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THE PARABLES OF JESUS: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

We started a series last week called “The Parables of Jesus.”  This series is all about the parables of Jesus.  Over the course of the summer, we’re going to be studying together these stories that Jesus told.  That’s what a parable is.  A parable’s a story.  It’s two words put together—“para” which means alongside of and “bollo” which means to throw.  It’s stories for normal everyday people—-they weren’t told by the philosophical leaders or taught in the Socratic seminar.  Stories they threw alongside of reality.  The whole goal of a parable was to make people go, “Huh, I never thought of it like that.”  I never thought that the kingdom of heaven was sort of like a field where there’s both wheat planted in it and weeds.  Hmm, I never saw it like that.  The parables are intended to create some spiritual awakening in our souls.

The parable that we’re going to look at today is found in Luke 18:9-14.  This parable is all about Jesus saying, “I know, I get it.”  The way that you look at the world and the way that you see who’s on top, the power structures, and what it looks like to get ahead, and what it looks like when you accumulate wealth, and how to be a good and right person.  I get it.  I get it.  There’s a way that the world looks, but everything is not as it seems.

Fourth of July, Season 3 of the amazing Netflix show “Stranger Things” came out.  Don’t spoil it, I haven’t started Season 3 yet; I’ve been busy, but I plan on watching it.  “Stranger Things” is this Netflix special TV show.  It’s science fiction and ’80s based.  It has all sorts of allusions to ’80’s movies and TV shows.  It’s brilliant.  It’s about this little town in Hawkins, Indiana where the Hawkins National Laboratory performs these scientific research experiments.  They’re working for the United States Department of Energy, but secretly they are exploring paranormal and supernatural activity.  They just happen to unearth, or uncover, this portal to an alternate dimension called the “Upside Down.”  It’s this dimension that exists right alongside of the dimension you can see, but it’s just completely upside down, completely different.  It’s right there, but totally different.

I think what Jesus wants to do today is invite us to the Upside Down.  I think he wants us to reimagine this world that we live in.  His teaching in this text is quite jarring.  I think the question for all of us is will we have the courage to receive it, will we have the courage to embrace it, to enter into it.  Don’t miss this—whether or not you say yes to that question, I believe, will in large part, determine the trajectory of your life.  Luke 18:9-14.  Here’s the way Jesus tells this story:  He also told this parable {He threw this story alongside of their reality.) to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now a little bit of context for us because the story demands it for us to really enter in.  Every Jewish person listening to Jesus’s story here would have recognized what Jesus is talking about.  The people would go to temple to pray, two times every day.  At those times, in the morning and in the evening, there would be a sacrifice made, usually a small lamb.  The priest would offer this sacrifice.  There would be incense that would be lit.  There would be trumpets that would be sounded.  There would be cymbals that would clang.  There would be prayers that would be offered and psalms that would be sung.  Jesus says, in that context, there’s two people coming from their homes.  One a tax collector and the other a Pharisee.  This is like, a Pharisee and a tax collector walk into a temple….   Jesus is about to tell us this grand joke, in a sense.

The word “Pharisee” literally means “separate.”  They were the Bible study teachers.  They were the Promise Keepers.  They were the Campus Crusaders.  They were the pastors.  People who had it all together.  People that other people looked up to and went, “Ah, when we get there, then we’ll be okay with God.”  On the other hand, there was this tax collector.  They were the exact opposite.  They were people who’d rob their own countrymen.  They sold out in order to earn from Rome the right to tax their own people, and they kept driving taxes up and up and up so that everybody else was living in poverty and they were living wealthy.  You have one person that everybody looks up to and esteems as pious and elite, and you have another person who everybody says, “I’m glad I’m not like them.”

That’s the context of Jesus telling the story.  A lot of people read the story on the surface and think the story’s about prayer.  The context is prayer, but the story is about this word “righteous.”  It’s this word about how to be right.  There was a way to be right in the Greco-Roman world and it was by following all the rules, by embracing the moral and ethic code, and by being a “decent” person.  But as you read through the Scriptures, you find that righteousness is way deeper than that.  Righteousness actually has to do with relationship also, not just the keeping of the law, but about being right with another person, being able to look them in the eye and to know that things are okay between you and them.  The question is really about “How are you okay?”  That’s what the story’s about.  That’s what Jesus’s little sermon’s about.  How do you get to the place where you’re comfortable in your own skin?  Where you’re comfortable before God?  How do you get to the place where you’re right with God?

And he told them this parable and here’s what he said.   He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves…..and treated others with contempt.    Notice, the way that they treat other people is determined by what they see in their own soul.  Did you know that the way that you interact with everybody around you, including God, is determined primarily by what you see in you?  {You may want to write this down, if you’re taking notes.}  What happens in you determines what happens through you.  Or we might say it like this this morning:  The way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else.

When you walked in, you got a mirror.  Would you take that out?  What do you see?  If the way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else, maybe it would be a good practice for us to be honest this morning about what we see.  What do you see?  Do you see someone who has it all together?  Do you see someone who has got a good resumé?  God, thanks for all the good things you’ve given me and thanks for the things I’ve given me.  Do you see someone who’s broken?  Do you see someone who’s failed?  Someone who’s maybe unlovable?  Do you see someone who’s had to be strong for other people….sort of hold it all together?  Do you see someone…..right now I see someone who’s barely holding on.   Anybody with me?  Do you see someone who’s broken beyond repair?  Or maybe we just see someone who’s good.  All of us see something.  Maybe we could write a word on here that would define the way that we see ourselves, but the way that you see YOU determines the way you treat all the you’s around you.  It overflows into the lives of the people that you love the most and that you care about the most.

Look at the way this played out in the Pharisee’s life.  He told them this story—threw this story alongside their reality—to some who trusted in themselves {Where they went God, I’m right before you because of what’s in me.}  that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself…..  It was really interesting.  We see this progression—they trust in themselves for their own righteousness, which shapes the way they view everything else, which determines the position of everyone else in relationship to them.  And what happens?  The Pharisee is by himself, praying.  God, thank you that I’m amazing.  God, thank you that I’m awesome.  Thank you that I stuck that dismount.  God, you did good work in creating me.  And everybody is over here and praying the psalms, going through the motions and they’re all in one little group, one little cluster.  Jesus wants to make a point.  The Pharisee, who trusts in himself for his own righteousness, is standing APART from everybody else.  That’s exactly what happens when we trust in ourselves.  There’s a word that we have for that—pride.  I think what Jesus wants to show us is that pride creates a divide—-between ourselves, and between God, and between the people that we love the most.

If you dive into Galatians 6:2-3, here’s what the Apostle Paul will write to the church at Galatia — Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  {Which is love—love your neighbor as yourself.}  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.   Isn’t that interesting?  The thing that prevents you from carrying the burdens of others, from being in life-giving relationship with others, is thinking that you’re something.  Like the Pharisee did.  I’m amazing.  I’ve got it all together.  I’ve accomplished a whole lot.  I read my Bible everyday.  I go to the prayer meeting.  I haven’t missed church in a week.  I tithe on my income….  What starts to happen?  There’s this distance, this divide, that’s created.  Can I invite you to just lean in a little bit today?  As I’ve tried to examine my own soul, what I’ve recognized is that pride is hard to see in myself.  It’s hard to see.  So my guess is most of us are going, “You know who I wish was here for this sermon?”  Fill-in-the-blank, right?  Can we be honest?  Did anybody think that yet?  Yeah.  I think what Jesus might want to say to us today is,  “This sermon isn’t for somebody else, it’s actually for you!”

There’s some devastating things that start to happen in our soul when we embrace this narrative of “I’m okay and I’m good because of what I’ve done.”  Here’s three things that happen in the Pharisee’s life:  1) He starts to have this narrative of his own holiness.  The reason he’s distant is because he believes his holiness needs to be protected by distance between him and dirtiness.  So I’m more holy the more sin I stay away from.  Man, isn’t that interesting how some of these things just keep coming back around.  We still try to define holiness based on what we stay away from.  There’s a whole Christian subculture that’s built around helping you stay away from people that are broken and sinful and hurting and in pain.  You want to know the problem with that?  Jesus!  Jesus entered in with sinful people.  He entered in with broken people.  He entered in with people who were in pain, and he started to reverse that narrative, that narrative that says, “Oh, if I get near ‘sinful’ people, then I’ll become sinful.”  He goes no, no, no, no, actually what happens is when holiness encounters sin; it’s not that holiness is made dirty, it’s that sin is made clean.  So when Jesus touches a leper, He doesn’t get leprosy, the leper is healed.  When Jesus encounters a demon, he drives out the demon, he doesn’t get it himself.  That’s his perspective on holiness.  The Pharisee’s holding onto this old method of I’ve got to stay away from everything that’s dirty so that I can remain clean.  I think a lot of times, pride creates a divide by giving us a faulty narrative of what it means to be holy.  You know you’re holy by not what you stay away from, but because of who you know, and the grace that you receive.  That’s New Covenant holiness, friends.

But it doesn’t stop there for this Pharisee.  It’s not just the narrative that he believes about the way that he’s made holy.  There’s this word Jesus uses to describe the perspective and attitude of the Pharisee—it says he treated others with contempt.  Which literally in the Greek means emptiness.  He looked at them as empty people.  As people who were sort of soulless, and you can see why.  His perspective—I have done all these things.  And I have tithed.  And I have attended temple.  And I have done all of those things out there, that, by the way, weren’t even required by the law.  And they haven’t.  And the fact that they haven’t means that they are unworthy of love.  The narrative he believes is that I’m valuable based on what I do and based on what I produce.

Can I give a pastoral word to all the parents out there?  I think one of the most dangerous things we can do as parents is hold onto that narrative—we’re valuable based on what we produce.  Because what we see in us, always determines what we give to others.  So if the story we’re telling ourselves is I’m valuable based on what I produce, what’s the story that our kids are going to end up hearing?  You’re valuable based on what you produce!  I think one of the truths he wants to teach us is that if I find my value in what I do, I measure everybody else by what they do also.

I can remember, a few weeks ago, my son Ethan was pitching.  Every time he walked somebody—he had a rough game so he walked a few people—he would look over at me (I was coaching).  It was this look of “Are we still okay?”  I’ve failed.  I’ve let you down.  Are we still okay?  The next time he was on the mound, I went up to the mound, put the ball in his hand, knelt down right in front of him and said, “Hey, bud, I want you to know that whether you strike every batter out or walk every batter you face, you’re still my son and I love you exactly the same!”  Man, I wish I would have done that earlier in the season, because he pitched so much better that day!  I wish I would have done that earlier, because he’s carrying this weight….   That’s my narrative, you guys, I’ve got this perfectionism, performer narrative that spins around in my head, and when I let it go it goes crazy, and it spilled over onto my son and somehow he’s gotten in him, “My dad loves me when I strike people out, but when I walk people I’ve got to look back to make sure we’re okay.”  I don’t know about you, but I want to kill that narrative as quickly in me as I possibly can so that it dies in him too, because it’s no way to live wondering if you’re okay with the people who love you most.  If you’re here today and you’re wondering if you’re okay with God….if you’re looking back at him going, “I failed.  Are we still okay?”  His question back to you isn’t “How much have you done for me lately and what have you produced, and what sort of dividends are coming out of your life?”  His question back to you is “Are your hands open to receive grace and mercy from Jesus?”  That’s the only question he cares about.

This Pharisee just can’t get there, so what happens?  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men.” I mean, can you believe some of these guys?  These extortioners.  These unjust. These adulterers.  Or even like that dude over there!  Can you believe that dude has the audacity to enter into YOUR temple courts to come and pray to you?  That tax collector—he’s ripped everybody in here off and he shows up in church!  Oh man!  Me, I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of everything.   Five times in two verses, this guy says to God, “I’m sure you’re amazing and you’re great, but can we talk about me?  Could we talk about how awesome I am?  You’re good, but let’s talk about me!”  Five times in two verses.  Then he says, “Hey, God, let’s also talk about them.  Let’s talk about how much better I am than those people.”  Have you’ve ever been to a prayer gathering that turned into a sermon somewhere along the way?

Here’s what this guy does.  Like I mentioned, he’s playing by rules that God didn’t give.  These weren’t things God commanded.  He’s made up his own way of being right with God, which is what we call religion.  Isn’t it fascinating how people who make up their own way of being right with God very rarely fall on the wrong side of that equation?  He’s like, God, I’m good.  What does he do?  He’s measuring himself against everyone else.  His first narrative is: I’m holy because I’m separate.  His second narrative is: I’m valuable based on what I produce.  His third narrative is: I’m okay because I’m better than them.  It all falls under this banner of pride.   You know what the devastating thing about this line of thinking—the ‘I’m better than them’ line of thinking—is?  It’s impossible to love if you’re in competition with somebody.  If you’re comparing yourself with somebody, you’re competing, because there’s only two ways I climb this ladder that I feel I have to climb.  One is by actually climbing it and getting better, so I can then pat myself on the back and go, “Aren’t I amazing?”  The other is if you go down a few rungs, I go up a few rungs.  So if you’re comparing yourself to people, you’re competing with people.  And if you’re competing with people, it’s impossible for you to love people.  If you’re comparing yourself to people and it’s impossible for you to love people, then comparison is actually the death of the greatest command.  So we have to find something that allows us to look in the mirror and go, “In all of my brokenness, in all of my failure, and in all of my pain, I’m still okay, and it’s not because of any of the resources inside of me.”  If Jesus were here today, I think he would say, “Man, when we talk about righteousness….righteousness isn’t primarily about whether or not you’ve broken the law, it’s about a broken relationship.”

So let me just ask you some diagnostic questions.  Pride is hard for us to see in ourselves, so here’s some questions to ask.  Maybe if the answer is Yes to some of these, maybe there’s some work that God just wants to do in your life.  Don’t be afraid of that.  There’s a difference between condemnation, which is the enemy’s voice, and conviction, which is the voice of the Spirit.  The enemy wants to condemn so he can beat you down.  The Spirit wants to convict so he can show you that you are down and start to lead you up!   *How easily are you offended?  *How hard do you try to convince people you are right?  Don’t you imagine that if you were to talk to the Pharisee, he would have just said like, I don’t get what the big deal is, I’m right!  And he’s wrong!  How hard do you try to convince people you’re right?  *How hard is it for you to admit you’re wrong?  If you’re like I can’t remember the last time that I was, then this sermon’s for you!  *How often do you think, I’m not as good at fill-in-the-blank as that person?  You might immediately go, well, that’s not pride, that’s actually self-deprecating.  It’s just the opposite side of the coin.  It’s just pride where you haven’t succeeded in your game.  *How often do you try things you might not be good at?  Because people who struggle with pride and perfectionism, typically avoid things that they might fail at because that would be a huge blow to their ego.  I know because I’m preaching to myself!  *How do you respond when people treat you like a servant?  *How hard is it for you to genuinely encourage others?  *How much do you empathize with people who’ve failed?  Or who are in pain?  *How often do you share the deepest parts of your soul with trusted friends?

In Jesus’s story, the Pharisee is created to serve as a warning for us.  To create a spiritual awakening.  To go oh, maybe I’ve been playing this game.  Maybe I’ve just been coming to church and maybe church has turned into a ledger sheet for me to show to God, to say to God, “God, are we okay?”  Maybe today there’s some sort of awakening in your soul, by the power of the Spirit, where Jesus is going yeah, this isn’t for that other person you thought it was for, it’s actually for you and I want to do some business on your soul.  Maybe you’re going, oh my goodness, pride creates divide and the pride in my life has actually cut me off from some of the people I love the most.  Maybe it’s also cut me off from God.  Maybe you’re here today and you’re still thinking it’s somebody else’s fault.

If pride is the clandestine destroyer of all relationships—and it is—Jesus also invites us to one of the secrets of success.  I love the way John Stott put it:  “Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend.”  Verse 13 — But the tax collector, standing far off, {See, the Pharisee stands alone—these are intentional word choices by Jesus—as if to say, I’m better than you.  The tax collector stands far off, as if to say I could never get that close.  It’s different.} would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, {Which was typically something reserved for females to do in the ancient Jewish culture, and it was something reserved for funerals, for lament, for a death that’s happened.  So he’s beating his chest, not God, I’m good and I’ve got, but God, I’m broken and I’m in need.}  saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 

Here’s what’s interesting: They’ve walked up to the temple.  They’ve seen a priest slaughter a lamb, spread his blood.  They’ve seen the incense rise.  They’ve sung the psalms.  They’ve cried out their prayers to God.  They’ve done everything.  And yet, he’s still thinking there’s something off between us.  Here’s what he recognizes:  He recognizes that going through the motion of religion will never touch the deepest places of his soul that he knows are broken.  So what does he do?  He does the thing that all of us who receive grace and mercy do—-he asks for it!  The truth of the matter, friends, is that humility frees us to receive mercy.  Originally I had in my notes, humility releases mercy, but that would be theologically false.  Humility does not release mercy.  Humility is the thing that releases the thing that we’re holding onto that prevents us from capturing God’s mercy that is always being poured out.  The only thing that can keep you from accepting God’s grace is your unwillingness to admit that you need it; everybody who admits that they need it, receives it.  The Pharisee is so obsessed with his own resumé that he is unable to receive God’s grace.

What Jesus teaches — Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  This is the upside-down!  It is!  If you want to gain your life, lose it. (Luke 9:24)  If you want to know what it means to be great in the kingdom, be the last. (Matthew 12:16)  If you want to be the greatest of all, be the servant of all. (Luke 22:26)  This is messed up, upside-down, inverted, paradoxical kingdom living.  That’s what it is.

If you’re tracking with me, my guess is your question is yeah, but Ryan, how do I become humble?  It’s the right question.  If you try to become humble and you succeed, where does that leave you?  You’re like, “Man, I’m the most humble person I’ve ever met! I’ve really been working on humility and I think I’ve stuck the dismount!”  Immediately you’re knocked off the podium.  So how do we do it?  Let me give you two ideas.  1) I think Mother Teresa said it best: “We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.  Do not let that chance pass you by.”  I think the way we step into a life of humility is by being humiliated.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Where do we sign up for that?!  We want to avoid that like the plague, don’t we?

A few weeks ago, Kelly and I were in Costa Rica on vacation.  We were hiking along this trail in the jungle.  It was just gorgeous!  These massive birds chirping, monkeys howling; it was this picturesque scene.  We walked passed this little hut in the jungle, and there were these dogs in the backyard of this hut that were just ROWR, ROWR, RUFF, RUFF! They were going crazy, so I just responded!  My adrenaline kicked into gear and I started to run as fast as I could.  My wife happened to be a little bit in front of me, and in order to save her life from these vicious dogs, I pushed her out of the way so that I would be in between her and the dogs, to give my life for her.  At least that’s my version of this story!  I fell down face first, on the trail, and these dogs come rushing out.  Rowr, rowr, rowr!   They were the two most vicious Chihuahuas I have ever seen in my entire life!  I am lying face first in the dirt; Kelly is laughing at me and asking if I’m okay.  The guy comes running out of his house and says, “Oh, did my dogs scare you?”  I’m like face on the ground, “No, I’m good. Uh, I thought I saw a quarter down here.  I was looking for it….”  It was just her and I and something in me was like, “You should feel embarrassed.”

Just the thought of being humiliated fills us with fear, doesn’t it?  I think what Mother Teresa is saying is that there will be opportunities for you to embrace that feeling and go, “Yeah, maybe I’m imperfect.”  Maybe there’s some flaws, maybe there’s some shortcomings.   See, what happens in us when we’re humiliated is the false self that we’ve tried to construct, the public self, the I’m okay self, the look-at-me self, starts to die.

Here’s the other way we can embrace a posture of humility.  We can position ourselves to experience greatness—God’s greatness.  No one stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon and goes, “I’m pretty cool.”  No one puts their blanket out on the Pacific Ocean, watches the sunset and goes, “That’s pretty great, but have you seen what I’ve done lately?”  Nobody holds a baby, crying for the first time, and thinks to themselves, “I am awesome.”  In each of those scenarios, they think to themselves, “God, YOU are GREAT!  God, you have been good.”  We can step into humility by embracing the humiliation that’s going to come.  Don’t chase it!  It’s coming for you!  But, we can also position ourselves to experience God’s greatness and his mercy and his love.

The beautiful thing about humility is it is the very thing that allows us to carry the power of God.  Here’s the thing, friend, you can either choose with your life to carry YOUR strength and YOUR power and YOUR pride, or you can choose to carry God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy, but you can’t carry both.  Which is in your bucket today?  What Paul would say is:  We have this treasure in jars of clay, {He’s talking about the gospel, the good news that in the midst of being broken and sinful and needy, you are loved and showered down with mercy and grace and the kindness of the divine.} to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  (2 Cor. 4:7)

As we land the plane, can I just say that I think there’s some danger, too, in this message, so let me just try to stave it off, if I can.  What I’m not saying is that you should look in the mirror and go, “What a pile of garbage.”  That’s not humility.  That’s actually false pride.  You shouldn’t say, “What a pile of garbage.  I have no worth, because I haven’t added up to God’s standard.”  You’ve heard narratives like this in Christian circles.  Basically, when you go to church, your expectation is when I walk out the doors I should feel worse than when I walked in.  If we don’t feel guilty, we haven’t been to church.  What I think you should think when you look in the mirror is I am imperfect, and I’m broken, and I’m sinful, and in the midst of all of that, I am a dearly-loved child of God.  I carry his image.  I’m indwelt with his Spirit.  He has called me and made me holy, not because I’m amazing and I’m awesome, but because his grace and mercy has been showered down on me, and I’ve just gotten low enough to know that I need it.  He’s placed me in the heavenly realms with Him.  He’s forgiven me and calls me His child.  He hasn’t put inside of me a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of strength and courage and power.  I think when you look in the mirror you should see both your brokenness and your beauty, and my hope is that you see God’s grace reigning and showering down on it all.

So what do we do?  We’re going to come to the table in just a moment, but you might want to write this down: In the kingdom of God, downward mobility (tax-collector mentalities) actually leads to an upward trajectory.  Here’s what that might look like in your life this week, because I want to give you some handles for this.  *What if this week you embraced your smallness by entering God’s presence.  The Scriptures are really clear:  Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)  So one of best ways to forget that God is God and to think that you are God is for you to keep going on that hamster wheel of success.  I think Jesus might want to say to us, “Just slow down.”  Worship and enter my presence.  Stop!  Pray.”  *Maybe this week you decide to serve the people around you.  Maybe it’s a roommate or a friend or a family member or a child.  Maybe it’s something simple like a note of encouragement, or an arm around them, or a word of truth spoken.  Maybe you do something that just needs to be done and you don’t tell anybody about it.  What if this week you chose to serve selflessly and then accept it as part of your discipleship when you’re treated like a servant?  “They’re treating me like a servant.  Jesus, that’s part of your school of shaping me in your image.  Help me respond appropriately.”    *What if this week you started to look at every single person that you saw and you attributed to them intrinsic value; they didn’t earn it.  They didn’t do anything to accomplish something so that they have value, but rather than earned worth, they have intrinsic value.  It’s just there.  They’re a child of God.  My friend Carolyn says she’s been practicing as she drives, looking at other drivers and just imagining that the image of God is stamped on every single one of them—the good drivers and the bad.  Maybe that’s a practice.  *Maybe today you just admit your need and receive his grace.  You can either earn or you can receive, but you can’t do both, friends.  You can’t do both.  You only receive grace if you know that you need it, and God never says No to anybody who asks for it.

Some of you are here today and you’re going, “Man, Jesus, maybe for the first time I just want to say to you I need your grace,” and He’s saying, “Welcome to my kingdom.”  Here’s the question I want us to wrestle with as we come to the table this morning…..maybe for some of us it’s going, Jesus, I need your grace in this area of my life.  I’ve been trying to be strong, but today it’s time to admit that I am weak, and I need you to show up.  And I need your Spirit to infuse my brokenness.  I need your life to take over my death.  I need my trying to be replaced by your showering down of grace and mercy.  As we go to the table this morning, would you just take a moment and would you ask Jesus….Jesus, where do you want to infuse grace into my life today?  Where have I been trying and you’re inviting me to receive?

You know what’s amazing?  In John 13, John tells us the story of Jesus celebrating the Passover meal—-we’re going to celebrate communion in just a moment; would our servers start coming forward?  That night, Jesus gathered his disciples around the table and he took off his outer garment and he tied a towel around his waist.  He got down on his hands and knees and started to wash his disciples’ feet.  I mean, this should absolutely shock us.  The one being in the entire universe that could be prideful isn’t.  Isn’t.  He shows us what God is like; that God doesn’t beat his chest even though he could, he gives his life so that you and I might be made right.  So that you and I might be welcomed back.  For 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been getting low enough to crawl to the table to remember that they’re people in need and that God fills that need.  To remember that they’re people empty and God fills them with his life.  To remember that they’re people who are broken, but they’re beautiful because they’re loved.  To remind themselves that they’re people who have failed but they’re not failures; they are children of the Most High God because of the grace of Jesus.  As you come this morning, would you come knowing that you are deeply loved.  Would that be what you see in the mirror, in the midst of all of the junk going on in your life, that there might be that view that transcends it all.

{Communion instructions}

Let’s pray.  Jesus, would you fill our lack with your abundance?  Would you replace our trying with your Spirit?  And Jesus, would you overshadow our failure with your grace?  Our arms and our hearts are open, speak to us as we celebrate this table today, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.