Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Do you see this woman?"

Extracts from Sermon: Jesus loves good people - Luke 7:36-50 at Grace Church Exeter

1. SHE LOVED JESUS (36-38)
 [36] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. [37] And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house…
 “A woman of the city, who was a sinner” I wonder if you know someone like that? Perhaps you think of yourself like that? Curtains twitch when she walks by… we won’t speculate about her back story, but you get the idea of what people thought of her, and the hurt, pain, stigma she must feel…

She’s the person who because of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, track record, assumes – and not without some evidence – that church wouldn’t be for her. Can you imagine what it takes for her to get to Jesus that day? Simon – the host, as we’ll see - hates that she’s there. He makes himself feel better compared to her. She knows. Could you be where she was? Or would you run and hide? She teaches us what church can be. Church – ‘sinners’ who go to Jesus.

Face tear-stained. Hair matted with dirt and perfume. She is a model follower of Jesus. But, how do you get from fear to faith... from sin to your Saviour?

[39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 
Can you sense Simon’s disapproval? He is not impressed. Can you picture the awkward grimace on his face?
 [40] And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Gulp. Gritted teeth. Jesus is being so gentle with him, he could blow him away… And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” Is this respect? Does he want to hear? Excited? Fearful? [41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. 
I used to work on the counter at Natwest Bank. It wasn’t always the most interesting work, but I loved working day in day out with people. And money is an open door to the human heart. I remember the customer who’d bring in loads of ID to withdraw five pounds… and the woman who objected to any security questions for her small withdrawal of ten thousand pounds. We also helped people with debt. I’ll never forget the change in the face of one customer. She came in exhausted from sleepless nights over her credit card debt of £25000. You could see the exhaustion… the desperation… the fear on her face… heavy shoulders. And then the visible relief when we’d worked out a plan to clear the debt. We weren’t able to cancel debt. Of course the bank would make money from the whole thing, but we could help people to structure payments.

 Jesus doesn’t restructure debt. 

The story of Jesus is about the debt of sin. Bigger than any financial debt. Cancelled. Completely. Wow – is that how you see Jesus? The one who cancels your debt. Imagine if you let that loose in your life.

The debt-canceller. The visible relief bringer.

 Simon’s not there yet…
 Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” 
Simon knows the answer. Sort of. Do you? What does he see when he looks at this woman? This woman is the answer. Does he see? Does it get it? He has more in common with her than he realises. She knows that all the debt of all her sin is now cancelled. Her face is stained with tears and dirt, but there’s visible relief. She knows she hadn’t trusted God, and Jesus has loved her.
• There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always has to pay.
 • There’s no such thing as cancelling debts for free. Someone has to pay.
At the cross, Jesus gave his life for our lives. Our sin has bankrupted us. We are ruined. In debt with no way back. But he exchanged his life for mine and yours. His riches for our poverty.
The more debt cancelled, the more love overflows.
 • What does she know that he doesn’t yet know?
 • What does she know that you don’t know - that you have been pushing way?
 • Does his love for her make you feel uncomfortable? 
She’s the poorest person in the room but she is rich in love.
[44] Then turning toward the woman [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
Ouch. Ouch. Have you been there? Have you been there when Jesus makes you feel Ouch? Where is Simon now? Dazed? Exposed? About to kick back? Three times Simon failed by comparison. Have you had Jesus do this to you?
 [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And [Jesus] said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 
Jesus is the God who doesn’t chase away sinners.

“Who is this man going around forgiving sins?”  God with dirty feet, who came to die for us. A God better than any God our world has ever heard of. But, Simon doesn’t think he’s much of a sinner. Forgiven little, he loves little. Luke says, Simon is a Pharisee: An important person. Good. Well-read. And he knows very little about the sin in his life. Lacking in love – he doesn’t love Jesus… and he doesn’t love the people of his town… he’s aloof and scornful rather than engaged and involved.

What about you? It’s not that Simon can or should actually really love everyone. But this woman is an actual person in his town, in his neighbourhood, and for that matter, that day: in his house. His life and her life have intersected, and not for the first time. And he is appalled at her.
 • Who gets met with your silent disapproval?
 • Who is the subject of the muttering beneath your breath?
 • Who would make you feel awkward if you found they were sat behind you this morning?
 • What are their names? 
This unnamed woman’s story makes it abundantly clear that Jesus doesn’t think anyone is beyond his love. Not even this good man Simon. Simon is shocked that Jesus will be near this woman, but not at all shocked that Jesus came to his house. I’d like to judge Simon; but horribly, painfully, undeniably, I recognise his face in the mirror.

What about you? It’s an ‘Ouch!’ moment. What of the greed, the selfishness, the pride, the hate in my heart? What of my condescension and despising of those who voted differently to me? What of the deep line of sin that runs through my heart too? But in this moment Jesus invites Simon to start again. Facing the darkness of our hearts is unpleasant – but better to see it than to continue unaware. Seeing our sin is an opportunity to run to Jesus. This woman is in so much of a better place than Simon…
• There is more sin in Simon than he knows.
• There is more love in Christ than there is sin in Simon.
• There is more sin in Dave Bish than I know.
• More love in Christ than there is sin in Dave Bish.
• Dare I say, aware of how offensive this is to say: there is more sin in you than you know.
• But, there is far more love in Christ for you, than there is sin in you. 
Do you see this woman? Do you see this Jesus? Do you have the dawning sense that Simon is meant to be getting that there's far more need of forgiveness in you than you realised... could you let The Debt-Canceller, The Visible Relief Bringer loose in your life today by entrusting yourself to him?

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