Greetings all, here is your e-votional for the week…
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’”-Luke 18: 9-14
“You’ve got to sell yourself,” I was told.  I remember getting this advice in seminary as we prepared to look for our first calls.  We were told that we needed to go to churches and make sure they understood how qualified we were to lead them.  There is a peculiar dynamic in the world of Church business, whether that be hiring and firing or balancing a budget, which holds in tension the ideals of our faith and the realities of this world.  While I would one day look for a call (I chose Scotland over seeking a call directly out of seminary) I would also be looking for a job which would keep a roof over my head and also afford me enough surplus funds to buy tickets to sporting events from time to time.  There is a balance and we all, pastors and congregants, basically accept it.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally began to perceive that this dynamic is flawed.  Today I am very grateful for my salary and my job, but I believe that “selling myself” is not something I wish to do anymore, despite the temptation to relent.  I don’t want to “sell myself” to potential members or for a place on a prestigious board or to a questioning church member.  I want to end that part of my life.  This past Sunday I was teaching on the discipline of solitude in Richard Foster’s classic, “Celebration of Discipline,” and he wrote this, “One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier.  We don’t need to straighten others out.”  I want to embrace this truth as the tax collector did in the parable told by Jesus.

Tax collectors were rotten people and their career attested to their lack of character.  Exploiting their neighbors, they made their living off the backs of those around them as they collected taxes for the Roman Empire.  They were almost universally reviled.  Yet the hero above is not the God-fearing Pharisees; it is the wretched tax collector.  He is the one who is standing before God and refusing to “sell himself.”  The Pharisee, on the other hand, is making sure that God knows what a great fellow he is.  As Jesus often did, he inverted our expectations to teach us a valuable lesson.  “Selling ourselves” to God, or others, is not the business in which we want to be.

I hope you will forgive the personal nature of this devotional.  It is Lent, after all, and so I am thinking about myself more carefully than I regularly do.  But I want you to help hold me accountable.  I want you to help me to allow God to straighten out my reputation, and to embrace the humility of the tax collector in the face of a culture (and often a complicit American Church) which constantly seeks to “sell itself.”  I, like all of you, am a sinner in need of God’s grace.  At the end of the day, that is all I have to sell.

Prayer:  Holy God, forgive us for sinning against you.  We have failed you in thought, word, and deed.  Forgive us also for obsessing about our perception in the minds of others.  Set us free from this unpleasant and meaningless existence and help us to trust that you are in control in our lives.  We are so thankful for you, for your Church, and for all you have done for us.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.