My neighbor is getting the wood floors replaced in her house, and as the kids and I walked out to the playground the other day, I was suddenly hit with the sweet smell of saw dust. In that moment, I was transported to a different time and place in my life. All of a sudden, I was a child again watching my father shaping wood and piecing together a cabinet, a cabinet he never was happy with. His biggest complaint was that it wasn’t perfect in its finish and had inconsistencies and some rough edges.
I loved that cabinet because it was the creation of his hand and I thought my father could make and fix anything. I still love that cabinet which now resides at my brother’s house. I love the roughness and inconsistencies of the wood, which is what makes it unique and authentic. Just like that cabinet, we are also full of little imperfections. And this is what our parable for today boils down to. It is all about being authentic. It is about coming before God, not looking for praise for all the wonderful things we have done, but recognizing that what we have, what we do, happens by the will of the Lord. God gives us the talent, the tools, and the means to do his work. He offers to smooth our rough edges and helps us to be the best versions of ourselves if we let him. When we invite him into our souls and lives, when we come before God, are we letting him see us in all of our complexities or are we trying to hide something trying to convince ourselves and God that we are something that we are not?
Jesus used extremes in his story to illustrate his point. He used a member of the Pharisees, who were thought to be the most humble, the most genuine in their prayers, and a tax collector who was universally disdained. A tax collector was an individual who was known to be a sinner. Someone who profited from the pain he caused others. (See no one in any time period liked paying taxes) Yet what Jesus says is that no matter how convincing we and others might be to the world, God knows when we are genuine. God knows what is authentic to our hearts. God knows when we praise ourselves or when we recognize his overriding presence in the world. Martin Luther wrote, “True humility does not know it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue”. True humility, genuine faith, does not brag, and in many ways it does not know it is even there. We are called to continue to work on our faith in earnest knowing that we are never done learning and growing.
We are called to come before God not with what we do well, not with our pride, but rather with our rough edges laid bare because it is our imperfections that makes us who we are and allows us to truly be open to the work of God, to feel his unique ministry to our individual needs. A ministry that allowed for the justification of the tax collector, new beginnings for those who truly seek, new beginnings for all of us who are hopelessly flawed.
Jesus showed us how much our inner reflection, our inner thoughts matter to God because they are a true reflection of the state of our hearts. Those reflections reveal our focus in life. For the Pharisee his focus was the glorification of himself and for the tax collector it was the glory and power of God. So what is the focus of our hearts? I would venture to say that sometimes it is our self and at other times we are all too aware of our faults and feel almost too embarrassed to come into the presence of the Holy recognizing his awe inspiring power, glory, and love.
We are invited to raise up the glory of God today, the might of a God who has the power to give us life and new life through Christ. We are invited this morning to allow God to smooth the roughness of our lives and to refocus us upon his love and compassion. Our Psalm for this morning reminds us of God’s glory. It reminds us that it is the hand of God at work when we feel the blessings of this world and not the hand of humanity. It is God who takes an active role in the lives of all. It is God who loves and cares for us, loving us for who we are missteps and all. It is God who sees those rough edges we all have and only he knows how to shape and smooth them. Let us be humble enough to invite God into our roughness, into our imperfections. When we see ourselves honestly, as that tax collector, we are not only more open to God but to one another. We are able to live more compassionate lives because we understand that all people struggle, all people have their battles. Mother Theresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”.
We are called to examine our approach to life removing the polished exterior we present to God. We are called to reveal our humanity, trusting in the healing and love of a Creator who gave his only Son so he might love us more completely. We are called to live the humble life so we might also find more compassion in our hearts for others who also struggle with their own vanities and messiness. So we might build each other up in love and compassion instead of tearing each other down in judgment.
So go forth into this new week, knowing that we don’t have to present our polished self to God. Go forth knowing that we can make mistakes, we can make poor decisions, we can be imperfect and flawed before God and that he will love us, forgive us, and pick us up, guiding us towards new life and new opportunities. As I am fond of saying to my children when they have bad days tomorrow is another day and we can always start anew tomorrow.
 Martin Luther, Christmas Book, ed. Roland H. Bainton (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1948), 20.
 Mother Theresa, 20th Century.