A Sermon for 12 June 2016
A reading from the gospel of Luke 7:36-8:3. Listen for God’s word to us.
“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””
“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
If you ever did, or maybe still do, read cartoons: remember how there would be those bubble clouds over the heads of figures so that we might know what’s going on inside of them? Often such bubble clouds are used as the true punch of the cartoon – the funniest part for cartoons that are trying to make us laugh. Or the true satire for cartoons that are trying to make a statement. I wish we had such bubble clouds over the heads of the three main characters of this story presented in the gospel of Luke. Then we could get a peek into the true insides of each of them – and maybe even discover the truth inside the bubble clouds of our own lives. If in fact the gospel writer had used such bubble clouds, I wonder if they would read something like this.
First, the Pharisee. . . . It’s so good to be hosting this dinner. I can’t believe he actually said yes to being here when I asked him. We’ve had a few run ins already, this Jesus and my fellow Pharisees. It seems he’s going all over the countryside doing the kind of things righteous ones of God never would! Like that day he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven. “Stand up and walk!” We all know God alone is the one to forgive sins. Who does he think he is?! (Luke 5:17-26). . . . He’s got a reputation for hanging with known sinners. He even welcomes tax collectors who clearly violate God’s ways among us as puppets of our oppressors. Robbing from our own to ensure Rome takes what it wants. . . . He says he’s committed to those who are sick – whatever that means. Is he talking about the sinners who won’t live God’s righteous ways? How can that be? (Luke 5:31-32). . . . The buzz is he just might be our long-awaited Messiah. But I don’t know. He seems to trample all over every Sabbath. First harvesting grain for a meal – a clear violation of God’s command to stop. Rest. Rely upon the LORD (Luke 6:1-5). . . . Then he healed that man with the withered hand. And told us doing good for another is more important than keeping to ancient Sabbath commands. Something in my heart is stirred when he speaks, but then my mind gets all confused trying to reconcile it all with how we’ve always known it to be. (Luke 6:6-11) . . . He claims to be the longed-for Son of Man; yet how can this be? We all know “the righteousness of God means that God cannot endure sinners, and a follower of God gains salvation by upholding the purity code, with its separation of the elect from the sinners of the world” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Gregory Anderson Love, p. 142). That’s what we read in the Torah in Leviticus (5:2-3, 6:18, 27, 7:20, 22:4-9). . . . I’m glad he’s here, though, because I want to understand. But he’s such a challenge to everything we know. I’m just not sure where he’s getting all his ideas. What he says isn’t what I read in our Holy Scripts. He can’t be right. That cannot be God’s way. . . . And if it is, everything I’ve built my faith upon – all the ways I’ve practiced. What I’ve always known of God? . . . If he’s right, that God’s favor is just for us – not dependent upon our holiness codes, then . . . then my whole world must be turned upside down. I just don’t know.
Meanwhile, inside the bubble cloud of character number two, I wonder if her thoughts went something like this. . . . I know I don’t belong here. I wasn’t invited. I would never be welcome. . . . Don’t belong – ha! That’s such an under-statement. I don’t belong anywhere. Anywhere near this house of a righteous Pharisee. Anywhere near this kind of table of such prominent men. Anywhere near this one – if he really is the one they say he is, the Messiah of our God. . . . Who I am doesn’t even matter. I’m an unknown. A nobody. A no-name. A woman pushed to the margins in our city. . . . I know the sneers – the whispers behind my back. What all the people think of me: some sort of dirty degenerate who doesn’t deserve one thing. . . . I know what they believe when they look at me because I believe them too. I’ve spent my life listening to what they say. Despised for how I live. Dejected for who I am. The shame is overwhelming. I’d do anything to escape this pain. I hate myself as much as I know the LORD our God hates me too. . . . I only wish . . . I wonder actually: could his words be true? I’ve heard this Jesus welcomes ones like me. They say at his birth his mother sang in great joy over him. That he would be the salvation of us all (Luke 1:46-55). The mercy of God – maybe even for ones as despicably sinful as me. . . . I don’t get it, though. How can it be what he claims, that the Spirit of the LORD is upon him to show God’s unmerited favor to the lowest of the low in this world (Luke 4:18-19)? None of our holy men ever cohort with the likes of me – unless in secret they’re paying for my presence. Yet this Jesus has been known to eat at table with us – not to shame us further with lectures of our unworthiness. But to laugh and heal and give us hope. . . . He says he’s here for ones just like us (Luke 5:31-32). And . . . and, I’m starting to believe him. . . . I so want to believe him. . . . I’ve heard he’s said: “Blessed are ones like you. Ones hated, excluded, reviled, defamed” (Luke 6:20-22). . . . He’s healed those who aren’t even of our own people and I can’t believe the man of God would touch one who is dead – having compassion on his widowed mother. Restoring her to life too with the protection of her revived only son. . . . If he’s indeed the One of God; if who he is really is who is our God; then I can’t wait a moment longer. Despite the cost – even if I risk further humiliation, or worse, if I barge right in – I must fall in worship at his feet. I must show him the hope I hope he’ll give. The love growing in me for a God who would accept one such as me!
And then, of course, the bubble cloud of character number three: Jesus. . . . Love, love, love, love. I’m all about love, love, love, love. Because God is all about love, love, love, love. . . . When are these people ever going to get that? Sinner and saint alike. . . . I’ve no time for those who think they’re all right all on their own. Because, after all, they think they have no need of me. Of God. Of us. . . . They walk around bopping others on the head with some intricate set of ways they think everyone has to follow. They tie themselves up in it all. In their moments of great honesty, they realize they’re doing the same to themselves – piling up requirements on themselves and others that they think will earn God’s love. Most of the time they don’t even see it and I’m certain they have no idea how to stop. Nonsense! . . . We are the LORD God Almighty, Maker and Sustainer of the Universe! Nothing these little mortals do can make us love them! Because we already do! It’s who we are – eternally. From before it all began until way after it all here ends. We just love. Because we are love. . . . It breaks my heart – our heart – to see them all so locked in their little boxes. Judging themselves. Judging others. Wondering if they do this will that make it right. Thinking if they do that – hide this about themselves, deny that – maybe then they’ll be good enough for our favor. Nonsense! . . . We made them – just as they are. We love them – everyone of them – just as they are. We want them to see themselves and each other – all others – as we see. Precious. Treasured. Valuable to us – every one – because we’re the most just Creators. Parents who have no favorites. Parents who delight in their cherished children each and every day. . . . It grieves me – and God, and the Holy Spirit too – it grieves us deeply when they can’t see it. It breaks our heart when they violate it in themselves and in others too. . . . Why can’t they just accept our gift? Why can’t they fall down in gratitude? Why can’t they just live in joy over the kind of freedom we want to give them all? . . . When – when will they see the beauty of our unearned love for every one? . . . And when, o when, will they enact our merciful love toward themselves and all others?
Likely, those would be the bubble clouds of three main characters of this story as told in the gospel of Luke. Three people with three distinct patterns of thought and three different ways of being because of it. . . . We might just live with the same bubble clouds over us that reflect the content of our own heads and hearts. . . . In the end, may the sentiments of our bubble clouds transform into that of character number three’s. . . . Love, love, love, love. In great thanksgiving, in word and in deed, everyday; may we enact God’s gracious favor to ourselves, to each other, and to all the world forever.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)