Saturday, June 16, 2007

TABLE GRACE

Luke 7:36-50

H.L. Mencken described a Puritan as a "person with a haunting fear that someone, somewhere is happy."1 Unfortunately that description of a Puritan defines much of Christianity. Churches are often places of discord, abuse, and fountains of hate. That reality stands in contrast to Jesus’s message of grace, love and forgiveness. It’s unfortunate that the church can fall too often into legalism. It’s also unfortunate that large numbers of people believe that the church of Jesus Christ is the last place to go if you’re looking for hope or happiness. The word on the street is that churches are places of ostracism, exclusion, and condemnation, where no one dares to laugh, lest they offend God and their neighbor. I don’t think that’s true here, but that’s the reputation we must deal with!

INVITATION TO DINNER

That reputation of legalism isn’t new. You see it in the attitudes of a religious leader named Simon. Simon had invited Jesus home for dinner, along with some friends. While they were eating a woman entered the room, and she wasn’t on the guest list. To make matters worse, she was well known in that town for being a sinner. Apparently she lived across the tracks and down the back alley. It’s possible that some people in that room knew her by more than reputation, but they would never admit to it. She was an outcast, persona non grata – that is she was a person without grace.

That may have been true, but she saw something in Jesus and she knelt at his feet and began weeping uncontrollably, so that her tears bathed his feet. Then, perhaps unconsciously, she unloosened her hair, something no woman did in polite company, and began to dry his feet with her hair. Finally she began to kiss his feet and anoint them with the costly perfume she had brought with her in an alabaster jar.

It’s not surprising that Simon was scandalized, not just by her behavior, but by Jesus' as well. How could Jesus let this sinner, this unclean person, touch him like that? It was unseemly, even obscene. Here, he was supposed to be a prophet of God. Surely no self-respecting prophet would let such an unclean woman touch him like this.

THE STORY

It’s then that Jesus began telling a story about a man who lent money to two different people. To one he gave five-hundred denarii, which was a lot of money, and to the other he gave fifty. Fifty is quite a bit, but nothing in comparison to the 500. Then when it came time to repay the debt, neither of these borrowers could repay it. Now, the lender could have tossed both of them into debtors prison, but instead, he forgave both loans.
Then Jesus asked Simon: "Which of them will love him more?" Who do you think loved the lender more? It was with reluctance that Simon admitted that it was the one who owed the most who loved the most.
Yes the woman was a sinner, but so was Simon. The only difference was that she apparently owed more than Simon and so having been forgiven much, she loved much. Her actions were those of a person who’d been released from her debt. Her sins might be too many to number and pious Simon’s were few, but she was forgiven and all she could do was show her gratitude as best she could.

Here we have a woman whose sins were dramatic and a man’s whose sins were more subtle. And because they were subtle, he didn’t recognize them as sins. But he was nonetheless a sinner, only his sins were of the order of arrogance, self-righteousness, and inhospitality. Simon had indeed invited Jesus to dinner, but a proper host greets the guest with a kiss and anointing with oil, and the host makes sure that the guest’s feet are washed. But Simon didn’t do any of this for Jesus. The woman, on the other hand, had done what Simon refused to do.
You see, Simon’s problem was that like us, he had different categories of sin, and he believed that whatever sins he had committed, they were nothing compared to the sins of this woman. She was impure and a woman of ill repute. He simply felt, I’m okay, but you’re not. But Jesus answered him by saying: "those who are forgiven little, love little" (vs. 47).

THE TABLE OF GRACE

I’ve been in the church all my life, and I’ve seen the good and the bad in the church. I’ve seen families disown their children in the name of God and of course we’ve all heard about churches that split over the color of the carpet. I’ve heard Christians utter racial slurs and speak hatefully of others. And I’ve been part of the problem myself. I can only imagine that as we fight, God weeps. It appears that we have yet too truly understand the gospel of grace. Perhaps this is because we feel that we’ve been forgiven little, and so it’s okay to love little.
As we come to the Table of the Lord this morning, it is appropriate to confess to God that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and grace. It’s also important to remember that the table isn’t just for the saints, it’s also for the sinners. If it weren’t then none of us could come to it.

The good news is that the Table of the Lord is truly a place where sinners gather to receive a word of grace and comfort. Bread and Cup are signs of Jesus' body and blood, which beckon us forward so we can find peace, hope, and joy. This is a table of grace that’s open to anyone who recognizes the need for that grace. It doesn't matter what you’re wearing or how you look or even how much money you make. Recently presidential candidate John Edwards was asked about the biggest sin he’d committed. He answered, that there’d been too many to know which one was the biggest. Now that could be a cop out, or it could be a recognition that it won’t do any good trying to categorize our sins. The only good that can come is from recognizing that we have been forgiven. William Willimon writes:
For Jesus, forgiveness is not some doctrine to be believed; rather, it is a feast to be received, a party to which the outcasts are invited, a gift to be received with empty hands. So Jesus not only tells a parable at the table, he becomes a parable, a sign to us of what God is up to in the world. In Jesus, God is busy inviting the whole world to the table.2
The invitation has been given: Come to the table and enjoy the bounteous grace of God.
  1. From Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing about Grace? (Zondervan, 1997), 29.
  2. William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, 29 (April, May, June 2001): 53.



Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 17,2007

2 comments:

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Carr said...

Jesus came from heaven to earth to impart a divine message, and he spends his time complaining that he has no water to wash his feet with?

Still, at least we know that wicked , sinful people will be forgiven all their evil deeds if they do Jesus a favour, like washing his feet (but not if they wash other people's feet. That would count as works)