Sunday 12 June 2016
Luke 7: 36-8:3
Who are we and what are we here for? These questions were asked at board meeting that I attended at Uniting Care in Horsham, where I used to work. Of course we had to flesh this out a bit and then we came a mission statement to help direct us in our vocations. This is common practice in most business and not for profit organizations to ask these questions, and as a church we do the same thing. In fact the LCA has one. It is ‘the LCA, Where Love Comes to Life’. I wonder if you have ever thought about this before. What does ‘Where love comes to life’ mean? I would like you think keep this in the back of your mind as I preach today’s sermon.
Today I am preaching on the Gospel reading from Luke chapter 7. The well known account of the woman who pours perfume on Jesus feet, and wipes them with her tears. But account begins with Simon the Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of people who were devout, they were serious about keeping God’s laws in Hebrew Bible. They were concerned about how the cultural influence of the Greeks and Romans who had conquered their land was leading people away from God. They were passionate about making sure that people were not led astray. They cared greatly about doing the right thing before God. However over time, they added their own laws to God’s word. They focused so much on what they were doing that they defined who they were in terms of their keeping the laws, both God’s law and the laws they made. What started off as a genuine concern lead to them becoming further away from God as they were no longer worshiping God, but the laws themselves. So in Simon’s Eyes he was right with God, because he was doing the right thing.
After opening his home and inviting Jesus to a banquet with others, a sign that Simon was at least open to hear from Jesus, at this point he had not closed his mind off yet, he received a big shock. It says a sinful woman found out the Jesus was at this house and came to Jesus. By sinful it most probably means that she was a prostitute who had a bad reputation. Certainly from the point of view of Simon, God did not love this woman, because of her behavior. And here was Jesus letting this sinful woman touch him and pour oil on his feet. And he says to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
The biggest mistake that Simon made is this: He did not believe that he was a great sinner, rather he was righteous before God, or so he thought.
The woman knew that she sinned greatly against God, she also knew that Jesus forgave her sins and showed her compassion and mercy, so she was pouring out the perfume, which was very expensive, because she was grateful to Jesus for what he had done for her. There is an honesty to this woman in that she is not coming to him because her behavior is good. She is not coming to God with pride in her own actions, rather she comes before him honestly recognizing her need for Jesus. It is from this that she pours out her actions of love towards him.
Intuitively when we read this account from Luke, I think we know that we are to be like to woman. Because, if you like, this is the right answer to have. This would be a very pious answer. But I wonder whether more often that we care to admit, that we can be more like Simon the Pharisee. Thinking that we are right with God, because we don’t sin as much as others, we live good lives, we try to do the right things, we are good Christians. The problem is that it does not work like this. You see God sees through our lack of honesty. We cannot justify our sin before him.
The Pharisees did lots of good works. They gave money to the poor; they attempted to protect the people from false teaching; they were genuinely concerned that people did not make God angry with them, and so pushed them to behave properly. The problem was that they were showing ‘love’ in a way that was all about them and their standing with God. They turned love into a law. So if you were not attempting to do the right thing, then they would not show love towards you. This where the contrast between this woman and Simon the Pharisee is at its greatest. The woman was not pouring her love and gifts on to Jesus to get him to love her, she did this because Jesus had come to her and forgiven her sins. She was not loving to get God to love her, but because he loved her she was giving her love and gifts.
The parable that Jesus tells about the people owing debt, where one owes much and the other little, both are cleared, is more that a nice story it points to reality. It points to the reality of how we are in our sinful natures, how we do try to justify ourselves, compare ourselves to others. How we see ourselves at times as having little that needs forgiving. When this happens the result is often that our love is lacking.
Genuine love, for God and our neighbours, comes from a place of honesty. It comes from a place of admitting and confessing your sin before God and receiving his forgiveness. This is what motivates genuine love. Jesus can say to this woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” This woman trusted Jesus to save her from her sins, Simon was trusting his good behaviour to save him from his sins. So his actions were not genuine. That was the problem not just for Simon, but for all the Pharisees, their actions were not genuine.
When Jesus left this place and was traveling around villages he was accompanied by his disciples and some women. Listen to what it says: “and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” These women were demonstrating their act of love for Jesus and others, because they had been healed and forgiven by Jesus. When they encountered Jesus, they expressed their gratitude through loving devotion to him and other. It is not mistake that these women are recorded here, because they are an example again to you and me, of how when we know our sins, and know how much Jesus has done for us, then we are likely to genuinely love others.
The reality is that both the sinful woman and also the Simon and the other Pharisees needed forgiveness. They both needed Jesus, but only the woman received him and forgiveness he offered. Simon and the others rejected Jesus and relied on their own efforts. This led them down a very dangerous path.
My encouragement to each of you is to reflect on just how much the debt of your sin against God has been forgiven by Jesus, rather than focus on others sins, to be honest about your own. In doing this your love for God and others will be anchored in genuine gratefulness and love towards others.