June 16th, 2013
By Pastor Bill
Hospitality and Righteousness
1 Kings 21:1-21a/Galatians2:15-21/ Luke 7:36-8:3
4th Sunday of Pentecost/ Year C/ June 16. 2013
There some reality shows that I really like and others I could care less about. One of my favorites is back on TV for the summer, “America’s Got Talent.” I love to watch the people who come on the show with oddball acts and stupid pet tricks and little or no talent to speak of making fools of themselves in front of millions of people. Every once in a while though there are people who come on the show who are so very talented it makes me want to praise God for the gifts they have been given. But sometimes when we hear the back story of how these people got here to this place and this time it can be heart breaking. This past week was no exception. I the midst of the insanity and the silliness and the outrageous, a timid shy young man steps on to the stage and shares his journey to this moment in time. His name is Jonathan Allen. At age 18 his parents threw him out of the house because he told them he was gay. He has not seen, nor talked to his parents in almost two years. He came on the show to prove that he was somebody who was worth something, not something to be cast aside and judged unworthy of love and compassion. He wanted to share the gift that God had given him with the world. And with that he opened his mouth and began to sing. And sing he did, with a glorious tenor voice that belied his age he sang his heart out, with a song from Andrea Bocelleli about love and forgiveness. He sang in both Italian and English, his voice towering above the screams and shouts of a stunned and amazed audience. When he finished the whole of Radio City Music Hall was on its feet, judges and all giving that unloved young man love and affection and pure delight in the gift that he had just shared. Once the crowd quieted down so the judges could speak, Howie Mandel, the head judge of eh four; Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Mel B, spoke for the judges and the audience as well, I think. He said:
“Let me just say, you seem like a good person, and you have a dream, and a talent, and your own family disowned you, but with your talent, this show has become your family, and we’d like to say ‘welcome home.’ We love you, we accept you, and we are so proud that you came here.”
In one moment in time the life of one young man, cast aside by his own family and forced to live away from those he loves, is given a gift that cannot be taken away, acceptance and love.
In many ways, that is what is happening in our text for today from Luke’s gospel. We are dropped in the midst of a dinner party for Jesus hosted by one of the leading Pharisees in the community. While they were at table waiting to be served an unnamed woman from the city streets enters the banquet hall and approaches Jesus seated at the table. In Jesus’ day meals were served on low table with couches, not chairs for the men to sit on. Women were relegated to the outside or to the role of serving the men. To have a woman, particularly one who seems to be known by those at the table as an unsavory dinner companion, come to the table and kneel at Jesus feel and begin washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair was considered by the host and those with him to be an outrage. And when she then anointed his feet with a scented ointment and kissing them, Simon the Pharisee is apoplectic. Stunned and outraged and thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she is a sinner.”(Luke 7:39)
Before Simon can take any action to stop the sacrilege, Jesus speaks.
“Simon, I have something to say to you!” Simon somewhat abashed says “Teacher, speak!” Jesus then told him a parable of a man who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty denarii. When they could not pay the debt , he canceled the debt of both.
Jesus then asked him: “Which of them will love him more?”
Simon quietly says “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
Jesus answered him saying: “You have judged rightly.”
End of discussion right? Wrong!!!
Simon may have judged the woman for being a sinner, but Jesus sees beyond the sinner to inner person, someone who was seeking to be accepted as a person, not a thing to be used and abused, cast aside as a piece of trash. She was a woman who deeply loved, but made bad choices in seeking that love. Now having heard and seen Jesus and what he has done she comes seeking forgiveness and acceptance, dnd finds it.
At this point in the story the emphasis shifts from the woman to Simon the Pharisee. And Jesus is about to give him a piece of his mind. Simon is man bound by honor, by the codes of Judaism. He lives a ritually pure life and follows the law to the letter. And yet, in the midst of the splendor of the house he lives in, he has shown Jesus nothing but inhospitable behavior. If Simon were true to his breeding and his teaching, he would have made Jesus feel welcome the moment he walked in the door.
Jesus then proceeds in a gentle fashion, to berate Simon for his lack of hospitality saying.
“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. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 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.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I have often wondered what that woman felt like at that moment when Jesus forgave her and set her free. Anne Lamott in her book “Traveling Mercies” gives us a pretty good understanding of what that woman must have felt like. Anne had been living on the edge for a number of years. After graduating from College in the early 70’s, she turned to writing as a career. As that career played out over the next several years she found herself on the edge of collapse, addicted to alcohol and drugs. In desperation she turned to a priest who lived near her for help. She called him just as he was leaving for an appointment and he tried to put her off with excuses. But she was desperate to talk to someone, anyone. He agreed to wait for her. When she got to the church, she was frightened, she had never been to church on a regular basis, both her parents claimed to be atheists , but were, as she puts it, more likely agnostics.
When she walked into his office at this imposing Episcopal Church that looked like some kind of fortified castle, she found as skinny, middle-aged guy, who seemed to her to be both smart and tenderhearted. As she poured out her story she realized that he was really listening to her. At some point in the conversation Anne said: “I don’t think God could love me.” The Priest, looked at her with brilliant blue eyes with a tiny smile on his face and said, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” At that point Anne realized she had found home. Later in another meeting with Bill the Priest, she asked him, “What did you hear in my voice when I called? He said, “I just heard that you were in trouble.” Then she asked him “What does it mean to be saved? Most of the Christians I’ve ever had met seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t and that bothers me.” He said it bothers him too. Anne writes, he tried to side step the question a few times but she kept pressing him until he said:
“I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But then Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker “I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside and live.” At that moment, she writes, I knew that is what I wanted more than anything, to be free and to be loved for who I am. It took her four more years to get herself clean and sober. (Traveling Mercies, P.42-43)Today she serves as a pastor in a Presbyterian Church in Marin County California, a church that ministers to the outcasts, and vagrants, the homeless, and the sick and the dying. It is a church living on the edge sharing the love of Christ for all God’s people.
She writes of an experience she had, of someone like Simon the Pharisee and his actions toward the woman and toward Jesus. The church she attended for much of the four years of her recovery from addiction was a small Presbyterian Congregation in San Francisco,
Kevin Nelson was dying of Aids, he started coming to the church with a Jewish woman about a year ago. She came with him nearly every Sunday, even though she did not believe in Jesus. Shortly after he started coming to the church Kevin’s partner died of Aids. The Sunday after Brandon’s death, Kevin told the small congregation gathered that Sunday that right after Brandon had died, “I felt Jesus slide into my heart filling the whole that Brandon’s death had left there. And he has been there ever since.”
Now, according to Anne, Kevin was not much to look at. His face was ravaged with the disease, his body emaciated, but his smile was always radiant, even on the days he felt so sick he could not stand.
Now there was in the congregation a woman by the name of Ranola. Ranola was a large, beautiful and talented black woman who sang in the choir every Sunday. Her voice was like low thunder and silver rain as Kevin described it. Now Ranola was raised Baptist. She had been carefully taught that people like Kevin were an abomination. She steered clear of him most of the time. When she did have to look at him there was always a look of confusion on her face. How could someone like that be so kind and so gentle and be so faithful she thought. It’s not right. It was hard for her to break through that moral code she had been taught for so many years. But It finally happened. About a year after Kevin started coming he was gone for about six weeks. When he came back the disease had taken his strength, he was now confined to a wheel chair. He sat in his chair, shared his prayers, his hopes, and his joys with everyone. On this particular Sunday, the opening hymn was “Jacob’s Ladder..” Ironically, Kevin could not stand up to sing the song nor could he climb the stairs with his hands. But he sang with the hymnal in his lap his voice screeching along with the rest.
At the end of the service after the sermon, the congregation stood to sing “His Eye on the Sparrow.” Ranola was standing in the front row of the Choir began singing, watching Kevin skeptically as he tried to sing along with everyone else. As they got to the part that says
‘Why should I feel discouraged? Why do the shadows fall? Something happened to Ranola. Suddenly the hardness of her heart melted, she rushed from the choir, and knelt beside Kevin taking him in her arms then lifting him like a rag doll she sang out with this scarecrow of a man Because he had chosen Jesus as his portion. That is why he could sing, that is why he was always happy, even in the darkness and the pain. In that moment Ranola and everyone present hearts were pierced with joy and with love. Kevin died a few weeks later and Ranola sang just for him “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” (Traveling Mercies, p.63-65) God comes to us in many ways and in many forms, God’s gifts are given indiscriminately and with grace abounding. Can we do any less?