Using Our Enemies To Puff Ourselves Up?

Text: Luke 18:9-14

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

One of the reasons why we love to talk about other people so much is that it makes us feel good. You see, life gets pretty boring if we do not have a villain in our lives. Seriously, think about all the movies that we watch and the books that we read – we must always have a bad guy. The movie would be boring otherwise. And unfortunately, the same is true for you and me – all of us have this desire to collect enemies in our lives to feel good about ourselves.    

Take, for instance, the conversations you have had with your spouse at home, your buddies over coffee, and the gals over the phone. Consider what you comment on and post about on social media. Often, these conversations become very animated when a common enemy is identified. For some of your conversations, Joe Biden and the Democrats may be enemy #1. In other conversations, Donald Trump and the Republicans are the enemies. And if it isn’t politics, the enemy perhaps is the liberal ELCA Church down the street or the silly youthful church on the other side of town. And let us not forget those enemies at work and in the family – that difficult co-worker or that insane relative. To the point, listen to your conversations with other people and watch how excited you get when you identify a common enemy – a bad guy. Your heart rate will increase, your voice will get louder, you will sit taller with your hands moving in the air, and then you will then feel empowered and bold as you talk about the common enemy together…

“Did you hear what Julie did the other day? Seriously?”

 “Can you believe what the President said? Ha, what a loser.” 

 “That Pastor, he did it again. Can you believe it? Why is he so foolish?” 

 “If I were in charge, I wouldn’t mess up as much.”  

 “I would never do something like that.”  

 “When are people going to learn?”

 “I told you so. I called it. But nobody listened to me!”  

Dear friends, we must be perfectly clear that there are indeed enemies in the world – very bad people and very bad things that need to be avoided and fought against. I am not denying that there are enemies in this world. They need to be called out for what they are. However, the problem that we are addressing this morning is when you and I grab a hold of a bunch of enemies and then use them to puff ourselves up.  

Now, do not deny this. Every single one of us in this sanctuary does this all the time. We can’t help it because it makes us feel good. It is exactly what the Pharisee in the reading of the Gospel of Luke did as well.  

“I thank you, God, that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or tax collectors.”

That Pharisee stood up with sinful pride and saw only good in himself and only evil in those that he mentioned. And so, the point again is that the Pharisee needed those bad people – those enemies – to compare himself against. They were bad – worse than him – so in comparison to them, he was doing quite well. In fact, the prideful Pharisee recited his own virtue and the other people’s vices for his own self-satisfaction. We get the picture that he delighted in their failure because it made him feel good. It made him feel good.  

So this begs the question – who is our enemy? And when you think about your enemies, talk about your enemies, or listen to media about your enemies, do you lament with holy tears, saying, “God have mercy on my enemies, for they know not what they are doing!” Or, do have righteous anger knowing that your enemies are trapped and enslaved to the deception of sin? Or, do you feel good about yourself that you are not like them – that you are better than they are? Do you shake your head with shame and disgust while letting pride come out of your mouth, saying, 

“I am so glad that I am not like those people. Can you imagine being like that?”

Dear friends, the spirit of the Pharisee runs deeply through our veins and deeply through this church. None of us are innocent of this today. We love to have enemies because by having enemies, we not only look better than them, but we also feel better than them. But in the end, we are not better than our enemies, and we should never feel better than them because we, too, are poor miserable sinners, just like them.  

You would think that we would not forget the words of the Apostle Paul when he once stated,

“There is no one righteous, not even one… all have turned away…. There is no one who does good, not even one.”  

However, we forget this, and then we compare ourselves to our enemies. Then, instead of faith, our minds and souls expand with ungodly pride. 

Take a look at our reading from the Gospel of Luke again. But this time, do not look at the Pharisee but the Tax Collector. Who does Tax Collector compare himself to? Better yet, who are the enemies of the Tax Collector? 

Well, it certainly wasn’t the Pharisee or even the thieves, rogues, and adulterers. Again, who was the enemy; who was the Tax Collector’s bad guy?  

Are you ready for the answer?  

The enemy of the Tax Collector was… the Tax Collector.  

Dear friends, this Christian faith does not allow you to grade yourself on a curve or on the basis of other people. That is to say, your righteousness is not based upon the sins that you have managed to avoid in this life. Maybe it is true that you and I have not been as bad as everyone else around us. Maybe we can indeed say, 


“Thank goodness; we are not like those bad people over there.”  

But nonetheless, mark this, before God almighty, you and I are still sinners in thought, word, and deed. Before God and His Ten Commandments alone – we only can do one thing, and that is: beat our chests while saying, 

“God be merciful to me, the sinner.” 

Dear friends, this is why all of our funerals at St. Paul’s focus on Jesus and not the deceased. I don’t mean to be crass, but the majority of the funerals that I have been to in North Dakota go the way of the Pharisee. A typical North Dakota Funeral with a typical North Dakota Pastor props up the dead person while focusing on all the virtues and good things that the dead person did in life. The goal of one of these pharisee-funerals is to convince the attendees that the dead person was better off than everyone else around him, which means that he will stand victorious in heaven where all good people go, people who are not thieves, rogues, and adulterers. Lord have mercy!

As one of your Pastors, if I have the honor to bury you; by God’s grace, I give you my word that I will not give you a pharisee-funeral, where you will be propped up by me saying how good you were compared to everyone else. I will not dishonor your faith; we will not peddle a lie, and we will not trample on the Son of God. Instead, you will be given a Tax Collector funeral - spoken of as a sinner whom Christ suffered for, died for, and rose for. You will be spoken of just like that Tax Collector – one who is at home, justified by Jesus and Jesus alone. 

Dear friends, you came into this world naked, helpless, and sinful. All that you have been given is a gift. All of your labor cannot fulfill the demands of the Law. And so, why on earth should we act like something special – comparing ourselves to our enemies when it is only Christ that matters?  

Baptized Saints, your righteousness is found in Jesus – period. And those neighbors that we often see as our enemies? Christ’s righteousness is for them too. And so, in the end, it isn’t you versus them.  It isn’t how you are doing in comparison to them either, but instead, it is whether or not we are all forgiven sinners abiding in Christ’s free forgiveness and righteousness. 

Baptized Saints, we must repent of our Pharisee-hearts, for this is not who you and I are. You are not a Pharisee but a like that Tax Collector – a sinner who is justified neither by the sins you have avoided nor by the virtue you have acquired but justified by the One who justifies the ungodly – Christ Jesus your Lord. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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