Printable PDF: 2-17-2021 Ash Wednesday Sermon
Pastor David R. Clark ~ Luke 18:9-14 ~ February 17, 2021 ~ Ash Wednesday
HANDS OF REPENTANCE (Tax Collector)
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
I know we talk about masks. I know we talk about six feet apart. But the one that gets me is the hand washing. I have washed and sanitized so much that I can barely hold on to anything anymore. Smooth objects just slip through my fingers. But there isn’t really a choice. Our hands are our connection with the world. We touch doorknobs and cell phones. We might be shocked by how many people get sick from what they touch.
Hands figure prominently in our Savior’s passion. That’s why the theme for our midweek Lenten sermons this year is “The Hands of the Passion.” The hands we examine this evening focus on a couple of fictional people from a parable.
As we consider them, I want you to do something you have probably never done before. I want you to make a connection between their hands and the attitudes of their hearts. And then I want you to apply what you observe to your own life and what it means to have HANDS OF REPENTANCE.
- The empty hands of the Pharisee
The setting is the temple in Jerusalem. Two people came to this sacred place for the same purpose – to pray. Their only similarity between their prayers is that they both begin with the word, “God.”
Pharisees were the spiritual elite of Jewish society. They were more reverent and more obedient than their fellow Jews, and wanted everyone else to know it.
11God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. A great start but a poor finish. What he was really doing was giving himself a verbal pat on the back. He wasn’t a robber or an adulterer. He was convinced that his obedience went above and beyond what God required. And just in case God hadn’t noticed, he provided some specific examples at the end of his prayer, 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. The Law required faithful Jews to fast one day each year. And he gave God ten percent whether he had earned it or not.
His example was so public, people probably looked up to him. But what was going on inside his head and his heart? Why did he feel compelled to pray this way?
To be fair, we aren’t given insight into his motivation. Maybe he didn’t realize how arrogant he was. Maybe he prayed that proud prayer to mask his insecurity. Maybe he was trying to convince himself of his special relationship with God.
Ash Wednesday is about acknowledging our sinfulness and asking God for forgiveness. It’s a day we look to Jesus as our only hope for salvation. Because the Pharisee was unwilling to acknowledge and repent of his sins, it didn’t matter how many prayers he prayed or how many good deeds he did. He went home empty-handed.
- The justified hands of the tax collector
Most worshipers probably didn’t notice the other man. He stood at a distance. His chin was buried in his chest. He was so ashamed he clenched his hands into fists and beat his breast. He knew what he had done. He knew what he deserved. But instead of giving up hope, he offered up a simple prayer, 13God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The tax collector didn’t try to make himself look better by comparing himself to the really bad people he saw or list his “good” accomplishments. He stared at himself in the mirror of God’s law. What he saw repulsed him. He saw a helpless sinner whose only hope was to plead for mercy.
It was short (only seven words in English), but it was powerful because it was genuine, because it came from a heart of humble faith. And the faith of the tax collector was rewarded when Jesus declared, 14I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Luke tells us that Jesus addressed this parable to people 9“who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” Who does that mean? Maybe the classmate who is always talking about how great she is. Maybe the coworker who is always telling you how to do your job. Maybe the friend whose Facebook and Instagram accounts paints their family as the ideal everyone should imitate? Do you think of yourself?
When we complain about “Miss High-and-Mighty,” or “Mr. Know-It-All,” or “Mrs. Don’t-You-Wish-You-Had-It-As-Good-As-I-Do,” are we praying the prayer of the tax collector or the Pharisee? Isn’t that also passing judgment on others to make ourselves feel better? Who are we trying to convince? Ourselves? Others? God? On Ash Wednesday and every day we need to confess, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
- The merciful hands of Jesus
But as we do, let’s not forget the third person in this parable, the person who told it. If anyone had a legitimate reason to boast about himself, it was Jesus. He honored his parents. He obeyed the laws of the land. He kept every commandment of God perfectly. Not for his own benefit. Not so that he would have something to boast about. Everything he did, he did for you.
If anyone had a legitimate reason to not be humble, it was Jesus. As true God, he knows all and sees all and rules all, and yet the Creator of all things made himself nothing. He took on human flesh. He took on the role of a servant. He allowed himself to be humiliated and ultimately executed, not to pay for his own sins, because he had no sin. Everything he did, he did for you.
Because of his mercy, Jesus gives you his true body and blood in Holy Communion and through it, gives you the personal assurance of free and full forgiveness.
Because of God’s great mercy, you don’t have to be weighed down by guilt. Because of his mercy, you have nothing to fear. Your Savior will be with you as long as you live. You know where you are going when you die. You can leave church today with humble confidence because you are in the best hands you can be – God’s hands. Amen.