Sunday, June 13, 2010

Time After Pentecost Ė Lectionary 11
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

Be glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.

Who is Jesus anyway? He never does what we expect or what is expected from Him. Are we surprised that Jesus might go to Simon the Phariseeís house? I think we are, because we see how harshly he speaks to the religious leaders in his day. They are self-righteous hypocrites; they are the ones who do not need to see a doctor. They are the ones who do what is right and who come from the right heritage. They think that they are the ones God loves; they think they are his chosen. They donít need Jesus, why would he bother to eat with them?

After all, we often point out that the Pharisees would not eat with sinners and tax collectors because sharing a meal is a sign of acceptance and respect. If that was the expectation in the day, shouldnít we see it from this point of view, too? If Jesus canít eat with the sinners and tax collectors because the religious leaders do not accept them, shouldnít he side with those he ministers to and reject the ones who are their oppressors? Shouldnít he have refused dinner with the Pharisees because he did not agree with the way they saw the world?

Jesus did not reject anyone. He did speak boldly and firmly to those who would listen, that they might hear and be transformed by Godís Word. Those who persecuted and crucified him had lost touch with the God they claimed to worship. God did not reject all the rich or religious, there are stories of several people who are identified by power and wealth who received Jesus with faith and courage. Those whom Jesus judged harshly were judged not because of wealth or power, but because of faith. Perhaps Simon had a spark of faith that Jesus recognized when the invitation to dinner was issued.

We do learn, however, that Simon probably had an ulterior motive when he invited Jesus to dinner. At the very least, Simon wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Who is this Jesus? He probably didnít seem to be much of anything. Probably didnít even see to be quite the threat the other religious leaders were afraid he might be. After all, Jesus didnít have much education and he had little or no wealth and power. He probably wore a decent garment though not spectacular, and his body was most likely clean and groomed, although he was most likely covered in the dust of the road. Iím sure Simon was curious about what he heard about Jesus and wanted to see for himself.

After all, have you ever heard from someone, ďSo and so is a great preacherĒ and wondered about the hype? ďYou just have to read this book because it is so true,Ē people tell me. Iíve had several experiences with books that have been top sellers; dozens of people have recommended because they were so great, life-changing. Then I read the books for myself and was disturbed and even offended that these books were touted so zealously by Christian teachers. Could Simon have invited Jesus to see what all the fuss was about?

It didnít take long for Simon to see Ďthe truth.í We donít know how she managed to be in the company of the men around the table, but a woman of questionable repute fell by Jesus and anointed his feet with her tears. She loved him in a way that was obviously unsuitable for the Pharisees present. Simon thought to himself, ďThis man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.Ē Was it a set-up? Did Simon try to catch Jesus in a moment of immoral behavior? Or was the woman willing to risk everything for a moment with Jesus?

In the story immediately preceeding our Gospel text, Jesus told the crowds that John the Baptist was the prophet Elijah promised who would come announce the arrival of Godís promise. The crowds were impressed and were baptized by John, so that they would be prepared for that day. The Pharisees, including Simon, refused to be baptized. They rejected both John and Jesusí word. But Simon invited Jesus to his home for dinner. Was he seeking a better understanding of Jesus or a way to stop the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist?

He was definitely not seeking forgiveness. What was that moment like for Simon, the moment he realized Jesus could not be a prophet? Was he disappointed or did he think he had his proof? It depends on how you perceive his motivation. If he was seeking to understand Jesus, the realization that he is not really a prophet would be disappointing. If he was trying to stop the ministry, then he got his proof. Iím not sure we know which the truth is, and perhaps this story is meant to remind us to beware of snap judgments.

David jumped to judgment when Nathan brought him a story. David had bedded Uriahís wife and she became pregnant. Instead of dealing with the indiscretion honestly, David tried to find a way to cover his sin. None of his schemes worked, so in the end he had Uriah killed. When the time of mourning was complete, Bathsheba became Davidís wife. Nathanís story was about a rich man who stole a poor manís only lamb. When David heard the story, he was incensed. ďThat man should die!Ē he said. Nathan responded, ďThat man is you.Ē

David was ready to judge the man in the story, but he quickly saw his own face in the mirror. We are good at recognizing those sins of our neighbors of which we are most guilty, but we tend to ignore them in our own lives. We see the need for our neighbor to seek Godís forgiveness, but we donít seek it for ourselves. Thatís the problem that Simon faced. He didnít know he was a sinner.

We are the same. In the story, David cast judgment on another and quickly learned of his own sin. He repented and was forgiven. This is the story of sin in our lives. We cast judgment against others and God helps us to see it in ourselves. When we repent, we experience the forgiveness that God has promised. In this we see Godís grace, not only in the forgiveness, but also in the revelation that we are sinners. God tells us so that we can be changed.

What we donít like about this story is that God then takes the life of the child conceived in Davidís sin. We know that God says, ďI, Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me.Ē But we see God through a New Testament point of view, where Godís grace trumps the curse of sin. Yet, does forgiveness mean that we will never suffer the consequences of our sin?

It is sometimes in the consequences that we truly experience the grace. We learn the lessons that help us to become better people when we have to pay for our mistakes. We experience forgiveness from those weíve harmed when we have to apologize face to face. We see the world from a whole new perspective when we have to face it with the knowledge of our sinfulness. And then, the next time, we respond differently to the challenges.

We are offended that God required the death of the child in response to the sin. After all, David was already forgiven and God promised to always bless him. How could he allow a child to suffer for the fatherís sin? Yet, let us think about what life might have been like for that child. Would he ever have been accepted as Davidís true son? Would a pallor of death hang over his life because his motherís first husband was killed because of him? Could David, and Bathsheba, love the child that had come out of such a horrific affair? The child would hold over them a reminder of their sin, and they would never be free to live in the forgiveness of Godís grace.

It is interesting to see how David responds to this judgment. After the child was struck with illness, David mourned the child day after day, fasting and praying for Godís mercy. The child died on the seventh day and the people of Davidís household were too frightened to tell him. They told him the truth when he asked, and at the moment he stopped mourning. They didnít understand and asked why he mourned while the child was still alive. ďAnd he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who knoweth whether Jehovah will not be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.Ē

We hear that David comforted Bathsheba and then she became pregnant with another child: Solomon. And Solomon was loved by God. David and Bathsheba, despite their sin, were able to begin life anew. It might seem wrong to us that a child can be so easily forgotten, but sometimes Godís ways are beyond our ways and His grace is found in the works that are outside our expectations. David knew that he was forgiven, but he hoped God would repent of the consequences. When the child died, he accepted the forgiveness and went on with his life.

What about the characters in todayís Gospel lesson? Did Simon hear what Jesus was telling him? Did he understand that he, too, needed forgiveness? What about the woman? Did she receive Godís grace in Jesusí words?

She did, gratefully showing her love to the One who had mercy. The Pharisees at the table with Jesus, on the other hand, continued to see Jesus as they had seen him: an unworthy prophet. ďWho is this who even forgives sins?Ē To them, only God could forgive sins, and God did so through the priests. Jesus was not a priest. They might have accepted his teaching, might have even welcomed him into their circle, as long as he conformed to their expectations, but they could not see him as he was revealing himself to them. How did Simon react? I donít think we know for sure. We donít hear from him again in this story. We might jump to judgment, assuming that Simon went along with the others at the table, but perhaps Simon was one who actually heard. Maybe he was like David, seeing his sin and repenting, receiving the forgiveness that Jesus gave not only to the woman but to all who believe in Him.

The Psalm for today talks about forgiveness. ďBlessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.Ē Other translations use the word ďhappy.Ē We are happy when we are forgiven. We are happy because forgiveness restores our relationship with our God. Christ came to bring forgiveness and reconciliation between God and His people. Jesus welcomed the woman back into a relationship with God. Did Simon find a relationship, too?

The psalmist writes, ďWhen I kept silence, my bones wasted away.Ē Silence about our sin means torment. But acknowledgement of our sin before God brings joy, because it brings forgiveness and freedom. Though we are sinners, we are given the grace to stand before our God to confess our sin. It is there we find joy and peace because God has promised to forgive our sin. The woman did not care what the people at the dinner thought of her. She only wanted to be near Jesus, to give Him herself in a very real and loving way. The Pharisees thought their worthiness was dependent on good works. The woman knew her good works were worthless without the grace of God.

Peter and Paul were at odds when Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians. Though Peter knew and accepted that salvation was dependent on Godís grace, he allowed himself to be convinced that real fellowship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles was dependent on traditional practices and regulations. Paul saw Godís grace as not only the foundation, but the substance of the Christian life. Salvation was not just dependent on Godís grace; Godís grace made living the Christian life possible. He knew that if this was true, then nothing could, or should, stand in the way of Christian fellowship. He also knew that if there were requirements for membership, then none were worthy and Christís death was in vain.

We are blessed by God not because we are adherents to a particular Law. We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. It is faith that saves and in faith our lives are no longer transformed. Godís grace welcomes all those who come to Him in faith. It is faith that saves and in faith our lives are no longer our own. We are Christís and He lives within us. Everything we do, we do in faith. Even when we fail, Godís grace holds firm and forgiveness remains. We canít earn Godís love or keep it ours by our works. Godís grace is ours through faith, not works. He says to us, ďI have put away your sin; you shall not die.Ē

But, we might suffer the consequences of our mistakes. I doubt God will be taking our first born, and we should be especially careful not to blame bad times on our past mistakes. But if we jump off a building, we might just break our leg. And if we touch a hot stove, we will get burned. When we experience suffering, let us look for Godís grace in it. Will we be transformed by the experience? Will it grant us the freedom to live in the forgiveness that God has provided, or will we continue to be burdened by the memory of our failures?

And so, in the words of David, ďBe glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.Ē We are not upright because we have lived according to the law or done what is right in our own eyes. We are righteous because God has forgiven our sin and has given us the grace to be transformed into something better.

Who is Jesus anyway? We may spend a lifetime trying to figure that out. And in that lifetime Iím sure weíll all have moments when we identify with all the characters in our scriptures for this week. Weíll be like David, judging but then recognizing our own sin. Weíll be like the woman who knows she is unworthy but seeks Godís grace anyway. Weíll be like Peter who fell into the trap of expecting the law to work and weíll be like Paul who knew that Godís grace is meaningless if we have to do something to get it. I think most of the time we are like Simon, not quite certain of where we belong and confused by the many messages we hear. Will we believe Jesus? Will we follow the others at the table? Will we have mercy on the sinners and share Godís grace with them?

Happy are they who dwell in the heart of God, listening to His instructions and following His paths, accepting His forgiveness and seeing the grace in all our circumstances. Faith is trusting in God. Peace comes with faith. We canít be sure that the woman in todayís lesson is one of the women found in those few verses from Luke 8, but they give us an image of the faithful Christian life: following Jesus and doing whatever they are able to do to continue His ministry of grace. While we might be like David, Peter, Paul and Simon, let us all strive to be like the woman, trusting that God does forgive and then in going forth with thanksgiving in peace to live in the forgiveness He has assured us through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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