Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Narrative Lectionary, Year 3, February 19, 2017
Lessons: Luke 7:36-50, Psalm 130:3-6
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand that they receive God’s forgiveness, and by faith they respond with lavish love toward others to create a grace-full ripple effect.
Key Scripture: 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
Why it is SO tough to extend the same unmerited grace, love, and forgiveness to others that Jesus extends to us? It isn’t that we humans don’t want to be generous with our sisters and brothers. At least in the context of North America I think it has more to do with a combination of human brokenness and a culture of scarcity than it does with a lack of desire to lavish love on others.
We are constantly told that there are limited resources, and if we don’t “get ours first” there may not be enough to meet our needs. What happens when we respond to this message? We begin to tilt toward meeting our greed rather than our need because enough just never seems to be enough. There is always someone who has more, and an increasing share of the resource “pie” seems to be going to an ever smaller segment of the population. Our inability to see the whole for the narrow view of the part prevents us from seeking the common good and following Jesus’ example.
Our story from Luke’s gospel this week is an excellent example. Jesus is having dinner with one of the religious leaders, a man named Simon. A woman in the city, described simply as “a sinner” finds out Jesus is dining there and comes bearing an alabaster jar of precious ointment. She falls at Jesus’ feet and washes them with her tears. She dries them with her hair and anoints them with the precious ointment. It is a lavish and scandalous show of love.
Simon, the host of the dinner, wonders to himself how Jesus can really be a prophet if he’s letting this sinner, a woman, touch him. This, too, is scandal. You can almost feel the scorn rising with Simon’s eyebrows. Jesus, not missing a beat, responds to Simon with a parable about debt forgiveness. Simon easily provides the correct answer: the one who loves the creditor more is the one who had the larger debt cancelled, the one who had lost everything and gained forgiveness. Simon, on the other hand, has evidently lost very little, as well as having extended half-hearted hospitality to Jesus. And, Jesus calls him out on it.
This story convicts me of my own failings. I’ve always been a pretty reasonable and respectable person. Sure, I’ve made my share of serious mistakes and grievous lapses in judgment, yet Jesus has forgiven and redeemed me. Like Simon, however, I have to constantly check my privilege and assumptions at the door to make sure that I extend that same forgiveness, mercy, and love to others. It is much easier said than lived.
For example, I am regularly humbled by my sisters and brothers who have far fewer resources and whose hospitality so often puts mine to shame. I am amazed at how our Tanzanian partners drop everything to provide a welcome fit for royalty—giving the best that they have—to open their hearts and homes to strangers and friends alike. I learn so much from them about how to be present in the moment, how to truly value relationships, and how to fully live. When my schedule is full and it seems an inconvenience to practice hospitality and lavish love, Jesus reminds me through this story that nothing is more important than honoring his love and forgiveness by being lavishly loving and faithful in my relationships with others. Let’s just say I’m a lifelong learner when it comes to practicing lavish love, forgiveness, and mercy. I’m going to need regular exercise to improve my skills. Thankfully and despite my inadequate efforts, our amazing Lord and Savior still whispers to me and to you, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Yes, go in peace to get up and try again to practice lavish love, radical hospitality, and forgiveness.
Consider singing “Forgive our sins as we forgive” today (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #605). The words are powerful ones and remind us that only Christ is able to give us what we need to forgive as we have been forgiven. Invite congregants to write the name of someone they need to truly forgive or to whom they want to be more loving or hospitable toward to the altar and leave it in a small basket. Offer these folded slips of prayer during the Prayers of the People in a special petition asking God to give us all the faith, forgiveness, and courage to love and open our hearts and homes, to help us love more lavishly and forgive more faithfully. In the sending, remind people of the prayers lifted up and send them with a charge to “Go in peace as Christ has loved you to love and serve others in his name.”
In this week’s gospel lesson we find out that Jesus’ knew what Simon was thinking about the woman who came to anoint Jesus’ feet. Jesus called him out on it, too. How often do we think less of someone or make judgments about others? It’s so easy to do, yet Jesus calls us to love our neighbors and to forgive one another. This is tough to do if we don’t know one another. Find ways to help your youth get to know neighbors who may be different from them or about whom they may have questions. For example, invite a local Muslim group to join you to talk about their faith, their hopes, and their fears. Do you have an immigrant population in your community? Try to get to know them and build relationships. It’s better to build a bridge than a wall, to set more places at the table than to exclude guests from a meal. Jesus teaches us this, even as he forgives us and loves us.
Waiting for God
As a child I can remember how long a car trip seemed. When will be there, I’d ask my parents every few miles. They must have been so tired of answering me. Today’s psalm reminds us to “wait for God.” Waiting for God is not like waiting for a car trip to be over or for Christmas to come. Waiting for God involves listening for God’s guidance, looking to see God at work in the world through our hands, and words, and actions, and praying to God. Waiting for God is about being in relationship with God—not just for a car trip or a season, but every day of our lives. Invite the children to repeat the psalm verses using the Easy to Read Version, and finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lesson from Luke invites us to challenges to see others as Jesus sees them, indeed as Jesus sees us. Just as Jesus forgave the woman described as a sinner, our Lord extends forgiveness to us and expects us to steward that forgiveness by loving and forgiving others in his name. This week spread a little love, mercy, and grace. You’ll be glad you did.
Stewardship at Home
Think about the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed them with precious ointment. Simon thinks of her as a sinner, someone who is unworthy, yet Jesus has compassion, sees her as a person of great worth, and forgives her sins. Who do you see as unworthy or less than? Who does society see in this way? Who might need forgiveness, and who might need to forgive you? Consider ways to be in deeper, more supportive, and better relationship with your neighbors. Love isn’t really love until you give it away, so be lavish with your love and forgiveness. Write notes. Send a Facebook message of encouragement. Heal and old wound and build a bridge. Give thanks to God for the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus so freely gives.
Photos: kmiragaya – Fotolia.com, Bridget Leyendecker, and bana gurl, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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