Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sermon, Proper 6C, 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:10, 13-15; Luke 7:36 - 8:3

As I said last week, we are in Ordinary Time – the long green Season after Pentecost.  This is the season of discipleship.  This is the time when we don’t have a specific focus like Christmas, Lent or Easter, but when we have a much broader focus that is the life, ministry and mystery of Christ.  This is when we get down to the nitty gritty of the Great Commission: “make disciples of all nations and teach them.”

One of the ways we learn to be disciples is through our study of Scripture.  The Collect for Proper 28 (which is still 22 weeks away) reads in part, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.”  This could be the Collect for the whole of Ordinary Time.

You may recall that I asked you to listen for connections between the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel.  Last week was fairly obvious with both Elijah and Jesus raising a widow’s son to life.  The connection there is that the New Testament has deep roots in the Old.  We not only hear similar stories, but we are reminded of Jesus’ prophetic ministry.  In listening for connections, hopefully we become better learners, better students, better disciples.

Where are the connections today?  How does a story of greed, rape, premeditated murder and holy retribution even remotely connect with a story of repentance, love, forgiveness and salvation?  And if you’re having a hard time seeing the connection, that’s okay – discipleship and learning aren’t always easy.

So what’s going on in these stories?  The first lesson is pulled from the familiar story of David and Bathsheba.  After raping her and getting her pregnant, David tries to cover up his actions.  When that doesn’t work, he has Bathsheba’s husband killed.  God gets wind of David’s behavior and is rather . . . displeased.  So he sends Nathan to confront him, telling a story of a poor man and his pet lamb.

The gospel lesson should be equally familiar.  Jesus attends a dinner, is confronted with a sinful woman who washes his feet with her tears and hair, and then anoints them with oil.  Simon, a Pharisee, is outraged at this behavior and Jesus tells a story of two men having their debts forgiven.

The connection here is not sexual sins, even though David certainly committed them and the woman in the gospel was most likely a prostitute.  Nor is the connection that of God playing a game of “Gotcha!” with two clever stories.  The connection between these two stories is the behavior of God’s people and how we treat others.

David is God’s anointed.  Through most of his reign he was honorable, heroic and successful in battle; his unwillingness to commit regicide while Saul was still king is a perfect example.  David was also, as attested to elsewhere, a man after God's own heart.  Over time, however, David, if not corrupted by his position and power, at least developed a bad case of tunnel vision.  He knew what was right, holy and honorable before God, and he knew what behaviors crossed the line.  But as God’s chosen and favored man, he could easily justify his actions because, hey, God chose him to be king.

David got to a place where he was so sure of his righteousness that he was willing to enforce an exorbitant repayment amount as well as indicating he would favor the death penalty for a non-capital offense.  But because of those blinders and his righteous self-assuredness, he couldn’t see that he was the guilty man.  He couldn’t see, or didn’t care, how his actions harmed those around him.  All he knew was that he was a righteous man, chosen by God.

In today’s gospel we have the story of another righteous man, Simon the Pharisee.  Simon hosts a dinner and invites Jesus to attend.  I’ve always thought this was more about Simon than it was about Jesus – as in, “Look how impressive my guest list is; I must be very important.”

Regardless, Simon invites Jesus to dinner.  While there, a sinful woman suddenly appears.  We don’t know much about this woman or her sin, but more often than not, whenever a woman is accused of being a sinful sinner, the accusers are most often talking about sex. 

This most-likely prostitute shows up uninvited to the dinner and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them with oil.  Simon is outraged at both her actions and that she’s even there in the first place.  He’ll probably have to purify the whole house, since he’s a righteous man, chosen by God.

Jesus, like Nathan before him, tells a story.  “Which one of the debtors will love the creditor more?”  Simon replies, “I suppose the one who had the larger debt.”  Jesus then turns and forgives the woman of her sin.

But Simon doesn’t get it.  Like David before him, he is blinded by his own righteous self-assuredness.  He is so convinced of his position that he will never exhibit an overwhelming expression of love like the woman displayed.  His self-assessment as a righteous and morally superior person tells him he is in less need of forgiveness.  And the result is his lack of love.

Which one are we?  Are we David:  willing to condemn anyone who doesn’t live up to our moral code, but just as willing to justify our sins away because we were handpicked by God?

Are we Simon:  self-assuredly righteous and morally superior to the point of thinking we have less of which to be forgiven and, therefore, unwilling to express love to those who don’t measure up?

The connection between these two stories is clear:  As people of God, how do we treat others?  If we think we are more special than other people, we run the risk of not only mistreating them, but of thinking we have fewer sins of which to be forgiven. 

And as we see with David and Simon, both views are wrong.



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