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Pentecost 4 June 12, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Pentecost 4  Year C  Proper 6 RCL
I Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, WA
Sunday, June 12, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!”
Today’s psalm sings gratitude
for God’s gracious forgiveness.
“While I held my tongue,
          my bones withered away
                    because of my groaning all day long,”
laments the psalmist,
          “my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.”
How well we know the feeling . . .
the agony of un-repented sin,
the soul sickness, the shame,
from which it seems
there is no relief.

But again,
from the psalm,
“I said,
 ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin . . .”
Acknowledging what we have done
          to ourselves and before God,
          repenting and letting go of our sin
brings joyous release
as God’s forgiveness washes over us
like a refreshing summer rain
          at the end of a long sultry day . . .
like the cleansing waters of baptism.
This psalm of thanksgiving
could have been the song
of the woman in today’s Gospel . . .
We don’t know what her sins were . . .
we don’t even know her name . . .
the text doesn’t tell us
          either of those things  . . .

But whatever her sins,
          they were many;
she couldn’t live with them any longer.
She had evidently heard about Jesus,
how he spoke of God’s forgiveness,
how he lovingly received
everyone who came to him for help:
          everyone and anyone . . .
“He can see right through you,”
people were saying,
“everything you are and have done,
but he sees your sorrow, too,
and he sets you free.”
The possibility filled her
with audacious hope.
So she brought her jar of ointment
to the house of Simon the Pharisee
          where she had heard Jesus was to be that night,
and she brought
          her repentance,
                   her desire to be healed,
                             her gratitude for this new word
                                      about God’s forgiveness for all.

Now, we don’t know why
Simon, a Pharisee, had invited Jesus
          to dinner . . .
Perhaps he was genuinely curious
          about Jesus and his teaching,
perhaps he wanted an opportunity
          to question Jesus, to debate with him,
perhaps he wanted to provide his friends
          with some on-trend entertainment,
          a closer look at this latest self-styled prophet . . .
we don’t know.
But we do know
that when Jesus arrived,
Simon didn’t show him
even the most common of courtesies
          due a guest in that culture. . .
a kiss of welcome,
the washing of feet
          dirty and smelly from
                   the filth in the streets,
anointing with fragrant oil.
Invited . . .
then snubbed in a most telling way,
while the other guests, no doubt,
were received with the fullness
of hospitality.

Then came a woman,
          that woman,
walking as bold as ever you please
into the roomful of Simon’s guests
          already reclining at the table,
men only of course,
as was the custom
          in that place and time.
So many reasons she did not belong there . . .
But she went straight to Jesus
(easy to spot:
he was the one whose feet
          were still dirty).
Overcome by his presence,
she began to weep.
As her tears
splashed down on his feet
she knelt and washed them
          with her tears.
Then she let down her long dark hair
to dry his feet,
kissed them and anointed them
with the ointment she had brought.

Where another might have shrunk back from her,
          for surely she was ritually unclean,
Jesus welcomed her touch and her service,
          and looked on her with love.
Deep need and unbounded generosity
          had met together,
          love was communing with Love.
“Your sins are forgiven,”
he said to her,
“Go in peace.”
But how incredibly embarrassing
for Simon,
a sinner woman
crashing his dinner party,
          shocking his guests,
                    spoiling his carefully planned evening . . .
“Well!” he thought,
“and if I had any doubts about this Jesus of Nazareth,
          this proves he is no prophet . . .
he has no idea who this woman is
          or he’d never let her carry on like this.”

Of course,
Jesus not only knew
          the humbled, hoping heart of the woman,
he knew Simon’s heart as well,
          a judging heart . . .
and Simon’s blindness
          to his own frailty and faults.
We should careful, however,
          not to bring our own judging hearts
                   to the story . . .
for how many times
have we, like Simon,
counted up
the transgressions of others
while remaining completely oblivious
to our own?
Jesus loved Simon,
self-righteous, self-satisfied Simon,
just as he loved the woman,
just as he loves us.
But the woman came to him
in all humility and gratitude,
open, aware of her failures,
ready to receive whatever he might give.
And what he gave was love.

What Jesus gave Simon,
whom he also loved,
but who was not yet ready to receive his love,
was an opportunity
          to take an honest look at himself
in the mirror
          of a riddle
          of a creditor and two debtors.
When the debtors couldn’t pay,
the creditor astonishingly cancelled their debts,
(unheard of
          in the money-lending business):
one for a great sum,
and one for a much lesser sum.
“Now which of them will love him more?”
Jesus asked.
Simon must have been pleased
to be able to answer
in front of all those important guests.
“I suppose the one for whom he cancelled
the greater debt,”
was his casually tossed-off reply.
But then came the twist.
With Jesus, there is always a twist.
“Do you see this woman?”
Jesus asked him.
Of course he saw her,
a notorious woman,
          an intruder in polite company
                   making a scene.
But he did not know her.
But Jesus saw and knew
a woman newly alive with the joy of forgiveness
and overflowing with gratitude.
“Do you see this woman?”
She was the one who did for Jesus
what Simon as host should have done.
In that house
where she was not welcome,
she, the accidental and unwelcome guest,
proved the true and welcoming host.
“Therefore, her sins, which were many,
          have been forgiven;
          hence she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven,
          loves little.”

Simon saw Jesus too,
but he did not know him either . . .
the guest he had failed to welcome,
not only a prophet,
but God’s Love incarnate
reclining at his table.
Love calling Simon
to love.
We can hope that Simon,
looking into the mirror
of that Love,
began to see that he had, after all,
something essential in common with the woman:
the vexed condition that is common to us all:
          our propensity to sin,
                   to turn away from God’s desire for us,
          and our need
                   to repent of what we have done . . .
                   seeing it for what it is,
                   being willing to be set free
                             from its power over us,
                   trusting that God can and does

We can hope that Simon’s heart
broke open,
and we can hope that
our own hearts
break open
when Jesus holds a mirror
up to us,
so that seeing ourselves in truth,
we know ourselves loved
          and forgiven,
and  show that same love
          and forgiveness to others.
I must confess
that when it comes to the story
of David and Bathsheba,
I suddenly find myself more understanding of Simon . . .
Was not David’s sin truly outrageous?
From his position of power and privilege,
he, the king and shepherd of his people,
took another man’s wife
by an act of kingly rape,
and then arranged the murder of her husband
          by sending him undefended into battle.
How is it possible that God
could ever forgive such a sin?

But the point of both these stories
          is not the outrageousness of the sin,
whether the sin of the high and mighty
          or the sin of the meek and lowly . . .
it is the outrageousness
of God’s profligate forgiveness . . .
even for those whom we judge
We are all fragile and vulnerable,
we all sin,
we all need God’s help
          to put away our sin . . .
No matter how outrageous our sin,
when we come to this great table  
in humility, seeking forgiveness,
we are received by God with all hospitality
we have come to that place
          where forgiveness is found.

Even forgiven,
we must still deal with sin’s consequences,
words we can’t take back,
events we have set in motion,
lives our behavior has shaped,
friends or family we may have alienated
and may never re-gain,
no matter how hard we try
at reconciliation. . .
But just as our sin has its consequences
so does our repentance.
The consequences of repentance
          are a renewed life in Christ,
                   humility and acceptance,
                   joy and thanksgiving,
hope, and, above all, great love outpouring . . .
. . . and what such a restored life
may bring into being
as it touches the lives of others.

We can’t change the past.
But the past can be redeemed.
When we confess our transgressions to the Lord,
a new future is ours to create,
          with God’s help.
“ ‘I will instruct you
and teach you in the way that you should go;’ ”
says God in the psalm,
“ ‘I will guide you with my eye.’ ”
May we be teach-able,
willing to be guided,
willing  to see ourselves and others
          as God sees us,
with love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.
“Happy are we whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!”