Weekly sermon thoughts for everyday discipleship based on two RCL lectionary readings
Sermon thoughts for everyday discipleship
by John Watson
Sunday 27th October 2013
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 and Luke 18:9-14
William Temple preached in 1931 that “if your conception of God is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you.” Temple’s words can be expanded and rephrased to say “If your conception of yourself is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you (and others).” A false sense of God leads to a false sense of self. A false sense of self will be one that limits not only your own humanity but limits how you view others’ too.
In prayer these figures, the Pharisee and the tax collector, reflect the journey we must all take. For the Pharisee prayer is a functional thing - a statement of what is ‘right’ and ‘good’, cementing already deeply held views and it is no more than that. Cocooned in the safety of his own realms he never lets God in to bring light and beauty and truth that would move him on in his own experiences. Yet knowing God calls for a renewal of the mind, a transformed heart. Kenneth Leech wrote in 1980:
‘True sanity involves the transcendence of the normal ego, or conscious self, in order to find the true deepest self.’ (True Prayer p.9)
Prayer at its hearts is a process of self giving, being set free from isolation and entering into a transformative relationship with God.
The tax collector is the figure within us that has the potential to realize what we can be really like and with that having the honesty to admit it. From that sense of reality God brings his healing and life. His view of God is expanded and hence his view of himself too.
Pharisaism is something that has always plagued the Church. It is something we must always be aware of. “I am better that her” or “at least I believe the right things” is a constant temptation as we go through life comparing ourselves with others. Jesus comes to lift us out of that trap. Being righteous is about seeing God in His light. It is seeing ourselves in His light too.
Interestingly being orthodox in faith is not simply about believing the right things. This is important. But another meaning of orthodox is ‘right glory’ - that in prayer our minds and hearts are not simply trained to believe the right thing - but start to see that ‘right glory’ God’s glory is within us - and that of the lives of our neighbour. To be orthodox is to be set alight by the fire of God’s glory. And that fire will consume all false images of God, all false images of ourselves and of others as well.
Paul, famous for his orthodoxy, looks back over his life where he has learnt that lesson as well. He reflects on his own experience as he has run the race of the kingdom. That great crown of righteousness will be for all who keep the faith. That at times running that race means giving up on who we are and giving in to who Christ is.
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.