October 23, 2016 + The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the Youth Choir, sermon by the Rev’d Hope Eakins.
Worship at Home:
Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.
Full Service Audio:
Voluntary The Peace may be exchanged (from Rubrics) Dan Locklair (b. 1949)
The inspiration for Dan Locklair’s five-movement suite, Rubrics, was the italicized rubrics (instructions) found within the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Finding power within these simple notes, Dan brings them to life in music. The peace may be exchanged is a beautiful, lyric peace-prayer, using the warm string and diapason sounds of the organ.
Introit Beatus wir Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594)
Beatus vir qui in sapientia morabitur, et qui in justitia meditabitur, et in sensu cogitabit cirumspectionem Dei.
Blest is the man who is wisdom continues through all his days, and who in his righteousness loves to meditate, and forgets not to consider how in mercy watchful God is.
Processional Hymn 665 All my hope on God is founded Michael
Gloria in excelsis S278 William Mathias (1934-1992)
Sequence Hymn 641 Lord Jesus, think on me Southwell
Offertory Anthem Come, pure hearts Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Text: 12th c. Latin, tr. R. Campbell
Come, pure hearts, in sweetest measure; sing of those who spread the treasure
In the holy gospels shrined; blessed tidings of salvation,
Peace on earth their proclamation, love from God to lost mankind.
See the rivers four that gladden, with their streams, the better Eden
Planted by our Lord most dear; christ the fountain, these the waters;
Drink, O Sion’s sons and daughters, drink, and find salvation here.
O that we, thy truth confessing, and thy holy word possessing,
Jesus may thy love adore; unto thee our voices raising,
Thee with all thy ransomed praising, ever and forevermore. Amen.
Time Magazine called Ned Rorem “the world’s best composer of art songs,” When
speaking of his passion for writing art songs, Rorem states, “it has to do with being
obsessed with poetry as well as music.” Although best known for his art songs, Rorem
has also composed ten operas, four symphonies, chamber works, choral works, ballets,
and has also written sixteen books, many of them diaries. Rorem has received many
awards for his works including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his suite Air Music, and was
chosen as Composer of the Year by Musical America. He currently resides in New York.
Sanctus S128 William Mathias
Fraction Anthem S166 Agnus Dei Gerald Near (b. 1942)
Communion Anthem Notre Père Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié,que ton règne vienne, que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour. Pardonne-nous nos offences comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés. Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivre-nous du mal, car c’est à toi qu’appartiennent le règne, la puissance et la gloire, aux siècles des siècles. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Closing Hymn 686 Come, thou fount of every blessing Nettleton
Voluntary Carillon Herbert Murrill (1909-1952)
Full Sermon Text:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. …”
Woops! I’d like a different Gospel, please. St. John’s is in the middle of the Every Member Canvass, on an important stewardship drive, and in the Gospel reading we just heard, Jesus condemns a man who gives a tenth of everything he has to the temple. Surely Jesus got it backwards. Surely Jesus meant to commend the Pharisee for his generosity and to encourage us to tithe, to give 10% of our income away too — but Jesus didn’t.
The parable seems a simple enough story. The Pharisee almost pounds his chest proudly and thanks God that he is better than other people, while the tax collector beats his breast humbly and begs for mercy. Jesus concludes, “He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
But the parable is not that simple. Jesus does not tell us parables to make elementary points about the danger of bragging. He tells us parables to get us thinking about complex questions; he tells stories so that his words will break into our hearts and challenge our minds and stir our souls. We fall into a trap if we hear this parable as the tale of a good guy (that would be the tax collector) who gets the prize for being humble versus a bad guy (the Pharisee) who gets denounced for being too big for his britches.
The Pharisee is not actually a bad man. Look. He fasts twice a week, when the law only requires once. He tithes, gives a tenth of his income to the synagogue, and he probably returns his pledge card the day it arrives in the mail (that’s a hint for you). The Pharisee knows his Scripture, and he follows the Law scrupulously. And where is he when we meet him? He’s right there in the temple saying his prayers.
Now while the Pharisee, was such not a bad guy, the tax collector, whom Jesus praises, was no saint. You have to ask yourself what he was doing there in the back, beating his breast, and actually it’s not too hard to figure out. He was a tax collector, he made his living by bleeding his people to pay the Roman overlords while keeping a bit of the proceeds for himself. No wonder he did not lift his eyes towards God. If he repented, Jewish law required him to quit his job and pay back what he had put in his own pocket and then some. The tax collector didn’t pray to change his life; he prayed only, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Yet this sinner is the one, Jesus tells us, who went home right with God.
I think Jesus is telling this story to stop us from measuring our worth by comparing ourselves with other people. Surely both parties in this year’s political campaigns could learn a lesson here, could learn that blaming the other candidate for doing something worse than you have done is not a very good defense.
I think Jesus is telling us this story to challenge our pride, to stop us from trying to persuade God that we are paragons of virtue, because God knows who we really are without being told.
I think Jesus tells us this story to lead us to recognize our sins and not thinking we can cover them up by writing a big check.
Jesus’ story insists that when we do see our failures and repent and beg for God’s help, God pours so much mercy and love and grace upon us that we finally understand that we are beloved, precious, cherished children of God – and then, knowing that we are loved, start living that way.
For when we start to believe that God loves us just as we are, when we are filled with gratitude for all the blessings we have, when we know that we actually do have enough, when we figure out that God has left the care of this world in our hands, when we know that we are one family in Christ … well, then we start being good stewards of our blessings and start using our blessings to heal God’s world. So one way or another we get back to stewardship, and the question of how we should use our gifts.
To start doing that, I am going to tell you some stories about Pharisees and tax collectors that I have know.
Mary and John, I will call them, have a good income, but they are recently retired and careful about their spending because they want enough money to leave to their children. Mary and John love their church, and they love their boat too. When their church had a capital campaign, they wanted to be a part of building classrooms for the kids that were filling the church school. But they didn’t know if they could make a significant gift and still meet their expenses. And then it dawned on them. They could sell their boat. John came to church to say a prayer about that decision. Now John says he had never, in his whole life, never ever been in his church except for funerals, weddings, and Sunday services. But when he went there alone for the first time and said the Lord’s Prayer, it came clear to him that he’d get more joy from being a part of something big than from taking care of his boat. And so they sold it. Mary and John delight in sailing on other people’s boats now, and they BOTH volunteer in the church school. “Never been happier,” says John.
Tom, we’ll say, also delights in helping churches. He often goes on driving trips in the South, and when he does, he looks for the church most in need of paint. On Sundays, Tom goes to the service there with a twenty-dollar bill in his pocket. “Their eyes are going to bug out when they see this one,” he says and then he puts the bill on the top of the alms basin and looks to see if the usher noticed. Tim doesn’t do this because he is a Pharisee, beset by pride. He wants to make a contribution where it counts, he says, where his gift matters, not at some cathedral where they have more silver candlesticks than they can use.
Larry grew up poor, the tenth of eleven children, and he was financially successful in later life. Shortly before he died, Larry asked his wife for the checkbook, and with a trembling hand signed his name. “Fill out the rest of it,” he said, “and give a big gift to help poor kids. Don’t give it to the church because they’ll waste half of it, and don’t give it to Boys’ Town because they’re corrupt. Just find someplace that takes care of poor kids and give it to them.” Larry was neither Pharisee nor tax collector in his last days. All he knew was that where his heart was, his treasure had to follow.
Finally, a story about a young woman who has just moved into her own apartment: Ann is actually going to her local church, and this fall she received a pledge card. And she pledged. “I can’t believe how grown up I feel,” she laughs. “Pledging is something my parents did, and now I’m doing it too. I feel a part of things. I feel a responsibility for this church. And I feel like God is smiling at me.”
Sometimes we give to look good; sometimes we give to meet a great need. Sometimes we give because our heartstrings are pulled. Sometimes we give because we remember that we were once needy. Sometimes we figure out that because of St. John’s support, kids at a little school in Haiti will learn to read, and without our support, they won’t. Sometimes we stop and say a prayer and remember that giving has a lot to do with being faithful to God.
Sometimes we don’t give at all because we think what we can afford is too small to matter, or we don’t give because we are saving for a rainy day, or because we are mad at the Every Member Canvass chair or let down by the church. Sometimes we are too proud to give; sometimes we are too humble to give. So Jesus told us a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector and asked us to think about it. He told us that the Pharisee was missing out because he prayed to tell God that he was doing everything right. Then Jesus told us that the tax collector was made right with God, because, knowing he was doing wrong, he begged God’s mercy on his selfishness and greed – and when he received it, his life changed forever.
Those who have ears to hear let them hear.