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01:47:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1741 words  
Categories: Pentecost 2013


Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
June 16, 2013

O God, you told Abraham to count the stars. But they were beyond his arithmetic. Though he couldn’t see the smallest fraction of them. Your love is like that. We can’t measure it. We see only the edge of it. But it grips us firmly, a holy promise.

As we worship you today, as we listen to your Word, as we come to your Table, stir us up to praise you for your love. To reflect your love back to you, to one another, and to our neighbors. Until like Abraham, we are a blessing, too. Amen.

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


What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?  —Psalm 116:12

Today’s Gospel reading tells a story about hospitality. Which is not an unusual subject in the Middle East. Where for a long, long time hospitality has been a cultural cornerstone.

On the one hand, today’s Gospel story is about missing hospitality. Because Simon the Pharisee failed to show hospitality, basic hospitality, to Jesus. Even though Jesus was his invited guest.

It was expected that a guest would be greeted warmly. With a kiss of welcome. With water to cleanse and soothe travel-weary feet. And with oil to bring a shine to the face. A shine that would anticipate the joy of time spent together. But Simon failed on all three counts. He had invited Jesus, but he didn’t really welcome him. In effect, as soon as he said “Hello” to Jesus, he started to show him the door.

If that’s how Simon treated an invited guest, you can imagine his attitude toward a party-crasher. Never mind a party-crasher with a “reputation.” His attitude, no surprise, was one of scorn. He knew that woman. He knew the kind of woman she was. (Everybody knows the kind of woman she is. How can Jesus not know the kind of woman she is? Some prophet! He doesn’t even recognize it when he’s face to face with serious sin!)

Jesus, of course, knew very well what kind of woman she was. She was the kind of woman who showed generous hospitality and great love. Unlike Simon, the woman washed Jesus’ feet, using her tears for water and her hair for a towel. Unlike Simon, the woman lavished kisses on Jesus, on his feet. Also unlike Simon, the woman poured perfumed oil on Jesus, on his feet.

The woman was overcome with emotion. As she stood behind Jesus, tears began to flood her eyes and to pour down her cheeks and drip from her chin, falling onto Jesus’ feet until they were drenched with . . . with what? With her sorrow? No. With her joy! And with her love!

Jesus knew what kind of woman she was. She was a woman who had been forgiven. Forgiven and made whole. Sometimes healing power flowed from Jesus, flowed automatically to people who touched him, to people who even got near him. Something like that seems to have happened here. The woman was forgiven already, before she ever touched Jesus.

We can tell because, as soon as she gets near Jesus, she is overwhelmed. Something has changed for her. Maybe her neighbors still look at her with scorn. Maybe Simon is about to throw her out of his house and to call Stanley Steemer to disinfect the place. But something has changed. Because Jesus has no scorn for her. No. He welcomes her. He loves her. And she loves him in return. It’s a deep love. A love that wells up from within her. A love that expresses itself with tears and with kisses and with perfume.

Jesus has a question for his inhospitable host. While the woman is expressing herself, and while the host is looking at her with scorn, Jesus asks him, Simon, who do you think makes the best advertisement for forgiveness? Someone who was forgiven a little bit, or someone who was forgiven a lot? Even inhospitable Simon knows the answer. Someone who was forgiven a lot.

We don’t know what sins the unnamed woman was forgiven. And that’s fine. It doesn’t matter what her sins were. It doesn’t matter what led her neighbors to scorn her. What led them to deny her basic kindness and respect. Whatever it was, she was forgiven. And because she was forgiven, she loved. She loved Jesus. And I would imagine she loved her neighbors, too. Loved them in a way she probably didn’t before. Not with the way they treated her. Whatever the reasons were.

It’s probably good that we don’t know the reasons. Because then we can see ourselves in the woman. And that’s not a far-fetched thing to do. Because any one of us could be counted out, too. Counted out, scorned, and excluded, if certain people found out certain things about us. Or maybe they already have found out. And maybe we know how that feels.

But Jesus doesn’t count us out. That’s the main thing. Jesus doesn’t count us out. Jesus doesn’t look at us with scorn. Jesus doesn’t exclude us. No matter who we are. No matter how dark our thoughts get sometimes. No matter how selfish our desires. No matter how foolish our decisions And certainly no matter what the neighbors say!

You don’t think you can come up with a sin that’s bigger than God’s grace, do you? God has already forgiven us for executing his Son. Is there a sin greater than that, some sin that he would hold against us forever? Hardly.

In fact, the worst thing we ever did, which was to have our own part in the death of the Son of God—the worst thing we ever did, by God’s grace, winds up being the best thing that ever happened to us. As Paul the Apostle puts it, the Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). He died so we can live. He was counted out so we could be counted in. He was excluded so we could be included. He made himself nothing so he could give us everything.

And there’s only way we can respond to that kind of love. The love the Father had when he sent his Son; the love Jesus had when he died for us—the only way we can respond to that kind of love is with all the love we can muster.

That’s what the unnamed woman did. She loved Jesus the best way she could. She poured out everything she had on him. She risked ridicule and scorn by showing up at Simon’s house. She flooded Jesus with the offering of her heart—her tears, in other words. And she poured out on his feet the sweet fragrance of her most valuable possession.

That’s the kind of love the love of God elicits from us in return. A risk-everything love. A give-everything love. The kind of love that expresses itself in worship and prayer. The kind of love that expresses itself in obedience. The kind of love that expresses itself in generosity and hospitality.

The Catechism reminds us that a centerpiece of our faith is giving thanks to God because of what he’s done for us through Jesus. What we learn from the unnamed woman and from Jesus’ response to her is that the truest thanks is the deepest love. A love that welcomes. A love that blesses. That’s gratitude.

Then what? Forgiven. Overflowing with love. Like the unnamed woman, the scandalous woman. Then what? Is that all there is to say? Or is there another possibility? Could we maybe find ourselves somewhere else in the story?

Do you think maybe sometimes, at least, we play the role of Simon the Pharisee? Like him, not ready to show hospitality to a “sinner.” Maybe even being a little iffy in our hospitality to Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t conform to our high standards. Because Jesus gets a little too clingy with the wrong kind of people.

Who would we maybe not welcome here to be part of us? Or who would we welcome, but not exactly with open arms or with a generous handshake or a genuine hug? Are there people we look down our noses at? Because they don’t have enough education or enough money. Because their sexual orientation doesn’t match ours. Because they have a problem with alcohol.

It’s a constant theme in the ministry of Jesus. He keeps welcoming all the wrong people. All the people who don’t measure up. All the people who have a past—or maybe even a present. And the gatekeepers, like Simon the Pharisee, the gatekeepers in all their uprightness protest.

Somehow I have the notion that if we are not pushing the envelope, if we are not ruffling feathers by the kind of people we welcome, by the kind of people we love, if we are not causing howls of protest—even from fellow Christians . . . especially from fellow Christians—then maybe we’re not following Jesus as closely as we think.

I’ve mentioned here before a church out in San Francisco. On the communion table there, the carving doesn’t say, In Remembrance of Me. Or, Do This in Remembrance of Me. Instead it says, He ate with sinners. He ate with sinners. That was an accusation against Jesus. But we know better.

And if Jesus ate with sinners, I suppose we should, too. And not just theoretical, respectable sinners, like us. (We’re all sinners, you know! That’s what we say. But we don’t really believe it. Not if we look down our noses at today’s real “sinners.”) No. If we’re going to be following Jesus, then we should be more than ready to eat with and to pray with the kind of people who are counted out these days, counted out and shoved to the sidelines. Whether by synodical decisions or by social prejudices. Whether by racism and fear or by greed. Counting in the counted out. That’s the way of Jesus.

It’s wonderful that Jesus welcomes us to his Table. And if we’re truly grateful for that, then it’s going to show. It’s going to show not just in how we worship and in how we pray. It’s also going to show in who we spend time with, in who we eat with.

“Sinners.” Eating with sinners. That’s gratitude for you.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

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