Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Featured Sermon: Pentecost 4 – Fr. Jason Emerson

 

 

“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

May only God’s word be spoken and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

So, it’s an obvious fact that Jodie and I come from a spotted people and you’ve seen my twins who are so pale they are borderline transparent. Spoiler Alert: We are Irish! Needless to say, we are personally keeping two, maybe three, sunscreen companies in business. Indeed, sunscreen is a significant part of our lives in my household.

However, I noticed something the other day. I was at the store buying some really high SPF sunscreen. Y’all, I’m telling you, SPF 100 is almost like being inside. It’s great stuff. However, I noticed you can’t buy low SPF sunscreen anymore. I remember as a kid my sister using SPF 5 or 1, when she was trying to get a tan. Sometimes she would even forego the sunscreen all together and use baby oil. Thinking back on it, using baby oil is kind of like putting olive oil on chicken before you grill it. She was basically marinating herself. While it seemed like a great idea at the time, now a days, it just sounds like a great way to get skin cancer. We are way more concerned about skin cancer today; so much so, that consumers won’t buy low SPF Sunscreen. Hence, it isn’t available in stores anymore.

I told you this whole bit about sunscreen to illustrate that as a society we can learn. We can in fact grow in awareness and change as a culture. Our gospel passage points to an area where both society as a whole and the christian church in general needs to change. I am speaking of women’s safety. Make no bones about it, this woman walked into a situation that was extremely dangerous for her.

Now you might be thinking, “It was just a dinner party. What’s so dangerous about that? I’m sure there were several women in attendance.” No, remember this story takes place in a middle eastern country in what we call the first century. Women did not eat with men, did not speak to men in public, and definitely did not touch a man in public. It would have been totally acceptable for the host and the other men there to drag this woman by the hair out of the house, through the streets to the outskirts of town, and stone her to death–to throw rocks at her head until she died. And no one would have questioned him, no one would have criticized him for it, no one would have judged him wrong.
Except, Jesus!

Jesus not only accepts the woman and her offering of adoration, but shames the host by noting that he had failed at basic hospitality. This part of the world was and still is primarily desert. It was customary to offer guests water to clean their feet and hands before a meal because of the dust. The host had not done that. This is no minor faux pas, either. This isn’t showing up fashionably late. No, hospitality codes were a serious deal in that time and place. Furthermore, a pharisee, a religious leader fails to acknowledge what Jesus is, while this woman, a sinner, pays him great homage.

By Jesus accepting her offering, he saves her from almost certain death. Now we don’t live in that place or that time. We’ve progressed a bit, but we need only look at recent revelations at Baylor University and the sentencing in the Brock Turner rape case to know we’ve got a long way to go. To a significant and dangerous degree, women are still considered second-class citizens in this country.

More on that in a moment, but for now let’s remember God’s preference for the “other”. As we have seen the last few weeks, God chooses the outsiders, the downtrodden, the poor, the sick, the sinners, and even the enemies because they often have an easier time of recognizing God in their lives. They “get it”. On the other hand those of us who are the institution {raise hand}, as in me, and those of us in the religious establishment {gesture to include everyone in the room} often have a harder time trusting God–that is to say, to live by faith in Jesus instead of our own capabilities. So much so, we like the Pharisee, can fail to practice God’s radical inclusion and even simple hospitality.
As we have been talking about for the last couple of weeks, this dynamic of exclusion by the faithful is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Today we hear more from that letter where Paul eloquently establishes that justification does not come from works, justification cannot be earned. It is God’s work. God’s gracious free gift available to all.

Now, what does Paul mean by “justification?” This is a theological term that gets tossed around a lot; so let’s talk about it for a moment. Heidi Armstrong uses the analogy of a word processing program. When the software justifies the text, it aligns the words with the margins. Jesus aligns our lives, tidies up the margins if you will, brings us in line with God. This is God’s work. It is not something I can do to someone else and it is not something we can do for ourselves. As our brothers and sisters in the twelve step traditions teach us, we are powerless to our addictions, be they food, drink, drugs or even our negative emotions–we are powerless and need a higher power to heal us.
The woman in our Gospel passage is justified by Jesus and experiences that justification through her faith. Now, you might be thinking, “wait a second, didn’t she earn her justification, earn her salvation, by washing Jesus’ feet.” Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso would say. Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” HENCE, not because…She has experienced forgiveness so she shows great love. Her adoration of Jesus is a response to his acceptance of her, his salvation, his justifying her.

So what is our job? As people of faith, as people on the inside, what is our job? What is our response to justification in Christ Jesus supposed to be? Certainly on a societal level, we have to work not only for justice for women who are victims of crime, especially sexual assault of any sort, but we must also create a culture where women are completely safe everywhere at all times. And I believe my brothers and sisters that our society can change. Just as we have learned to use high SPF sunscreen surely we can learn to treat all women as equally human as men. Furthermore, I believe that we, people of faith, aren’t just called but are capable of bringing about that change.

Within the church, our job is similar and broader. Heidi Armstrong also points out the growing phenomenon of people’s unwillingness to come to church. Even when their lives are spiralling out of control because of sin people won’t come to church because of fear. People are afraid of being judged. They are fearful; not fearful of being physically harmed, rather emotionally harmed by the hypocritical judgement of the faithful.

Now my brother and sisters I know this is hard to hear, because I know you all to be deeply loving and caring people. I know you to be honest about your own brokenness and not judgemental of the brokenness of others. I know you to be real, to be genuine. Nonetheless, I know we can still be better at radical inclusion. Regardless of what we think about ourselves, we certainly aren’t immune to the cultural perception that church folks are cliquish and judgemental.

So, our job is to create a culture where we are known for who we include not who we exclude. We are called to create a space where all can come regardless of their sin and experience the love of God. We are called to get “out of the seats and into the streets” as Ron Dotzler likes to say, called to be radically welcoming, radically inclusive, radically abundant in expressing God’s love for others because we have experienced God’s love ourselves. We called to this work “not just in this house on this morning”, but every day and in every place.

My brothers and sisters, do not let the church be a place where sinners are afraid to approach God. Rather, be the church every day. Be the radically inclusive and overwhelmingly loving Church every single day. Be the safe place for a sinner to come to know God’s love and be justified by Jesus. Amen!

 

Father Jason Emerson, Church of the Resurrection

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