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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 30, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 24, 2010

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

I have fought the good fight’

One of the greatest obstacles to personal growth is a low self-esteem, a negative self-image. If I spend all my time castigating myself for my failures, for character flaws, for less admirable acts, then it tends to become debilitating and instead of being a spur to change and growth it is paralysing and self-centred. “O God, be merciful to me, me, me, a sinner.”

And if I never give myself credit for my accomplishments, never engage in positive self-affirmation, then I am in real danger of becoming morose and cynical, and ultimately an unpleasant and depressing person to have around.

So, what are we to make of Jesus affirming the one who can describe herself/himself only as a sinner, and dismissing the one who has conscientiously set about achieving a high degree of personal virtue?

Let’s look again at the pharisee’s prayer in the light of a belief that self-esteem is a good thing. “I give you thanks, O God, that I’m not like others – greedy, crooked, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on everything I earn.”

There are at least two ways of seeking to affirm oneself. I can remind myself of something good in myself or something good I have achieved – and the pharisee does that – “I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on everything I earn”. Or I can put someone else down so that I’ll look better in relation to another. The pharisee does that too – “I give you thanks, O God, that I’m not like others – greedy, crooked, adulterous – or even like this tax collector”. He seeks to make himself look good by putting others down.

A desire that leads to the breaking of relationship and the breaking of the possibility of relationship. Focusing on differences in order to elevate oneself – or one’s family or community – over others. Defining the others as different and somehow inferior, and all-too-often unworthy of respect or regard.

The “mutuality model” of inter-faith dialogue raises a question as to proclaiming Jesus as Saviour without putting other religious confessions down – how Christians can continue to announce the uniqueness of Jesus without disparaging , and cutting off possibilities of dialogue with, the uniqueness of Buddha or Krishna or Muhammad.

It’s worth mentioning here because, whatever the limitations of the so-called mutuality model (chiefly a tendency to deny real differences) the question is a valid one: Is my faith in Jesus as the Christ, as God’s saving presence, an expression of grateful love and passionate hope in and for the world, or mostly a means of feeling superior to others, strong and confident? If the latter, then our Gospel may serve to warn us of a religious pride that fragments, that prevents relationship; that does not make for a right relationship with God. Perhaps it also serves to show us that superior attitudes mask real vulnerability and often despair.

The Apostle Paul, it seems, was not averse to reminding himself of something good in himself or something good he had accomplished. “I have fought the good fight,” he says. “I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” It’s bold talk, but it’s not sinful.

So long as he doesn’t go on to say, “and thank you God that I’m not like those other people who haven’t fought the good fight like me, me, me”. In fact, Paul goes on to say the very opposite: “Now a laurel wreath awaits me … Our God … will award it to me – and not only me, but to all who have longed for Christ’s appearing.” To all who have longed for Christ’s appearing.

There’s more. Not only does Paul include many others – even at a high point of self-encouragement – but he confesses his dependence on the Christ of God in the context of a powerful and seductive and violent culture. He speaks as one aware of his human weaknesses: “Christ stood by my side and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the nations might hear the Gospel. That’s how I was saved from the lion’s jaws …”

Those who will be exalted with Christ are those, like Paul, and like the tax collector in our parable, who believe that any such salvation/exaltation is God’s doing, not ours. Believing that they can’t get themselves there, no matter how good they are, they entrust themselves to God’s mercy – and to God’s support and inspiration and power – as the only possible way they might attain such a destiny.

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” With these words we can embark on the journey of life in all its fullness, the journey to an ancient destiny, to be one with Jesus the Christ – to be one with Christ in whom all achievement acts as a medium of relationship – in whom all may be forgiven and in whom all may flourish.

Maybe we can think about allowing ourselves to be encouraged by our own accomplishments without putting others down or denying the divine gifts that make all things possible in and through us. As the oil of encouragement/blessing is offered to us we can allow ourselves to speak – aloud or in silence – of something good in ourselves, or something good we have accomplished. Let us complete the homily together. … Amen.