Our Gospel reading from Luke 18 will serve as our text for this morning’s message.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

If I were to ask all of you who consider yourselves to be sinners to sit on this side of the church, how many of you would make your way over here?  If I were to ask all of you who consider yourselves to be saints to move over to this side, how many would make your way over here?

I like to throw around Latin phrases quite often.  Do you know why?  Well, the truth is one of the reasons is that I believe them to be quite meaningful and helpful, so I have a very good and worthy reason to share them with you.  But, the truth is I have another reason for doing so: it makes me sound smarter than I really am.  It flows from a very powerful personal weakness I have, which is the need to try to impress others.

So, here is one of the handful of Latin phrases that I like to share for reasons both worthy and unworthy, which comes from Martin Luther: simul eustes et peccator, which means we are all simultaneously “just” (in other words, saints) and sinners.  Saints and sinners at the same time… and all the time.  We are never just one or the other, but both.  So we would all have to sit on both sides of the aisle at the same time, wouldn’t we?

I would like to share a poem with you written by one of the most prolific Christian theologians of the past century… maybe the past several centuries.  This poem was written by a young Lutheran theologian who was awarded his doctorate with honors at the age of 21, after presenting his dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, at the end of three years at the University of Berlin (1924-1927).  Act and Being, his qualifying thesis, which allowed him to teach at the University of Berlin, was accepted in July 1930... at the ripe old age of 24.  The following year, this incredibly bright scholar spent a postgraduate year at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and then assumed his post as a lecturer in theology at the University of Berlin in August 1931.  Anyone know who I am speaking of?  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

After serving as a pastor of an underground church-- and allegedly participating in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler-- Bonhoeffer was arrested, and spent the next two years in various prison and concentration camps.  One month before being executed at the concentration camp in Flossenberg just prior to its being freed by the Allies, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words:

Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

 

Am I then really that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectations of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

 

Who am I? This or the Other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

 

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

 

These words, written by a man who had learned and taught so much, who had risked it all to serve God and his people, standing up to evil powers, who indeed had borne the days of misfortune in faithful ways that impressed and inspired so many others, these words show that Bonhoeffer understood that in spite of all that was good in his life, he was simul eustes et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner… both at once.

These words echo those of Saint Paul, an incredibly gifted scholar and inspired writer, a great missionary of the highest order, willing to risk and suffer all for the sake of the Gospel, who wrote in the seventh chapter of his letter to the Romans: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  …  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. … Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Paul was simul eustes et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner… not one or the other, but both at once.

So now, finally, let’s consider our text.  Who are we in the parable?  We must be careful.  Most of us would say that we are the tax collector, the one who is humble.  If we are not careful we might pray "Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self- righteous, or even like that Pharisee.  We come to church each week, listen attentively to Scripture, and we have learned that we should always be humble."  We might even want to say that we consider humility to be just one of our many great attributes.  Careful.  We are both at once, justified saints and broken sinners.

Here is the main point of Jesus’ parable and of this sermon, using Jesus’ words: we must not be like those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.  We are righteous in the eyes of God because of God’s goodness, not our own.  We’re saints because of God’s grace, not because we have superior doctrine, do all of the expected religious things and rites and rituals, pray, read the Bible, go to church, drop some money in the plate, maybe volunteer for a thing or two.  We are saints by God’s actions not our own.

Enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God, we know in our heart of hearts that we are still broken, that we continue to fall far short of loving and serving God and others with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  We understand that even the good we do is tainted by impure motives.  We are saints and we are sinners simultaneously, and in the freedom of grace we simply seek to grow.  Our hope and our prayer is for the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming us to become more and more like Jesus in all we think, and say and do, all the while humbly acknowledging that on this side of the grave, we will always need grace, and therefore treating others with compassion and gentleness, never with contempt.  Amen.

sider our text.  Who are we in the parable?  We must be careful.  Most of us would say that we are the tax collector, the one who is humble.  If we are not careful we might pray "Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self- righteous, or even like that Pharisee.  We come to church each week, listen attentively to Scripture, and we have learned that we should always be humble."  We might even want to say that we consider humility to be just one of our many great attributes.  Careful.  We are both at once, justified saints and broken sinners.

Here is the main point of Jesus’ parable and of this sermon, using Jesus’ words: we must not be like those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.  We are righteous in the eyes of God because of God’s goodness, not our own.  We’re saints because of God’s grace, not because we have superior doctrine, do all of the expected religious things and rites and rituals, pray, read the Bible, go to church, drop some money in the plate, maybe volunteer for a thing or two.  We are saints by God’s actions not our own.

Enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God, we know in our heart of hearts that we are still broken, that we continue to fall far short of loving and serving God and others with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  We understand that even the good we do is tainted by impure motives.  We are saints and we are sinners simultaneously, and in the freedom of grace we simply seek to grow.  Our hope and our prayer is for the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming us to become more and more like Jesus in all we think, and say and do, all the while humbly acknowledging that on this side of the grave, we will always need grace, and therefore treating others with compassion and gentleness, never with contempt.  Amen.

   November 2018   
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