Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seek the Grace

Luke 7: 36-50

When you are living as a Pharisee, by definition in that culture, you're going to live a largely blameless life. When Jesus says to the man later on in the story "when you sin little, you need to be forgiven little," he's not kidding. By that society's terms, this guy hasn't sinned much. We know people like this now; men and women, people who just seem to always do the right thing, are very wise in their choices, they never get out of hand with their money, they always get their oil changed on time, you know, those kind of folks. We know lots of folks like that, a lot of you all are those folks. The Pharisee is one of those kind of guys. He lives according to the strictures of his culture; he is largely doing what he supposed to do to be blameless and holy in his world.

He is successful in that, but even when people are living right, as we like to say, there are still sins that are wrestled with, and this guy has them too. One wonders what the motivation is to invite Jesus to lunch. Perhaps it's to be an advance look out, or, I don't want to say "spy", but the one who says "okay, I’m going to find out about this guy and I'll report back to my friends." Maybe that's what he's doing and he's reporting back to the other leaders of the town about this guy in their midst. Or maybe he's thinking "Ooh, I'm going to be the first one to get this new interesting hot figure in our town into my house and I will gain prestige from that!" Maybe he is honestly inviting a person into his house, inviting this new interesting teacher named Jesus, this possible prophet, because there may be something that he can learn from this guy. That may be his motivation. Luke is not real clear about why the invitation is made. He's just clear that it is.

So Jesus comes to lunch with his Pharisee. Commentators of this Scripture taught me a lot this week. They taught me, for instance, that when you go to dinner in this century, you're not sitting in chairs around a table. You're leaning on your left arm and eating with your right, and your feet are stuck out behind you at a 45° angle. That's the way it is all the way around the table. You're eating little bite size stuff, like dates or maybe rice pilaf, as you talk around the table. You use flatbread to pick up food and eat it, so your fingers aren’t in the common dishes. Jesus is laying at that angle with his feet sticking out backwards, so it's not immediately obvious that there's somebody messing with his feet because she's behind the person next to Jesus. Simon the Pharisee doesn't automatically see her.
So they are talking, and I'm sure Jesus is being probed on various theological topics, and then Simon notices the woman. The woman has taken her hair down, we're talking long hair, and she's wiping her hair on Jesus' feet to clean them. Remember, if these men and women have shoes at all, they are sandals, so their feet are always dusty. It's a custom, so as to not bring that stuff into the house, to have your feet washed or to do it yourself. Not only is she washing his feet, she's using her tears as water, and she's rubbing oil into his feet to soothe them because, as you know, when you wear sandals all the time, your feet do crack. Even Jesus' feet.

Simon knows who this woman is. The Scripture says that she is a sinner. It doesn't say what the nature of the sin is, but centuries and centuries of people thinking a certain way kind of have led us to understand to what they think that sin is. Let me be clear; it is not stated in Scripture what the sin is. But because she is a sinner, she is separated a certain degree from Simon, and Simon looks down on her. Okay there's another sin for Simon. We've got two now, possibly. He's looking down on her; he essentially considers her less of a human being, and he judges Jesus (the other is the possible issue of pride at inviting Jesus to the meal.) He says "Well, if Jesus really was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman that was, and he wouldn't allow her to touch him at all, anywhere!" In that culture, touching anybody who is in the status that she's in makes you a sinner, too.

So Simon has all kinds of cultural boundaries and cultural taboos going around in his head, and Jesus is merely simply receiving the gratitude of woman who realizes that her sins are forgiven. That's all that is really going on over here, and Simon's all kinds of twisted up and spun around with judgments and all that stuff. We're looking at a situation here where the person who seems to be the one who leads a more blameless life is sitting in a prison of his own resentments, and the woman who is supposedly a lower class citizen is a sinner or a taboo person, someone who's not to be touched, she is in the midst of feeling some amazing grace. We don't know what happened before she comes in; the Scripture leads us to believe that whatever forgiveness that she's feeling gratitude for, she already received outside the picture of the story. What we're seeing now is her response and gratitude to something that happened off stage. But here she is, feeling an amazing amount of gratitude and love and everything that comes with truly knowing that you are forgiven for your sin and that you are loved. Isn't it ironic that the person who is the blameless person in the society has no idea what that love feels like, and looks at it and doesn't know what it is? She knows what grace feels like, and she's responding to it.

Do you?

Most of us have lived long enough lives that we've done something once. We know what shame feels like. I do. I'm a human being, I've done dumb stuff. I'd be willing to bet that everyone in here has done something once, at least. Do you know what shame feels like? I'd say we all do. But do you know what grace feels like? To know that whatever that dumb thing was that you did, that you truly have indeed been forgiven for that, and for everything else? Do you know? Is that why you're here this morning, because you have felt that and you are here out of gratitude? Sometimes you're here on a Sunday thinking "I'm here out of gratitude because I love God. I don't know what that doofus up there is saying, but I'm here because I'm feeling gratitude!"

The basic truth of our faith is that we are forgiven for our sins. I don't know how much more basic you can get that that. It seems to me that Jesus dying on the cross and being resurrected is pretty central to our faith, but at root, it starts with "You are forgiven for your sins." I think there are people that don't believe that. "Well, sure, whatever that woman did must've been really bad, I guess, and Jesus has already forgiven her, but hey, you know what, Jesus was right in front of her, and he cast his spell. She knew that she was forgiven because he was standing right in front of her, and I'm just not that lucky." Or even more basic, "Yeah, but my sins are pretty bad." You hear that all the time.

Folks, trust me. And if you don't want to trust me, some 42-year-old native Californian who has come in your midst for a certain time because the Bishop sent me, trust what you read in the Bible. Your sins are forgiven. Period. Now it takes a certain amount of strength to say, "Okay you know what, that is a sin and I need forgiveness," but everybody's got that much strength. Everybody has enough strength to get to the place where Grace is.

Here is my challenge for you all this week; everybody's got that thing that they have in the back of their minds that they don't want anybody to know about. They're not sure they can be forgiven for that one thing. Well, maybe this is the week that you trust God that you are forgiven for that sin, too. Maybe this is the week, and I encourage you to wrestle with it. Seek the grace this week.

And I pray that my words are the Lord's intention this day. Amen.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Luke 7: 11-17

This story is the last of the first part of the stories of Jesus's teachings and healings throughout Galilee in the Gospel of Luke. What happens immediately after this is that a message is sent from John the Baptist. It says: "Are you the one we're looking for?"

Immediately before this passage is the story of the Roman centurion who sends for Jesus to heal one of his slaves. Jesus is on his way to him, and this Centurion says, "You know what? I don't think I am worthy for you to come in my house. But if you'll just do what you do from right there, I'm sure it'll be fine." Jesus says "Wow! This kind of faith from this guy? Okay, your slave is healed!"

I've kind of been messing around in this topic the last couple times i've preached, about the fact of what a healing or a teaching of Jesus tells us, the people who are watching from afar; the people who are reading the story. Why is it that Jesus goes out and does his healings; for what possible purpose could it serve for Jesus to go around and heal people? It seems to me like a false promise; this person gets healed but this person doesn't. These people get to hear a teaching of Jesus, but the people in the next town over never hear of the guy going through. What possible purpose could Jesus walking around serve?

Why would Jesus be walking into a little town called Nain, see a funeral procession coming out towards him, stop the funeral procession, touch the funeral bier that they're carrying the body on, and bring the young man who's on it back to life? Is he showing off? If someone were to be doing that now, if these kind of things were happening, that's where our heads would go, whouldn't they? "Who is this guy?" As they say in the Valley, "This guy is being bold."

But when you look at these stories, and especially this particular story, what he's doing isn't showing off. What Jesus is doing is taking an example of something that happens in an ordinary life, and using it. Not to show off, but to show the love of God. I am sure you've heard of your previous preachers talk about how widows were treated in first century Israel, first century Galilee. There is a specific reason why Luke tells us she had no other children, and she was a widow. Why does that matter?

Because that means she has no one to support her.

She will go hungry. She will be destitute. There will be no one for her except for the occasional charity of her neighbors. Yeah, it's all well and good that a young man gets to come back to life, but Jesus is going for a twofer here. Not only is he saying "young man, you are now returned to life", he's also saying ". . . and your mother will no longer be in danger of poverty." He's restoring two lives, not just one

There is a dividend to acting in the love of God. I'd be willing to bet (not that United Methodists bet, but you know what I mean), I would be willing to stand by the assumption that, if we were to go back through all of these stories in Luke, and look at all the stories of healings and teachings, at their core is always the sentiment of Jesus saying to someone, eye to eye, face to face, "God loves you." I'd stand by that assumption.

Lately, i've also been talking an awful lot about how we, if we are to be the people of God, the people who believe in Jesus Christ, we are to act in his image. So that means, without necessarily having the power that Jesus has, We are to act with love to all people. Even to centurions. There's nothing about a centurion that Jesus should trust. This is a soldier of an invading army subjugating the people of whom Jesus is a member. And yet, when the centurion comes to him and says "I would love for you to come to my house, but I don't think I'm worthy for you to come to my house; I know that you can do healings, can you heal my slave from here?" "Jesus says wow." When we can be impressed by the people that we don't like, we are acting in the image of Christ. When we can say to someone, "we are going to help you", and when we help that one person, four or five other people are, for instance, kept out of Child Protective Services, we are acting in the image of Christ.

This is my challenge to you all this week. We all have it within us to act in the image of Christ. We're called to it, we have the means to do it. Like I said in my last sermon, we have every thing that Jesus had, plus we have Jesus himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is within us to speak the love of God to the world. Each of us lives a different life. Each of us is in a different place; each of us goes to different places in the week. Some of us spend a lot of time at home, and go out occasionally, and some others have homes that are only there to provide the bed and the roof that we can collapse into at the end of the day.

But in each of those lives, there is the opportunity to speak the love of God to someone. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Sometimes, even use words!"

This is my challenge for you all this week, and may my words have been the Lord's intention this day. Amen.