Sunday's Sermon: The FORGIVING God
A sermon based on Luke 7:34-50
What do you suppose a Pharisee dinner party would have been like?
Pretty ritzy? After all, Pharisees were men who considered themselves the holiest of people AND the most qualified to handle the Scriptures. They dressed in the fanciest of holy clothing. They spoke with an air of 'impressed with myself"-ness.
Don't you think their dinner parties were similar. Only the finest non-pork meats served at just the right temperature. The aged wine was an expensive offering from a rich man looking for forgiveness from God. Everyone probably drank the wine from cups that allowed them to hold their Pharisaical pinky in the air.
I imagine Simon's party was no different. He invited the finest guests, the sharpest scholars and wisest minds in the greater Jerusalem area. Not only did it make them feel important to be invited to this event, but--even more-- it made him feel important to have such important people at his house.
That's why he had invited Jesus. He too was a scholar. A different breed, mind you, but a Bible scholar nonetheless. He didn't dress as fancy. Nor did he grow up immersed in their Pharisaical law 101 classes, but he certainly qualified as important. He had quite a following.
As these guests arrived, I'm sure Simon smiled. Smiled as he thought to himself, "Just look at all these people. Just look at how important I am. Rabbi Schweitz. Reb Tevye. Jesus, the Prophet. That fleusy Sadie from the back alley...the....
There. At Jesus' feet. Was a woman. Unimpressive. Disheveled. Her eyes were stained with tears. Her hair was stringy. Wet in clumps where she had been wiping up the tears from Jesus' feet. Her lips were shaking as they slowly kissed the tops of the good teacher's dusty sandals.
Simon was embarrassed. "What are you doing here? Why is this sinful woman in my house!"
Sinful woman, of course, is unnecessarily repetitive. Just like sinful man. Or sinful human. Because all humans are sinful. It's like saying "Wet water" or "delicious Doritos."
But the word "sinful" had taken a new meaning for this woman. It had become her identity. She was obviously guilty of some very public and very taboo sins that caused regular sinful people to feel the need to quantify her as sinful.
At the very least, she was guilty of sins that Simon, himself, would never be guilty of. (Or at least so he thought). Sins that a Pharisee would never be caught dead doing. Drunkenness. Drug abuse. Prostitution. Lesbianism.
Whatever it was...it had given her a bad reputation. Such that appearing at this type of party was social suicide!
And Simon knew it! "What's she doing over there anyway? This isn't that bar in the dark alley behind the marketplace! Her kind aren't welcome here. And she's kissing his feet? Is this her pathetic way of hitting on the good teacher? Disgusting."
But perhaps more disgusting to Simon was that Jesus wasn't reacting with disdain: "Surely, if he were a prophet, he would understand what type of woman was touching him." The logic was simple. Prophets are holy. They don't like unholy people. This person was unholy. If he were a prophet, he would know it and be repulsed.
But he wasn't.
In fact, Jesus called Simon over to him.
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I supposed the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then, he revealed his point.
"Simon, you invited me over here to eat. In our culture, when guests enter a home, it's customary to provide a bowl of water to wash off feet left dusty from the desert walk. You didn't do that. But this woman, she has used her very own tears to wash my feet and her hair to clean it off.
Simon, in our culture, it's customary for friends to greet one another with a kiss. You didn't do that to me. But this woman has been continuously kissing my feet...my dusty, stinky, smelly feet...since I came in!
Simon, in our culture, it is customary, especially among the finer guests, that the host anoint his guest's head with oil. It gets rid of the stink and musk of a long day's travel. You didn't do that. But she anointed my feet with fine perfume.
Here's the main point, Simon, You call her a sinner. And to be sure, she is one! In fact, she's sinned much! But she has also been forgiven much. Through faith in me,all of her sin has been forgiven.
This is why she's acting the way she is. She loves me. She's thankful. In other words, what you see as a nuisance and a distraction to your party, is actually a beautiful display of worship. It's her love for me...proof of the forgiveness that is hers!"
Now what about Simon? I'm gonna to assume he was like most of the Pharisees. They were much different from the woman. They didn't have any thankfulness to Jesus, because they assumed, wrongly, that they didn't have any sin.
So I picture Simon gritting his teeth. He had been upstaged by this Jesus. He felt foolish. He felt tiny.
But he would get revenge on Jesus. Maybe, what his Pharisee friends had mentioned wasn't so peculiar after all. Maybe, the only way to stop this Jesus, would be with death.
But Jesus had moved on. He was more concerned with the woman. Lifting her chin. His holy, loving, forgiving eyes met hers. And he reminded her of what she already had: "Your sins have been forgiven. You faith--not your works, but your faith in me--has saved you. Go in peace."
The account is touching. A brave woman. A haughty party. A spiteful villain. A forgiving Jesus. But what does it mean for us?
1. It reminds us that sin is terrible. It can ruin your social status. It can ruin people's perspective of you. It can fill you with guilt and despair.
Sin certainly ruins our relationships on earth.
But more than that, it ruins our relationships with God. Notice Jesus never accepted the woman's sin as not a big deal. In fact, he called it what it was. Sin. In fact he said much sin!
Would Jesus use that adverb when he was referring to your past? (He would for mine.)
2. God forgives sin.
This is what Jesus implied when he forgave the woman.
But, as the other party goers themselves wondered, "Who is this that he even forgives sins?"
This after all is the one who would live without sin! The only person in that party that really didn't need forgiveness from God! The only person, whom the Pharisees would be completely unable to pin a single false deed on.
Yet, he would die. Killed by these Pharisees. Killed by sinners.
Yet, hidden in their murderous attempt at his life, was the truth. The truth that because of Jesus' death, God forgives.
3. Think about this for you. Maybe you could compare yourself to the sinful woman. Maybe your sins are different, but just as haunting. Maybe you've done things that have made you a stench to your family. Or ostracized you in society. Or made you feel lonely at church. Maybe you've done the taboo. Maybe you feel like an outsider.
Think about your sin. Then think about your Savior. Think about your Forgiving God.
The words that Jesus spoke to the woman? He speaks to you after his death on the cross: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
Did you hear that? I'll repeat it: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
That's it. That's the kind of forgiveness our God has for all who seek it. Real forgiveness. Complete forgiveness. Done forgiveness. Sweet forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters, go and praise the LORD! Praise him with tears. With songs. With smiles. With gifts. With lives that live apart from past sins. However you do it, go and praise the Lord!
But, you know, Christians are kind of funny. We love and cherish that forgiveness is for us. But we have a hard time believing that forgiveness is for others.
Because the devil is tricky. It's easy for him to get us to think like Simon: "I can't believe that person is going to our church. I know he usually loves hanging out at the bar. " "I can't believe that person on Facebook is singing praise to God now. I grew up with them. I know the awful things he's done. He can't be a real Christian" "I can't believe this person is on our member board. Pastor, do we just let anyone in now?"
God's forgiveness is for all. And it belongs to all who believe in him. So why judge others for past sins?
Rather avoid Simon syndrome. Watch out for thinking that everyone else is a sinner and you aren't.
Instead, bow before God. Remember he is a God for forgiveness. Forgiveness for you and all of your sinful pride, but also a God of forgiveness for others too. Forgiveness for those of different cultures. Forgiveness for those with different sins. Forgiveness for people of all walks of life.
What incredible forgiveness is found through faith in Jesus! It's full. It's complete. It's all encompassing. It requires nothing but hearts that believe!God's forgiveness is something to glory in.
So...Glory in it.
But be prepared for that to be different too. Maybe even strange. (Think of the woman on the floor wiping Jesus' feet with her hair.) Because (here's a shocker) people are different. These different people give glory to God in different ways.
You may see someone clapping in church to praise God! Don't judge, but give thanks for faith in God's forgiveness worked in her.
You may see someone crying in church. Don't pull off the, "I wonder what that person did that was so awful!!" Instead, give thanks to God for the his forgiveness for her.
You may even see someone cross themselves in thankfulness for the Lord's forgiveness (gasp a Catholic thing). But don't you judge! Instead, give thanks to God for the forgiveness he has worked in that person too!
Brothers and sisters, glory in God's forgiveness.
Forgiveness, which was not only offered to the woman, but through faith it became her new identity: FORGIVEN.
Forgiveness, which is not only offered to us, but through faith in our Savior Jesus, it has become our new identity: FORGIVEN.
Give thanks to our forgiving God, oh forgiven children of God. Amen.
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