Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Sinner Pharisee and Jesus

--Before I began the sermon, I set the scene. I actually set out a low table and a few pillows and explained how this dinner might have looked. Explained the openness of the courtyard; how people could come and go; how they could listen in even if they weren’t an invited guest. Then I told them that sometimes when you read from Scipture, you can imagine you are a part in the story. And I encouraged them to see themselves as the Pharisee. That they were Simon, a smart, well-educated servant of the Torah, who has heard about this Jesus guy and invited him to a well-planned dinner, well-planned in menu, and well-orchestrated in conversation.

--Imagine yourself reclining here at the table, dining with Jesus.

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 7th chapter.

36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37And 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. 38She 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. 39Now 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." 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?"

43Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44Then 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. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, 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." 48Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

     What kind of person are you? Seriously, did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you said…actually what you arrogantly scoffed—“if this man Jesus really was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she really it. How dare he let such a sinful woman touch him?” Her? Her? What about you? You didn’t even welcome Jesus when he came into your house? You didn’t offer him a towel to clean off the dust from the day; you didn’t give him a kiss, or ask if he needed a glass of water.

     I haven’t seen you giving him your comfortable jacket when he’s cold on the street, or the groceries out of your trunk when he’s holding a cardboard sign. You simply sat him down at the table and started working your own agenda. That woman may be a sinner…but, you, my friend, are too. A sinner who chooses self time and time again…who, maybe every once in awhile does something kind, like working in the NICE center or serving pancakes, but it’s not like your soul, or the world, can be saved from a Saturday a month. Because, you’re still at home snuggled under a warm comforter with your air conditioner going while others sleep in cardboard boxes. You’re still feigning disgust over this oil spill, while continuing to pay no attention to the oil that gushes into your life on a daily basis. You still choose each and every day to serve the gods of money and comfort and security.

     You, my friend, my dear Pharisee relaxing at the table, you… just like that woman you shun, are a sinner. A sinner…and the whole town knows it; and you know that don’t you? I’m not telling you something you don’t already know…Which is why when you walk into the grocery store you walk in with downcast eyes; it’s why you dress in muted colors so as not to draw too much attention to yourself. It’s why you hesitate to speak outloud, not wanting your perceived inferior ideas to sound foolish. You know deep within that nothing you ever do is good enough…and no matter how many committees you’re on; how much money you make; no matter how many friends you have…deep within you know that if someone truly knew the real you, they would shake their heads in disbelief and walk away.

     That’s why you’re the one standing at the back of the crowd…straining to hear the words being spoken, not wanting to be seen, but still wanting to hear because you still have this glimmer of hope, that there simply has to be something there for you…that there’s something there even for you. And for some reason then you hear more than words; suddenly you see him, you see Jesus; and those downcast eyes of yours begin to focus; and you feel this tug at your heart. And even though you know what everyone else thinks; even though you know what you think…those stories no longer seem to matter.

     Because in front of you is the one who sees everything you’ve ever done, all those selfish choices, all those pains you’ve caused and those pains you’ve endured. Right in front of you is the one who sees right into your soul--past all those walls you’ve built out of your shame and mistrust and fear…he sees you with…well, he sees you with the eyes of God. He sees your heart and as if your eyes were opened for the first time, you see too. And what you see is what God sees—a beloved child; you see yourself for the very first time; and you’re no longer held captive to all those thinks you’ve done and failed to do—or even those things you’ve yet to do. You see yourself exactly the way that you are—a forgiven, freed, adored, child of God.

     And suddenly your once blind eyes begin to fill with newfound hope, with boundless possibilities, with a joy that cannot be contained, and you push your way through that crowd, and you fall at his feet and soak them with the love he has shown you, with the hope he has left you, with the life he has given you. And you hear nothing…nothing but the words. “Look. Do you see this child? Do you see this child of mine?”

As I crafted this, it became increasingly clear that I was preaching to myself.  As I wrote it, as I preached it, as I re-read it now, I feel so convicted and then maybe...for a moment some new life breaking forth.  I'm just intent was obviously to have people be the Pharisee, and then subtly (or maybe not so subtly) move them to the role of the woman...did you get that?  In my head it made sense...but, I knew what I was doing!  My favorite way to preach is to take on the thoughts/actions/insights of the characters and I might want to develop this one some more--any suggestions--do I need more gospel, more descriptions?  What are your impressions? 

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