You – Yes, You– Are Worthy
A sermon based on Luke 7:36-8:3
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 12, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott
A pastor concluded a confirmation class on forgiveness by asking the class “Now, what you must you first do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?” A confirmand quickly gave this answer: “Sin!” 1
Sin. Something we all do. But sin is also something a lot of religious folks mis-label or judge and try to shame folks in order to have them do or see things their way. Sin is a word that makes us cringe and worry and get uptight. I think a lot about sin – and I don’t mean committing it– I think about it because so many of us worry about it and so many in religion make it sound like sinners themselves are a pox, something we are to shame and even shun others for being.
The host in the story today is one of those type of religious people shaming the woman as a sinner, shamming Jesus as one not shunning her. For all the Christian religious leaders who chastise sinners, and chase them out the door and away from their and our religious self, Jesus’ model is 100% the opposite. He seeks sinners out, welcomes them, hangs out with them and most importantly of all he loves them unconditionally. So it is very odd Christian theology and practice to believe followers of Jesus must shame and shun and run from sinners. We should instead, like Jesus, purposefully seek them out, attract them, be with them, love them and transform them.
And isn’t it also odd that if we are all sinners, including all of us religious folks and church leaders and clergy, who are we as fellow sinners to point and shame and shun other sinners? Shaming and shunning is a form of executed judgement, judgement that Jesus expressly told us not to do, thereby making it a sin to do. Now, I am not claiming sin is a good thing or something to strive to do. I am talking about sinners like the lady in the story, like the host in the story, like each of us, and everyone else, people who commit sin.
And if none of us is without sin, what’s up with the high and mighty self righteous approach to others’ “sinner” status? That’s the point Jesus makes in the famous story in the Gospel of John (8:7) when he says to those about to stone a sinner, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And no one throws a stone, because no one is without sin.
The word “sin”gets misused and abused a lot. We hear a lot about Christians loathing certain types of people for certain types of things they wrongfully claim are sins, mislabeling creation to make outcasts of people for how God goodly made them. It can get crazy and mean and is a corruption of Jesus’ Way to misname as sin God’s very own beautiful creation.
In this century we have heard a lot– a lot– about our LGBTQI brothers and sisters being mislabeled as sinners for how God created them and how we need to shame and shun them for God’s own wondrous work. Arrrg! That makes me want to . . . well, as my mother used to say, “It makes me want to spit!” First of all, since the gift of science –(that God blessed up with!) clearly indicates that nature determines our sexual orientation whether we are Straight, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning or Intersex.Which for us religious folks means, Straights and LGBTQI are each goodly and Godly created– which means being Straight and being LGBTQI cannot be a sin in any way since such nature is God’s creation.
Second of all, every one of the finger pointers and shunners and shamers of LGBTQI are sinners themselves including when they do such things – since Jesus tells us not to judge and to do to others as we want done to us, not to mention exalt the lowly. Belittling by judging, shunning and shaming are sins!
Finally, the entire Jesus movement at its inception was especially for sinners and outcasts for non-sins (like being LGBTQI), Jesus’ Way was not created to judge, shame and shun, but to be love and to transform with love.
God’s reveals to Peter early in the life of the church (Acts 10:28) that we “should not call anyone profane or unclean.” It is a command, if followed, would end much of the strife and injustices in the world. Being LGBTQI is not in any way a sin.
A sin is loathing, illogical, unloving, unChrist-like judgement, shaming and shunning in violation of several commandments. It’s wrong since how God made any human is never, ever a sin. So, it makes me, well, as my mother used to say “It makes me want to spit!”
Now while being how God made us is not a sin. There are of course sins. And humans do commit them. I’ve mentioned before sin is a word derived from a Hebrew archery term meaning to miss the mark. God aims us at the targets of love and betterment and we don’t always hit those marks. So we are to repent which means to turn around – which Charlotte in our Talking About God class last week cleverly pointed out means to turn around and re-aim to try and hit the marks we missed.
The woman in today’s Lectionary lesson we are told is a sinner, like all of us she’s missed the mark. She is often described as, or thought of as, a prostitute, but that is wholly unfair and sexist. The same Greek word that describes her as a sinner, Luke also uses to describe Peter as a sinner earlier in Chapter 5 (8). 2. We do not know her sin or sins, only that like us she has committed them and so is a sinner.
Ironically the host in the story, Simon, the man who criticizes the woman, and names her as a sinner has sinned by being unwelcoming to Jesus when he did not wash Jesus’ feet –a custom of hospitality offered to welcomed guests. It was a cultural slap in the face to Jesus. So it is ironic that the unnamed woman he accuses of being a sinner is accused the moment she corrects HIS sin of being inhospitable and disrespectful to Jesus.
The woman is very courageous in approaching Jesus in a room filled with hostility and she is very passionate about wanting to have her sins forgiven. The self righteous taught her but she hangs in there. She displays deep humility while honoring Jesus. She shows genuine remorse and a desire to move beyond whatever acts failed to hit the target God aimed her at.
In Jesus time washing feet was an act of hospitality; and loosen the hair was a sign of appeasement to God as well as a sign of both pleading and gratitude (3) . . . and kissing feet was a sign of gratitude for pardon. 4.
So while the woman says no words in the story, her actions speak volumes. As a sinner and outcast she bravely and boldly pays homage to Christ. She is very sorry. She seeks pardon. She is grateful to be forgiven.
And sure enough, whatever it is she has done, however great and plentiful her sins may have been she is given new life through not just forgiveness by Jesus, but also because Jesus in that room with a hostile man shaming her, has courage to stand up to him, and express love so powerful he dares to “lift the burden of shame to give her value and worth in spite of how unworthy she feels.” 5
I love the Jesus of the Gospels. The one we can find in the pages of our Bibles. See one of the ways Jesus heals over and over again in the New Testament is by taking away shame and unworthiness. No matter who comes to him he loves them and is willing to bring them into his fold and honor them. It’s extraordinarily remarkable if we think about it.
Anyone who comes to Jesus considering themself lowly, or consider by others as lowly, whether by disease or custom or social decree or criminal conviction or past conduct, or wrongful labeling of God’s creation as sin, Jesus cures them of the shame and shunning that ails them. Jesus calls no one profane or unclean. In fact, over and over again he demonstrates that those who are called profane and unclean, matter. Lepers are embraced. Tax collectors are welcomed. Criminals are saved. Women are treated with respect. Slaves are given liberty. Prodigal children are celebrated. Demonics are made free. Poor are fed. Oppressed are given justice. Sinners are forgiven.
Jesus wipes all slates clean. All are worthy in Jesus’ sight and are made to feel worthy in the world. This a great news. And we tend to love to hear it applied to the named and unnamed characters in the Bible stories in the distant past. And we like it as an academic rule and usually think it is good thing to be offered to others– this church is particularly good at that. But here’s the thing, we’d do well to grapple with and accept, that the rule applies to us, to you and to me personally.
Many of us have a sense of unworthiness. Like the woman in our lesson today somehow we think, or we are thought of by others, as a sinner of lesser worth. Perhaps we’ve actually done something wrong that misses what God aims us at and it haunts us. Or perhaps we are something that someone – maybe others or our self claim makes us a lesser being, a person not as worthy as others. So, we are – or feel– shunned or shamed. Jesus came to heal that shunning and that shaming. Through his Way of love we are forgiven. We are loved. We are welcomed into the embrace of Jesus’ community and his Way.
And I know from experience that many of you are thinking the “we” does not mean you. But it does. Maybe you are, or feel, shunned or shamed. Jesus came to heal that shunning and that shaming. Through his Way of love we – YOU– are forgiven. You are not judged unworthy. You are judged worthy. You are not shunned. You are loved. You are not cast aside. You are welcomed into the embrace of his community and his Way. You matter!
The angel in the Christmas story in Luke (2:10) Said “I am bringing good news of great joy for all people.” 6 You are one of the “all people. ”
And you do not have to do say some magic religious words to get the forgiveness, the clean slate. The lady in the story says nothing! She is repentant. She has remorse. She wants to be transformed. And she opens herself up to accept God’s steadfast always there love and a relationship with Jesus and his community.
Religion is at its core is about relationship. How do we relate to God and creation and others? But also how we relate to our self. Jesus tells us the ultimate-never-superceded-by-anything commandment is to love God and love our neighbor as we love our self. See we are an image of God . . . all of us. And if we do not love that image of God known as self, it makes it very hard to fully love the image of God in our neighbors. Since we are to love them as we love our self.
Now, to follow the commandment to love we do not get to love our self to the exclusion of any others, like the host in the story appears to do . . .or like many judgmental, shaming, shunning religious folk do. But we do HAVE TO LOVE OUR SELF and forgive our self and understand that God forgives whatever it is we have done–or think we have done– that has missed the mark God aims us at.
Now we may not have to say magic words but we must be sincere in our regret for the wrongs we did and sincere in our desire for a transformation, for a new beginning. To borrow Charlotte’s wonderful image we have to want to turn around and do so we can re-aim for the target God aims us at. We are all of us capable and worthy of making such a turn.
We are all worthy of the forgiveness that we get from God. We are worthy of the love God provides unconditionally. And most importantly sin or no sin we are all worthy of the image of God we were made to be . . . and always are.
As we sing the responsive hymn “Standing in the Need of Prayer” think about it in a new way. You are in need of prayer, not because you are unworthy, but because you are worthy of love and forgiveness. You are worthy to approach God and prayerfully receive the healing grace of a clean slate for whatever it is that makes you feel in need of forgiveness for and whatever wound there is that needs healing. See, you are loved and you matter much. HONEST!
1. I found this joke on the Ministry 127 site: http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/before-asking-for-forgiveness
2. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 3, p 143-145.
3. The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p.116
4. Women’s Bible Commentary, p 374.
5. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 3, p 144.
6. I go this idea from the Feasting on the Word commentary, Ibid., p 143
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