One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (June 12, 2016) on Luke 7:36-8:3. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
So who’s excited about the Tonys? Is anyone going to skip tonight’s new episode of Game Thrones so they can see if Daveed Diggs will win a Tony for his work as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Broadway’s Hamilton? Now, I didn’t grow up watching the Tonys but I did marry into a Tony's-watching family which means Superbowl Sunday and Tony's Sunday are about neck and neck in importance in my house. We’ll probably even let our kids stay up late so that they can watch this annual event, where stars from stage and screen celebrate theater. For many who can’t attend a musical on Broadway, this award show is the closest they’ll get to experiencing the Great White Way. And this year, the big buzz is whether Hamilton will sweep all the categories they’re nominated in. But it’ll be tough because the voters - producers, critics, and others- have a lot of amazing talent to consider. So as I prepare myself for this year’s show, I’ve been seeing what the critics have to say. I especially looked for their prediction list, where they say who should win a Tony and who they think will actually win at tonight’s show. And I like to focus on the critics because critics do what I can’t do. They see all the shows, they meet with the actors and playwrights, and they spend their time and energy reading and studying the history and the craft of the theater and the arts. At their best, critics share with us on the outside, what the experience is like inside. They help us to be part of this large and vibrant cultural event. We might not be able to see Broadway’s Hamilton - but, through the reviews of Ben Brantley, Michael Dale, and Linda Winer, we can see a little of what this cultural event is all about. Matt Windman, theater critic for AM New York, and, in full disclosure, a friend of mine, recently wrote a new book called The Critics Say…, where he interviewed 57 theater critics about the craft of being a critic. Jeremy Gerard, theater critic for Deadline.com, said something I found very interesting when he was asked why critics exist. He said “Critics offer a skeleton key into thinking about a subject. They help us to see things with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds.” Critics help us see - and in today’s reading from the gospel of Luke, Jesus the critic comes into being.
The story begins with an invitation to a dinner party. Jesus, in the gospel of Luke, is always eating and drinking and today is no different. A Pharisee opened his home and Jesus took his place at the table. Somehow, word about this party got out and a woman decides to crash it. We, on the outside, have no idea what her name is. She, like so many faithful women in scripture, go unnamed. But this woman knows that Jesus will be at this party and that’s important because she knows Jesus. In a story that isn't recorded in scripture but one that is hinted at in Jesus’ dialogue later in this story, we know that Jesus and this woman ran into each other before. Verse 47 and the words “have been” and “hence” are the key. Something happened in the past. They shared an experience together. And, it was then, when Jesus first forgave her.
So when this woman comes into the room, interrupting the dinner party with her presence, people see her. People watch her. They watch as she, in an extremely intimate and over the top way, washes Jesus’ feet and welcomes him to the Pharisees’ table. Now, I’m pretty everyone saw this. And we can almost hear everyone’s jaw drop as they watch what this woman did. She, a sinner, is showing honor and love - to a religious teacher. Simon speaks up - giving voice to what everyone else is already thinking. This woman is a sinner. She's not perfect. The text doesn't tell us what makes her a sinner but she's got a reputation. People know who she is. When she walks into a room, her history and her baggage come with her. In the eyes of the other guests, she shouldn’t be doing what she does. According to the guests, if Jesus was truly someone who could see the world as it is, who could see the world like God sees it, Jesus wouldn’t be letting this woman wash and anoint his feet. If Jesus was who he says he is, this woman would be kept away. This woman doesn’t belong there - and, in the eyes of everyone around her - the dinner party guests and even us, 2000 years later, watching as the action unfold - what she does shows just who Jesus is.
But like every good critic, Jesus has done his homework. He knows a story we don't. Jesus sees this woman and knows her. He knows her failing and her strengths. He knows her pain and her joys. He knows her - and he loves her - not because she’s perfect but because love is just Jesus’ game. He's that skeleton key that unlocks for everyone what it is that God sees. Jesus’ is a critic but not because he’s critical. A critic doesn't just criticize. A critic’s job is to know the full story - and make all of us see that full story for ourselves. At the start of the story, the dinner party guests thought they could see this woman. We thought we could see her too. But, in the end, Jesus shows that our sight isn't God’s sight. Our love isn't the limit to God’s love either. Jesus forces us to re-evaluate this woman, re-evaluate the story we heard, and re-evaluate the love that she shows. Jesus the critic is a critic of sinners. And Jesus loves us anyways.
So, in a few moments, we’re going to be having our own little dinner party. There's going to be bread. There's going to be wine and grape juice. And there's going to be us too. But today is special for us as this community of faith because Ashley Christiansen will, very shortly, commune with us for the first time. Now, Ashley isn't a stranger to God’s table. Since before she was born, God knew her and loved her, and Jesus’ table was always her table too. Even when we don’t partake, we are still blessed and prayed for here. At this table, at this rail, this bread, cup, and blessing is more than just nourishment for the journey ahead. It's a promise that we are truly seen. It’s a promise that we are truly known and that this body and blood isn't just for everyone else. Our worthiness for this gift, for this award from God, isn’t something granted to us by our peers. There's no accounting firm counting votes from producers and critics and church members to say that this gift from Jesus is something we somehow earned. The gift of being seen by God isn't something that happens to us once we take the right classes or earn the right grades or past the right tests. No, Jesus just sees us. Jesus just knows us. And Jesus, taking in all of who we are, loves us anyways. It's through that love that our minds are opened. It's through God’s grace that our hearts are opened too. The stories we know and the gossip we share isn't the limit to God’s possibilities. What we see isn’t the limit to what God sees. And it’s through the gift of faith, the gift of prayer, through the gift of blessing, and the gift of bread and drink - that we’re given the tools to look at each other and to look at our world through Jesus’ eyes and, like Jesus, just see.
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