Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 13 – 2016

21 August 2016

Text: Luke 10:23-37 (2 Chron 28:8-15; Gal 3:15-22)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The word “Samaritan” is one of those biblical words that has come into our language and is even used by people who have never read the Bible it all.  The fact that we have this word, and it is usually preceded by the word “good,” – the “good Samaritan” – is a testimony to the influence of Jesus even among unbelievers.

Most people know that a “good Samaritan” is someone who helps someone else, a volunteer, sometimes a person who just happens to be on the scene and gives aid to another person.  Maybe there’s someone choking in a restaurant, and a stranger gives him a squeeze and dislodges the food from the victim’s windpipe.  Or a good Samaritan might be the guy who is seen changing the tire for someone on the side of the road.

There are good Samaritan vans that help motorists, good Samaritan centers that feed the hungry, and even good Samaritan laws that protect people from being sued for doing a good deed in an emergency.

In the modern, secular world, most people think about the word Samaritan in that way: as a good guy.

But to those listening to the story, the Samaritan is not a good guy, not a beloved person.  And this is an important part of our Lord’s story.  For at that time, a Samaritan was a hated person.  He was an outcast.  If you associated with him, you were afraid that some of his unpopularity might rub off on you.  You avoided and hated Samaritans.  You made fun of them and told jokes about them.  They were certainly not the heroes of any stories.

This is part of what makes our Lord’s parable so utterly remarkable.  Jesus is like no storyteller in history.  For He is the author of history itself.

This story came about because of a lawyer’s question, a man who would have grown up hating Samaritans.  He wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  Lawyers know that inheritors don’t do anything.  You inherit stuff by virtue of the kindness of the deceased person.  So he asks a flawed question.  Maybe he is trying to trick Jesus.  There was a lot of that going on in those days.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Our Lord answers the lawyer by asking him to recite the law and to interpret it.  And the lawyer knows the law.  You can have eternal life by keeping the law: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  So Jesus matter-of-factly tells the man to do that.  Jesus tells him to just be perfect and it’s all good: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  

But the lawyer misses the point.  He should have said: “But I can’t be perfect!  I fail to keep the law!”  And he would not have been far from the kingdom.  But instead, “desiring to justify himself,” our proud lawyer, “said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

For if you can narrow the definition of “neighbor,” you can make it easier to keep the law.  If you are only required to love your family and friends, that’s a lot easier than loving strangers, or even enemies.  So the lawyer seeks a loophole.

Jesus does not deal in loopholes.  Instead, the lawyer gets a story that has changed the world.  And this is that story:

A guy gets robbed and beat up.  A priest sees the victim bleeding in the street, and ignores him. A Levite, that is, a priest’s helper, also sees him and ignores him.  And then comes the Samaritan, the dirty foreign half-breed that we have been taught to hate, mock, and avoid for as long as anyone can remember.  And this filthy Samaritan “had compassion.”  “He went to him and bound up his wounds” and administered medicine.  He transported him to an inn.  He paid for his lodging.  He promises more money if it is needed.  He promises to come again.

And Jesus asks the loophole-seeking lawyer is own question: “who is the neighbor: the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?”  Our lawyer cannot get out of it.  He has been backed into the corner.  He answers: “The one who showed him mercy” – because he can’t even bear to say: “the Samaritan.”  

“You go and do likewise,” says Jesus.  He calls the selfish and proud lawyer to repent and to love his neighbor.

But Jesus is telling another story between the lines.  In the kingdom of God, the Samaritan, the one who is hated, the one who is accused of being illegitimate, the one who is the enemy of the priests and the Levites and the lawyers, is the One who is good: the One who shows mercy.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Though hated by the priests, he shows mercy.  Though reviled by the Levites, he blesses but does not curse.  Though He is beaten to death through a corrupt legal system, He applies the medicine of immortality: His very body and blood and healing Word – to a world that hates Him.  Though He is nailed to a tree and offered vinegar to drink, He is the one bearing oil and wine, who binds up our wounds of sin and suffering and death, offering Himself as a ransom.  He transports us from the broken road of sin and suffering to the inn of eternal life.  He pays for our lodging with His very own lifeblood, shed upon the cross, and shared within the chalice.  He promises even more, as His treasury of mercy is limitless.  And indeed, He promises to come again.

He, who was rejected by this world, by His nation, by the priests and the Levites and the scribes and the lawyers, He shows mercy, even where the Law is merciless toward us, where the Temple sacrifices in and of themselves do not save us.  This Samaritan, this Savior, is the only one who is “good,” for “His mercy endureth forever.”

Indeed, dear friends, our Lord is the only truly Good Samaritan, who saves us in our greatest need, who rescues us in our moment of our most fearsome peril.  He takes the wrath of God that we deserve, and exchanges it for the eternal reward that we don’t deserve.  He does this out of love and mercy for each one of us.  This is a cause of rejoicing, dear friends.  We do not need a loophole, because we have a Savior.  We do not need to justify ourselves by manipulating the Law, because He has justified us by manumitting us by grace. 

Yes, indeed, dear friends, let us rejoice in our Good Samaritan, our good and merciful Savior. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 12 – 2016

14 August 2016

Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:17-24, 2 Cor 3:4-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When something is really important, we say that it is a “matter of life and death.”  Christianity is of the highest importance of anything in this world, and St. Paul calls it a matter of death and life, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

The way the world works, you start out alive, and end up dead.  You do anything and everything to stave off death, for you love your life, and will do anything to save it.  But according to the Spirit, we are born dead (in sin), and end up alive (in Christ).  At the first opportunity, we take a child and drown his or her sinful nature in Holy Baptism, making the child a disciple and killing off the Old Man so that a New Man might arise in its place.  And our Lord Jesus says that whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

And though we Christians understand the death of a Christian to be a portal to eternal life, we, unlike the world, don’t see death as a part of life, a friend, or the solution to a problem.  No indeed, we Christians see death as a vile enemy, but, a conquered enemy, a defanged tiger, a grounded dragon, a subdued foe.

Indeed, the letter of the Law kills.  It kills our pretensions and claims to righteousness.  It kills our hypocrisy and dishonesty with ourselves.  It kills any hope of salvation through works.  And once the sinful flesh has been put to death, this flesh is restored, just as Jesus restored the flesh of lepers, restored sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, and restored speech to the mute. As St. Paul says: “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters of stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”

The apostle tells us that the “ministry of righteousness” given by the Spirit under the Gospel is of greater glory than the “ministry of condemnation” given under the Law.

So we Christians start off dead and end up alive by the Spirit, who is the “Lord and giver of life.”  And yet we are surrounded by a kind of walking dead in this world, people whose bodies function but whose spirits are not made alive by the Spirit.  We are surrounded by a culture of death in which the solution to pain is euthanasia, the solution to unplanned pregnancy is abortion, and the solution to conflict is murder.

We look around at our shrinking churches and the growing hostility to the faith.  Christians are forced to take part in antichristian ceremonies, children are forced to bear with the opposite sex in their restrooms, the elderly must live in fear of being declared a burden and put to sleep like a sick pet, Christians are threatened around the world by militant jihadists, and the popular culture mocks us, marginalizes us, and draws our children into secularism and selfishness.

But hear anew the promise of the Prophet Isaiah, dear brothers and sisters: “The ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off.”  “For when he sees his children, the work of My hands in his midst, they will sanctify My name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe at the God of Israel.”

These are promises of hope, dear friends, and they were first given to the people of God who were held captive in Babylon, defeated by their enemies, enslaved, force-fed a new language and a new culture, and kept by military might from ever going home.  And yet, the Lord uttered these promises to these very people.

These words have been fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, in, and by, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel, our Lord is brought a victim: a victim of sin, of death, and of the devil, a man whose body bears the scars of the Fall, not only marked for death, but impeded by silence, by the inability to hear and to speak.  In his distress, this poor man from the Decapolis cannot cry out to Jesus for help.  He cannot hear the word of Absolution, the words of forgiveness, the words of the Gospel.  He cannot hear the words of the prophets and the words of promise of hope.  Moreover, he cannot speak words of prayer, words of praise, words of thanksgiving.  There is something of death in his prison of silence.

But Jesus has come to rip the prison doors off the hinges, to burst the very bars of the portal to the grave, and to blast open the gates to heaven itself.  That which has been silenced is to be heard.  That which has been slammed shut is to be flung open.  That which has been condemned to death is to be restored unequivocally to life.

“And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”

And, dear brothers and sisters, look at what was opened: his ears to hear the condemnation of the Law and the forgiveness of the Gospel; ears to hear the words of the prophets, the words of Christ, the words of the apostles, the promises of God and the assurance of the resurrection!  And what else was opened?  His mouth was opened, “his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  His mouth was opened to thank His Lord and Master, to praise His God and Savior, to tell his neighbors the good news of his restoration, to sing, to pray, to praise, and to give thanks unto the Lord, even as the Psalmist prays: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.”

And what’s more, heaven was opened to this man as the sin-induced closure was unobstructed.  Righteousness was opened because the impediment to hearing the Gospel was taken away.  The path to victory over evil was opened as the Word of the Lord, delivered by Word and by earthly element, presented by hands, and testified in Scripture – broke through the oppressive silence with the Word of Life.

And the same miracle happens to us, dear friends. For sin closes us up, turns us in on ourselves, shuts our ears to the Word of God, and clogs our mouths so that we do not pray, praise, or give thanks.  In reflecting on this miracle from our text, the great preacher St. Ambrose noted: “In this way the minister is now touching your ears, that your ears may be opened to this sermon and exhortation.”

And so, once more, my dear brothers and sisters, this “Ephphatha” that you hear yet again in the Aramaic language of Jesus, in the very sound that reverberated in the ears of this man from the Decapolis twenty centuries ago, this “Be opened” is not my word, and not my command.  It is rather the word of Jesus.  It is a command that not even Satan himself can silence.  Hear this word, dear people of God, “Ephphatha, that is, be opened.”

And by the power of Christ, may your ears be opened to the Holy Word, and may your mouths be opened to receive the Holy Sacrament, and may your tongues be loosened to sing the praises of Him who won eternal life for you at the cross, and may all of our tongues confess and profess ever more zealously and boldly that our Lord “has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  And let us add that He has saved us from our sins and given us the gift of new and everlasting life.

Ephphatha!  Be opened! It is a matter of death and life. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Olympics: Sometimes the Tiny Triumph

The Summer Olympics are usually dominated by major sports: gymnastics, swimming, track and field, basketball, etc. and by major nations: the USA, Russia, Canada, China, etc.

Every now and then, a tiny country like Fiji is victorious in a sport that many Americans are not familiar with, such as their recent gold medal in Rugby Sevens, the mini-nation's very first.

But here is a winter sport that a very small country, like the Stateless Micronation of Beanelandia, could actually compete in.

Pyeongchang 2018?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sermon: St. Lawrence - 2016

10 August 2016

Text: Mark 8:34-38

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Like all days in which we celebrate the Divine Service, today is a day of remembrance. For our Lord said, “Do this in memory of Me.”  And so we do this in remembrance of Him.  On this day, we also remember the words of our Lord, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Moreover, we don’t just remember these words, we hopefully live them out, and hopefully we call to mind and honor our faithful brothers and sisters who did just that: who took up their cross to follow our Lord, and who lost their lives in order to save them.

On this date, one thousand six hundred and fifty eight years ago, our dear brother in Christ, the Deacon Lawrence of Rome, lost his life in order to save his life; he took up His cross and followed our Lord to the grave and to heaven.

In times past, dear friends, we have had the luxury of viewing the Christian martyrs as interesting tidbits of history, safely removed from our lives as we sit on comfortable couches in air conditioned rooms with no thought that we ourselves might be called upon to offer our blood as martyrs.

But no more.

More Christians are being martyred today than in the days of the ancient Romans.  Islamist jihadists routinely slaughter Christian people in the Middle East, and now in Europe, and perhaps soon, in the United States.  We certainly hope and pray to be delivered from this scourge.  But, dear friends, we must understand what it means to bear the cross.

St. Lawrence was a beloved servant of the church, the head deacon in Rome.  And when the emperor began yet another systematic extermination of the Christians, and after the bishop of Rome had been killed, the government came after the head deacon.  Since deacons were responsible for overseeing the church’s charity, Lawrence was ordered to turn over the treasures of the church to the government.

After a short delay in which the deacon quickly gave everything to the poor, he was asked to produce the treasures of the church.  St. Lawrence brought in the poor of Rome, and told the government that this was the church’s treasure, the poor, the people in need, the people whom the Church had given the treasure of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

For his insolence, Deacon Lawrence was tortured to death on a hot gridiron.  As the legend goes, he was defiant to the very end, even telling his tormenters that they could turn him over because this side was done.  It was remembered that St. Lawrence went to his death with joy, knowing that he did indeed lose his life for the sake of the Gospel, and thus saved his life for eternity, being a baptized and forgiven sinner made new by the blood of the Lord Jesus at the cross.

In his ministry, the deacon likely assisted the bishop at the altar, very likely bringing the chalice of the Lord’s blood to the lips of the parishioners, these very treasures of the church, with the words: “The blood of Christ.”

And so we remember the blood of Christ, the blood of St. Lawrence, and the blood of Christian martyrs ancient and modern, even as we receive the same blood of Christ and hear the same Word of God, the same teaching of Jesus, the same Gospel on this day of remembrance.

And we not only remember St. Lawrence, but we treasure his example of service, his courage, his mercy, and his witness of the faith.

In a day and age in which boys want to emulate LeBron and girls look up to Beyonce as a role model, we do well to remember and teach about brothers like Lawrence instead, and sisters like Perpetua – heroic men and women whose blood testifies to the blood of Christ, whose crosses are mirrors directing all of us to the very cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For when it comes to remembrance of Christian saints, we not only remember them in the way of history, but knowing that we will meet them in eternity.  We will see them face to face.  We will talk to them.  We will join with them, side by side, in worship of Him who lost His life in order to save our lives.

For our lives have been saved through Christ’s cross and blood, even as St. Lawrence has been given the crown of everlasting life by grace and through faith.  And even as we look to the past to the heavenly birthday of Lawrence on this date, and even as we look toward eternity future to our joyful reunion with St. Lawrence and all the saints, we are present here, in this holy place, taking up our cross and confessing the Lord’s cross, perhaps one day to shed our blood, but certainly to receive the Lord’s blood.

We may never be put to death for the sake of the Lord, but certainly the Lord was put to death for the sake of us men and our salvation.  And in life or death, in good times and in bad, in joy and in sorrow, we, like St. Lawrence, are witnesses, martures in the Greek, we whose lives are testimonies to our Lord and His Gospel.

We thank our Lord not only for the blessings of St. Lawrence, the courageous martyr, but we also thank Him that we are indeed the treasury of the Church, so beloved of the Lord that He would deny Himself, take up His cross, shed His blood, and lose His life for our sakes, and for our everlasting life.

For faithful deacon Lawrence,
We praise Your name, O Lord.
Upon the poor and suff’ring
The Savior’s love he poured.
When ordered to surrender
The Church’s earthly wealth,
He claimed the martyr’s laurel
By sacrificing self. (hymn stanza © 2014 Walter P. Snyder)


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A letter to the Jefferson Parish Council

Dear Councilman Templet

I was present for the August 10 council meeting and was hoping to speak.  However, as the ordinances concerning ride-sharing were delayed, it turns out that my 17-mile drive each way across the river and my entire morning were wasted.  It is my understanding that this has happened repeatedly, and for people who work multiple jobs, this makes it very difficult to have a voice in government.  And so I am writing this letter to you instead.  I may still address the council at a later time.

I have served as the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna since two weeks before Katrina. As with many other people, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance and other expenses has resulted in my accepting several jobs to make ends meet. 

I have driven for Uber since November of last year, and with Lyft since they began operations in our area.  Ride-sharing enables me to work a flexible schedule and still carry out a full-time ministry serving my congregation and my family.

Ride-sharing provides many benefits to our parish and to our community.  Most important is keeping drunk drivers off the road.  I have given more than 800 rides and have excellent ratings.  A majority of my customers have been drinking (they are mainly tourists, conventioneers, and college students).  In particular, my younger passengers often drink excessively, and it is not only money in my pocket, but also a community service to make sure they are not on the road.  I believe quite firmly that if Jefferson Parish regulates Uber and Lyft out of Jefferson Parish, many, if not most, of these young people will not call cabs.  They will get in their cars and drive. Their entire culture is lived out through technology.  They are used to very short wait times and being able to track their driver – as well as to rate their driver, and to know what they are paying up front, paying by phone app, and all without the suspicious use of a meter.  As a rule, they loathe taxicabs.

Studies have proven that Uber and Lyft significantly diminish drunk driving and thus save lives.  I urge you not to regulate us out of business and thereby cause the unnecessary deaths that would inevitably result.

This is also an issue of liberty.  For example, in my ministerial duties, I fly to other locations to speak and teach.  I have never been picked up at the airport by a cab. Instead, someone from the church will come and get me at the airport – a person whom I have never met.  There has been no drug test, background check, vehicle inspection, or check of driving record.  As an adult, I can choose whose cars to get into.  It is not the business of government at any level to tell me with whom I can ride, or whom I can drive. 

Ride-sharing is the wave of the future.  It is now possible and thriving due to technological innovation and the business culture of peer-to-peer marketing.  Government is not our nanny or our parents.  As the namesake of our parish wrote in the Declaration of Independence, government exists in order to secure our rights and to protect our liberties.  It is the duty of parish government – and all government – first and foremost to respect our freedom – which includes our freedom to travel and our liberty to engage in free trade.

I would also like to add that given that I am using my personal car – the one in which I drive my wife and children – there is greater incentive for me to maintain and keep my car clean. I am routinely told by passengers that Uber cars are cleaner and appear better maintained than taxi cabs – which are often smelly, dinged-up, and messy – government regulations notwithstanding.

Finally, in reading the arguments of the cab industry, this isn’t about safety.  Rather it is about a protection racket to bottleneck entry into the marketplace and thus inflate prices, a cartelization that is detrimental to the consumer and stifling to the economy.  It is not government’s job to economically manipulate an industry so as to inflate prices.  The fact that cab companies are not joining us to call for reduction or abolition of regulations is evidence of this fact.  They can afford the costs of compliance, where a part-time Uber or Lyft driver – perhaps a single mom, or a person saving to buy a house, or a professional person defraying healthcare costs – cannot.

Again, if a person feels calling an Uber or Lyft to be risky, he or she can continue to call a cab.  I still see a lot of cabs while I am out driving.  It is the nature of competition to increase innovation and cause prices to fall for customers.  By contrast, it is the nature of monopolies and cartels to stifle innovation and delink customer service from the product being offered.

In short, ride-sharing is here to stay.  It is not going to go away from Orleans Parish, but it could leave Jefferson Parish.  If that happens, count on tourists avoiding Jefferson Parish hotels and Jefferson Parish restaurants and bars – since they will have to take a cab instead of a ride-share.  Ride-sharing is used successfully around the country and world.  It is part of the evolving business model of peer-to-peer marketing.  Change is hard to navigate, especially for government, which itself is under no pressure to innovate and streamline.  But I do believe in this case, the people and government of Jefferson Parish will be well-served by welcoming Lyft and Uber, but will be ill-served by regulating them out of Jefferson Parish.

I would also like to make the political argument that Uber and Lyft are extremely popular.  This is an issue that people will not just shrug and walk away from.  If you kill ride-sharing, I do believe that you will pay for it at election time.  There are just certain issues that are political hot-potatoes.  I believe this is one of them.

I urge you to either deregulate the car-transportation industry, or take a minimalist approach (perhaps like Orleans Parish) with our commerce and thereby encourage and enjoy the benefits to our economy, to the people of the parish, to drivers, and to your own standing with your constituents. 

Thank you,

Rev. Larry L. Beane II

Note: If you would also like to write to the Jefferson Parish Council regarding what you think about ride-sharing and how it might affect your potential visits to Jefferson Parish, here is the info,,,

Christopher L. Roberts, Councilman-at-Large, Division A,
Deano Bonano, Assistant (East Bank),
Brett J. Lawson, Assistant (West Bank),
East Bank: Suite 1016, Yenni / Phone: 736-6615 Fax: 731-4646
West Bank: Suite 6200, GGB / Phone: 364-2616 Fax: 364-3499
Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Councilwoman-at-Large, Division B, CynthiaLeeSheng@JeffParish.netGreg Giangrosso, Assistant, GGiangrosso@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1018, Yenni / Phone: 736-6016 Fax: 736-6598
West Bank: Suite 6200, GGB / Phone: 364-2624 Fax: 364-2657
Ricky J. Templet, Councilman, District 1,
Terry Talamo, Assistant,
West Bank: Suite 6400, GGB / Phone: 364-2607 Fax: 364-2615
Paul D. Johnston, Councilman, District 2, PaulJohnston@JeffParish.netBryan St. Cyr, Assistant, BSTCyr@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1013, Yenni / Phone: 736-6607 Fax: 731-4433
West Bank: Suite 6300, GGB / Phone: 364-3446 Fax: 364-3417
Mark D. Spears, Jr., Councilman, District 3, MarkSpears@JeffParish.netCasey Jumpiere, Assistant, CJumpiere@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1011, Yenni / Phone: 736-6591 Fax: 736-6598
West Bank: Suite 6500, GGB / Phone: 364-2603 Fax: 364-3704
E."Ben" Zahn, III, Councilman, District 4, BenZahn@JeffParish.netJeff Zapata, Assistant, JZapata@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1015, Yenni / Phone: 736-6622 Fax: 736-6639
Jennifer Van Vrancken, Councilwoman, District 5,
Jeffrey Simno, Assistant,
East Bank: Suite 1014, Yenni / Phone: 736-6634 Fax: 736-6632
Eula Lopez, Parish Council Clerk
West Bank: Phone: 364-2626 Fax: 364-2633
East Bank Council Address
Joseph S. Yenni Building
1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., 10th Floor
Jefferson, LA 70123-2337
Receptionist: 736-6600
West Bank Council Address
General Government Building
200 Derbigny Street, 6th Floor
Gretna, LA 70053-5850
Receptionist: 364-2600

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 11 – 2016

7 August 2016

Text: Luke 18:9-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The basis of any kind of thinking or doing anything in this life is to accept reality.  Things are what they are.  If you need a small Phillips screwdriver to do a job, no amount of wishful thinking is going to make a sledgehammer do the trick.  Things will probably not end well.

The importance of accepting reality is also the case in matters of faith.  Dr. Luther once said that a true theologian, a theologian of the cross, calls a thing what it is.

One of the most popular expressions among Louisianans is the concession, “It is what it is.”

It is what it is.

Of course, nowadays we are told that things are not what they are, but what they are identified as.  This is why such formerly uncontroversial topics such as men’s and ladies’ restrooms are now topics for the Supreme Court to figure out.  For nowadays, especially with human beings, it is becoming controversial to say that a person is this or that, even when reality itself says so.

Our Lord’s Parable, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector”, could also be called “It Is What It Is.”  Of the two characters in the Lord’s story, one of them is a true theologian of the cross, while the other is condemned to hell because he has not been “justified.” And like many of the Lord’s short stories, your expectations are challenged.

Let’s consider the Lord’s story in which two men come to the Temple to pray.

The first man is a Pharisee.  This means he is a very clean-cut religious guy. He “stands by himself” – which is a way of saying that he perceives himself to be holy, that is, set apart from other men.  And in fact, he thanks God for that kind of separation: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” – and then he lists a bunch of sins that he thanks God that he doesn’t commit.  Then he regales God with a litany of his own good works: “I fast… I give tithes.”

In fact, our Lord actually instructs us Christians to pray, to fast, and to give alms, teaching us this in the Sermon on the Mount.  And so our Pharisee is obviously doing all three.

But the Pharisee is not addressing reality in his own self-examination.  For the Lord Jesus Christ invents this character as a rebuke to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Where is our Pharisee’s trust?  Is it in the blood of the sacrifice?  Is it in the grace and mercy of the Lord?  Is it in the promises of God revealed to the prophets and in the Scriptures?  Or is his faith ultimately a faith in himself, in his supposed goodness, and in his own works?

And what is our Pharisee’s view of others?  Does he treat the struggling tax collector with love and encouragement?  Or is he using prayer as an excuse to insult the tax collector who has come seeking the mercy of God?

Before we can really think too much about the Pharisee, the Lord introduces us to another character, a tax collector.  This means that he is a dirty collaborator with the enemy, a cheat and a thief, a liar, and one greedy for gain who intimidates and threatens his way to other people’s money. 

And notice that the tax collector stands “far off” – perceiving himself to be damaged goods and unclean, unworthy of the holiness of God’s presence.  He won’t even raise his eyes for fear of offending God on account of his sins.  He beats his breast, a sign of sorrow.  And he makes no reference to the sins he is innocent of, to the guilt of others, or to claimed good works.  Instead, he cries out simply: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

In his humility, the tax collector faces the reality of his own sinful condition, one that no man is exempt from, corruption springing from Adam and Eve, and carried about by every man ever born of woman with one sole Exception – who is Himself telling the parable.

Our tax collector does not trust in himself, but in the mercy of God as his only hope of righteousness.  He does not attack or insult the Pharisee, but simply focuses on his own sins and his own need for a Savior. 

The Lord Jesus Christ dies on the cross for every fallen son of Adam and daughter of Eve.  The sins of all have been paid for by the blood of the one who not only tells parables but who works forgiveness by His atoning death on the cross.  And what’s more, He has been raised from death for our justification, a justification that is applied to every poor miserable sinner ever born.

And yet, our Lord says something very exclusive and shocking to modern ears: one of these men is not justified.  One of these men is bound for hell.  Only one of these men goes down to his house having received the free gift of justification that Jesus has won for everyone. 

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Who has exalted himself, dear friends?  Was it the religious Pharisee or the filthy tax collector?  Who has humbled himself?  Our aloof self-righteous braggart or our broken and sorrowful tax collector?

Which of these two men acknowledges the reality about himself?  Which is the real theologian of the cross?  Before one can repent and believe the Gospel, as our Lord preaches to us, one must see the reality of who he is.  The tax collector saw reality, confessed reality, and received the reality that Jesus has forgiven his sins and won for him everlasting life.  The Pharisee ignored reality and followed a fantasy, identifying himself with something not real, and thus there is no repentance here, and no desire for God’s mercy.

The tragedy is that Jesus truly justified the Pharisee on the cross, but the Pharisee chose instead to justify himself with a lie.  And as a result, he never asks for that which God would gladly give him: mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Dear friends, the Christian faith is not about self-righteousness and earning a place in heaven by good works.  The Christian faith is not about seeing oneself as good and looking down at others.  For this is to deny reality.  The Christian faith is receiving the mercy of God because we need that mercy.  We lack righteousness on our own.  For we are sinners. That is the reality.  But Jesus has come to save sinners and restore us to life.  It is what it is.

We Christians call a thing what it is.  We confess the simple reality of the Gospel.  We are not justified by anything other than the mercy of God which we receive only in humility.  “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Yes, indeed, it is what it is!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.