12 June 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen
What are you grateful for today? I’m grateful for safe travels last week and for a safe return to Monroe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to worship here today with you all. And always, as I learned from my friend Clarence so many years ago, I am grateful for the little things. This week it’s the way my potted tomatoes and eggplants are producing blossoms and the beginning of fruit. There’s more of course. There is, it seems to me a whole lot to be grateful for each day and maybe that’s as good a place as any to come into the lessons appointed for today. That notion of gratitude might just be a bit hard to see, I suppose, given the first lesson. It’s the conclusion of the story of King David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his murderous plot that led to the death of her husband Uriah. All in all, it’s a disturbing story.
Remember, please, David had been chosen and anointed by God to serve as Israel’s King,
which is to say the he acted as God’s representative. David, as God’s spokesperson, was the ultimate guarantor of justice in that time and place. But did you hear it? The lesson tells us plainly that “the thing that David has done displeased the Lord”. And so Nathan was sent to confront David. He told that story about the rich man and the poor man. You remember, that poor man was so poor that he had almost nothing, just one little lamb. Beyond that, he regarded the lamb as part of his family and provided for it as for his children. When the rich man, who had many herds of animals, had a visitor he took the poor man’s one lamb to provide a meal for his guest. Now, here’s an important point about stories that serve as parables. If we take the parable seriously, if we really enter into I, we risk a level of self-revelation that can be pretty uncomfortable. Notice, when David heard the story of how that rich man treated the poor man he reacted with anger. He condemned the rich man saying that he deserved to die and required him to give back to the poor man four times what he had taken. I wonder what David thought when Nathan said: “You are the man!” Did that statement cause him to squirm inside? He was the king after all. What did he feel when Nathan recounted all the good things that had come to David at God’s hand? God had , in fact, selected David, the youngest of many brothers, to be king in the first place. Did that leave him with a heightened sense of remorse? One thing we are told. David admitted to his sin. Then Nathan spoke the words that offered God’s forgiveness and said that David would not die though his heir would be taken from him. Much as that last part of the story leaves us with some difficult questions we can, I think, at least see something about how God’s love leads to our forgiveness. The Psalm offers something important here. It is a prayer of Thanksgiving and maybe David was wise enough to sing it. It begins: “Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away.” The Psalm goes on to show us a pattern for reconciliation that echoes David’s story. First there is that sense of wrongness and the weight of guilt. Then there is the move to confession followed by the awareness of forgiveness, of being brought into being right relationship with God. The Psalm then ends on a note of grateful rejoicing In response to God’s goodness. But important as that is it’s a rabbit trail and I need to get back on track. I am reminded, in the midst of this part of David’s story that God is forever using unlikely, imperfect, people to do God’s work in this world. We may each qualify as sinners in our own way but we are each also beloved of God. We can be profoundly grateful. The story leads me to ask a question of myself. I hope you’ll ask it of yourself too. Where does my security really come from? And to the extent that I have power, who gives that power to me? The answer if God, of course. God is always creating us new every day, God has acted to bring each one of us back into right relationship, we are forgiven and we are, by the grace of God, equipped to do God’s work in this world. Which gets back to that notion of gratitude. And leads me on into the Gospel reading. Think about that woman in the Gospel lesson. You know, the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, the one kissed his feet and anointed them with oil. On one hand, back in the day, unbinding her hair like that in public and in the presence of men was an absolutely disgraceful act. No good woman would behave that way. At the same time washing, anointing, and kissing Jesus’ feet shows that woman’s deep gratitude, even reverence, toward Jesus. They are the actions of one who wanted more than anything to honor Jesus. I suspect those acts of devotion grew out of an awareness both of her own sinfulness and of Jesus’ acceptance of her just as she was. Now I have to say, the Gospel lesson for today is a complicated one. Thing is, it actually spans two larger sections of material within the Gospel According to Luke. The first part of our lesson, Luke 7: 36-50 is set during a meal in the home of an unnamed Pharisee. This passage ends a section that shows Jesus beginning to separate himself from traditional religious notions of his day. When we hear how that woman came in and honored Jesus and how he accepted her we are hearing something very important. Understand, both providing water to wash one’s feet and providing oil were common ways for a host to offer hospitality back then. But the woman’s actions are extreme. Plus, since she isn’t the host, it isn’t her job to offer that kind of hospitality. And besides she’s woman, she shouldn’t have been there doing those things at all. Did you notice how the host, his name was Simon, reacted? You heard it. He asked himself what kind of man is this Jesus? If he really is a prophet he should know that letting this woman touch him will leave him ritually unclean in a world were ritual cleanliness was everything. This cleanliness is more than washing up before dinner. It is a matter of being right with God. That woman was a sinner in his view. No really good religious person, for example the other guests at the dinner party, would allow her touch. Understand, Jesus is beginning to reach beyond the bounds of his own religious upbringing to offer G-d’s loving kindness to those commonly thought to be undeserving one way or another. The story tells us plainly that Jesus saw that woman in all her humanity and forgave her. But there is more to the lesson. Luke 8:1-3 begins a whole new section of material in the larger scope of the Gospel. Jesus and his disciples are back on the road accompanied by some women who had experienced healing at Jesus hand. Did you hear it? These woman, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others traveled with Jesus and the twelve and provided for them out of their own resources.
Clearly, for these women, the experience of grace provoked a response of grateful generosity.
How do these lessons fit together for us? How do they speak to us in our situation? What do they call us to do? To recap. In the first lesson we see David, that imperfect but forgiven servant of God who despite the far reaching effects of his arrogance toward God, is remembered as serving God as King over Israel. In the Gospel lesson the woman who washed Jesus’ feet behaves as one who is overwhelmingly grateful for the grace of knowing her sins forgiven. Her actions provide a marked contrast with those of the more traditionally pious guests. These stories tell tells a strange truth. However pious (or not) a person might be it takes a powerful awareness of one’s own sinfulness to really experience God’s grace. Beyond that when we, keenly aware of our sinfulness, experience God’s grace in Jesus Christ that experience of grace leads, at our best and with God’s help, to radically altered lives. The women who follow and provide for Jesus give us an example. The point I think is that when we live the forms of religion without the passion of really experiencing God in our lives we miss that saving grace. This is not to say that grace eludes the normally pious. Not at all. Jesus is the ultimate host who bring God’s gracious presence into all our lives, who both knows us and loves us fully, who, yes, acts to make us right with God despite ourselves. By the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, we are free from all that binds us. But notice. Those least worthy, those second class citizens, because make no mistake that is what women were in that long ago time, were freed not so much to simply accept and enjoy their freedom. They were freed for discipleship and for service. The point is, for us just as much as for them, grace, fully experienced, leads to a life of grateful generosity. Maybe that’s a generosity with the resources God has given to us. Maybe it’s a generosity of spirit that see’s even those who seem entirely different as also valuable in God’s kingdom. It is always a generosity that leads us to do God’s will where ever we find ourselves. In my mind that’s a powerful lot to be grateful for. Thanks be to God. Amen