul continued to fight against something.
And that something was himself.
What I am going to say is so counter-cultural and unpopular.
But here goes!
Fighting the good fight means fighting against our inclinations to put ourselves, our wants, needs, and even our pleasures above those of anyone else.
Fighting the good fight means to fight against the temptation to let our esteem for ourselves become the idol that replaces our esteem for God.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Yes, God wants us to love ourselves, to have good self-esteem to take care of ourselves, but not to do any of these things in a way that lets us put ourselves in the place of God. We have to fight to keep ourselves in the proper perspective.
Meanwhile, our culture is constantly telling us to put ourselves and what we want first, above others and even above God.
The culture also tells us to reward ourselves. How many commercials do you hear and see daily that say something like— “You deserve this! So go buy it right now!” Or, “if you buy this, you will instantly be beautiful and popular.” Or, “if you drive this particular car or truck, you will have many off-road adventures that no one else could possibly manage.”
Paul realizes that his big fight is against his inflated self-esteem, and what he believes he has earned and deserves. Paul realizes that his big fight is against his own sense of self-importance and self-righteousness.
Paul describes himself in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians as having every reason to be confident, based on how wonderful he is. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
These statements are true about Paul’s old life, and all these self-righteous things that Paul says about himself are the things he has to fight against within himself.
Paul goes on to say that “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
And then he says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”
From the beginning of human history, we have fought against our own inclinations to take the place of God, and on our own, we keep on losing the fight.
Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation to be like God, and so they disobeyed God and lost their home in the Garden of Eden. The people of the earth built the tower of Babel to make a name for themselves and got scattered all over the earth. The people of Israel broke the covenants God made with them over and over and ended up in exile. The disciples actually had conversations about which one of them would be the greatest.
We are no different.
In subtle and not so subtle ways we pride ourselves on who we are and what we’ve accomplished, all for our own glory rather than God’s—we are all afflicted with ourselves and our need for getting recognition for being the wonderful people we are.
Which brings us to today’s gospel, and the story Jesus told, in which two men go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, no doubt, is standing as close to the inner sanctum as possible, telling God how wonderful and deserving and right he is, and if that weren’t enough, also casting judgement on the tax collector, who is unclean because he is a tax collector and so he’s probably standing in the outer court, praying with his eyes cast down, and beating his breast.
The tax collector’s one sentence prayer is right to the point.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The tax collector has fought a fight with himself and won it. He sees himself for who he is—a sinner.
And because he can see himself for who he is, he can now see for himself who God is—God is merciful and compassionate– God loves him in spite of his miserable profession as a tax collector.
Maybe after praying for God’s mercy, this tax collector went home and amended his ways—and showed some mercy of his own to those from whom he was collecting the taxes.
We don’t know the end of his story.
And we don’t know how our stories will end either.
But here’s the hope—that our fighting from this day forward will take on a different quality.
That when we fight, we will be fighting no longer for ourselves, but for Christ crucified.
That we will fight not to waste the violent death that Christ died on our behalf, but instead will follow in his way of peace,
that we will fight to continue to do what is right, to love mercy,
and that we will fight to get over tripping all over our self righteousness and pride so that we can walk humbly with God–and say of ourselves when our time comes to die, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Meanwhile, as we run our races through this life, may this be our prayer to God.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and help me to fight the good fight.”