Sunday, June 13, 2010

“Are We Any Different”

Luke 7:36—8:3
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.

A Message from the Pastor
I don’t know if any of you in this holy space are like me, but when I read stories from the gospel like the one for today, I have a difficult time relating to the story. There are 2,000 years of difference, along with the cultural and custom differences. Therefore, it’s difficult to get an understanding of the context and significance of the circumstances surrounding the story. It has a tendency to go over my head. To help us, I would like to take the story, keep the customs and culture virtually the same, but move the story into the twenty-first century.

Imagine that you and I are hosting a dinner party. Imagine that we have invited several guests, including the pastor. Now, when we have a dinner party, we usually sit around for a few minutes catching up on things in each others’ lives. As we do that, the door bell rings. You, and I, as hosts, answer the door. There at the door you/I greet a woman. She’s probably about five feet four inches tall. She is in her mid or late thirties. As she walks in you/I can’t help but notice the false eyelashes, the mascara, and the other cosmetics that she uses. She has on a mini shirt that is tight fitting. She wears stiletto shoes and has a blouse, or shirt, that we might say is loosely fitting. She sees the pastor and rushes over to him, burying her head in his feet. She begins to sob, notices her tears on his feet, and takes the comb from her hair, letting her hair tumble down. After shaking her hair out, she begins to dry the pastor’s feet with her hair. Then she takes a jar from her purse, containing oil, and massages the pastor’s feet. All the while, the pastor is compassionately patting her head as she sobs.

What would you be thinking? What thoughts would come into your mind about the woman and the pastor? Personally, I would be asking myself, “Pastor, where have you been?”

While this little exercise does not provide the message from Jesus, it helps us to set the context in which Jesus is talking to Simon the Pharisee.

While Jesus does not say this directly, and we may not consciously think it, we would probably be considering ourselves better than her. Aft all, we worship regularly, pray, and read scripture. We are good people, obeying the Ten Commandments and helping others. She is much worse off than we are as a sinner.

Jesus then presents the Pharisee, Simon, with a question. Who loves more, the one who is forgiven more, or the one who is forgiven less? What Jesus could be saying is, “Who is forgiven more, the one who sins more, or the one who thinks s/he sins less? We’re all guilty of it. We have a wall of denial about our sinfulness. We have a fortress built up with our self-centeredness. We look at ourselves and rationalize the insignificance of being sinful.

However, God looks at all people as God’s children. God recognizes that we are all made in God’s image. God knows we are all sinful and are not different, one from another. Jesus saw a child of God in that woman.

Martin Luther said that in order to experience grace, we must know sin. This is very significant. We must know sin in order to experience grace. In addition, in order to experience sin, we must know grace. Grace and sin go hand in hand. To love, then requires the experience of forgiveness.

Furthermore, when I read scripture, worship, and pray, there is the possibility that through the Holy Spirit I might sense, from time to time, a more personal relationship with God. It is then that I will also experience greater sinfulness. I come to realize that I cannot love like Jesus. I cannot be in relationship with the Father, like Jesus. I cannot live a sacrificial life, like Jesus. With all that being said, however, what I might do, many times, is use rationalization and acknowledge that since I am only human, I will be imperfect, and therefore discount the depth of my sinfulness.

We are now in the period of the church year when we focus on the church, what it is and what it is called to do. There are two things that differentiate the church from the world. It is not the Ten Commandments. You can see a plaque of the Ten Commandments on many court house walls, just like the one on the outside wall of the old Jonesborough courthouse. It is not being good. Most people are good. It is not being nice or responding out of necessity to those in need. We see that in the world all the time. The two basic differences of the church are forgiveness and the desire for reconciliation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation. This all comes from our desire to love because of God’s forgiveness for us through Jesus Christ.

An editorial in the Jonesborough newspaper noted that twenty percent of our children will be hungry this summer because they are not in school availing themselves of the school’s food program. Many people will help them because it is the good thing to do. We, the church, help because we love them. We are called to love all people: old and young, rich and poor, women and men, gay and straight, black and white, economically disadvantaged and those who are not. It doesn’t matter. We are all sinful. We are all forgiven.

Paul, in his writing for today, reminds us of this forgiveness. We have been crucified with Christ. In our flesh, it is not we who live, but it is Christ who lives within us. It is through Christ’s presence in our lives that we are able to forgive and to work for reconciliation with all those who cross our path of life.

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