A Pharisee and a Tax Collector went to the temple in Jerusalem to pray, but they went there for very different reasons. The Pharisee was at the temple to show others how good he was. And when he arrived, he walked up to the front and stood before his audience in his flowing robe and prayer shawl to tell them he was a VIP with God. But his words weren’t directed toward God. He was only there to be seen and heard by the other worshipers.
Jesus warns us about this in Matthew 6:5, “But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” But when we come to church, are we any different? Are we thinking more about who’ll be there to see us than we are about connecting with God? Maybe we even come to church because we think it will help us in business or improve our social standing.
We all struggle with the temptation to try to please other people rather than pleasing God. That’s why we have to guard against praying just so others will be impressed by what we have to say. Like the little boy who was saying his nighttime prayers when he began to shout at the top of his lungs. “Dear God,” he said. “I’ve been really good this year so please let me get a new bicycle for my birthday.” His mom told him, “Son, God isn’t deaf; you don’t need to yell.” “I know,” he replied, “but Grandma is, and she’s in the next room.” Who you’re praying to makes a difference.
The tax collector, on the other hand, shows us a totally different reason for coming to church. He came seeking God. He showed up because he was in trouble, and he believed God could help him. It was clear that he felt unworthy. He kept his distance. He didn’t focus on the other people there. He focused on God. He knew worship involves an audience, but it’s an audience of one.
So, why do you go to church on Sunday. Is it just a habit? Just part of your weekend routine? Or maybe you feel guilty if you don’t come. Or maybe you actually come to connect with your Creator. In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”
Psalm 51:1-2 was written by King David and I think it says it all. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”
Simple. When we remember that and ask for God’s help, our sins will be forgiven.
Good Shepherd Lutheran