Toilet Seats and Toothpaste
Luke 18:9-14

As I was meditating on this text in preparation to write a sermon on it a consistent word kept coming to mind – ‘self’.  The whole parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector seems to revolve around the individual and how they see themselves or conduct themselves.  That focus on self fits beautifully with the way our society runs, the promotion of self and selfishness seems to have become the guiding ethic behind much of what goes on in our lives.

Now you may be thinking that this doesn’t apply to you, well I would like to challenge each and every one of us to be able to deny that we don’t have our own interests at the centre of most of what we do and say almost every day.

Let’s start with a couple of simple everyday scenarios that are apparently the subject of many a conflict in households.  Firstly the toilet seat, should it be up or should it be down at the completion of your business?  A quick show of hands would conclude that most females would firmly attest that it should remain down at all times, while the males might state that up is the most logical and safe place for it to be (usually if he differs from this standpoint it is because he is a sensitive new age guy and likes to keep the peace, mildly obsessive compulsive or just plain hen-pecked).  Each of us, when pushed would be able to give sound justification for our standpoint on the issue and in most cases that standpoint would be for a selfish reason.  Something like the female doesn’t like to sit on cold porcelain in the middle of the night in the depths of winter.

Secondly what about the tube of toothpaste, should it be squeezed from the top or the base of the tube?  Once again, we would find a polarised audience if we were to conduct a poll.  These are simple everyday things, but without doubt personal preference and selfish motivation lies behind our standpoint on the matters at hand and each of us could quite easily justify our reasons.

When you think about it life is full of these occurrences where we feel the need to justify ourselves before other people.  It is perhaps even more prevalent in the workplace, where there might be promotions or pay rises involved or even a bit of prestige or admiration.  We try and get reports in before others, we try to have less typos, use better audio-visual techniques in our presentations, we use more modern technology, a better camera, a faster car, the latest i-something to draw attention to ourselves and away from other people.  It could even be described as Narcissism, a disorder that expresses itself when someone is excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.

Our society is becoming more and more narcissistic.  We are dare I say it, like the Pharisee in the parable; we tend towards needing to show others how good we are in comparison to someone else, with the hope that it will bring about power and prestige.  We might even surround ourselves with pomp and circumstance to highlight our power.

We are however, also at times like the tax collector, we come before God with repentant hearts admitting that we have sinned and fallen short of his glory and beg his forgiveness.  We are ashamed to come forward where we can be seen; we hide in a corner and pray quietly, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.  Funnily enough both of these characters in the parable could be us on any given day or even at any given hour of a single day.  Both are justified, one in his own mind and the other by God, that comparison comes through clearly in the parable.

The truth is neither of these examples can actually bring about justification before God.  You might be saying to yourself, “Hang on there mister, Jesus said that this man went home justified rather than the other.”  Well indeed he did, but when you look at the way the word is parsed in the Greek (and no I’m not trying to show how good I am because I can read Greek, I read it in a commentary) this man already was justified before this happened.  There was nothing he did that brought it about, he didn’t justify himself, God did!

Here’s the good news, we are all sinners, it is true, but we are also justified before God; that is we are made righteous before him.  We exist as saints and sinners, that’s where the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator comes in.  We are sinners, but in God’s eyes, through the sacrificial act of Jesus we are saints, justified, forgiven, righteous, given to us freely through faith.

Martin Luther had struggled with the problem and burden of sin for his entire life.  He was constantly trying to justify himself before God, he was a scholar, he worked ridiculous amounts of hours, he scrubbed floors, wrote lectures and presented them, you name it he did it trying to be right before God, without success.

Then he realised and the penny dropped, there is nothing that he could do, it was all up to God, he is quoted as saying, “I felt that I had been born anew and had entered paradise through open gates.”

That’s the kind of relief from burden that comes from knowing the true Gospel, the good news of God’s free gift to us through faith.

Unlike our narcissistic self-centred world, God’s kingdom works through his grace, not on what we do or how good we are, God loves us no matter what.  What we do should be motivated as a way of thanking God, not to win his favour or to justify ourselves.

This isn’t as trivial as toothpaste and toilet seats, this is about life and salvation.  All of the song and dance, smoke and mirror acts that we put on mean nothing to God.  Sure the corporate world or the sporting arena might warm to you because of all that you can do or say, but God just loves you no matter what, he gave you all of the gifts and talents that you have, he knows what you’re capable of, he wants you to take the focus off of yourself and put it back on him.  Let him love you and care for you and be the fount and source of all of your joys and sorrows.

Let’s not judge or justify, let’s give thanks to the Lord for all his goodness to us, and ask for him to be merciful to us, even though he’s already beaten us to the punch.  God has already granted us mercy, grace and peace, even before we ask for it, live in that peace.

Amen.