God Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner
Sermon on Luke 18:9-14
God Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner
Text: Luke 18:9-14
Can you believe it? Can you believe all of the sin around us in the world today? It is disgusting. It is pathetic. It is shameful. Walk down the streets of Las Vegas and sin practically smacks you in the face. If the temptation to lose all your money isn’t enough, the temptation for adultery is nearly overwhelming. They hand out so many cards for nightclubs that the streets are covered with them. It easily lives up to the moniker of “Sin City.”
Head west to Los Angeles and you will find a city where practically anything goes. The rich and famous trample upon the city as their massive playground. Walk down Hollywood Blvd. and it isn’t hard to figure out that easily it could be called “Sin City” too. Swing back to the opposite coast and make a stop in New York City. There you will find a place where liberty and indulgence and individuality are triumphed. Then take a drive all the way down I-95 to Miami and you will find a place where the beach life is usually equated with flirtation and sensuality and excessiveness. There, swimming suits are so skimpy they look more like birthday suits.
Can you believe the adulterous sins in this world? The best selling movies have the steamiest scenes. The best selling magazines have the least-clothed people in them. The number one internet business—and one of the largest industries in the world—makes trivial the sacred union God intended for husband and wife. The biggest issues in America are freedoms of lifestyle and orientation, freedom for children and teens to do whatever they want with whomever they want, and freedom for women to dispose of unwanted children as they want.
Can you believe the greed in this world? NFL owners are forcing a lock out of the next football season because $40 billion isn’t enough for them. Celebrities frequently throw parties where the bar tab alone is more than I would earn in three years. Executives and CEOs already earn mega-millions, have a fleet of cars, and private jets, but they still feel the need to engage in tax evasion so they can hoard even more money.
Can you believe the language in the world today? Children are saying words that would have made an adult blush 50 years ago. Television censorship is disappearing. Movie and music censorship does not exist.
Can you believe the lack of priorities in the world today? People don’t care about going to church. Few read their Bibles. Prayer is being ripped out of schools.
Can you believe the sin in the world around us? The adultery, the greed, the lies, the language, the idolatry! People think whatever they want. People say whatever they want. People do whatever they want. It is disgusting. It is pathetic. It is shameful. Can you believe it?
Can you believe . . . how much we are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18? “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” So also we stand on our platforms and beg for the spotlight as we proclaim—sometimes without words—“God, I thank you that I am not like others—prostitutes, child molesters and child abusers, gang members, or even drug lords. I go to church. I give offerings. I’m a Christian.”
Don’t think you act pious and holier-than-thou like that? Ask yourself what you thought when a visitor walked into church wearing something you thought was inappropriate. What did you think when someone completely different of a different race or gender or background or education sat right next to you at church? What do you think about those who give next to nothing in offerings to the Lord when you sacrifice your hard earned money to support the Lord’s work? How often do you take careful note of who is not at church rather than rejoicing over those who actually are?
We look down our noses. We scoff. We roll our eyes. All the while we inwardly smile and rejoice that we are not like those “sinners.” Oh it may be 2011, but Pharisees are still around. We are right here in this room.
That’s why Jesus told this parable. The first verse says, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” Jesus is reaching through history and through the pages of Scripture to grab you and to grab your attention. He wants you to hear what he has to say, and he doesn’t want you to be like the Pharisee. Instead he instructs us to be like the tax collector. “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
But wait! We should be like the tax collector? Tax collectors were scum of the earth! When they collected money they would ask for extra and then pocket the difference. So not only were they employed by the evil Roman empire, and not only were they liars and cheats, but they were also getting rich off their own people! We should be like tax collectors?
No. Jesus teaches us to be like this tax collector. This tax collector was different. “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.” This tax collector was humble. This tax collector recognized his sin. This tax collector recognized he deserved God’s punishment. This tax collector was repentant. This tax collector turned to God for mercy and forgiveness.
These are some of the hardest things for us to do. Who wants to be humble? Who really wants to acknowledge the wrongs they have committed? Who really wants to admit that we have failed our God? (And if we’re thinking right now, “Oh, I’m humble. I repent. I admit I sin. How close are you to being like the Pharisee again?”)
Again, this is exactly why Jesus told this parable, and this exactly why we have Ash Wednesday. Through this parable and on this day Jesus points his finger—not at the tax collector but at you, and me—and says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Can you believe how the world around us sins? Can you believe how we sin?! We say we are followers of Christ, but do we immerse ourselves in Christ’s words—meditating day and night on Scripture? We say we believe in our God, but do we truly commit all of our problems to him—praying continually like God commands? We talk about carrying out the Great Commission, but do we really try that hard to share our faith with others and bring them to church? We talk about giving back to the Lord, but do our offerings and gifts really reflect that he is most important in our lives?
We curse and we swear. We gossip and we slander. We say things that have no business coming out of mouths. We speak too quickly. We react too brashly. We have far too little patience. We have all kinds of impure thoughts. We doubt. We question. We wonder. We act proud and conceited. We act arrogant and better than others. We act timid and afraid to talk to others. We sin. We sin. We sin. It’s disgusting. It’s pathetic. It’s shameful.
Then this evening we hear the tolling bell of death once more, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” The ashes we bear are but a vague image of the harsh reality. We are sinners. We will die. We will become dust.
On Ash Wednesday reality sets in. We hold up the mirror and we behold ourselves with every glaring flaw and defect. We see ourselves covered in the filth of our wrongs. We see that we have failed. We see that we have sinned. So we fall to our knees, with repentance and with ashes, and we beg, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
But this is a fitting and proper beginning to Lent. For over the next 40 days we will walk step by step with Jesus as he resolutely makes his way toward Calvary. Over the next 40 days we will quietly and humbly meditate on what Christ came to do.
God heard our cries for mercy, even before we uttered them. We begged in song a moment ago that the Lord would remember his love and faithfulness. He did. He remembered his love and was faithful to his promises. He sent his Son to be the Savior of all.
In about 40 days we will watch as Jesus is stripped of all his garments and all his dignity. We will watch the hammers pound nails home. We will see the blood splatter and splash. And we will see the promised Messiah on a cross, bearing our sin and carrying our guilt. We will see him cry out in agony enduring the flames of hell. We will see him close his eyes in death. All this because he remembered his love and faithfulness. He heard our cries for mercy and answered. He answered with a death that paid for sin. He answered with a death that brought forgiveness. He answered with a resurrection that proves that we will not die, but will live with him forever.
Can you believe it? Can you believe the sins of this world? Can you believe our own sins? But can you believe what our Savior has done for us? You can, and you do. This evening and throughout Lent we cry out, God Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner, and God listens. Like the tax collector, we go home justified before God. God has heard our cries. God has sent his Son. God has forgiven. God has saved. That is Lent. That is our God.
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