One thing my seminary experience is teaching me about preaching is that sermons don’t always wind up being quite what I expected them to be when I started. Sometimes it’s because something happens in the world and the sermon has to be changed to address things like the school shooting in Newton or the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Sometimes it’s because I have to turn in a sermon title weeks before I actually start writing the sermon and when I get down to it, the Holy Spirit just has something in mind that I didn’t know about when I wrote the title. With that said. . . I’d like to reintroduce this sermon as “Happy are those.”
The other night, I asked my oldest daughter, who is about to turn 13, to herd her younger brother and sister to bed while I was working on my sermon and my husband was on the phone with his boss. She agreed to help, but about ten minutes later, I heard splashing and squealing coming from the bathroom - never a good sign. I stomped up the stairs in frustration and flung open the bathroom door. There stood my oldest in her bathing suit with a cup of water in her hand and the younger two soaking wet in a puddle and giggling like crazy.
I was not amused.
I sent everyone immediately to their beds and gave up on sermon writing for the evening.
As I was sitting in my room a little while later reading, my oldest daughter crept in. She had tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong and she said that she was really upset and felt terrible that she hadn’t done what I’d asked her to. She really wanted to help, but she just got wound up and made things worse. We talked a little bit about messing up, guilt and forgiveness and eventually, she was able to go back to bed, assured that she’d been forgiven and with her guilt eased.
The whole ordeal really hadn’t been that big of a deal to me. I was irritated, for sure, but other than a soggy floor, there was really no harm done. The floor dried. Everyone got to bed. The sermon got written. But knowing that she’d just not managed to contain herself and do as she was asked had eaten away at my daughter until she couldn’t take it anymore and she just had to talk to me to ease her conscience.
Today’s Psalm says, “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.”
Unconfessed Sin has a way of weighing heavily on a person. No matter how much we try to ignore our shortcomings, they can haunt us.
Sometimes, we even allow them to be part of our identity. We allow a label to be attached to our name – accepting the shame and guilt that are associated with it. We walk around with these chains weighing us down. Sometimes the chains are invisible to all but God and self. Sometimes they are public, visible chains that everyone can see.
The woman in Luke 7 with the alabaster jar was a notorious sinner. Her chains were obvious to all the other people in the city. When she walked into the room to anoint Jesus, she and everyone else in the room already knew her sin before she spoke a word. She was so associated with whatever the sin was that the host of the dinner says that Jesus should have known what sort of woman she was and He should have been ashamed of letting her even touch Him. Her life was laden with chains of shame.
What sort of woman was she to receive this kind of treatment? She must have committed some sort of public sin. This wasn’t something that she’d been able to keep quiet. Some have speculated that she was a prostitute or maybe an adulteress. Whatever her sin, she’d been caught in it and the sin had become part of her identity. That’s what she was known by. It was so attached to her that it was almost part of her name. We aren't even told her name in this passage. We're just told that she was known for being a sinner.
She must have felt especially self-conscious in the home of an upright Pharisee like Simon. He knew the law inside and out and he kept it better than almost anyone around. We can probably all think of someone like that: Someone who appears to have it so together that our own shortcomings feel like they’re magnified.
And it didn’t help that Simon was happy to point out her shortcomings. How dare she approach Jesus, let alone touch him!
The woman’s sin was almost part of her name and Simon the Pharisee was an upright citizen. It seemed obvious who a respectable rabbi would want to spend time with. That’s what makes the second half of the story so incredible! Jesus doesn’t just let her touch Him. He allows her to wash his feet, weeping the whole while and drying them with her hair. And when Simon the Pharisee says that Jesus must not be a very good prophet if He can’t even tell what sort of woman she is, Jesus rebukes Simon!
He tells a story of two men who each owed a debt of money to the same creditor. One of them owed 10 times what the other one did. The creditor had mercy when the debtors couldn’t pay and he canceled the debts. He canceled the small debt and the debt that was ten times bigger.
Both debtors were forgiven their debts equally.
Jesus asks Simon which one he thinks would love the creditor more after the debts are canceled. I love Simon’s very human response. He knows the answer, but he’s realized what Jesus has just done with this story. He knows he’s just been made to look a bit foolish.
“I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
Yeah! The man who owed more was certainly more excited and surprised and happy to proclaim what a great guy the creditor was!
Can you imagine if the bank called you up and said, “Look, we know times are tough, so we’re just canceling your mortgage. Consider it paid in full.” What! I know I for one would be singing the praises of that bank up and down the street! And I have a feeling I’d be more excited than my neighbor who only has 2 years left on his mortgage when I still have 20!
In contrast to the woman who knew the shame of her sin all too well, Simon believed he was pretty much set. But he had failed to provide water for Jesus to wash his feet. He hadn’t anointed him, either- a common sign of respect for a guest at that time. Luke doesn’t tell us why Simon didn’t bother with these customs when Jesus came for dinner, but it’s interesting that the guy who thought he had it all together failed to show these basic signs of hospitality and respect. He wasn't perfect.
The woman who anointed Jesus and washed His feet KNEW she had a HUGE debt. She knew her sin was great and she was so thankful for Jesus that she lavished him with her love.
Jesus didn’t care that she had a bad reputation. What he cared about was that she was forgiven and she had her heart in the right place.
We don’t have to accept labels from sin. Jesus pays no attention to those and offers us a clean slate! No longer do we have to walk around with those chains of slavery. We don’t have to allow sin to be a part of our identity!
We have been forgiven!
No more groaning in our silence!
No more wasting away from guilt!
We have been forgiven!
We can go in peace!
We can leave our sins at Christ's feet and we can go in peace!
Psalm 32 says that “HAPPY are those whose transgression is forgiven. . .”
How do you respond to the gift of forgiveness? Do you, like the woman in Luke, love Jesus recklessly and without reservation? Or, like Simon the Pharisee, do you act as though you have been forgiven just a small debt?
We are a forgiven people. Our transgressions are forgiven, our sin is covered. The Lord imputes no iniquity against us! Let’s look like it! Instead of walking around with those old, sinful identities, let’s live in the joy and peace of being forgiven people! That joy and peace are contagious, too! They change our whole way of living and interacting with the people around us!
When we focus on how great Christ’s forgiveness of us is, we don’t have the time or energy to worry about judging other people. The anointing woman didn’t care what anyone else thought about her sin and she didn’t seem too worried about anyone else’s. She only cared about showing her love and gratitude to the Messiah.
The other night, when my daughter came to me upset that she’d done something wrong, she didn’t point out anything her brother and sister had done. They misbehaved too and anyone with children knows that they love to tattle on each other. It struck me that in that moment, my daughter was so sorry for having done wrong that she didn’t bother to point out that her brother and sister messed up too. And even after our talk, she was so grateful to have been forgiven for what she did that she didn’t bother mentioning any wrong that her siblings had committed that night.
Like the woman in Luke, we have an opportunity to share Christ’s forgiveness, not by reminding everyone of all the ways they have screwed up and why they need forgiveness – most people are pretty aware of their sins, even if they won’t admit it – but by lavishly loving Christ and showing genuine gratitude for the immense gift of forgiveness He gives us.
Shake off the chains and the labels and the guilt. Accept your real identity in Christ and live in peace and joyful abandon as one forgiven.
CHARGE/BLESSING: And now, go forth secure in knowledge that you are forgiven in Christ. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remain with you always. AMEN!