"Something To Say"
Scripture - Luke 7:36-50
Sermon Preached by the Rev. Thomas R. Stout
Sunday, June 16, 2013
When I pay attention, I realize how much who I am, and how I go about my living affects how I hear the stories in our Bible. This morning's story from Luke is a case in point - especially with it being Father's Day. I can remember hearing the same comment Jesus addresses to Simon the Pharisee, but I first heard it back in my college days, when my folks and I would have discussions about some "hot" topic of the day around the dinner table. "Tom," Dad would finally say, "I have something to say to you on this." Actually, my Mom would use a similar line when I had done something in need of correcting, only she would begin, "Tommy... ." I can remember hearing it back when I was a newly minted assistant minister; and then again even when I was the head of staff. The Clerk of the Session always got my attention when he started: "Tom, about ... I have something to say." Do you know what I am talking about here?
Well it is just this comment that I heard in the gospel lesson this morning. Do you hear it now as well? Jesus is in the house of Simon when something unusual happened. A woman has come to the place of the dinner, and Luke tells us she was carrying an alabaster jar of ointment. We are told two more things: first, she was a sinner. What that sin was we are not told, but we do know she felt it deeply, because Luke then tells us that she wept so deeply that her tears began to wet Jesus's feet. This picture is not so improbable when we read that this happened while Jesus, Simon and the others at the meal "reclined" as they ate. This is how people took their meals in those days: reclining on one side of their body, facing into the table (and the food), and facing and conversing with each other. So Jesus is lying down on one side, with his back to the rest of the room. The woman came in, she was behind him, and she was filled with feelings that broke into tears.
Here is the second detail from Luke: it was also the custom back then that a host would provide a basin of water and some oil so each guest could wipe their own feet, and then put on the oil to sooth the soles of their feet. Picture footwear of open sandals, and feet having walked unpaved, dusty roads. Cleaning up was a part of first century hospitality, but Simon had not provided for that.
Notice one more thing, before I comment on this entire story. This last thing is one of the parts of this story that I like the best. A Pharisee, a member of the religious leaders that would later actively oppose Jesus, invited Jesus to eat with him. Jesus could not have been entirely on the "black list" of the Pharisees yet. Otherwise, none of them would have invited Jesus to eat a meal together. And, notice please that Jesus accepts Simon's invitation. Back then, even as it is in our day, to eat together is a sign of respect, mutuality, even friendship.
Now, for all that Luke tells us about this woman's sinful past, and for all he tells us about this Pharisee's thoughts regarding her and Jesus at his table, still notice that the exchange that followed is very respectful.
"Simon," and Jesus uses the man's name.
"Teacher," and Simon uses a title of great respect.
In these words I do not hear either hostility or antagonism.
"Simon, I have something to say to you." I hear concern, care, acceptance.
"Teacher, speak." I hear openness, availability, maybe even curiosity and respect.
So, here is my first question for you and me out of this lesson: How do you and I approach each other in the fellowship of faith, in the work of ministry, in our participation in this company of disciples? How do we say what we have to say to one another? Because I am convinced, as I think this story shows us, that how we say what we have to say to one another is important. In fact, I believe that how we say what we have to say is even important, because it sets up how our words will be heard.
And then, just quickly, notice the parable Jesus told about the two debtors. Did you see that Simon got the point? When Jesus asked the crucial question: Now which of the debtors will love the forgiving creditor more? Simon answered: "The one for whom he cancelled the greater debt." Simon hears Jesus. And Jesus uses that answer to explain how and why he handles sinners as he does.
"Her sins which were many have been forgiven,
Hence she has shown greater love."
Greater even than his host! And Simon? Well, Simon too is a sinner, and I think he knows that by the time Jesus finishes his comments. Forgiven little: love little. Forgiven much, love much. But both people in this story know they are sinners. And both know that they are forgiven. So, here is the next question: what do you and I do with the forgiveness of Jesus? What does the story give us to say: to ourselves; to each other; to our neighbors; to Jesus?
Do you know the story of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker? John Buchanan, the recently retired pastor of 4th Presbyterian Church in Chicago, recounted a story he heard from Frank Harrington ("Homiletics", June 2007).
"Every Friday, an old man walked from his house in the early evening down to the ocean, carrying a bucket of shrimp. At the end of the pier, he would reach into the bucket and begin to feed the birds who were already there waiting for him. What was he doing there? He was saying something. He was saying thank you.
Back in October, 1942, President Roosevelt dispatched Captain Rickenbacker with a special message to General MacArthur who was beginning to plan American strategy in the Pacific war. But the B-17 became lost, ran out of fuel and went down in the ocean. The crew of eight made it into the liferafts and then began a harrowing, desperate fight to survive the sun, sharks, waves, and most of all hunger.
When it seemed that the end had come and there was no hope, when they had prayed all they could pray, Captain Rickenbacker, in the raft, was asleep with his cap over his eyes. He felt something. A bird had landed on his head. He knew if he could catch it, they would survive. He did. And they ate it. They used the entrails for bait. They survived.
And so the old captain every Friday of his life took the bucket of shrimp and fed the birds and said, €˜Thank you.' When he told this story, Harrington ended it with these words: €˜What was that sea gull doing there hundreds of miles from land anyway?' Buchanan said Harrington did not try to answer his own question. He left it dangling."
You see, there was indeed something to say. There was even someone to thank. And so there is for you and me.
Prayers of the People
By the Reverend Dr. Gregory Knox Jones
Eternal God, the world is constantly hurling darkness our way: wars drag on endlessly, sparks of violence flare in our cities, illnesses and accidents cut lives short. If it were not for our faith, we would turn cynical; and if it were not for your everlasting love, we might surrender to despair. God, we give thanks for our resurrection faith that death does not have the final word. We are deeply grateful that we may experience hope and joy, thanks to Christ's promise of life with him. In his victory over death, you revealed yourself as a God of transformation who is forever working to bring good out of evil, peace out of strife and hope out of despair. Through all the glorious peaks and desolate valleys of our lives, we pray that our faith may live within us as a mighty source of strength, guidance and confidence.
And, God, on this day when we remember our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers or any man who played the role of father for us, we express our gratitude for all they did that was right and good. We are grateful for their love that expressed itself:
in providing a home for us,
in caring for us when we were young and unable to care for ourselves,
for disciplining us when we risked hurting ourselves or hurting others,
and for showing us solid values by which to live.
We are deeply grateful for the ways they encouraged us to do our best, for challenging us when we needed a push, for backing away when we put pressure on ourselves and for celebrating our accomplishments.
Forgiving God, we also pause to forgive our fathers for the mistakes they made:
for the times they were too impatient with us,
for the times they lost control of their anger,
for the times they were too overbearing
and for the times they failed to provide the guidance we needed.
We forgive them for their human frailties and pray that our families will also forgive us for not being perfect. We who are fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers pray that we may discern your guidance and wisdom, and become more patient and loving as we carry out our fatherly roles. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
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