Last Sunday after Trinity – morning
Sunday 27th October 2019
Last Sunday after Trininty – morning
2 Timothy 4. 6-8, 16-18
Luke 18. 9-14
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
As I was thinking about this parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, I was reminded of that famous sketch with John Cleese and the two Ronnies. You know, the one where they are standing in a line in height order and John Cleese begins by saying, “I look down on him, because I am Upper Class, and I look down even more on him, because he is Working Class … And Ronnie Corbett at the end just keeps saying, “I know my place!”
Of course that was a satire on the British Class system – which is still with us more than we think even after 50 years or more!
Jesus’ story on the other hand was a satire told against those members of the religious elite who thought themselves better than the hated tax collectors because they kept all the laws of ritual purity. But although they were basically good men who through the years of exile had kept the faith alive and were struggling against the alternative religions of the Roman invaders – they were guilty at times of the sin of self-satisfaction and complacency… And which of us here today could honestly put our hands up and say that, at times, we were not guilty of the same?
I sometimes think that today the greatest sin one can commit is one of hypocrisy. Saying one thing and doing another. Hence all the venom that is directed towards celebrities and even Royalty who appear to advocate embracing a simpler, carbon-free lifestyle, while still taking advantage of their private Jets!
Climate change issues are a good example. For surely we are all of us guilty of using our cars and turning the heating up a notch and insisting on power for our many tech gadgets? And when we hear someone like Terry last week who spoke so movingly of people in other countries who lack even the most basic amenities that we all take for granted, we immediately respond with generosity of heart. And don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that we do, and we should, but how many of us have paused during this week to question how much water or other resources we might waste in our daily lives?
We are apt to try and mock those like Greta Thunberg who try to live more authentically, always conscious of the choices they make in day-to-day life and the consequences they may have for others, but in reality is that not because such zealots make us feel just a little uncomfortable? To question our own values and choices?
Earlier this week I was at a meeting in Bishop Michael’s house with some of us who went to Moscow earlier this year and with a representative of the Orthodox Church in this country, talking about how we might improve links and learn from each other as we all seek to Walk in the footsteps of St Chad. Many of the common practices of the Orthodox Church would be much closer to the custom and practice of St Chad himself of course, who lived at a time before the Reformation, and when Christianity itself was much less divided than it has become since. Orthodox Christians are perhaps better than us at knowing and understanding that we do not leave our godly thoughts at the church door. If we are Christians then it does and must affect every part of our lives. And it is the Orthodox Church that has given us what has become known as the ‘Jesus Prayer’. This is a short prayer that is repeated over and over again by the individual as a way of bringing ourselves closer to God; of aligning our whole selves and most importantly, our wills, with God’s will – which of course is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. I also found it a great help and comfort when I was recovering from the pain of knee surgery last year – and I commend it to you if you are ever suffering from a sleepless night… And it is the prayer of the Tax Collector, or very similar….
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The prayer falls naturally into two halves – I suggest breathing in as you say the first two phrases to yourself, and breathing out for the latter two. All I can tell you, is – it works!
And it is a prayer that applies whether you are rich or poor, old or young, male or female, learned or never did much at school, vegan or unabashed carnivore, climate change warrior or petrolhead.
We are all called to make the journey from saying like the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people:” to the place where can say like the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. Then we can really say our prayers of penitence with sincerity and authenticity, “Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.” And the wonder of it all is – he does!