We Religious People Know Who’s Not Acceptable–

17 Jun

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


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