Sermon; Proper 25C; Luke 18:9-14
A couple of weeks ago I was meeting with our Junior and Senior Wardens, Ellen & Lou respectively. Before I go too far, let me just say that these are two of the best people I've had the pleasure of working with as a priest. So anyway, we are having this meeting and somehow got on the topic of local drivers and their habits. It was Ellen who pointed out that newer cars were apparently being built without turn signals. At which point I said that I thought it was only Mercedes', Lexus', BMW's, and Lincoln Navigators that don't come with that piece of equipment.
And with that we were off discussing/ranting about other drivers.
I don't know how many times I've seen people run red lights. And not the “getting caught in no-man's-land where if you try to stop you'll end up in the middle of the intersection” type, but the full on, obviously blatant, “I-don't-care” violation.
And speaking of red lights, there are the people who are lucky they don't lose their front end because they've stopped well-past the stop line, sticking their nose so far out someone is liable to take it off. If I were a truck driver, I'd probably have taken out a baker's dozen by now. Seriously, how much time are you saving by going out an extra four or five feet? Those lines are there for a reason, pay attention to them.
I've seen several people who have used the right-turn only lane to jump in front of everyone going straight. There are people who either think speed limits don't apply to them or don't understand that a sign for 40 doesn't mean to go 25 just in case. Getting back to turn signals, there are people who don't use them at all, but then there are the people who flip them on AFTER they've entered a left-turn only lane. Pro tip: if you put your signal on after you've entered a turn-only lane, you're doing it wrong.
There are the people who lollygag along making no effort to get through a green light when the crosswalk signal is clearly ticking down to zero, forcing those behind to needlessly sit through a red light. Those same people are often the ones who, after the light turns green, decide that they must make up for lost time and speed off well above the posted limit. And there are the people who, when approaching a green light, actually begin to slow down or brake, possibly because the light might turn red.
This is not rocket science, people. Drive something close to the speed limit. Use your turn signals. Merge when you're supposed to. Pay attention to which lanes are turn-only and which ones go straight. I just don't understand why this is so hard. I mean . . . I mean . . . You know . . .
I thank God I don't drive like all those other people out there . . .
I am the Pharisee. I sit in my car with my clerical collar on, my Episcopal shield window decal, and my bumper sticker that proclaims God loves everyone without exception, and I judge the world as it speeds by me, cuts me off, or insists that various road signs don't apply to them. And I'm glad I'm not like them.
We do this not only with our driving, but with other things as well. People uphold themselves as better-than when they notice that some people who claim to be members of the church are rarely or never in attendance. We do it with our pledges, sure that we are giving more than some people who look like they should be giving more. My bishop in Montana talked about his neighbors who had motorcycles, a boat, an RV, three or four cars, and a horse trailer, but showed no evidence of attending any church.
And on a larger and much more insidious scale, there are those churches who loudly proclaim they are so right that anyone not them is wrong and most likely hell bound.
We compare ourselves to and judge others, I think, for a very simple reason – to assure ourselves that we are on the right side. But when we judge others, like the Pharisee judged the tax collector, we lose our ability to show empathy. We can become so focused on how good we are that we lose our recognition of our need for a savior.
In another place Jesus says that those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do; and that he came to call not the righteous but sinners. The funny thing about that, though, is that we are all sinners, some of us just choose to ignore that fact. So whether our sin is theft, adultery, greed, covetousness, jealousy, self-righteousness, or any other number of sins, large and small, known and unknown, done and left undone, we are all sinners in need of a savior.
This was the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee not only lacked empathy, he lacked self-awareness. He spent so much time praising the fact that he wasn't like any of those other people, he couldn't see that he himself was sick.
The tax collector, on the other hand, knew all too well that he was a sinner, he knew he couldn't measure up to the righteousness of the Pharisee, but he was willing to acknowledge how he fell short. Following up on last week, he was dissatisfied with who he was in the eyes of God. He had a vision that he could be better. And he took those first steps to acknowledge his need for mercy.
Instead of constantly telling God and ourselves how good we are in comparison to those other people, let us first work at living up to those expectations ourselves that we place on others. Let us recognize where we have fallen short. Let us empathize with those who don't live into our expectations because you have no idea how much stuff they may be dealing with.
I ask forgiveness for my own driving deficiencies. I thank God I have a savior who understands my faults. And I thank God that I am not like those other drivers, because it just may be that what they are dealing with inside their cars is way more than I am ready to deal with right now.
So when you are passed by a speeding car and you are tempted to praise your own driving skills and thank God that you are not like them, just remember this: That other person may be late to bible study – where are you going?