Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 6)
June 13, 2010
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3

If you’re not a sinner, church is not for you. If you’re not a sinner, you don’t need Jesus. If you came today because you are righteous, because you have no sin, and church is what righteous people who have no sin do, you might as well go home, or to the golf course, or out to brunch, because this will be a colossal waste of your time. You’ve joined the wrong club. The Church is a place for sinners. The Church is a hospital for those mortally wounded by their own sin. The Church is a place where the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, tends and treats sinners with the medicine of immortality, His Word, and His Sacraments. The Church is a place for real sinners, sinful to the core, who commit real sins in thought, word, and deed, against God and against the neighbor. We’re not talking about the person who piously confesses a little bit of imperfection, a few foibles, a handful of mistakes, but the one who knows that nothing good dwells in him, in his flesh; that his heart is black and hard and dead in trespasses and sins; that like a dead man on the street, he can do nothing to improve his condition, no decision for Jesus, no decision to live, certainly no self-willed resurrection. He can only do what a dead man does… lay there and be dead and rot and stink. If this description fits you, you are in the right place. For this is who you are, beloved, and this is who I am… outside of Christ.

But you and I heard a good Word this morning, the Word of Christ Himself. “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That little word, “forgive,” means to release, to send away, to cancel, to pardon. When Jesus says your sins are forgiven, it means that He no longer holds any of your sins against you. He has released you. Your sins and your guilt have been sent away. Your debt to God has been cancelled, since it was paid by Christ in full upon the cross. You are pardoned… You are the murderer on death row who is pardoned just before the execution. You are Barabbas, who goes free, while your Lord Jesus Christ takes your place, is executed for you, for your crimes. Christ takes upon Himself your sin and shame and wretchedness, and He gives you in exchange His perfection and righteousness. This is called justification. It’s as if you’d never sinned! You are not just pronounced innocent. You are pronounced righteous, not with righteousness of your own, as if you had any, but with the righteousness of Christ. It is not as though God in Christ takes away your sin and leaves you empty. He fills you up with Christ’s righteousness. When God looked at Christ on the cross, He saw all the sins of all humanity from every time and place, and punished those sins there in His body. So now when God looks at you, He sees only the righteousness of Christ. And this is the hospital where the medicine of this blessed exchange is applied to you directly in Baptism and Absolution and Scripture and Preaching and Supper. So you see, if you have your own righteousness to boast of, there is nothing for you here. But if you are a sinner, in need of the righteousness of Christ and His sin-atoning death to be saved, this is precisely the place for you. For there is life nowhere else than where He who is the resurrection and the life meets you with His gifts, in His Church.

A Pharisee named Simon once asked Jesus to supper. It was the Pharisee’s supper, not the Lord’s Supper. The Pharisee had no desire to consult Jesus as the Great Physician for sinners. The Pharisee wanted to meet with Jesus as an equal, or perhaps more accurately, the Pharisee believed he was above Jesus. Jesus ought to be thrilled to be invited to dinner at Simon’s house. And Jesus needed to be put in His place. The hotshot rabbi needed a little schooling in the house of Simon. And so there is this pointed insult when Jesus comes into Simon’s house. It was customary to offer a guest water to wash his feet when he came in from walking along the dusty, dirty highways. Common courtesy, basic hospitality, but Simon offers Jesus no water. It was customary in middle eastern culture (still is) to offer a kiss of greeting to a guest, much like we shake hands today, but Simon offers no kiss, the equivalent of refusing someone’s hand. It was customary to anoint an honored guest with a little common olive oil, but Simon offers no oil. Simon wants Jesus to know just where He stands in the pecking order here. What a great favor Simon is doing Jesus just having Him to dinner. How charitable. How generous.

Well, there is this woman who has crashed the party. She’s a woman of the city, a sinner. We don’t know what the sin is for sure, but we speculate that she was a prostitute. And at some point she had heard Jesus preaching and teaching, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, even for sinners like this sinful woman. She had been absolved, released, pardoned. Jesus had cancelled her debt to God, even the debt of so great a sinner. So with great joy, she learned that Jesus was to dine at Simon’s house, and she followed Him there. She went where she knew she could meet her Savior, for the forgiveness of her sins. And as she enters, she observes the insult. Having received such great forgiveness, she loves her Savior much. So, timidly perhaps, she comes to Jesus as He is reclining at table. She drops to her knees. And weeping in repentance and joy over the gifts of Christ, she extends to her Lord to customary courtesies in an uncustomary way. Her tears, the most precious of waters, bathe Jesus’ feet. She lets down her hair. Scandalous for a woman of her time and place. And she uses her hair as a towel, to wipe the Savior’s feet. She kisses those beautiful feet, those feet that will be pierced for her. She kisses them profusely. And she has brought an offering: A very expensive alabaster jar of ointment. This is no common olive oil. This is costly perfume. And with this perfume, she anoints Jesus’ feet.

Simon, the righteous Pharisee, sits back in judgment. This Jesus is no prophet, he thinks to himself. If He were a prophet, He would know who this is that is touching Him, making Him unclean. He would have this woman thrown into the street. “Simon,” Jesus says. “I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40; ESV). Jesus, who is, in fact, a prophet, and more than a prophet, knows all things, including the inner thoughts of a man. “Go ahead Jesus, out with it,” Simon responds. “What is it you have to say?” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred danarii, and the other fifty” (v. 41). Now a denarius was about a day’s wage, so you can do the math. “When they could not pay,” Jesus continued, “he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (v. 42). This isn’t rocket science. We all know the answer. Simon is trapped. “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (v. 43; emphasis added). Precisely! And here’s the lesson, Simon. You don’t love, because you don’t think you have anything for which to be forgiven. You believe you are righteous by your own works, your own keeping of the Law. And so you do not desire forgiveness. You do not even extend to me the common courtesies. But this woman loves much, for she has been forgiven much. She knows she’s a sinner. For years she has been caught in a cycle of sin. For years her sins have haunted her with the weight of very real guilt. But now her sins are forgiven. And she expresses her great love for her Savior with her tears and kisses and costly perfume.

But here is the clincher, Simon. You and she are both debtors, and neither of you can pay. Behold, I am here for the forgiveness of your sins, the canceling of your debt to God, to pay your debt for you. Indeed, Simon, you do not acknowledge or confess your sins, as this woman does. If only you knew, if only you could see, that you are the one who owes the 500 denarii! Your hypocrisy is the greater sin! This woman’s faith has saved her. Her sins are forgiven. She departs in peace. But you have no peace, Simon, for you still rely on your own works. Taste and see that the LORD is good, Simon. He is good, for He takes away your sin and gives you HIS righteousness in exchange.

We are not told how Simon responds to Jesus’ lesson. We jump right into Jesus’ preaching tour as He is accompanied by the Twelve and a number of women who had, like the woman at the dinner party, been healed of various diseases and evil spirits, and had their sins forgiven them. The story is left open-ended because now the question is directed at you. Are you a sinner weeping at Jesus’ feet, receiving from Him life and forgiveness? Or do you still insist that you’re really not a bad person at all, and in spite of your few imperfections, God will accept you because you are good person? The Church is only for sinners. And Jesus sinners doth receive. The self-righteous are on their own. And that is scary, because that leaves them as dead corpses who rot and stink and finally go to hell. If you insist on your own self-righteousness, repent. And fall with the sinful woman before the feet of Jesus. There is forgiveness with Jesus. There is forgiveness for every sinner. There is forgiveness for you! Take heart; your sins are forgiven! They are covered by the blood of Christ! He died for you! He lives for you! He has taken all your sin away, cancelled your debt to God, pardoned you, and given you His righteousness as a free gift. You are free! You have been forgiven much. Now, in joyful response, go and love much. Love God by loving your neighbor. Serve God by serving your neighbor. Bring an offering to Christ. Not to earn forgiveness. Gone is all self-righteousness. Forgiveness is free in Christ. Bring an offering and love and serve your neighbor because Christ offered Himself for your sake, out of love for you, and now serves you here in His Word and Supper.

If you’re not a sinner, church is not for you. If you’re not a sinner, you don’t need Jesus. But if you are a sinner, and you know your sins, this is precisely the place for you, the hospital where Christ will not just save your life, He will give you new life, His life, eternal life. If you are a sinner, Christ meets you here. He meets you here, and He pronounces you “saint,” holy, righteous. No sin is too great that He has not taken it into Himself and paid for it on the cross. No sin is too great to be forgiven. All sin is forgiven in Him. Beloved in the Lord, are you a sinner? Your sins are forgiven. Who is this who even forgives sins? It is Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, crucified and risen, and He has invited you this day to His Supper. He does not turn sinners away. There is a place here reserved for you. Come as one who has been washed and anointed in Baptism, and take the Savior’s body and blood to your lips. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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