Lectionary Reflection for the Lectionary 11, June 16, 2013
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
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. Luke 7:47
When did you last bathe someone’s feet with your tears, wipe them with your hair, and anoint them with costly perfumed oil? If you’re like me, about the closest you have ever been to taking part in an act even remotely like this one is at a Maundy Thursday foot-washing service. Even that experience can make folks squirm in discomfort. This woman’s act is not something 21st century first world folk go around doing on even an occasional basis. Her actions were a radical, even offensive, act of hospitality, humility, faith, and love two millennia ago; how equally awkward and even crazy would she seem today? Because this scene is so far removed from our own cultural experience and practice, a question that must be asked is how can we make the story come alive in our worshiping communities?
Think about it…Lavish love…Big love…Extravagant love…Love fueled by the flames of an authentic and humble faith…Love emptied out for the sake of the beloved. What does it take for us today to know, to experience, and to practice such big love? How can we be equipped and moved to pour ourselves out for the sake of the gospel, for Jesus who loves us with a love bigger than life itself? Can we feel and experience the forgiveness, the mercy, and the acceptance that fuels such big love?
I don’t know. Our culture is about self-actualization, self-help, and self-indulgence. We receive myriad messages about amassing, acquiring, and acculturating as proper consumers should. Messages about emptying, about divesting, and about prodigal giving are too few and far between, even in the church. The examples and the messages are out there; they’re just quiet, almost mercurial, and certainly countercultural. Such messages make us uncomfortable, I think, because our human tendency is to compare–and find wanting–our own behavior. Therefore, we too often dismiss or even disparage examples and stories of radical giving and self-emptying. Think of how we try to domesticate and sanitize Jesus and his message. “Oh, he really didn’t mean that! Surely not!” we are tempted to rationalize. If we are pushed too far beyond our comfort zone, we like Simon and his guests in the gospel reading may also ask “Who is this who even forgives sins?” At least surely not his sins or her transgressions!
What would it take in our communities to come to Confession and Forgiveness bearing the full weight of our sin, our complicity in the pain and suffering in this world, and our utter and absolute dependence on God’s mercy and grace to draw even our next breath? How can we resist onvincing ourselves that we’re pretty good folks with handy, dandy bootstraps upon which we can pull as needed? Can we risk being broken open, left vulnerable, and fully exposed in our helplessness? Or can we accept that we really are, in the words of the 70s rock band Kansas, “Dust in the wind; all we are is dust in the wind.”
Can we allow ourselves to be broken in order to be healed, to believe that in our pouring out we will be gathered into the Body of Christ and by our faith be set free? Can we allow the amazing love of Christ to fill us so that, in turn, can pour out a big and mighty love upon this thirsty world? Will we, sisters and brothers, be stewards of the gifts of God, trusting that there is indeed enough for all? Can we help heal the world with our tears, and pour out the oil of compassion on the feet of Christ made visible in our neighbors? Can we catch a glimmer of grace, hang on to a hint of hope, and empty ourselves of, well, ourselves? In Christ, all things are possible. Blessings on your transparent teaching and bold preaching–gifts of the Spirit for this hungry world.
Consider weaving into your worship somehow the meditation prayer attributed to St. Francis. It’s a simple one:
“My God and my All! Amen.”
You could weave it into Confession and Forgiveness. You could simply stop at several points throughout the service and invite the community to pray the prayer and center themselves in God’s presence and lavish love. You could weave it into your sermon if you preach on the gospel or epistle. Invite the community to pray the prayer often during the week, to pour out the simple words as if they were washing the feet of Christ with their tears and anointing his head with costly oil. Invite them to consider that we do really NEED God to be our all, our everything, the center and core of our lives. Praying a simple prayer like this one throughout the day reminds us of that fact and helps us lean into it.
In the movie Freaky Friday, a warring mother and daughter are put into the other one’s body to live and walk in the other one’s shoes. In the process they gain new appreciation for each other. In Paul’s letter to the disciples at Galatia, he explains that he has been “crucified with Christ” and “it is Christ who lives in me” (verses 19-20). It may sound freaky, but in our baptism we are given a new identity as Christians and Christ lives in us. Have we learned to appreciate this fact? How do we understand this idea that our lives really don’t belong to us, but that we live for and in Christ? We live by faith. We can’t “be” good enough on our own. We need the grace of Christ, but this is something the world doesn’t teach us. In fact, it runs counter to all that the world does teach. How then, can we live “cruciform” lives in a world that is most definitely not cross-shaped? How can we support one another on the journey? Invite youth to exchange prayer requests for the week and pray for each other every day–praying especially that their lives and wills will conform to the cruciform way of being–to Christ who already lives within them. Share Holy Communion together if you can. Be sure to ask for updates and responses the next time you gather together.
Psalm 32: Forgiven and Happy!
Consider moving your children’s time to right before Confession and Forgiveness. Explain to them in simple words how we come each week to tell God we are sorry for the things we have done wrong–even for things we did wrong that we don’t realize we’ve done. Explain how the pastor is given authority to speak for God and proclaim God’s forgiveness. When we say we are sorry, God really, really forgives us. We can be happy like the psalmist is in today’s psalm. Better yet, God provides instruction about how we should live (vs. 8) so that we don’t have to stubborn like mules and guided by bits and bridles. We are forgiven, and we can be happy about it! Invite the children to dip their fingers in the font and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Then have them stand with you during Confession and Forgiveness and tell them their job is to say “Amen” at the end as loudly and joyfully as they can. You might even consider adding some words to tell the children go “Go, be happy, serve God and your neighbor, love and serve others, and know that God loves you! Amen.”