Sermon–June 12, 2016


4 Pentecost–Proper 6-C

June 12, 2016

William Bradbury


1 Kings 21:1-21a, Psalm 5:1-8, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

When we come into this world our parents already have a story about who we will be and as we grow up they tell us this story over and over: If our parents are relatively healthy we are given a story of how special we are to be part of this family. We are told we are smart and capable and that it is up to us to obey the rules of the family—say please and thank you, clean up your own messes, listen to your elders, and above all don’t disappoint us by doing bad things, like lying, stealing, cheating, and most of all, avoid sins of the flesh—like sexual acting out and physical violence.

Tony Campolo, great preacher and teacher, says growing up his Italian mother, who valued good food, would always say to him as he left for school, “Tony, do you have your lunch?” But his Jewish friends’ mothers, who valued academic excellence, would say to their children, “Do you have your books?”

Of course, some of us come from families in which the parents are not well enough to cast a vision of wholeness and excellence. In third grade my daughter Katie, had a substitute teacher for most of the whole year who was who used shame to control her class: her daily word to the kids was, “You are a bad class.” Katie would come home and tell us in all seriousness that they were a bad class. When she moved on to Middle School she was given a sheet with a collection of her individual class pictures. It was stunning to see Katie’s smiling face as a kindergartener, as a first and second grader and on to her as a happy 5th grader. But there was one exception: Katie as a 3rd grader was not smiling. She looked sad and depressed. She had internalized the story her teacher had told and it had flattened a once vibrant happy girl.

We don’t know what happened growing up to the woman wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. What we do know is that the society knew her as a sinner, a bad character, as someone to be avoided and looked down upon.

Maybe she was so abused as a child that she internalized the shame and guilt and became an adult who bought the story that she was “born to be bad”. It’s also possible she fell into her story as sinner because she could only keep food on the table by selling her body or selling drugs.

We don’t know. All we know is that everyone in her world thought they knew her story: It was not just a story about her behavior, but also a story about her fundamental nature, a story that was meant to remain in place her whole life, so that there was little she could do to drop that story and trade up for a better story.

Until her encounter with Jesus.

 Luke doesn’t give the details of that first encounter, but he does give us exquisite picture of how that encounter changed her life. In short: her encounter with Jesus must have so overwhelmed her with the story of God’s acceptance and forgiveness that her destructive story evaporated in the hot sun of divine love.

Her weeping gratitude reveals that Jesus has narrated her into a new life—into a new creation. It is obvious that she has been born again into the story of the Divine Love. She has been so overwhelmed with forgiveness that now she is set free to be a great lover herself.

Simon, the host of the party, can’t see this because he can only see her in the old story that she is a sinner. This is how society and too often churches controls people: by not allowing people to ever escape their old story. I remember one parish where newcomers were quietly told about the misbehavior of that woman who thirty years ago had an affair. By doing this those telling the story not only keep that woman trapped, they are also puffing themselves up as better than her. They have forgotten Jesus’ admonition to worry about the speck in another person’s eye only after you’ve dealt with the pole in your own eye, which of course is the work of a lifetime.

Simon continues to think of her as a great sinner in order to protect his story that as a faithful Pharisee he is a righteous man. This reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector at prayer at the Temple: The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The ego needs designated sinners in order to make itself look good by comparison. Compared to a rapist or a murderer we see ourselves as pretty good people and therefore not really needing God’s help. “Thanks, but no thanks Jesus, I’m good here, you can spend your energies on those who really need them.”

But the proper person to compare ourselves with is not a mass murderer or our sleazy co-worker. No, the proper person for us to compare ourselves with is the best of the breed: Jesus is the representative human being in whose perfection we finally can see our own imperfection.

After his encounter with the Risen Jesus Saint Paul sees not only his sins, but he sees also that “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.”  

After his encounter with Jesus Paul gives up his story of being righteous and says his old self with its story has been crucified with Christ, and that now Christ lives in Paul and Paul now lives within the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself up to death for him.

That is: Paul, like the woman who bathes Jesus feet with her tears, now lives within Jesus’ Story, as beloved child of God, because that’s the only place our true story can be found.

 You and I are also included in the Story of Jesus’ faithfulness.  To be a person of faith means day by day we gladly give ourselves to Jesus and his faithfulness on our behalf. We no longer have to play the “I am better than you” game, because we can finally rest in the secure knowledge that the Son of God loves us and gives himself for us.

Therefore, we can live inside his Story, a story that heals our hearts, builds true community and heals the world.