The Preacher Says....  
  The Pharisee and the Publican  

John 8. 1 - 11; Acts 5. 1 - 11

Every Sunday when we meet to take the emblems representing the body and blood of Christ, we come to the throne of grace with feeble knees. Eyes shut tight, grim expressions,–what are these awful deeds that you have committed? That are almost too great to be repented of? You appear to me, by and large, to be responsible parents, dutiful children, dependable and loving brethren. They must be some awful secrets you’re keeping that require such abject prostration before the throne of grace. Aren’t you really overdoing it? Surely we are not a stiff necked and rebellious people.

Now it is true that there is plenty of sinning going on in the world. Serbs killing Croats or Bosnians–horrible atrocities in Indo-China-- orientals are particularly skilled at this–riots in L.A. and undisciplined , immoral sexual behavior. Well, maybe that’s why our prayers and attitudes seem so earnest. We’re not guilty of committing those crimes presently. We’re lucky. We live in the USA–not like Iraq, the Balkans, Hitler and the Weimar Republic. Our families have raised us in the fear of the Lord, and we have been able to reign in our lusts and avoid living in unholy alliances. But for the grace of God anything can happen. We’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, so beware, the acorn never falls very far from the tree. We’re all of the same dough–the same gene pool and no man is better than any other man. Inbreeding makes it even worse for us than our progenitors. Incidentally, Jesus had a different gene pool, giving him an edge.

The veneer of civilization is very thin. We would probably fight over food thrown off the back of a truck if we were starving. But our prayers help us to keep ourselves from behaving like our sinful neighbors and being spoiled by a sinful world. Well, if we think like that, and if Jesus could speak to us in person today, what would he say? You fools, don’t you know you’re in danger of being cast into Gehenna (Jerusalem city dump) where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched? (Mk 9. 47, 48). He would say, don’t you remember the parable I told you about the Pharisee and the Publican? I thank thee, said the Pharisee, that I’m not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican (Luke 18. 10 - 14). Contrasting the hypocrisy of the Pharisee with the humility of the Publican, who in his prayer acknowledged his sinfulness and his need of God’s mercy. True, Christ would say, given sufficient provocation you would commit all those crimes. If not, there are plenty of other sins to take their place. You know you’re not just guarding against being a thief or murderer, there are plenty of other sins, such as judging, gossiping, covetousness and scrambling for material wealth . But to covet wealth is not the same thing as having it. If you say I’m missing the point, that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil, Jesus also spoke on that subject when he told the young ruler who asked what he should do to inherit eternal life? If you really want to have treasure in heaven, sell everything you own and come, follow me. He added that it was easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. You don’t think he meant that do you? Who then can be saved? Well, don’t kill the messenger, I’m just telling you what he said. (Like 18. 10 - 24) If you would be perfect--none of us is perfect, but aren’t we supposed to try? That’s ridiculous. If I become a pauper, you’ll have to take care of me. Not only that, money becomes a hot potato–as soon as you get it you have to give it away. And whoever is stuck with it at the end of the game– forgive my impertinence-- is the old maid. I think even Jesus would think our problem has more to do with attitude. Take Joseph of Arimathia, a rich man, not necessarily perfect, who took a risk and put his wealth to work to take care of a most important matter in the life of Christ. Paul set an example in the early church, taking up a collection for those less fortunate, everyman according to his ability. We must view our wealth as an opportunity to do good–even to deny yourself. Give til it hurts. With some, the more wealth, the more difficult to deny. I’ve heard of a precious few who desire to give it all away before they die. ‘Deny yourself’ are the magic words of Jesus. You are remorseful because in your heart of hearts you know it’s not my will but Thine be done–just on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The sins we commit for which we need to be forgiven are invisible to our fellows–if we’re lucky–or unlucky. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. But our hearts are not pure, but an alloy, a mix less pure. The invisible sins are worse than the visible ones. Consider the woman taken in adultery–her sin visible to all for which the law demanded a specific punishment–stoning. But think about it. Some things in the story do not add up. For one, though Christ came to fulfill the law he did not do so here, probably for one thing the law demanded 2 or 3 witnesses to establish guilt. They were tempting Christ. Trying to trip him up and reduce his growing influence with the general public. In this teaching moment a more subtle meaning is revealed in her invisible sin: faithlessness. In God’s dealings with Israel, the figure of adultery predominates. It is used over and over to illustrate Israel’s defection from God to idol worship. Christ’s mission was to save, not judge, and he uttered that remarkable statement, Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. I do not condemn you, go and sin no more. Note that he did not say ‘I forgive you’, or ‘Father, forgive her’. He wasn’t talking about the actual sin of adultery, but of a worse, unseen sin against God: her faithlessness.

Kind David, in his psalm of gratitude to God wrote that the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. . .cleanse thou me from secret faults, (Psalm 9. 7 - 12), or invisible sins.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7. 24 - 25).

We are not our own–we are bought with a price. Pray our minds never serve the law of sin, but always the law of God.