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Dinner Guest - Sermon on Luke 7:36--8:3

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You've got your guest list all planned. Then someone unexpected and undesirable comes and misbehaves and crashes your party. Maybe you need to check your motives. 

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

June 12, 2016- 4th Sunday after Pentecost

"Dinner Guest".  Text is from Luke 7:36--8:3

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Just imagine that you have spent all day planning this dinner party to impress this new V.I.P. in town, who has accepted your invitation. You have made sure everything is just right, all the right people are sitting next to all the right other people, and the topic of conversation is going just as you planned. And then suddenly this strange and unexpected person shows up unannounced, certainly not someone you would ever have in your house but someone who takes attention away from all of your hard work making a fuss over your V.I.P. and making a rather embarrassing scene. And to top it all off, your guest humors them, feeding into the fuss and not acting like the person you thought you invited over to begin with! 

I cannot help thinking that this is what must have been going through the head of Simon the Pharisee's head as this woman, a woman of questionable morals and history, showed up, rubbing oil on Jesus' feet and washing them with her tears and her hair. Indeed, Jesus is not the man that Simon expected, the prophet, the holy man that he'd heard so much about. Simon was expecting someone he could have some deep theological conversation with, possibly some debate. But instead, there is this scene happening of a starkly different nature, and Simon is not at all happy with how things turn out. 

He is at once dismissive of woman, who has violated several of the customs of the time by showing up in this dinner party, a man-only space, off of the street, and then by touching the guest of honor, laying both her sullied hands and her sinful hair on the feet of a reputedly holy man such as Jesus. And he is dismissive of Jesus, who, being a prophet, someone who sees and knows more than everyone else, for not being able to tell what kind of woman this is who is doting on him. Surely if he were the kind of man that Simon expected him to be, then he would know who was laying her hands on him! 

Formal 01

But even without Simon having said a word out loud, Jesus has nevertheless much to say about what Simon is thinking and what must surely be obvious on Simon's face. In the form of a question, Jesus asks the Pharisee which debtor would be most grateful when their debt is forgiven. Obviously the answer is the one whose debt was greatest. 

And so it seems the question of the woman is answered her, for obviously her sins were great and the forgiveness of her sins is one  that provides her with great gratitude and love, and so her behavior here is apt. But there is something else going on as well. Because now Jesus speaks on not only the woman's gratitude but how the woman offered the greater hospitality to Jesus that was not offered to him in the slightest bit by his very own host! 

Indeed, in his own self-righteousness, Simon feels as if the mere opportunity to have this prophet over was enough. There was no need to show him any love. Simon, who is so full of himself, believes that feeding his important guest dinner and offering scintillating conversation is all that needs being done. Forget offering the guest any kind of love or kindness as he arrives. 

But it's not that Simon is so much righteous as he is unable to appreciate the nature of his own sin. He believes himself perfect in the world. He believes himself unblemished, because he follows simple customs over and over again. He is a respectable individual and so there's nothing more that he needs. And so, living as he does, following all the rules but without a hint of love in his heart for his fellow human being, the fulfillment that this forgiven woman will feel will never be available to Simon the Pharisee and those like him. Having no desire for forgiveness, the self-righteous live without the very essence of love in their hearts. The woman, whose sins were many and varied is washed clean and feels an outpouring of love that cannot be denied. Simon just looks on in bafflement. 

And she is transformed even before she arrives.  This woman, who has dared to arrive in this place, to defy not only convention but laws to demonstrate that she is joyful for the deathly burden of her sin to be taken from her, may not even expect to have been transformed as she left the place.  

Early Christian tradition made her a prostitute, and frequently suggested that she was Mary Magdalene, but we have no scripture to back that up. But even if she was not Mary, was she not possibly one of the many unnamed women who would go to follow Jesus? Who along with Mary and Joanna and Susanna, walked with Jesus proclaiming all that he had done for them and what he would do with the world? 

How we who have sinned find ourselves powerless to be saved from our sins on our own, without the help of our God. And I know we don't always find ourselves like the woman, whose sins were so obvious and blaring that the removal of them created an upwelling of gratitude and feeling, because sometimes we find ourselves like Simon, stuck in denial that we may be sinning in the first place, and only when we discover, closed off to the love that is flowing around us, that there is something that we have closed ourselves off to. And that only the power of a God who surpasses all understanding can free us from it and bring us back to right relationship.

But seeing those sins isn't always the easiest thing in the world. I know for myself, when work the 12 steps, I make a list of my character defects in order that I may be entirely ready for God to remove them from me. But there are behaviors that I want to continue to hold on to time and time again. I have fears that may lead me to inaction. I have developed over my life defense mechanisms that bring me personal and short-term comfort that may be hard to get rid of. And like so many people, I hate to admit I am wrong, particularly when I have a vested interest in the outcome of my being right. So I do what the steps tell me to do. I pray, and I write and I pray and somehow along the way God reveals to me the nature of my wrongs and prepares me to have those removed from me. 

God releases me from my sins and allows me to enter into this new life without being borne down by the harmful behaviors of the old. 

I have some happy fantasies about the gospel when we don't hear much more. Simon the Pharisee is named here, and I like to think that even though we do not hear more about him later on, that he learned something on that day. We don't know what became of him or the unnamed woman.

She is not just a sinful woman, she is a hero. She is a harbinger of the kingdom yet to come.  This nameless and courageous woman is forgiven, and in that forgiveness is filled with love and gratitude, and it has become more important to give glory to Lord Jesus than worry about what society thinks of her, to be well behaved and kept in her place. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is scandalous. We have a savior who while he lived defied convention over and over again, consorting with all sorts of type that the world considered unsavory, and, led to sacrifice in the most humiliating way possible, died and then defeated death, rising again to rule over us. We look to a cross, capital punishment to let us know that the power of sin is no longer something that has power over us. We discover that the more we live in that faith, the more we cherish that gratitude, the more that we understand what we have been forgiven, the more our hearts open up and fill with the love that Christ Jesus has given us to give to each other. 

And ushered by the Holy Spirit to love God with that gratitude and love the miracles of each other in God's wondrous creation, how can we not respond by proclaiming that Good News from the roofs and hilltops for all to hear: God almighty's forgiveness is great and unconditional, and our salvation from death has been purchased by his divine suffering, death and resurrection, available for all of us by the miracle of his gift of faith. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on June 13, 2016 11:25 AM.

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