Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21 “Joy Extreme”
June 16, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Psalm 32 1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Galatians 2:15-21 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Have you ever taken a trip that you didn’t want to take? I’ve had only a few of those but one such trip in the last few years became memorable. I moped during the drive to DIA, I moped through the security line, and I was still moping as I made my way into the waiting area at the gate. This gate was at the end of the terminal which housed about eight gates bundled together. There were tons of people waiting for their flights and all I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts. And, then, I spotted it, a chair facing the windows, looking out at the tarmac. It’s back faced away from the crowds with a few seats buffering me from anyone else. I had one of those moments when you’re happier than you really should be. As I was setting down my carry-on, I glanced over at a gentleman a couple of chairs down and, literally during my movement to sit, the man looked at me, looked at the cross on my neck and said, “Can I ask you a question?”
As it turned out, what he really wanted to do was make a statement. He was heading to his mother’s home to say goodbye to her before she died. He told me about his family, the mess of it, the pain of it and his part in all of that mess and pain. He told me about how God had found him, how God had changed his life and how he trusted God to help him now. Somewhere in all that he had to say, it occurred to me…he was confessing! He was hurting, he made himself vulnerable and he was confessing in the middle of a busy airport, to an utter stranger and in the midst of all of that, he trusted God to do something about it. And not just any old thing, the man trusted God to forgive him for what he had done.
Our psalmist and the woman at Jesus’ feet make me think about that man in the airport. That man, in his desperation, made himself vulnerable in the face of the cross and in the faith of his God. His relief was almost gleeful – which is stunningly paradoxical given that he that he was headed home to take responsibility for the serious breach between him and his mom.
The man in the airport and his story help me make the leap between Simon and the woman at Jesus’ feet. Oh, we could do the whole gender thing, educated thing or faithful thing but what really makes me curious is this extreme response of the forgiven person – or rather, the extreme response of the one who gets the magnitude of the forgiveness available to everyone.
Our readings today all edge toward that extreme response. The psalmist sings about the happiness of those who have been forgiven; Paul, in his letter, rhapsodizes about, “…not I who live but Christ who live in me”; and this woman who speaks not a word but pours out obscenely expensive ointment, mixes it with her tears and smears it all around with her hair while Simon and his guests are trying to eat. These people in scripture are unbound and free because of forgiveness.
About a month ago I was over at a friend’s house for dinner. As I was chopping veggies and she was checking the pasta, she turned to me and asked me to explain why Christians seems to be so wrapped up in forgiveness. After all, wasn’t it just a free pass to do whatever you want and get away with it? Her question was so honest. She wasn’t snarky or cynical when she asked it. She was simply curious. Because why wouldn’t she be? We see this kind of thing all the time. The moral lapse of someone politically powerful or randomly famous results in their public apology that journalists then dissect for dubious authenticity.
In Galatians, Paul’s wording is different but he basically asks my friend’s question in a different way; “But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?” Meaning, if Christ is going to forgive us can’t we just do whatever we want? To which Paul answers his own question, “Certainly not!”
As a Christian, when I say with Paul, “It is not I but Christ in me,” one of the moves being made is that being crucified with Christ puts us into a new relationship with sin. We get to call it what it is beyond simple moral categories of right and wrong. We acknowledge the depth and pain resulting from relational sins between us and God, between each other and within each of us against our self. Much like the man in the airport, we are freed by the cross of Christ to admit our flaws and take responsibility.
When we begin our time in worship with confession we are making a move similarly to the man in the airport. We turn to God as if to say, “Can I ask you a question?” And in that moment, we confess our sin.
As a group in worship, we confess thing like: our arguments and plans taking center stage; our comfort or survival as overriding motivations; and our selves are the primary object of our attention. We confess that these things and more take first place over God, over our neighbor and even over what is actually good for us. We confess all these things and more as we stand or kneel before God. Like the psalmist we surrender to the truth of our sin and fall into God as our hiding place, our deliverance.
Our individual confessions are as varied as there are people. Lutheran Christians don’t often take advantage of individual confession but we do have a beautiful rite of confession between a person and a pastor. During this individual rite of confession, which is highly confidential in its discipline and practice, there is an opportunity for a person to “confess sin and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness.” The opening of this rite begins with these words: “You have come to make confession before God. You are free to confess before me, a pastor in the church of Christ, Sins of which you are aware and which trouble you.”
My own experience of hearing a personal word of forgiveness truly has no words.
Whether our confession is said with other people in worship or spoken individually, we are bowed down by God’s power and opened up to God’s judgment and mercy so that with the psalmist and Paul and the woman we can weep tears of relief, tears of freedom, as we hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven.”
God forgives and delivers you. Through Christ crucified you are free to sing with the psalmist, revel with Paul, and weep with the woman about the joy of being forgiven, of being delivered from bondage to sin into Jesus Christ who brings life.
No longer captive, God gives you new life in Christ. You are made whole by God, by Christ in you, and, like the woman, you are freed to show great love… for God’s sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.