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Monthly Archives: June 2013

We Religious People Know Who’s Not Acceptable–

Luke 7:36–8:3

36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And 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. 38She 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. 39Now 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.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then 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. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, 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.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 8:1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

The setting for this text is a dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house. It is a dinner for invited guests, all of whom are good religious people, God-fearing people. Church people. But an unnamed woman enters even though she hasn’t been invited. And she is a sinner. And she begins to do something weird. She kneels before Jesus, crying, with her tears falling on his feet. She wipes his feet with her hair. She kisses his feet. As she keeps doing this, she opens a jar of ointment, and begins anointing his feet. And she keeps doing it. Without a word of explanation, without an apology, without awareness of the disruption she is causing at this dinner for good religious people. Simon, a devout religious man—as well as the host of this meal—sees all this and says to himself that Jesus is a disappointment. He’s letting this sinner, this one who is disrupting this event, touch him and embarrass me.

What she’s doing is actually wrong in a few different ways. She’s crashing a nice dinner party; she is touching a man publicly, which is forbidden; she’s let her hair down in public (literally), which is disgraceful. Plus, she’s embarrassing herself, Jesus, and the host. Not to mention the fact that she’s doing all this as a sinner. Let’s get past our 21st century piety around that word. “Sinner” means she was somehow considered unfaithful to God’s law and therefore not welcome to worship in the temple. In other words, not acceptable in church.

I know the woman in this text. Let me introduce her to you.

She is a young man who grew up in nominally Christian home. Christmas and Easter. No home prayer-life, no Bible reading at home, no conversations or faith discussions at home. He believed in God for most of his life–because it’s what his parents told him–but as he got older he began to ask questions. But he had nowhere to go to get answers. He tried some churches, but didn’t find that helpful because, in his words, “they weren’t really concerned about me, only with their own little church club.” He was willing to try a church community again, because he recognized it would be better to ask questions in a safe and trusting faith environment. He did, and found the same thing. This time he was even sharper in his critique, “Organized religion doesn’t care about my questions. They are too judgmental to care.” He has said he won’t step into a church again. We religious people recognize he’s not accepted in church. You see, sinners are people who don’t believe.

I know the woman in this text. Let me introduce her to you.

She is a married couple who both have high stress jobs and 2 children at home. Their jobs aren’t high paying, but they are demanding. They work hard, but work even harder as parents. Nothing is more important to them than their two children. What with sports, debate, music classes, and teenage drama and pressure, they have very little time for each other. Their marriage is showing some fraying around the edges. They participated in a church, and show up every Sunday–with their children–even though Sunday is the only day they might spend together. They find themselves distracted during worship. For the only time during the week, they can share some things, make some plans, have time to take a breath. It’s making them better parents and a better couple. They could stay home on Sunday and do the same thing. But they love corporate worship even though they don’t participate in every part of it. But they need to be part of a community that is bigger than themselves and supports them as responsible parents and workers in the world. Their marriage and children are benefiting. But we religious people recognize this couple isn’t accepted in the church. You see, sinners are people who aren’t reflective enough.

I know the woman in this text. Let me introduce her to you.

She is a single mother who had been homeless. She was working two jobs and raising her children by herself. She was trying to improve her life but kept experiencing setback after setback. She was struggling alone and feeling abandoned. A church community became her primary source of support. Because of a church, she felt like she didn’t have to go through everything by herself. There were people who would stand with her, help her when she needed it, and pray with her for strength. She had a load to carry around every day that would crumple most people, but there was a church community that made this bearable for her. But we religious people know she’s not accepted in the church. You see, sinners are people who don’t behave appropriately.

I could go on and on, telling story after story of the unnamed woman in this text. The family who keeps moving from church to church trying to find a less hypocritical community; the woman who is ready to give up on church altogether because it just isn’t relevant to her life. The alcoholic man who isn’t comfortable sharing his addiction for fear of being judged. The lesbian woman who won’t bring her partner on Sundays because she’s not willing to risk being unwelcomed.

I know her. And the thing is, so do some of you. Each story, and there are so many more, are about people who have intersected this congregation at one time or another–all as people who’ve considered this church their home at some time and in some way. And each one has heard Simon the Pharisee’s message, “These people are not very church-like. Let them come to Jesus in approved way. Then, they’ll be more acceptable.”

And Jesus turns to us religious people and reminds us that we are here for those who need Jesus most–who need us most. Those who struggle, who are sinners, who need forgiveness, who need a place of rest, those who need support are coming here to meet Jesus through this congregation. They come– sometimes uninvited, sometimes with different life-styles. They come kissing Jesus’ feet in ways that are sometimes embarrassing. They come because it is in this place that they hear and experience Jesus’ promise that they are forgiven and loved.

So to all who are the “unnamed woman” in this text, Jesus says to you today in the midst of all of us religious people, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you.” There is a place here at the table for you.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Sermon

 

What to Do When God Isn’t Listening

1 Kings 17:17-24

 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “OLord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Be careful when you are faithful to the voice of God. It gets you in trouble.

Elijah has been listening to God and following God’s leading already several times just in this chapter. He heard “the word of the Lord” telling him where to hide from the wrath of a king, that there would be a drought and where he could find food, that there would be shelter in a town called Zarephath, and how he could provide ongoing food for himself and his host–a widow there.

Be careful, Elijah. You’re being pretty faithful. You’re about to get into trouble.

Sure enough, after Elijah had done all this, including feeding this woman and her son for eight days, her son dies. She blames Elijah for it.  In the middle of a drought where there is no food, Elijah–by being faithful to God–has fed this little family for 8 days, now is being blamed for this trajedy.

Have you had that Elijah experience? Being nothing but faithful, he’s being blamed for this poor woman’s grief and loss: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Sometimes, when we’re frightened or lost or grieving, we just need to blame someone. For this woman, Elijah is the scapegoat for her pain and misery.

Elijah gets that too. After being unjustly blamed for the boy’s death, he turns around and does the same thing. He takes the boy upstairs  and cries out to God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he demands that God do something about it, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” Have you ever blamed God for your misery and then asked God to do something about it?

So far, I’m tracking with Elijah pretty well. I’ve been blamed when I’ve tried only to be faithful. I’ve blamed others–often God–when things are difficult. And I’ve begged God to intervene somehow to change the situation.

But then comes the part that causes a little problem for me. Vs. 22, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

I’m fine with the child being revived. I think God uses uses all kinds of things, including hospitals and skilled medical people of all kinds to do this sort of thing with some regularity. Some of you have had personal experience with that and have amazing stories to tell of God giving you a new chance, a new life; sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes relationally.

No, that’s not where I get stumped. I find myself a little annoyed at the phrase, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah.” I don’t know about you, but it seems that God doesn’t always listen. Sometimes, it seems like God isn’t listening at all. Perhaps we can understand that if we haven’t been listening to God, if we’ve been neglecting our relationship a bit. But how about when we’re in a stretch where we’re feeling tight with God, like we’re being pretty faithful, like we’re all about God’s will, and God and us are on the same page. And then, like Elijah, all that faithfulness gets us in trouble. Someone’s experiencing a loss and they’re blaming you for it; one of your kids does something stupid and your spouse assures you that it’s your fault; a friend misunderstands an innocent statement and the relationship is seriously damaged. Then there are those days when all this and more happens all at once. Have you had a day like that? It all just piles up, snowballs, and gets overwhelming?

What do you do? Many will cry out to God, “O Lord my God, do something!” Do something. Anything. Please. . . Hello? . . . Are you there?

And then we hear vs. 22 in 1Kings 17, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah” and intervened. The Lord did exactly what Elijah asked and restored the boy’s life. Well, isn’t that special? What about us, God? What about our pain, our loss, our grief, our despair? Why aren’t you listening to our voice? When we cry out for help, for you to make things better, where are you then?

Here’s what happens. God hears your cries. And God answers and points to the cross and says, “That’s how committed to you I am. That’s how willing I am to go into your pain with you. I’m not leaving. Nothing can keep me away from you; not even death. I’m with you–right with you–in your struggle. I’m holding you in your fear. I’m comforting you in your pain. I’m at your side in your suffering. I know you feel overwhelmed, but I’m here to sustain you. Life is coming. There will be an easing of your pain and loss. Watch for it. I’m here. I’m here. Whether you are faithful or not, doing my will or not, listening to my voice or not, I am the God of life. For the son of the widow of Zarephath. For you. And nothing will keep me from coming to you. Today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Sermon

 

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