These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
He came to worship as he always came to worship… to sing, to hear scripture and to pray. Today he had a special prayer as he thought about his life:
“Dear God, I want to thank you for the good life you have given me. I want to thank you for this day… this opportunity to worship you… I want to say thanks for my temple, my family, my job, my friends… and God, I want to thank you that I am not like other people… I am not a thief, a crook, an adulterer, a homosexual, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a politician, a congressman, a BP oil executive, a wall street worker … or even like that guy back in the back row… like that tax collector…
I want to thank you for the opportunity you give me to be active in the church, to work with the youth, to go to centering prayer group, to give to the church and listen to you as I read my Bible…”
Luke says, two men went into the temple to pray… one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee standing by himself was praying thus.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people…”
And, truth is, he was not like other people. I take him at his word. He was not a hypocrite and not insincere. He was a model of faithfulness. Just the kind of person we would love to see walk into our new member class or be nominated to the Session. A role model for the rest of us. He tithed… he prayed and fasted… he worked on Habitat homes and went on mission trips… I think we would like him.
“… but the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying to God, “be merciful to me, a sinner!”
And there is nothing insincere about this man’s prayer either. He is a sinner. He is simply not one of those people who is never as bad as they seem to be: he IS bad! He is involved in a dirty business—collecting taxes for a foreign government—he was a crook. He is wealthy. He holds a franchise which he won in competitive bidding. He wanted it and he won it because it was a lucrative business. It gave him free reign at collecting taxes for the Romans by any means—defrauding, over-taxing and oppressing other people. He knows the system and he is working the system to fill his bank account. He is a traitor to his nation. As to his faith, he is a pagan. Despised, dishonest, he is surely lost and what in God’s name is he doing in church?
What in God’s name is he doing in church?
I’ll tell you what he is doing in church. He is praying a prayer of confession… He is seeking forgiveness… his life is out of wack… he is a broken, shattered person—who for all of his wealth and riches and success… feels empty and broken.
He is not like the person who in my first church asked me, “Do I have to pray the prayer of confession… I can’t think of anything I need to confess?” No, he has plenty to confess. Which is why he has come to worship.
He has actually come to a very special service… a service in which the sacrifice of the atonement is made. And to correct translation of the Greek phrase used by the publican is this:
“O God! Let it be for me! Make an atonement for me, a sinner!”
One can almost sense his desperation as he stands in the back of the congregation, hoping not to be noticed by all the good people. He does not feel worthy to be in the presence of all those good people. Yet there he is, in the back, yearning that he might stand with the people of God.
In deep and painful sorrow, he strikes his chest, and cries out in repentance and hope, “O, God! let it be for me! Make an atonement for me, a sinner!”
At the end of worship, Jesus says, it is this one who went home justified—not the Pharisee…This one… who knew he didn’t deserve to be there… but came there seeking mercy…
this one… who knew he had plenty to confess each week—more than can be put in a few lines in a bulletin—this one– who confessed his sins… not the other… went home healed and whole… forgiven… at peace with God.
The part of the service with a prayer of confession seems to me to be a very important part of our worship. I am given an opportunity to come clean with God and with you. I am reminded that we are here by grace… not by goodness, but by grace… I am here not because, as the old saying goes, the church is not a sanctuary for saints… I am here because it is a hospital for sinners.
Early in our service we remember that when we pray our prayer of confession. And we come to receive grace… the grace of forgiveness… where it is declared, in Jesus Christ we are forgiven… atonement has been made… We gather to be healed by the grace of God.
Grace is the great healer. We saw that a couple of weeks ago and it sent ripples throughout the sports world. A moment that will be remembered for a long time.
You remember the story of Umpire Jim Joyce and Pitcher Armando Galarraga.
Jim Joyce blew a call that cost Galarraga a perfect game. If Joyce had made the right call, Galarraga would have been the third pitcher to throw a perfect game this season. However, before this season, only 18 perfect games had been thrown in over the 100 year plus history of baseball. Gallaraga should have been the 19th.
But Joyce called the runner safe and ruined the perfect game. Replays showed he was clearly out. He blew the call. The coming hours were awful for Joyce. He quickly realized he had made an awful mistake. It cost Galarraga a perfect game… his name in the record books for all time. Joyce came clean- apologized profusely on the radio. “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.” He knew there was nothing he could do to change the call. He could not rewind the tape… and make it all right. It was a capital offense for an umpire.
Funny thing happened that you rarely see in sports. Galarraga, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation defused the whole thing. He could have gotten mad. He could have petitioned MLB to reverse the call. But he didn’t. In fact, after the botched call he went back to the mound and got the next guy out.
Later, in an interview he said, you know, “We’re all human. We make mistakes.”
He offered grace after the bad call. And before you know it the grace spread.
The manager later offered grace… and understanding. The next day, when Joyce was to be umpiring at the plate, Galarraga was sent out to him by the manager… to bring the lineup card to Joyce. It was an emotional moment.
Galarraga said, “He apologized to me. I gave him a hug. I’m sure the guy feels 100 times worse than me. The next day we turned the page.”Thanks to the grace of Gallaraga, the Detroit fans cheered Joyce at the game. Thanks to grace, Joyce experienced the joy of forgiveness. Instead of living a life shattered by his mistakes, thanks to grace, he was made whole…
We come to worship not because any of us are able to pitch or call the perfect game… rather we come here because we know we have all blown it…
We come here because we are people who are broken and we know the one who can make us whole… We come here, not because we are so good, but because God is so good and gracious and forgiving.
And when we have come here and prayed our prayers, we are ready to know, that we too have been made whole… we too have been offered the gift of peace (a peace that passes all understanding), thanks to the love of a gracious God who forgives us all our sins and heals us when we need it most.
To this God be the glory now and forever. Amen.