Monday, July 1, 2013

Sermon: June 30, 2013

Party Crashers in the Kingdom
Luke 7:36-50
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            In November 2009, Tareq Salahi and then-wife, Michaele, gained national attention by crashing a White House state dinner in honor of India's Prime Minister. They entered the state dinner despite lacking an invitation.
            Michaele Salahi was a member of Bravo's *The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.*, and the show filmed their preparations for the dinner and followed the couple to the White House. The Salahis passed through two security checkpoints without problems. The *Washington Post* said that "the Salahis were allowed inside by an officer who was persuaded by the couple's manner… as well as the pressure of keeping lines moving on a rainy evening."
            The first the White House security knew of their blunder was when the couple posted photographs from the dinner on their Facebook page." The White House released its own photos of the couple posing with President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (1).

            What do party-crashers want to accomplish? Apparently, the Salahis got what they wanted: publicity, bragging rights, and maybe some TV time. Luckily for the nation, it was just a prank for grown-ups; they intended no harm to anyone at the White House. For the White House, it was an embarrassment and a time for soul-searching. Is the White House the secure national home for the First Family that this nation requires? Is a state visit by the Prime Minister of India a suitable occasion for parlor pranks? Those party crashers provided the occasion for the White House to learn a painful lesson.
            Well, what would we do with party-crashers at an event that we have planned? Luckily, most party crashers do not intend to wreck the parties they join; like the Salahis, they want the score, the bragging rights, and maybe the rush of pulling it off. BTW,     Party crashers are as old as the Bible.


I. [Social setting]
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him at his home, so Jesus went with this Pharisee and reclined, as was the custom of that day, at the table.
            Meals in a Biblical village were visible to the public. Houses were packed side by side and opened directly onto the street. The modern idea of a front yard, which sets the house back from the noise and nosiness of the street, would have been foreign to them. Thus, everyone in the village would know that the traveling rabbi Jesus was eating dinner at Simon’s house. Anyone who cared to walk by Simon’s front door could have gotten a glimpse of the affair.
            A party-crasher would only require half-a-dozen steps from the street to reach the guests at the table. But, when this “woman in the city” stepped off street to approach Jesus, no one had considered the possibility that she would step into their occasion. Social graces said she should not even try.
            B. She walked into the dining area, and without saying a word, came up behind Jesus. Remember, he reclines beside a low table, on his left elbow, his feet away from the table. She took an alabaster jar of ointment and began to anoint his feet. This might have been enough, but as she continued her task, she began to weep in gratitude, her tears falling on his feet. Then, she loosed her long hair and began to wipe her tears away.
            Now, think about this scene; we tend to read the Bible thinking to ourselves that whatever the action, that it was somehow normal for that time – even if it is not normal for ours. This was not normal! She broke all the social rules that Simon, the host, was trying to keep.
·       First, no party crasher should be in that dining room. This is not public setting like a restaurant; it is a home. We would be properly indignant, too, if someone intruded into a dinner at our homes.
·       Second, no woman, ancient or modern, should touch a man this way unless she is married to him; no honorable man should let a strange woman touch him this way.
·       But, this is not an ordinary woman in that time; she is a *sinner*, a “woman of the city.” Just as it is today, a man of position might acknowledge that he knows who she is, but he must never admit to knowing her personally. Thus, Jesus must not let her touch him; his own reputation is at stake.
·       Finally, this woman should not let down her hair in public this way. Letting down her hair was something a woman did in the privacy of her own home for her husband. You see, this act had sexual meaning. Letting her hair down in front of all these gawking men was an affront.
If something like this happens at Calhoun’s at Sunday lunch today, I would love to hear about it, and I probably would – we all would. You know such a story is going to be told all over town. This is not normal stuff!//
            Well, friends, if you are planning to address such a moment and reframe it to make it something other than what it appears to be, you had better be Rabbi Jesus. As they say, “Don’t try this at home.” Any ordinary man would have had his reputation wrecked by this unfolding scene. It was Jesus, who turned it into a holy moment of love, forgiveness and teaching. Thus, Luke wrote down the story so that we could still tell it today.

II. Simon, the Pharisee, the host of the meal, thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”

            Simon is only voicing what every other person in the room is thinking. There are social rules and norms, and we all expect them to be kept.
            In reply, Jesus addressed Simon his host: “I have something to say to you.” And with that Jesus tells riddle:
            41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?"
            43 Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."

Nice trap, Simon. You just walked into it. Then, Rabbi Jesus began to apply the lesson of the riddle to his host, Simon the Pharisee. Again, no guest should criticize his host’s manner of hospitality. Do not try this at someone else’s home either. You’d better be Rabbi Jesus if you expect to get away with criticizing your host.
44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house:
·       you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
·       45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.
·       46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
47 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."

            You and I might protest that the minor omissions of Simon the Host are nothing compared to the life of sin and the social invasion of this woman. I expect that the men sitting around that table were ready to jump to his defense. Simon, by choosing the life of a Pharisee, committed himself to keeping the Great Law of God. Whatever small omissions he had committed in the past hour were nothing compared to the affront this “woman of the city” lived out every day.
            POINT: But, Jesus and Simon knew that in that time the Law of Hospitality was revered almost as much as the Law of Morality; Simon was the Host; hospitality was his part to play. Simon without explanation left off the expected courtesies. So, Jesus took a minor skirmish and turned into a reminder of the great character of God. The curious part of this exchange is that Simon the Pharisee did not question Jesus’ basic assumption about God – that God stands willing and able to forgive the sinner with such effect that the sinner may stand in holiness before God again.
            THESIS: Unlike our day, Jesus and apparently Simon the Pharisee, believed:
·       That God’s forgiveness has the power to reclaim lives from the cesspools of human depravity,
·       That God’s forgiveness has the power to restore relationships with neighbors and communities that have been broken,
·       And that God’s desire to restore the sinner through forgiveness stands higher than God’s tally of right and wrong.
This is a story about the power of God’s forgiveness to restore a sinner back to God and back to her community. It is not merely about taking away her guilt and her past; it is about restoring her to friendship, family and community.//

IV. [APPLIC:] The worry I bring to this story is that our society has forgotten the power of forgiveness to restore relationships that have been broken. We focus on guilt or innocence, isolating each person in that framework. The woman kissing Jesus’ feet was a *known sinner*; that is all we care to know about her – her guilt or her innocence. But, Jesus knew that God has the power to forgive and, with that forgiveness, God can restore sinners back to relationship with their families, their friends and their communities. With forgiveness, God can tear aside the walls of social disapproval that isolate us from our most important relationships.
            A. We so focus on guilt and innocence that we have no expectation or ability in our society to restore the relationship that is broken. Such a narrow focus limits our possibilities. Samuel Wells said recently in The Christian Century:
·       Deciding guilt or innocence has no preventative power. It cannot stop people from doing terrible things to one another; it can only punish them for doing so [after the damage is done.]
·       Second, it seems that any system of law enforcement is only as effective as the force that lies behind it (2). Without the expectation that we are community together, every stranger is a potential threat who must be watched with greater scrutiny and bigger weapons.

·       I recall a time in East Tennessee when the most robust locks in the neighborhood where I grew up were screen door latches. We could do that because we lived in neighbor-hoods, and we felt a kinship to our neighbors.
·       I recall that my brother and sister-in-law in Montana used to go to work each day, leaving the doors of their home unlocked. According to my brother-in-law’s logic: He left the doors unlocked because someone might need to come inside.
I certainly understand that the world of 2013 is very different from rural Tennessee a generation past. “Different times call for different measures,” and all that. But, the point is that the relationship we have with our neighbors and our communities is shrinking. We expect less connection and relationship from the people who live on our street, and they expect less of us.
Being unwilling to seek much relationship with our neighbors and communities, we assume no other option but to buy guns.
            But: God has something else for us; there is restoring, holy forgiveness in God.
Psalm 103 says:
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

Only in God does the conversation about guilt and innocence lead to love – and relationship.
            Jesus was convinced that God’s forgiveness is effective and powerful. He believed that those whom God forgives are restored to family and neighbors.
·       The sinful woman is welcomed home again.
·       The grumpy curmudgeon learns to laugh with delight.
·       The child is free to seek the embrace of her family.
The powerful forgiveness of God opens its arms in welcome.
            Guilt or innocence will remain important judgments in our society. But, we who have known the forgiveness of God know that there is more for us than those judgments. There is also restoration of relationships, homecoming, welcoming and community in the presence of God. And we who follow Christ watch for the possibility God’s way might stand open to us again.

1. “Tareq Salahi” and “2009 U.S. state dinner security breaches,”
2. Wells, Samuel, “Forgiving Ahab,” Christian Century, April 17, 2013

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