Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sermon; 4 Pentecost/Proper 6C; Luke 7:36 - 8:3

Before we get into this story of the sinful woman washing and anointing Jesus' feet, we need a little back story.  During the Season of Pentecost in Year C all of our Sunday gospel readings come from Luke.  For the most part these are sequential readings that follow the life of Christ . . . for the most part.  This particular season is 27 weeks long, and Luke has 24 chapters.  So unless we want to read one full chapter every Sunday, some things will get left out.

Today we jump from the raising of the widow's son to the dinner at Simon's house.  That jump skips over the passage where John sends disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah or not.  John, remember, is traditionally considered to be the last prophet of the old age who ushered in the new.  Luke, we learned last week, considers Jesus to be a prophet of God, but only in the sense that his prophetic calling is but one part of who Jesus is.  He is a mighty prophet who gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, cleanses the lepers, opens the ears of the deaf, and raises the dead.  Luke is moving us from prophet to Messiah.  So while this skipped-over portion is not necessary for understanding today's story, it certainly helps us begin to understand the totality of who Jesus is.

Today we get less prophet and more Messiah.  Jesus is invited to dinner by Simon, a Pharisee.  While at dinner a sinful woman appears, washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with oil.  As usual, there is a lot going on here.  There is the erotic undertones of her act.  Refusing to keep the Sabbath day holy is not why she's identified as a sinner.  There's the interplay between Jesus and Simon.  There's the contrast between the woman and Simon.  And there's the movement of Jesus from prophet to Messiah.

Any one of these could be the basis for a good sermon, but the one that intrigued me this year was the contrast between Jesus and Simon.  Both of these men were faithful.  Both of them wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God.  Both of them wanted to live into a form of righteousness.  But there the similarities end.

Simon doesn't fit our image of a typical Pharisee.  He's not out to get Jesus.  His dinner invitation doesn't appear to hide any ulterior motives.  If you read this story in the context of the story the Lectionary chose to omit, you might get the idea that, just as John was searching for the Messiah, Simon was also searching and he simply wanted to learn more about Jesus over a good dinner.

But then this unnamed woman showed up.  Not just any woman, mind you, but a woman specifically identified and singled out as a sinner.  As I said, it's not because she refused to keep the Sabbath day holy that she was labeled a sinner.  And it is this woman who draws out the differences between Simon and Jesus, and points us to seeing Jesus as the Messiah.

As I said, Simon wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God.  He wanted to be faithful.  His idea of righteousness was wrapped up in maintaining a sense of purity and holiness for God.  The way to maintain righteousness before God was to avoid having any interaction with sinners.  The way to maintain righteousness was to maintain proper boundaries and not let the stain of sin contaminate you.  The way to interact with those people, then, was to ensure that they purified themselves before being allowed contact with, or access to, holy people and places.  A short way of saying this would be something like, “Clean yourself up and then you can come inside.”

Jesus presents us with another way of seeing righteousness.

Jesus also wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God.  He also wanted to be faithful.  But whereas Simon saw the path of righteousness as a restricted access toll road, ensuring people made the proper payment before being allowed to enter, Jesus saw righteousness as an open road that everybody has access to.  Where Simon saw righteousness as a temple of God where people needed to get cleaned up before entering, Jesus saw righteousness fulfilled in houses of God that invited people in and helped get them clean.

Simon's view of righteousness is an exclusive restaurant, black tie and gown required, where a maitre d' oversees the reservations, allowing in only the approved clientele.

Jesus' view of righteousness is an A.A. meeting.

In Romans, Paul writes, “There is no one who is righteous,” and, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We cannot obtain righteousness on our own.  Left to our own devices, we will sin.  Left to our own devices, we will be unable to maintain a pure and righteous path to God.  Left to our own devices, we will set up our own boundaries, criteria, expectations, and judgments for determining who is in and who should be kept out.  This is what Simon is advocating for – a formal way to keep out undesirables so that they don't contaminate or distract the religiously pure.

People still follow Simon's lead today.  Whether it is blatant racism, sexism, or homophobia, or whether it's a more subtle version of those, people set up barriers designed to keep certain people out, as well as keep certain people in power.  A recent example happened over in England last week.

The Diocese of Liverpool and the Diocese of Akure, Nigeria, formed a companion relationship several years ago.  Last year, the bishop of Liverpool invited the Rt. Rev. Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan of Virginia, to become an honorary assisting bishop in Liverpool.  And last week the Diocese of Akure severed their ties with Liverpool because Bp. Goff is in favor of marriage equality.  In other words, Akure ended their relationship with Liverpool because Liverpool let that woman, a sinner in their eyes, into the house.

We should be taking our cues from Jesus, not from Simon.  The righteousness Jesus exhibits comes from invitation, welcome, inclusion, and compassion.  It comes from understanding that we aren't the maitre d' controlling who gets in, but that we are the staff ensuring our guests are cared for.  Because it is in the inviting, the welcoming, the including, the compassion, where we show people that God wants them.  It is in those actions where people can begin to be cleansed, dying to old ways of living, have their sins forgiven, and live into a new life of resurrection.  And it is in this behavior that Luke shows Jesus moving from prophet to Messiah.

Today's gospel passage gives us two ways to understand righteousness:  the Simon way and the Jesus way.  Simon's way is neat and tidy with clearly delineated rules and regulations, making clear with whom we are and are not allowed to associate.  The Jesus way is a bit more messy.

Five star restaurant with a limited clientele, or A.A. meeting?

Which will you choose?



First time comments will be moderated.