Sunday, February 8, 2015

Blame & Forgiveness

Our 2015 emphasis at TUMC is simply one word.
In January, we focused on "The Church". 
There was great encouragement for the church to follow Jesus and to embrace it's calling. 
We are in the midst of 3 Sundays until Lent begins.
Last week we focused on the message of Salvation.
We stay on that subject this week also.
You are encouraged to bring your family and friends to church to hear the message of Salvation in Jesus. 
Because, we want others to FOLLOW Jesus as well.

The blame is closer to home than you think.
So is the forgiveness.

Luke 7:36-50

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

"Preaching to the choir."
You know the old adage. When the preacher is sharing a message, probably about salvation, and everyone in the house that day should and most likely has already given their heart and life to the Lord. What's the preacher doing then? He must be preaching to the choir. Maybe the preacher is hoping that somebody up their closer to where the pulpit is located will respond, because everybody down in the pews already has this covered. And, that is pretty much what Jesus is doing here in this passage. He is sharing the message of salvation with a crowd who should already know this time honored truth. 

Jesus has come to the home of a certain Pharisee named Simon.
We are not given to many particulars about this Pharisee. Is he a sympathizer of Jesus? Has he brought him here to get to know this "prophet" better? Or, has he brought Jesus here for a one to group questioning session? Maybe talk some sense into him. Jesus is beginning to cause quite a stir around the area. Healing people. Teaching in the temple. Speaking sternly with the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. Whatever the intentions were in bringing Jesus to his home the dinner meal is cut short by the interruption of a displaced woman who is now inside a home where she does not live or seem to know anyone around the table. 

Except for Jesus. 

The only person this misplaced woman is focused on in this moment is her Lord and Savior. She seems to not be concerned about what anybody else around the table or in the house thinks about her intrusion into the home. Our scripture states that Jesus had been invited here for dinner. Those dinner plans are now cut short by a woman crying. She is bowing at Jesus' feet and crying so much that her tears are falling on his feet. Since she does not live here and has no idea where to find a towel she uses the only thing she could possibly use. Her hair. 

It's one of these passages that gets away from us fast and we need to apply the brakes here or otherwise the entire moment will slip past us. It's one of those flash-pan moments where things are happening so quickly and without reason or rhyme that we need a wrench and some sealant quick so as to not lose everything out of the basin holding the fast moving water. Jesus is in a man's home, a Pharisee's home to be precise. A woman comes in almost immediately, it seems, and is crying and washing his feet. What in the world is going on here? Put yourself in the shoes of Simon the Pharisee, if you dare, see if the words don't come rolling out of your mouth. 

Maybe it would help us to know what exactly a Pharisee is before we go much further.
As author Ken Gire would put it, a Pharisee is "an intellectual guardian of the Law". They have studied it and been raised to know what it says. But, their knowledge would become their downfall. Or, rather, what they didn't know or understand. In literal terms, the word pharisee means "separated one". Their understanding of the Law has led them to think in terms of the need to separate themselves for everything and everybody, for the sake of their own salvation, of course. Other people can be the greatest detriment to keeping ourselves holy and righteous. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. Some people just don't care about keeping statutes and ordinances. There are laws that tell the Pharisee about cleanliness. There are laws that explain the proper place to sit and what exactly to eat and even whom to eat said food with on what day of the week. There are laws that explain what exactly "work" is. They have explained laws for themselves right down to how many hands it takes to actually do work. If it takes two hands to do something, then it must be considered work. But, if I can unbutton my shirt with just one hand, then that's not work. It's all very legalistic and holy minded. You probably wouldn't understand it. Unless you've been privileged to do so. 

Such is the moment when an unexpected woman barges into the home of a Pharisee unannounced and does something so ceremonially unclean that the common Pharisee is left with much disdain. So many laws have been broken this day! For one, you don't just barge into someone's home unannounced, especially uninvited. Secondly, feet are not washed with tears and hair. They are washed by the lowest of lowly servants in the house. And lastly, righteous people do not associate themselves with people who make their living off of using other people in such a manner as this woman has done in such a promiscuous way. You have to look out for yourself! You have to keep yourself clean and unstained by the dirtiness of the world. A person who follows the Law would know such things and, obviously, this woman knows nothing of such things. 

Except for Jesus. 

Jesus knows all about these things. 
In fact, these are the very kinds of people that he is seen associating himself with again and again. The lowly. The downtrodden. Those who know that life has been hard and probably have done things to provide for themselves in ways that do not make them proud. People who have "sold their souls to the devil". Another old adage suggesting that life has taken some folks to far from the edge. There is only so far you can go in this life and still find salvation. There are lines that a person can cross and then it just too far to get back. Salvation just isn't possible for everybody. Maybe this woman has felt like this for far too long. Maybe she has heard about this Jesus and other people who have found healing or forgiveness. maybe she heard about the man who not only stood up after not walking in a long time, but also heard words from Jesus like "Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more less something worse happen to you." Maybe she isn't too far gone. Maybe there is a chance she can find forgiveness. Maybe if she just barges in and kneels down in front of him then he'll really see how sorry she is and how much she really wants to start over again in life. She wants to turn over a new leaf. She wants a second chance. And, she's not too proud to beg for it either. Even if it means entering uninvited into the home of a man she doesn't even know. 

Except, the man who owns the home, this Pharisee, knows in his heart that this unclean woman should know better than to come so close. Maybe this all was a test of sorts. Or, at least it turns out that way. If Jesus really is "from God"; if he works for God or speaks on God's behalf, then he should know that this whole seen is absolutely improper and should be put to a stop. Right now! “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Thee was a church where I served. A group of us went to a conference. Can't remember the particulars. What it was about or what we covered. The thing that sticks with me was the refreshment time afterwards. After getting some food and sitting around the table taking the conversation shifted unexpectedly to the cleanliness of some of the congregants. I will not forget the comments made as one woman looked me straight in the face and spoke of the odor coming from one woman who attended church on Sunday mornings. "It's like she hasn't showered in weeks!" I recall saying nothing. I was shocked, to say the least. I just looked at her talking and then went back to my food without saying anything. It was one of those moments when you think of what you wanted to say later. "Really?!?! Seriously?? This is how the people of this congregation treat others? I must be in the wrong place." 

Am I preaching to the choir today?
Is there anyone here who feels that they don't need forgiveness? Is there anyone here, after trying on the Pharisee's shoes, could say they have not treated someone with the disdain and an unwelcoming nature so as to suggest that you are better than they are? How can we even suggest that we know what salvation is, much less obtain it, if this is the attitude in which we live our lives? Forgiveness is not some small thing, as Jesus illustrates to his audience. Forgiveness is a large matter. We all need it. Just some don't think they need quite as much as other do. And, the attitude we take towards it shows in how we love and extend mercy & forgiveness to others. The matter of how much we understand our forgiveness shows in how we extend hospitality to others. Last church I served acted like they could care less if people stuck around or not. People came for awhile. If some folks would end up M.I.A. over time, not a soul spoke up and asked where so & so was now. Nobody went out of their way to speak to visitors or extend the hand of fellowship. There's nothing quite like helping people to feel that we are glad they are here. And, don't think that they don't know it or notice it. 

Am I preaching to the choir today?
Maybe the choir needs to get on it's knees. Maybe, just maybe, today of all days the light goes on and people wake up and realize just how much forgiveness is needed. Or, maybe we go on playing the blame game. Like the Pharisee. It's always somebody's fault. It's this unclean woman's fault. It's this clerks fault at the store for not giving me exactly what I want the way I want it. It's my spouse's fault for not doing exactly what I wanted them to do. It's the President's fault for not doing what he said he would do. Hey, it's even God's fault. Because I know better than God. Even If I'm not sure who God is and he's sitting right here at the dinner table... because I invited him home... for dinner. It's Jesus' fault. He should know this woman is unclean or hasn't showered in a week, and smells and shouldn't be here in my home. 

 It's always somebody's fault. There's always somebody to blame.
The problem is, the last person we usually look at is the one in the mirror.
Instead, we insist that other needs forgiveness more than we do. We haven't done anything really all that bad. The world is full of people worse than we. "Lord, I thank you that I am not like this man." When all the while we should be "that man". We should be the one pounding our own chest, afraid to even look up at the heavens. "Lord, have mercy on me. A sinner." 

There's enough blame to go around. 
There's even more forgiveness. 
The questions is - how much do you want it?

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