A Divine Experience

So as some of you may have read on my status Sunday afternoon, I truly saw God at work this past week at one of my churches. This past Sunday I came to church to lead the worship as usual, but nothing about this worship at Elliotts Hill was usual for this church. Sunday’s Message was going to be about accepting others, and the manuscript and audio feed has been posted. Anyways, we were just about to enter into a time of Joys and Concerns when the back door opened up. An African American woman and three children come through and sit on the back pew. Now this may not sound too unusual yet, but for an all white rural church, this already has a few people a little anxious. Well, this woman finds herself to be coming into the church at an opportune time to tell her story. She and her family, 5 children and her husband, are on their way home to Delaware. They had come down to Roanoke, VA for a funeral and had been expecting a child-support check that never came. The family had spent there last bit of money that they had on a hotel room the night before. They have not eaten since yesterday and were very unsure of how they were going to make it home. A very moving story indeed. I went ahead with service and we prayed for the joys and concerns. Following the prayer the choir sang their anthem. During the anthem I stepped down from the chancellor area and walked down to this family and asked her if they had anything to drink. She replied, “No.” I told her that as soon as service was over I guarantee to get her help, but in the meantime I will have someone go downstairs to get them some water. Then came the message about “Others”. A sermon that was perfectly fit for such the occasion. As the events were taking place in the Scripture lesson and being taught on, so did the events happen in actuality in the church. Following the service that day, as the congregation left, the people went to me to shake my hand, and then immediately went to the family and handed them a few dollars of whatever or however much they had. The woman and the family was then escorted to a local diner to eat and I gave them my blessing and my business card so that if they were to have any trouble they could contact me, so that I may contact another local congregation of wherever they may be. I must say as I write this, this post does not depict the fullness of God’s grace shown on that day.

The Sermon: “Others”

Read Luke 7:36-8:3

This passage today really got me thinking about how it is that we come to receive “others”. Now when I say others today, I do not simply mean those who are around us that are like us, but I really mean those who around us who we really just cannot see eye to eye with. Maybe it is someone that we don’t agree with their values, maybe it is someone who has chosen a life-style who we really do not feel is living a good life in the eyes of God. And so, today as we explore the meaning of this passage I want us to look at what Jesus’ teaching means for us today as we think about the “others” that we come into contact with in our lives.

This narrative is a story of Jesus and a Pharisee named Simon. So to clear up some of the confusion, this is not the disciple Simon Peter, but another man who is a Pharisee named Simon. Now Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus into his house to eat with him around table. The act of eating at table among the Jewish culture is a very special tradition. Because you see when someone eats at the same table with you, you all partake of the same loaf of bread that was blessed by God and so you all are sharing in God’s blessing.  Now Jesus has been found on a number of accounts of meeting with friendly Pharisees, not all of them were bad. But typically, the Pharisees were not necessarily hanging around Jesus so that they could learn from them, but more so that they may be able to entrap Jesus in the law of Moses. The Pharisees for the most part were a little weary of Jesus. They knew Jesus to be a Rabbi or a teacher of the Judaism, but they also knew that he did not always seem to keep to the culture of the Jews. For instance it was not uncommon of Jesus to go and eat with the “Others” of the society. Those who were gluttons, drunkards, tax collectors, sinners in general. Pretty much in our common day language, Jesus was hanging around probably those who were taking drugs, who binge drink often with their friends on Friday nights, and probably even those who are abusive to others. Some of these things simply don’t change from their time to our time, you may have caught Jesus having dinner with a prostitute as you see on a number of occasions throughout the gospels. The point is that Jesus was a man whom the Pharisees had found very conspicuous.  Now upon entering the house, Jesus came and sat at his place at the table. Whether this place was as the guest of honor of at the least of the seats is unknown to us, but what is known from this is that they are seated in the Greco roman style of seating. Some of you have heard me explain this before but let me refresh you memory. This seating are three table on the ground that are in a U-shaped form and there is specific seating for certain individuals. Those at the table would be lying on “couches” or cushions leaning on their left elbow while eating with their right. On table A you would have all of family with the Host of the party at the corner of where Table A intersects Table B. On the corner of Table B that is right beside the host is the guest of honor. And then on table C at the far end would have been the seat for the “least”. I told you this because it may help you imagine the events that are being taken place. The woman who has come in to wash and anoint Jesus’ feet is not stooped under a table as we would traditionally think, but rather she would probably have been kneeling down behind Jesus where he would be lying down. Now in v. 37 it says a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he or Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. This woman in the passage is clearly the “other” that has just entered into a room where those who are attending the party felt she had no right to be. She was a sinner that was entering into the Pharisees House! A Sinner, how dare she do such a thing as to bring herself who is unclean into the Pharisees house who is in their minds clearly a righteous and holy person. This action of this woman would be like if today as we are in church, a person who was clearly gang member or someone who is a homosexual came in during our worship service and knelt down at the altar rail.  Someone whom the church has clearly labeled as an “other”. However, this woman whom I a sure everyone was keeping an eye on, came and knelt down behind Jesus and began to wash his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Now, Ladies in the congregation, in order for you to dry someone’s feet with your hair, you certainly would know that this meant that your hair would have been let down. And we also know that touching the feet, especially with your hair is a very intimate act. You really are letting yourself being very vulnerable by doing such an act. After this woman, this sinner has cleansed the feet of Jesus, she begins to kiss and anoint the feet of Jesus.

So the Pharisee sees them and he says to himself, If this guy Jesus truly was a prophet, he certainly would know what we know about this girl. She is definitely known throughout this village as “such and such”. Ever heard those words before in a small village. Well we all know so and so is a horrible person because they do such and such. I also would like to point out that the Pharisee was not speaking to anyone but himself. Jesus responds not only to our actions and what we do, but what we are thinking and saying to ourselves. It is no different than if someone were to come to church or anywhere for that matter and you know what I am talking about, you turn to a friend or maybe you just say it to yourself, “I can’t believe so and so is here, they are not worthy to be here. Or they aren’t dressed appropriately for church, or those teenagers are still hung over from the night before, I don’t want them in MY church”  But the Pharisee did, he brought up a subject that was being discussed all throughout the 7th chapter of Luke. Jesus, is he a prophet? Clearly He isn’t, for if he was he wouldn’t want HER to be touching him.

However, Jesus confronted the situation and being the guest in the situation he asks permission to speak. Simon is interested in what he has to say and so he allows Jesus to speak to him. Jesus begins to tell a story of two individuals who owe some money. One person who owes 500 denarii and another who owes 50. Well let’s put this into our monetary units today. Let’s say they make 45,000 dollars a year.  This means a days wage is roughly $123. So, in these terms, One person owes roughly 6, 000 dollars, while the other is in debt 61,500 dollars. Now, let’s say that the credit agency who these two people owe finds out that these two people cannot pay their debt, the creditor cancels both debts fully. Jesus asks, which one of these two debtors will love the credit agent more?

Simon the Pharisee is no dumb man, he responds I suppose the one who owes the greater amount. Jesus affirms Simon that his answer is correct, but then turns this hypothetical situation to the reality of what is going on around them. Jesus turns to the woman and compares her love and hospitality to that of the Pharisees hospitality. Jesus clearly makes it known that the woman who was sinful was the one who showed more fully the love that God desires than the Pharisee. And so Jesus does not even turn to the woman to tell her, her sins are forgiven, but rather he turns to the Pharisee, the one who thought poorly of the woman and who doubted Jesus to be a prophet and tells him, that and yes, also, even HER sins are forgiven. After telling this to the Pharisee, it is only then that he turns to the woman and says to her, truly your sins are no more.

These simple words to the unclean, to the “other” began a controversy among those who were present. They began to quarrel with one another saying to each other who is HE to be forgiving sins. Not even do prophets forgive sins, but Jesus has made a statement, not only am I a prophet, but also to am I greater than the prophets. Jesus then turns to the woman who made herself humble before him, who was vulnerable to criticism, and said to her, “Your faith has save you, go in peace.”

You see, in this narrative of Jesus it is so easy for us who have the right clothes, for those who know what to say and when to say it in church, for us who know that our way is the right way to fall into the same mindset of the Pharisees. It is so easy for us to begin judging the “others” and forget that we too are in need of that Grace, that gift given to us by Jesus. It is difficult to realize, even as a saved person, that we too are just as sinful as the “other” and are just as much in need of God’s Grace.

However, simply knowing that you are in the same state of sinfulness as the “other” is not enough, we also have been commanded by Scripture to do like Jesus and forgive the “other”. Colossians 3:13  says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  It was once asked to Jesus how many times are we to forgive, and so if we are to forgive like the Lord, the Lord’s response was 70 time 7 times. This does not mean 490 times, but it means to unconditionally love and forgive one another.  Well that is great and easy though for those who are friends, but Jesus even commands us to forgive our enemies, because as they too are creations and children of God. And so in essence of forgiving, we are to be at peace with one another, the Great Shalom or the Great Peace is this continual longing for that we await for and actively reach to bring about. But in order for us to truly be the active agents of Love we are called to be, we must accept the “Other” so that they may feel Christ’s love through us.

To close I want to close with a story about a friend of mine. One day I saw her online and I began to strike up a conversation. I hadn’t spoken with this friend in quite some time and she had just gone through a traumatic experience of a particular group of people telling her that she was going to burn in hell because she is a homosexual. She was venting to me about that experience and how put off she was about any God that not only acknowledges that kind of hatred and rewards it. She told me that as a response to them she told them that even if they felt this way she still loved them. However, this conversation brought about some other tough subjects in her life about being a person who forgives and this difficulty of letting go some of the anger that she still felt towards this other experience that this conversation brought out.  What this group of Christians could have offered was a God who loves and a God who cares, and because of this love for her by our God, she too could let go of some of that anger she was feeling and began to be at peace. But when we act in the name of Jesus, and share nothing but hatred, we offer no grace to those who are in most need of it.

Today I want to leave you with a question. Who is it that you want to most identify with. Are you the outcast, the “other” who you feel like you are really stepping out in faith by being here today or listening to this sermon? Are you a Pharisee who really has not experienced the fullness of God’s grace and so therefore you feel like you shut others out? Or are you like Jesus, willing to go out and forgiving one another and touching those who are just difficult to touch. I encourage us today if we are any of the three to be most like Jesus, who upon leaving the house, he went out through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the GOOD News of the kingdom of God. The Good News that says we can Love you and will touch you because Christ has first Loved Me and has transformed my life by touching my life.

Let us Pray.

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