Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who is this???

Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 6A, preached on Sunday, June 12, 2016.

    In the home of a Pharisee you would expect to find good food, good company, and good conversation – about lofty things like the Torah, the Talmud, and the teachings of the rabbis.  But this meal was crashed by a sinful woman (a euphemism for a prostitute).  She did not come for food or the company or for the conversation.  She came not to talk about mercy but to receive it. She was overwhelmed by her sin and could not contain her misery.  She was there for absolution and this was the most scandalous part of the whole event.   And it still is.
    The Pharisees believed that if Jesus only knew what kind of woman she was, something different would have happened.  Well, that is the point.  Jesus did know what kind of woman she was.  Jesus knows the public sins that we all whisper about and the private sins that we work very hard at hiding from everyone – including God.  Jesus knows who we are – from the greatest to the least, young and old.  He knows every one of our sins – especially the ones we dare not even admit to our selves.
    Jesus did know and still knows.  This woman long ago and you and me.  He knows us not as we want to be but as we are, not the surface but the sinful hearts filled with evil underneath, not the public face but the most private secrets.  It is not that Jesus might act differently if He knew the real story, but the marvel of how Jesus can show mercy knowing the sins of the sinner, knowing your sins and mine.
    Jesus did know and does know and still He forgives.  That is the scandal of the Gospel.  The Gospel is not a discussion of ideas but sinners searching for a merciful God.  We love talking about mercy and grace in theory but Jesus insists upon practicing it with the folks who cannot pass the smell test.  They smell bad because they are bad.  Worse, they know it and do not even lie to hide it.  Jesus knows and Jesus forgives – the biggest sins, the public sins, the private sins, and the secret sins.  Thanks be to God!
    The more we confess, the more we are forgiven.  It goes against everything our sinful hearts think but the Spirit teaches us that he who is forgiven much loves much.  So we come without the pride to hide our sins but as the humble who confess them, who own them, so that Christ might forgive them.  That is how we begin each Sunday morning -- the humble and fearful admission that we are not good people who do occasional wrong but sinners unworthy of God or of His mercy.
    Our sinful hearts try to explain our way out of sins, try to excuse them with extenuating circumstances, or try to justify them as if we had no choice.  It happens among those on either side of the pulpit.  But it matters not.  Christ did not come to pat us on the back or to judge our sins understandable but rather to take our own dark, dank, and despicable sins into His holy, innocent, and righteous body.  He came not for the good who need nothing but for the sinners captive to death who need everything.  And that is what He gives – the everything of forgiveness, new life, and everlasting life!
    Sin tells us to leave grace and mercy as theory but the Holy Spirit moves our stone cold hearts to claim this grace and mercy as sinners marked with death and for death.  Father moves us to do with sinful hearts find unthinkable – to confess our guilty sins and put them on the innocent shoulders of Jesus, to take off the filthy rags of our fallenness and give them to Jesus to wear, and to mark Jesus for the death we should have died.
    Simon was cold, calculating, and aloof.  He was willing to talk about the kingdom of God on a theoretical level but not on a personal one.  This sinful woman was not interested in the theory – she came to Jesus because she had nowhere else to go. She fell before Him, surrendered her sin to His gracious will and judgment – content to wash with tears the feet of Jesus as the bearer of her good news and to kiss them as if they were the most precious treasures in the world.  And that is what they are.  They are the beautiful feet of Him who brings God to us and us to God.
    So repent.  Don’t be Simon but come as this sinful woman came.  Don’t hold back.  Don’t withhold your sin because your debt is great.  Come confessing because God’s grace is greater.  Don’t withhold anything from Jesus – least not your gratitude, your love, your passion, your prayers, your devotion, and your money.  If forgiveness means anything, it means more than the treasures of this world.  If this grace and mercy are precious, then give away everything to hold on to Christ alone.
    Who is this who forgives sins?  They asked.  Still thinking in theoretical terms, they were not ready to repent.  Don’t live on the edges of mercy.  Come to its center.  Here is Jesus, your Savior, He loves you, He welcomes you, He forgives you, He washes you clean, He speaks into your ears, and He feeds you with His precious body and blood.  To those who receive Him, there is peace beyond understanding.  You can go home whole because your faith has saved you.  You have the peace that passes understanding and you have been given what you could not earn for yourself -- a clear conscience.  It does not get better than this.  Amen.

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