Sermon for June 12, 2016

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 12, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 7:36-8:3

Sermon Theme:  “Anointing the Feet of Jesus”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Online Christian Jokes about Hypocrisy)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

A backsliding member of the church accidentally ran into her pastor in the grocery store one day.

Instead of trying to hide behind the grocery stacks as some people might do, she boldly confronted him and boasted, “I never go to church!  Perhaps you have noticed that, Pastor?”

“Yes, I have noticed that,” said the Pastor.

“Well, the reason I don’t go is because there are so many hypocrites there!”

“Oh, don’t let that keep you away,” replied the Pastor with a smile, “there is always room for one more.”

In our sermon text for today, it’s obvious that Simon the Pharisee is a hypocrite; in fact, you cannot help but think when you read the New Testament that all Pharisees were hypocrites.

The Pharisees were the zealous, legalistic observers of the Law, both the written Law and the Oral Law, to a degree that they were obsessive.  They did not speak to Gentiles or Samaritans; they strained their drinking water lest they swallow an impure gnat; they made large gifts to the Temple funds instead of helping their needy parents; they strongly criticized Jesus’ disciples for working on the Sabbath (they would die rather than defend themselves by fighting on the Sabbath); they were known for excessively long prayers in public and their public display of elaborate religious robes.

In Matthew 23:27, Jesus regarded them as blind guides, white-washed sepulchers, beautiful without but within full of dead men’s bones..

Yet, our Lord did not hesitate to accept dinner invitations from them, and ate with them on more than one occasion.  Jesus came for all people, even for hypocrites.  That’s a good thing, or else most of us wouldn’t have a chance with Him.

But the text is more than just a passage about hypocrisy, though that’s certainly an important theme in the way that Simon looked upon the “the sinful woman.”  In fact, the text has a great deal to say about women, this particular woman and others.

No doubt, Jesus, His popularity, His ragtag band of followers, and the things He said and did puzzled and offended the Pharisees, yet they were pulled into wanting to see more of Him, even if just out of curiosity.  Wherever Jesus went, not only would you find the Twelve inner-circle disciples, but also all sorts of people who went wherever He did.  How else would this “sinful woman” have gotten into the home of a Pharisee.

To Simon, the host of the dinner party, the sinful woman was irretrievably lost.  The woman herself had thought of herself as irretrievably lost, until she encountered Jesus and experienced God’s forgiveness.  Through Jesus, this woman was redeemed from a life of sin and degradation.  When she bathed Jesus’ feet with grateful tears and costly ointment, she was lost in wonder, love, and praise.  When a sinful person experiences God’s amazing grace, she doesn’t care what other people say or think.  She wants to show Jesus how much she loves Him.

Although Simon saw the sinful woman as forever lost and the woman also had accepted society’s verdict that she was lost, Jesus showed her that she was loved by God and forgiven.  Simon could not understand this kind of love.

The Greek word that we translate as “grace” in our English Bibles, literally means, “loving kindness.”  But it is even more than loving kindness as we might express such.  It is totally unconditional loving kindness, even if it means dying for the other person.  The woman experienced God’s grace, but it’s a concept that the Pharisees, in their legalistic beliefs, were not capable of understanding.

From Pharisees’ point of view, women weren’t supposed to be seen in public.  Besides, this woman, obviously a prostitute, was never supposed to be seen at all.  And what religious official would dare to address such a woman!

Jesus did the unheard of thing.  He reached out and forgave her of her sins and then brought her into the circle of His love.  John’s version of this story says that she did a beautiful thing.

But this isn’t the only example of Jesus’ relating to women in ways unacceptable to the Pharisees.  Even His own disciples who were not Pharisees wouldn’t speak to the Samaritan woman at the well and were miffed that their Master did, — she was known to be a shady woman, too.  He stopped the Jews from stoning a prostitute to death, and said to her, “Go and sin no more,” after proving that none of them were without sin either.

Jesus made it clear in His ministry that women were as important as men, and some of the women who followed Him were financial backers of his ministry.  You remember Lydia from a previous sermon who was a wealthy lady who sold purple cloth.  She gave Jesus and His disciples free room and board.

Now, once again in our text, Luke tells us that there was a cadre of women around Jesus who also gave financial assistance.  Our text says at the very end, “And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities:  Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”  “Who provided for them out of their means.”

It’s obvious that Jesus had women supporters as well as men, and that some of the women did as much and gave as much as the men.  This fact always comes home to me, when I raise the question, “Who does more for the Mission projects of the Synod than anyone else?”  The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, who else?  A group of church ladies who save coins in their Mite boxes and serve Jesus as faithfully as anyone else in Synod.  Now from a Pharisee’s point of view, that just couldn’t be possible, because they believed women were inferior to men.  In the Temple, the Court of Women, where women were required to sit, was quite far back in the building.

The nightly prayer of a male Pharisee was, “Thank you, God, for not making me a woman.”  In the Synagogue, a service or meeting could not begin until there were 10 men present.  Even if there were thirty or forty women, without ten men, you couldn’t begin, and the service cancelled if fewer than that came.  Jesus was shaking things up!

To be sure, Jesus offered this woman of the streets hospitality.  Simon the Pharisee offered her hostility.  If you look carefully at the story, you see that while Simon offered Jesus hospitality by inviting Him to dinner, there were certainly other way in which he did not offer our Lord hospitality.

Here’s what Jesus said about that, “Do you see this woman?  I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

This was certainly a putdown for Simon the Pharisee.  The ethnic protocol of the era and place called for the host to provide servants to wash the feet of  his guest before dining.  Not only that, but friendship called for kissing the other person on either cheek as a sign of affection.  What Simon the Pharisee lacked most of all was loving kindness.  This Jesus character was turning Simon’s thinking upside down.

The gift of God is hospitality to sinners like us.  When that gift has been received, we are moved to render hospitality to other sinners, not hostility.  As a church, we’re not an exclusive country club.  We are an inclusive hospital for sinners.  It’s no accident that the word “hospitality” comes from the word “hospital.”  May we learn from this text.  Amen.