Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 12, 2016

2016.06.12 “For All Who Live in Shame” – Luke 7: 36 – 5

Central United Methodist Church
For All Who Live in Shame
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 7: 36 – 50
June 12th, 2016

Anointed

Nigel Groom (nigelgroom.com), “Anointed” 2012

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus 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 Jesus 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, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Today, I set before us an empty chair, to serve as a reminder of those not here. An empty chair is a symbol used in several traditions, kept open awaiting the unexpected guest, as a reminder of the importance of welcome and hospitality. Today, may it remind us of those who have never been here and perhaps never will, for reasons we shall explore.

While we may refer to them as the unchurched, statistically they are called the “religiously unaffiliated.” The “religiously unaffiliated” are the fastest growing percentage in the American religious landscape, especially among the younger generations. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 2007 to 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” has jumped six percentage points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. (America’s Changing Religious Landscape, the Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015, www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape)

But most of us don’t need statistics to know this. Although Skokie is a town of 65,000, if we were to compare what percentage of our population are in churches or synagogues or mosques as opposed to Starbucks or at their breakfast table or in bed, I think we know where the majority would lie (no pun intended). I would go further and say that most of us know the religiously affiliated from our own families and friends: even among them religious participation is – how shall we put it? – mixed.

Why is this? There are many reasons, perhaps as many as the people themselves. Some are not religious, choosing scientific or secular approaches to life. Others see religious people and especially Christians in the media (not just how they are portrayed, but how they actually are!) and say, understandably, “No, thank you.” Others have had bad experiences with religious people, and vow never to return.

But there is another reason we forget, and that is that there are a lot of people out there who live with a heavy burden of shame. For those who do, the last thing they want is to go anywhere that shame would be made worse. Thus they relegate themselves to the margins, where no one can shame them further. As we know, shame is often a major factor in tragedies such as addiction and violence and suicide and other forms of destructive and anti-social behavior.

In today’s Gospel, it is such a person who shows up at a dinner party at which Jesus was present, and in contrast to the reception she receives from the hosts, finds in Jesus acceptance and forgiveness. Such Gospel stories begin as dramas, but quickly turn into parables and mirrors and even minefields for us. Let’s see what we can learn from this story not only about finding acceptance and forgiveness for ourselves, but about extending it to others, especially those who live under the burden of shame.

The dinner – hosted by Simon the Pharisee – is going well, we presume – past the hor d’oeuvres and into the entrée – when suddenly the room grows silent at the entrance of an uninvited guest. The text simply says, it was a “woman in the city, who was a sinner.” It does not say who she was, what her name was, nor what she had done. I disagree with Eugene Peterson here, who explicitly says, she was “the town harlot.” There is nothing in the text that says that, other than the suggestion she carried a heavy burden of shame, and that those in the room knew her reputation, unknown to us. One might ask: “And how did they know?”

This story is original to Luke, who especially portrays Jesus’ concern for the marginalized, especially women. In the church, especially since a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great in 6th century, the woman is often confused with Mary Magdalene, giving Mary Magdalene the undeserved reputation as a prostitute, still presented that way in almost every Jesus movie made. Feminist scholars have raised the significant question of why religion – and the Church – always tries to turn women into either saints or sinners, virgins or whores. Some criticize Islam for their subjugation of women, but we Christians don’t have a very good record either.

Even if the woman was a prostitute, was she the victim of violence and sexual abuse, as such women often are? Was she what we now call a “sex worker,” selling herself to survive, as the only way to keep herself and her children from destitution, which still occurs in many places of the world, especially the war zones of the Middle East. As Rev. Dr. Zaki has told us through his work with Middle Eastern immigrants, almost all of the women has suffered sexual abuse and trauma, sometimes as the only way to survive. Was that what this woman had done?

Whatever she had done, let her stand not just for women, but for all those who feel themselves marginalized due to shame, for whatever reason.

So what happened? Since dining occurred in a reclining position, we should not picture a woman crawling around under a table. As she stood over Jesus, weeping, her tears fell upon his feet. Perhaps – embarrassed – perhaps having nothing else, she let down her hair and wiped them, kissing them, anointing Jesus’ feet with the perfume she had brought. We do not learn what inspired in her such an extravagant display of gratitude and emotion and affection. Obviously, it doesn’t matter.

At that point the shocked silence of the room was broken by the sotto voce mumbling of Simon: “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.”

Which sets Jesus off, and Jesus lets Simon have it, as we heard earlier. By Jesus’ response we learn that while the actions of the woman may sound erotic, even embarrassing, what she has really done is bestow the hospitality to Jesus that Simon had neglected. Maybe that was Simon’s way of saying: “It’s great you stopped by to see me, Jesus; too bad you won’t be staying longer.” Now whose behavior is most scandalous? The woman? Simon? Or us?

Because, as Simon pointed a finger at the woman, now we point our finger at Simon. As Simon’s face grows red, we think he’s getting his just due, until suddenly we realize we have fallen into the trap as well. While we point our finger at him, we realize we have not been always been gracious either; we haven’t responded in gratitude for all the blessings we have received. On the contrary, we like him have judged others, and in so doing, displayed at least as much arrogant self-righteousness as Simon. And that is why this story is about acceptance and forgiveness all around: of this woman and people like her; of Simon and people like him, of us and of others. Acceptance and forgiveness are the values of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus here exhibits. And so – after pointing out to Simon (and to us) the irony of how the “righteous” are ungrateful and the “unrighteous” who are grateful – Jesus says to the woman: “You are forgiven; go in peace.”

The theologian Paul Tillich, in his sermon on this passage, “To Whom Much is Forgiven,” (Chapter 1 from The New Being, 1955), says:

“Jesus does not forgive the woman, but He declares that she is forgiven. Her state of mind, her ecstasy of love, show that something has happened to her. And nothing greater can happen to a human being than that he is forgiven. For forgiveness means reconciliation in spite of estrangement; it means reunion in spite of hostility; it means acceptance of those who are unacceptable, and it means reception of those who are rejected.”

Which includes us, and all those symbolized by this chair, all those not here because they live under a burden of shame.

Tony Campolo is a well-known evangelical Christian and speaker. Until last year, he disagreed with his wife Peggy, about homosexuality; he held a traditional view while she held a progressive view.  But last year, in June, he apologized and in an open letter stated he had changed his mind, and now advocates the full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the life of the church.

Way back before this, in 1996, they spoke at North Park College in Chicago, and did an interview together. 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 (and remember he has changed his mind since saying this):

“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.”

May we be the Church Christ wants us to be. May God give to each of us, like Jesus, a heart of compassion for those not here, especially those who live under a burden of shame. Amen.

 

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