First Congregational Church
June 16, 2013
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost and Fathers Day
"Forgiveness Is Where We Live"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If you think about it, holidays are tough subjects for people - and pastors - in terms of topics for preaching. There are individuals for whom the holiday is nearly pure joy: children or parent, breakfast in bed, handmade gifts from little hands, quality family fun time, the sense of satisfaction at its pinnacle. There are also individuals for whom the holiday is nearly pure agony: children - having them or not having them, parent - having them or not having them, guilt, disappointment, anger, regret and a plethora of other emotions - also at their pinnacles.
So how does one open a message on a day when you have to be so careful? I thought about Duck Dynasty. If you've not heard about this show, you may want to check it out on A&E, because it's currently the second-highest-rated cable show with an average of 8.5 million viewers per episode. And what's not to love about two bearded, camo-fashioned brothers, Phil and Si and Phil's sons Jase, Willie and Jep, a rags to riches family business making duck calls that has expanded into everything from Duck Dynasty bandaids to books. Rumor has it that one of the books includes a recipe for boiled squirrel with butter and evaporated milk that begins, "Skin the squirrel, then cut in half." I thought about using the show and it's intrigue, but it's just not where I live.
So then I thought about wisdom. Wisdom doesn't have a gender-identity or so much of a "preference" quality, and it could be a safer and still relevant path. For instance, there was the boy who asked his father if bugs are good to eat. The father said, "Let's not talk about such things at the dinner table, son." After dinner, the father inquired, "Now, son, what did you want to ask me?" "Oh, nothing," the boy said. "There was a bug in your soup, but now it's gone."
There was a small boy at the zoo with his father. They were looking at the tigers, and his father was explaining how ferocious they were. "Daddy, if the tigers got out and ate you up..." "Yes, son?" the father asked, ready to console him. "...Which bus would I take home?"
Then there was the father who told his son, "You'll never amount to anything because you procrastinate." To which the son replied, "Oh yeah? Just you wait!"
And there was the little guy who asked his friend if he liked the drum set he got for his birthday. The friend said, "I love it!" The little guy asked the curiosity question: "Why?" The friend said, "Whenever I don't play it, my dad gives me ten bucks!" If I were looking for relevant space fillers, I might have gone down the path of wisdom. But that didn't seem like it might be a place where many of us might be living today.
So I decided to check out a preachers good friend, the lectionary - the listing of scripture passages appropriate for given days or occasions. I don't always use the lectionary, because sometimes I feel "inspired" to do something different. Other times, I let God inspire through the prescribed passages. Since we have been spending time in the seventh chapter of Luke this month, it seemed fairly natural to wind up the chapter. As Bill makes his way up here, I'll let you all know that he will be reading from Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, "The Message."
Luke 7:36-50 The Message
36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Oh? Tell me.”
41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?” 43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.” 49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!” 50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Thank you, Bill. In light of the "ponderings" I was going through for this message, when I came to this passage, I almost went on to find something else. First of all, although I love how this version makes the story so much more alive than the version in our pews, there is the little issue of "labeling." The pew version says this woman lived a "sinful life." The old King James just called her a "sinner."
What's not so very "fair" about this labeling is that there isn't anyplace in scripture that specifically says what she did wrong, although the entire town seemed to know. If nothing else, then this passage is a good reminder that until have traveled a mile in a person's sandals, we might do our best to protect dignity - especially of those who seem so much less "seen" than others. Perhaps this point is not so much for anyone else this week, but for me.
Along with this labeling issue, there is the issue of judgment, which seems to be woven all through this passage. When Simon said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him" - you can almost see his nose go up as he said it. In fact, after Jesus said, "Simon, I have something to tell you," Simon's nose practically scraped the clouds when he said, "Oh? Tell me." Can't help but think of the word haughty - not that I'm being haughty in my judgement of this event, either.
It's an interesting twist I've noticed about judging or judgment. When being so, we need to be very careful, because it's that one finger pointing away, with three fingers coming back at us. And the stronger the judgment, the more we ought to take a look at the reasons behind the triple effect pointing back at us.
I also cringed at this passage because it seems that Jesus talks about love in economic terms. When talking about the two indebted men, Jesus confirms that the one who is forgiven the most would be - might be - the more grateful. But if there's anything we've come to know of God and Jesus, it's that love and economics seem to be worlds apart. Except that real love sometimes costs dearly. We have only to think of Christ's sacrifice for us to get that connection.
And then there is the end of the passage, where Jesus takes Simon to task as he "forgives" the woman, and Jesus says to her, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." It's interesting that Jesus used the word "peace" rather than freedom or happiness or relief or any other sort of word. "Go in peace." It's also interesting that he said, "Your faith has saved you." Why '"faith" and not repentance or humility or gift - as in the anointing of his feet?
There are so many questions and ponderings and issues around this passage, we could be here until the cows come home. But sometimes we need the obvious: to stop and realize what is before us, and I think this may be one of those days-slash-passages.
There is no doubt that this passage deals with forgiveness. It's interesting that "confession" has little - if any real - part in this scenario. In fact, the woman doesn't even say a thing. But what she does - speaks volumes.
There are times, but I'm guessing that no so many of us has something so big that needs forgiveness to the point that we would spend a great deal of money to buy or do something that may seem like a waste to other people. Sometimes, like the younger son of the Prodigal Father, we "come to our senses" and need to return to the home of our heart in God. But by and large, most of us aren't "living" in that place.
Most of us are living in that place where perhaps we are the one that can grant someone else a forgiveness - especially those who don't even ask for it. Human tendencies are to act more like the faith-bouncer, Simon, deciding who can "get in" and who has to "stay out" of our homes of forgiveness. If there is nothing else about this morning's passage and message, it's that we live in a place where forgiveness is the home where we live. Forgiveness is not a morgue or cemetery or jail cell or trap. Forgiveness - receiving and giving - is not a commodity to be sold or bartered, but the place where we live - where we flourish and thrive and where there are no boundaries of gender or role or job or wisdom or flash-in-the-pan notoriety.
So in this place of life, let us pray. Gracious God of Mercy and Love and Forgiveness, we are grateful for those who have raised us - are raising us. Even more than that, God, we are grateful that you sometimes forgive us even before we ask, because your love is that great. There are times when we need to verbalize our need for forgiveness, so we are grateful that you do not require hoops and barriers to jump, but by simply asking, you forgive. More than anything, Gracious God, we thank you for sending your son, the embodiment of what forgiveness looks like and sounds like and is and always will be. Help us to bring the realm of forgiveness to those who so need it, especially if it is us who need to do the forgiving. For all the blessings you so freely give us, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.