Unity’s new Space Sharing Plan is beginning to gain some traction. We’re meeting with our Space Sharing Partners, and we’re cleaning out and recovering rooms and spaces, here, there, and everywhere. Just yesterday we were up in the balcony going through everything in the south and northwest tower rooms. The old and moldy was discarded. The treasures were archived. We even took a little peak in the southwest attic, up the long narrow staircase to the little 9 x 9 room and 7 foot ceiling. We could hear the rain drops falling on the trap door to the roof, above our heads. Formerly the archive room, until it suffered an infestation of pigeons a few years ago, it was filthy with pigeon poop! Putting a new bulb in the light socket dangling from the ceiling, we found a treasure among the few remaining damaged goods. An old wooden-framed star that lights up, from who knows how long ago, which Amy offered to take home to clean. What is it? Maybe an old Christmas decoration? Maybe the star that lights the way – for the reindeer sleigh, or the Wise Men looking for Jesus?
In our Space Sharing Plan, we are being guided by our Core Values of Welcoming, Engaging, and Caring, the Core Values which answer the question: How can we be good stewards of our beautiful, but aging building? Welcoming everyone, Engaging our neighbor, and being a Caring Community has ignited us to become better stewards of Sharing our space – this building which is a beautiful legacy of all the faithful who made up the gathering of Unity throughout the years, and of Mr. Viehe-Naess, the architect and a member of Unity, 90+ years ago. It’s sparking us to Engage our neighbors, those we already have a relationship with: Boy Scouts, Unity Players, Chamber Choir, RefugeOne afterschool program, Oromo Fellowship, and Volleyball team, and also those we don’t even know yet, and those who tell us they are just waiting to start learning labs, piano and voice lessons, message therapy, and hold family celebrations. We, who are the gathering of the faithful, are a Caring and Sharing Community, the disciples of Jesus, welcoming everyone, creating a safe space for people to gather and grow, worship, learn, discover their God given gifts, and celebrate.
“Two people” in our Gospel today are going up to their place of worship to make an offering. They are both going up to pray. It’s literally up scores of stairs to the temple mount, like going up the many stairs to our balcony towers. But, in the temple, they offer two very opposite prayers. The Pharisee, the good guy in the story, does what you’re supposed to, fast twice a week and give his tithe, his offering there at the temple, and finally, in order to be a witness to the world, he doesn’t mix with others that are not God’s chosen ones, foreigners, or in this case, the tax-collector. The tax collector is the bad guy. Somewhere along the line they had been added to the list of sinners and outcasts. Tax-collectors weren’t regulated in their ability to squeeze the people for extra fees, as much as they could get over the set tax, because that was their profit margin. But as we know, in the end of the parable, Jesus declares the good guy “humbled,” and the bad guy, “exalted.”
And just in the way Jesus tells it, you fell something is amiss from the very beginning of the Pharisee’s rather misplaced thanksgiving prayer. Thanksgiving prayers always praised God for the good gifts God gave, they are the highest form of faithfulness. But the Pharisee’s prayer was to himself, self-congratulatory, and in thanksgiving that he was “not like other people.” Instead of opening himself up to God, he presumes he only needs himself, he is righteous and perfect, but his spirit is in decay.
The tax-collector, pure and simple, acknowledges his sin before God, and he throws his life at God’s mercy, in humbleness. But beware! Here is the trap we love to fall into – knowing that we are supposed to be just like the humble one “who doesn’t even look up to heaven, but beats his breast and asks for mercy,” we start to get that self-satisfaction feeling, get all full of ourselves – in a humble kind of a way! And we too can end up saying, thank goodness I’m not like that Pharisee, “I am not like other people!”
‘So today I want to invite you to change the thanksgiving prayer, of boasting to the self, into true praise and thanksgiving to God. Which is easily done, but virtually impossible to live! We can begin to make the change, however, simply by rendering the opening line of the prayer to: "God, I thank you that I am just like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, just like the tax-collector, and Pharisee."’ [Robert Hamerton-Kelly] Instead of comparing ourselves to others, and pretending we can make it on our own, we are most human, and most loved by God, when we claim our dependency on the ‘Holy Other One,’ and claim our commonality with our fellow human beings. Unless, and until, we know the joy and freedom of the Thanksgiving prayer, we cannot even take the first baby step of living faithfully toward God.
Today, we are sending up, and offering up, our stewardship gifts, lifting them up to God with a prayer of thanksgiving. ‘We are just like other people,’ like those of our Unity gathering here, and like our neighbors, who, without distinction, all stand in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. And so, asking for mercy, we are freed up to offer our Time and Talents, and sealed financial pledges. It is a joyful offering of thanks, a humble return on what we have first been given. No one can do it all by themselves, no one is without the need to call on help from God and neighbor, we all need to ask for mercy. The church is the people, a church who offer back from what we have first been given, in grateful thanks and praise, and in outreach to the world. “God, I thank you that I am like other people, a sinner.” Have mercy on me, and accept my offering.
With God’s blessing, we, like the tax-collector, go down to our homes justified. Having been turned around, and repentant, God has freed us up and strengthened us for the journey. We go down to work in the vineyards. We go up in the balcony tower rooms, pigeon poop and all! And what other treasures might we discover? What stars will God send us to light our way? How might our Welcoming, Engaging, and Caring Community further the work of Christ Jesus in our neighborhood?
Because God is alive, we continue to pray and give thanks.