Der Vasken's Sermon on March 26, 2017
Mar 28, 2017
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. It is called the "Sunday of the Judge" and the focus of today's Bible lesson is on prayer. In the Bible reading we just heard, Jesus shares two stories about prayer. There are many aspects of prayer worthy of mentioning but He says there are two aspects that are especially important to a Christian heart.
In the first story He stresses that prayer must be persistent and that we must not give up if our prayers seem to go unanswered day after day. We must continually pray the prayers of our heart because God's timetable may not be the same as our timetable. "But do not give up," He says. Tell God what is in your heart and He will answer. The second story is of equal importance. After encouraging His disciples to be persistent in prayer, Jesus taught them how to pray. He told the story of two men who went up into the Temple to pray. One man was a Pharisee--a highly-respected man of rank very devout in his religious practice. The other was a Tax Collector--a man who was an outcast, a friend to no one, a traitor and a robber of the people.
Jesus compares these two men and as He does so, you begin to sense that He was comparing a saint with a criminal. It's within this comparison that He gives His main message. See, the Pharisee was part of the religious elite. He knew the scriptures and teachings of the Temple far better than the average person. And because of this knowledge, the Pharisees often saw themselves as superior to other people. Often times they came across with a certain sense of arrogance and Jesus said that the prayers of these Pharisees often reflected that arrogance. The story says that this Pharisee stood up in the middle of the Temple for everyone to see him and he loudly prayed these words: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men. I am not like the robbers, not like the evildoers, not like the adulterers, nor even that Tax Collector. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all I earn to the Temple." He prayed these words with the absolute attitude that he was better than everybody else. He prayed, not with humility, but with clear arrogance.
The story continues and starts talking about the Tax Collector. It says that the Tax Collector stood in the distant corner of the Temple away from everyone else and he was in prayer and would not even look up as he prayed, but he beat upon his chest as he prayed this simple prayer: "Lord, have mercy upon me as I am a sinner." It's the same prayer we say during our Wednesday evening Lenten services as well as during the confession reading before receiving Holy Communion. This was a simple prayer from a simple man. This Tax Collector didn't know scripture at all. He knew only what he heard the Pharisees read aloud during the Temple services. But there was one thing he knew more than the Pharisees. He knew what it meant to have a humble heart in front of God. And so Jesus teaches that it was the simple Tax Collector and not the learned Pharisee who found favor with God. He ends by saying: "He, who humbles himself in this world, will be exalted" in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So on this fifth Sunday of Lent, we are encouraged to spend time in prayer to find a little extra time in our lives to offer a prayer to God remembering that it isn't so much the words we use but the heart with which the words are offered and that means all the difference to God. "Lord, have mercy on me as I am a sinner." It's a prayer like this coming from the heart that will open the way for God's forgiveness in anyone's life and build the strongest of relationships with Him for the rest of our lives.
Something for us to think about during the remaining days of Lent. "Lord, have mercy upon me as I am a sinner." We are all encouraged to pray this prayer every day.