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“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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