Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 14, 2010

2010.06.13 “Scandalous” Luke 7: 36 – 50

Central United Methodist Church

“Scandalous”

Luke 7: 36 – 50

Pastor David L. Haley

June 13th, 2010

“One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh? Tell me.”

“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”

“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”

That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”

       He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” – Luke 7: 36 – 50, The Message

            Looking back, I often say that the 17 years I spent working in emergency services – with firefighters, paramedics, and police – was one of the best things – as a pastor – that I ever did.

        Here’s why. When you decide to become a pastor in the United Methodist Church – or in any church requiring an educated clergy – it is often a step-up in social class and culture; you have to get a graduate education.  I – on the other hand – am the grandson of share-croppers, the son of a factory worker.  Not only was I the first to get a graduate degree, I was the first in my family to go to college. 

Secondly, after you become a pastor, unless you are intentional about it, it’s easy to spend most of your time with “church people.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if it cuts you off from contact with unchurched people, it can be. Because then you know less and less and become more and more out of touch with those very people we in the church are called to love and desperately need to reach.

        That’s why my work with firefighters and police – and now firefighters and Marines – was and is so valuable to me.  It takes me out of the church, into the world, into the community, into streets, into homes and situations that I – as a pastor – might ordinarily never see, to meet people I might ordinarily never meet. Because of this experience, I now have a perspective about ministry and people that I might otherwise never have had.

        Just one story to illustrate.  There was, in town, a man known as one of the town characters, a deaf mute, and also a serious drinker. Usually he zipped around town on a bicycle.  Sometimes he would yell at you, and since you couldn’t understand him, he could be intimidating, even scary. 

        But one day, tragedy occurred.  While riding his bicycle in a heavy rainstorm, intoxicated, he was struck by a car from behind and killed.

        Everybody knew he wasn’t a church person, so I offered to do his funeral.  All his friends came to the funeral, many of whom also struggled with problems, including alcohol and drugs, and almost all of whom we’d had in the back of the ambulance at one time or another. As I looked out on the mourners gathered for the funeral, it looked less like a congregation, than a convention of previous ambulance patients.

        Then, from one after another, we heard about the his life (I’m deliberately not mentioning names.) It gave you an appreciation for who he was.  He was not a saint (not many of us are), but he became a real person, not just another character to be ridiculed or avoided.

      It made me think. Maybe I’d spent most of my ministry with the wrong people. Maybe, instead of associating mostly with church people, I should have been out associating with the non-churched, the people Tex Sample calls the “hard livers,” not because their livers are hard (although in some cases they are), but because they are people who have led and do lead hard lives. Almost universally, they are “non-church” people, people who not only don’t come to church, they are people who feel they can’t come to church, because they know they would be judged more harshly there.

      So one of the most striking things about the Gospels, is not only how often Jesus associated with such people, but how much he loved them.

        For example, in today’s Gospel, just such a person throws herself onto Jesus.

He was at a dinner, the guest of Simon the Pharisee, at what we assume was a dignified gathering.  The Pharisees, despite all have heard about them, were religiously, the best: Biblical, devout, and diligent; they were our kind of people. Though a Pharisee, Simon was interested in what Jesus had to say, and invited him over for dinner. But Simon was about to learn what we know, that inviting Jesus over for dinner was always interesting and sometimes risky.

        Suddenly, an uninvited guest, a woman, crashes the dinner. She was not just any woman, but a woman whose manner and dress gave her away as a woman with a reputation.  (Just how the men present KNEW of her reputation, the text does not say. If the recent history of certain American preachers and politicians is any indication, it wasn’t by hearsay.)

As everyone sits there, aghast, the woman kneels before Jesus, weeping. She breaks open a bottle of expensive perfume, whose fragrance fills the air, and begins anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears, and wiping them with her hair.  (Personally, as a shy person, I’m glad it happened to Jesus and not to me, say in a worship service or Council Board meeting . . . don’t get any ideas . . .)

        Feminist scholars have raised the significant question of why religion, and especially the Church, always either tries to turn women into saints or sinners, into either Madonnas or whores.  In fact, after reading today’s Old Testament passage about Jezebel, followed by this story, you might conclude that all the women in the Bible are this way, or that it’s “Harlot Sunday” in the Church or something.  We may want to throw stones at the Muslims for their treatment of women, but until very recent times, we Christians don’t have a very good history either. It’s for this reason, that Jesus’ compassionate treatment of women in the Gospel of Luke stands out.

        If the woman was a prostitute, the text doesn’t say why.  Whether she herself was the victim of violence and sexual abuse, and therefore a woman of low self-esteem, as is often the case among women who engage in such a life, the text doesn’t say.  Nor does the it say whether she was a “sex worker,” as such women are often called, selling herself to survive, as the only way to keep herself and her children from destitution.

For example, I was shocked and saddened last year to hear a story on National Public Radio about Iraqi women, who fled the violence of Iraq into Syria. But with so many refugees there and the economy already bad, there were NO jobs, no way to feed their families. And so many women and their daughters did the only thing they could, which was to engage in prostitution, with the estimate that as many as 50,000 women took that option. Even though, should it ever become known, it would shame and ostracize them for the rest of their lives. 

But whatever the case, something had happened to this woman to change things, something between her and Jesus, and now she expressed her appreciation and her gratitude through her tears and her actions, which Jesus did not reject.

Sadly, however, the most scandalous thing that happened at dinner was not what this woman did, but how the Pharisees reacted to it.  Instead of joy for this one who was lost but now is found, instead of joining her in appreciation and gratitude to Jesus, they offered grumbling and scorn, not just about her but for Jesus; that he was so naïve, so accepting, so simplistically forgiving.  Like good church people, they grumbled: “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

As you heard when we read the Gospel, what Jesus had to say to Simon was scorching.  And to the woman, scandalous:  “I forgive your sins.”  “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Now THIS is embarrassing.  Because – truth be told, too often, we (and I include myself in this) are more like Simon the Pharisee than Jesus, the friend of sinners.  Like Simon and his friends, we look down on those not like us, those not as good as us: the poor, the ignorant, the mentally ill, the elderly, the excluded, all those people Jesus loved and called us to love.

      Tony Campolo is a well-known and engaging Christian speaker. Tony and his wife Peggy, both evangelical Christians, are not unlike Methodists, in that they disagree in their own house about homosexuality. Tony holds a more traditionalist view while Peggy holds a progressive view. In 1996, they did a joint interview at North Park College in Chicago.  In that interview, Tony told this story:

      “I have a friend. He pastored a church up in Brooklyn. It was a dying community, a place where everything was disintegrating. He kept himself fed and clothes and his family cared for by, by doing odd jobs, one of which was doing funerals for the local undertaker when nobody else would take them. The man was a saint and he didn’t know it so I would call him and get great stories because he never used them. And I would always say, Jim, anything good happen that I can tell, any good story that, anything happen this week? He’d always say no. 

      “What about Tuesday at 11 o’clock? What were you doing then?”

      “Oh, he said, that was fascinating. The undertaker called me early in the morning because he had a man to bury who had died of AIDS and nobody wanted to take the funeral so I ended up taking the funeral.” 

             I said, “What was it like? 

      He said, “About 25 homosexual men came and sat there. Never once, Tony, did they ever look up at me. The whole time I spoke their heads were down and they were looking at the floor. Never once did they ever make eye contact with me all during the funeral.  We went out and got in some cars and we followed the hearse out to the cemetery, lowered the body into the grave. I stood on one side of the grave. These 25 some homosexual men on the other side.  Standing there like statues, neither looking to the right or to the left, looking straight out into infinity. Never budging just sitting there, standing there rigid like statues. I read some scripture. I said some prayers. I committed the body to the grave. I said the benediction and I started to move – walk away, but they didn’t move. They stood there as though frozen so I, I came back and I said, ‘Excuse me, is there anything else I can do?’ 

      “And one of the men said, ‘Yes. I never go to church. Used to go to church but I don’t go to church. The only thing I really liked about church was when they read from the Bible, especially the King James. I like the King James. You didn’t read the 23rd psalm. I thought they always read that at funerals. Could you read the 23rd Psalm?’” 

      Jim opened the Bible and read the 23rd Psalm. Another man said, “There’s a passage in the 3rd chapter of John about being born again. I like that passage.” 

      John read that. Then a third man said, “The 8th chapter of Romans, right at the end, that’s what keeps me going.” 

      And Jim read to these homosexual men. “Neither height nor depth, neither principalities nor powers, neither things present, nor things to come, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

      Nothing. And when he told me that, I hurt, I hurt, because I knew that these men wanted to hear the Bible but would never step foot inside a church because they are convinced that church people despise them. And do you know why they think church people despise them?  Because church people despise them.” 

Tony Campolo then added:

      “I am not approving of homosexual behavior. I am disapproving of a church that has forgotten how to love people that Jesus will never stop loving.  And if you don’t like it, join another club but don’t call yourself a member of the church of Jesus Christ for we are the community of lovers and we love all kinds of people with all kinds of sin and that’s your good fortune and mine too, for where would we be without such a church. And I want it to be the church that Christ wants it to be.”  (You may read the entire transcript of Tony & Peggy Campolo’s 1996 interview at North Park regarding homosexuality at www.bridges-across.org/ba/campolo.htm)

      In this story it is gays, in the Gospel story it is a prostitute, but the ranks of the unchurched extends far beyond these. In 2004, commenting on the unchurched, a segment of the population which grows larger every year, church consultant George Barna said this:

      “Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed, they are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serves the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter – and on-going relationship – with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.” (“Number of Unchurched Adults Has Nearly Doubled Since 1991,” www.barna.org, May 4, 2004)

         May God give us a heart for such people, the people whom Jesus loved, scandalous though it may be.  Amen.

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Responses

  1. This is a fantastic sermon! I hate that I missed hearing it in real-time, but I intend to borrow the tape today. I want to “hear” you express the feelings that I read in this.

    GOD bless always.

    Marjorie

    • Glad to see people reading the Blog.
      I agree. This was a great one! Check out Father’s Day if you missed that one.
      Kathy Shine


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