October 23, 2016 at Advent Lutheran Church in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. 23rd

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October 23, 2016 at Advent Lutheran Church in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. 23rd. Sunday after Pentecost. Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee and Tax Collector.

Some of you may remember the song by Barry Maguire, Eve of Destruction.

It was written in 1964 by then 19-year-old songwriter named P.F. Sloan and was recorded by several artists but became a monster hit when pop singer Barry McGuire recorded it and many in the conservative Christian community understood it as a sign that the end times are near, that Christ is coming soon!

I remember it well, being at that time 19 years old, in college and typically idealistic about everything new and youthful, and cynical about the way we humans have treated each other throughout history.

Please listen to the words and follow along with the printed lyrics as you listen, and pay special attention to the references to the three marches in Selma, Alabama, the eastern world, at that time Israel and its Arab neighbors, today Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Libya.

And even a reference to the place where Jesus was Baptized.

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me

Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say

Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me

Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'

I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me

Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China

Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace
And... tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction

For me the key phrase in the whole song is: When human respect is disintegrating. That is certainly true today it would seem.

I also remember vividly that in my, at that time conservative Kalamazoo, Michigan the DJ’s at WKMI Radio were asked not to play the song and they pulled it after so many people complained. Vietnam was raging full force, and little did I know that I would be seeing some of those things first hand. And of course, the greater irony is that with some minor tweaking this 52-year-old song is chillingly current to the world situation today!

In fact could be said for every generation that fails to learn the lessons of history and hence repeats them over and over again. That, at least should give us pause to wonder how it is that human beings have yet to learn to live together in peace.

A Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., quote captures this sad reality in these words:

The richer we have become materially, the poorer we become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Like so many of the teachings and parables of Jesus this one about the Pharisee and Tax Collector is very simple yet profound.

The Romans did not collect the taxes themselves, they made the Jews do that, so consequently the tax collectors were despicable characters or even traitors since they were doing the bidding of the Roman masters.

We live in a very cynical and strange time in history in so many ways. Wars rage all around us. There is racial tension and unrest in our cities and we wake every day to the news of shootings and robberies in virtually every major urban area.

Once again we are faced with a similar situation as the one Barry McGuire sings about because history indeed spirals forward and continues to repeat itself. I believe the core lesson of our Gospel about humility is what is needed right now in our country and our world.

The answer is right here at Advent Lutheran Church and other churches whose members take seriously and live out the message of Jesus. Not as a religion, but as a way of life!

Every single war, every single, conflict begins with an individual and grows exponentially. Each of us is an individual who has the power to change that which affects us immediately. We can vote. We can contribute. We can volunteer. We can practice more kindness than is necessary. And we can come together with mutual respect and listen to each other. And help each other.

That is the only thing that will eve heal our land. After a spirited, even at times contentious debate for the presidency in 1992, and on the day of the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, his rival George Bush Sr. wrote the following letter, which I believe illustrates why the most profound words at the heart of the song we heard is: When human respect is disintegrating.

Jan. 20, 1993

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck – (signed)


There is that wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis in his seminal work, Mere Christianity where he says;

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”


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