If you want to be a successful pastor these days, you have to be able to tell a good joke.  It’s part of the shtick.  Loud music with a rock beat.  Giant video screens, with power-point. And a preacher who knows how to loosen up the crowd with a good joke.  With today’s audience you have to entertain them, if you want to get them saved.


So why is it that you can read the gospels from one end to the other---and not a single joke?  Was Jesus a killjoy?  And John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and all the prophets….no wonder these guys were persecuted!  They didn’t know how to lighten things up!


Imagine what Jesus could have accomplished if he had thrown in a joke once in a while.  Look at his parables.  They were interesting enough, but most of them have a scary twist. 


---Two nice houses sitting at the riverside. Until the storm.  One is demolished and washed away.


---Ten lovely young women, with burning lamps of faith.  Until midnight when the Bridegroom arrives.  Five  of them are locked out in the dark.


---A sower goes forth to sow his seed.  But three quarters of it is wasted; picked up by birds, trampled under foot, choked out by thorns.


Always a negative twist!


Yet thousands kept coming to hear Jesus cut into their hearts with truth.  And he didn’t even have a sound system.  The only sound system he had was the fresh air as his voice reached thousands!


Jesus’ message was hardly user-friendly.  Listen to this:


"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."

                                                            Matthew 23


Every time the crowds got big, instead of riding the wave of success to higher heights, Jesus sifted them down with hard words.


Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them,  "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple."                                                         Luke 14

Still, the crowds kept coming. 




Because the words that Jesus spoke burned with the fire of heaven.  If you had ears to hear, you knew that this was God talking to you---words of hope and words of warning, from the mouth of God.


And the apostles, after they received the Spirit, picked up where Jesus left off.  They too spoke words that burned with fire.  They didn’t have to shout.  They didn’t have to jump up and down and clown around.  If you had ears to hear, you knew that you were hearing words out of the mouth of God.


No wonder this thing spread like wildfire over the known world.  People were hearing a word that cut into their hearts like a knife…..opened their eyes to truth….energized their sick bodies…broke chains of addiction.  


Things happened, simply by the power of the spoken word.


So what’s wrong with us?  How come we can’t seem to hold their attention unless we entertain the folks?  How come our words seem to drift off into thin air?


Has that burning word which was once so powerful dried up and blown away in the wind?  No, that word is still here, exactly as it was in Jesus’ day.  It hovers above you as you read these words, with all the power of heaven…


…looking for a body to inhabit.


…looking for a mind to inspire.


..looking for a place to dwell.  Just like the dove from Noah’s Ark was looking for a place to land.


But here’s the problem:


The living word that Jesus still speaks can only enter us and take hold of us when the jokes and the small talk and the apathy and the glibness give way to holy fear ---holy fear in the speaker, and in the listener.

We will begin to hear that living word when we find ourselves standing on holy ground, and have enough sense to take off our shoes.  


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’


 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ 


I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other."

                                                Luke 18


So whose shoes are we standing in, the shoes of the Pharisee or those of the tax collector?


"Oh," we say, "we’re not like that Pharisee, trusting in ourselves that we are righteous and despising others.  Oh no.  We’re more like the tax collector.  We know we’re sinners.."


Do we?  Do we know we’re sinners?  Do we understand our need?

Do we realize how naked and exposed we are before the eye of a holy God?


The truth is, we have much more in common with the Pharisee than with the tax collector:


The Pharisee is quite comfortable with himself, and with his imagined connection with God.  He’s sure he’s one of the elect.  He compares himself with others and feels quite good.  He looks at all the good stuff he’s doing and feels even better. 


"O, I may not be perfect, but I have to say, I’m a lot better than most."


That’s where we are.  "I’m not perfect.  I have a long way to go.  But, hey, I’m doing okay, compared to those slobs out there.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m a sinner saved by grace."


True, we go through our words of confession every Sunday in our churches. 


"We have sinned against thee by thought word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have failed to do…."


But is this what God is looking for?  Does this take care of things? 


That poor Pharisee had no idea how desperately he needed to repent of himself.  And we, friends, are standing in his shoes.


But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ 


This man is not comfortable with himself.  He is not comparing himself with others.  He doesn’t think of himself as one of the elect. 


He stands there in fear and trembling before a holy God and cries out for mercy. 


So what happens?  He doesn’t hear a voice.  He doesn’t see a vision.  But, in a mystery,  the living word of God comes down to this man, like the dove from Noah’s Ark, and brings him peace. 


This man walks away from the temple with the gift of a clear conscience----something that the Pharisee, for all his confidence, does not have.  


Your conscience is a window that faces heaven.  If the window is clear, you hear the voice of God, you have eyes to see and ears to hear.  If the window is clouded, you see nothing; your ears are dull.


When you have a clear conscience, you don’t have to look around and compare yourself with others.  "God I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector."  When you have a clear conscience, you don’t have to rattle off all the good stuff you’re doing…."I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess."  You just get on with serving God wherever he puts you.  


The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, "I thank my God, whom I serve with a clear conscience…"  Paul’s window on heaven was clear, because he was standing on holy ground with his shoes off.  The tax collector had now found his way to the same place.  His window on heaven was clear.


Once our conscience---our window on heaven---is clear, and we stand on holy ground with our shoes off, we too will begin to hear the burning word of the Lord.


Our eyes will open to the truth.  Our bodies will be energized by the Spirit.  We will be set free.  And then when we pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.,"  we will know what we’re saying. 


Hallowed be thy name.


Hallowed be thy name.  


Everyone who ever connects with God, begins with that prayer.


Like the woman who touched the hem of his garment on her knees.  She knew this man Jesus was holy.


Like the centurion who sent word to Jesus, "Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; just speak the word, and my servant will be healed."


"Hallowed be thy name". 


For the tax collector, for you, for me, that’s where it begins. 


So we leave the jokes, the small talk , and all the gimmicks aside, bow our spirits before a holy God---"Hallowed be thy name," and wait for the dove to come down and show us the way….


….show us how to make a simple choice:


Before you at this moment are two mystical pairs of shoes.  


One pair is well-worn and comfortable.  But if you put on this pair, you are not likely to hear the voice of God.  They are the shoes of the Pharisee.


The other pair slips off as easily as they slip on.  They are the shoes of the Tax Collector.  When you put on these shoes, wonderful things happen.   You begin to hear the voice of God.  Your faith comes alive.  Pretty soon you’re slipping out of these shoes, because you’re standing on holy ground. 


You can step into either pair.  But if you want God…..if you want his help….if you want to live under his power and grace, you need to step into the shoes of the Tax Collector. 


But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ 


This man knew how to humble himself before a holy God. 


God help us to find our way to where he stood, and live there each day for the rest of our days, until the Day we see Him face-to-face.