Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pentecost 4C, 2013: Freedom in forgiveness

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre de Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We begin our worship together every Sunday with the Collect for Purity. We hear it so often, I wonder if many of us stop hearing it at all. Today is a good day to hear this powerful prayer anew. Turn with me please in your BCP to page 355 and let’s say together the Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The readings from 2 Samuel and the gospel from Luke, show us the nature of God who created us, who knows us intimately, and sees beyond our behavior, our reputation, and our titles to the truth that is in our hearts. These stories show us the merciful nature of God who, even seeing our sins, forgives us and calls us to new life – life lived in reconciling forgiveness.

In order to live in forgiveness, however, we must first open our eyes and our hearts to know our sin, especially our invisible sin – which is the sin we can’t or won’t see. Most of us resist this. The knowledge of our sin is too painful and frightens us.

But it’s very clear in both stories that God isn’t leading us to an awareness of our sin in order to shame us or punish us. No, these stories show how God uses the knowledge of our sin to lead us to see differently, to understand differently, and therefore, to live differently – which is to say – to repent.

When Jesus proclaimed to the woman everyone knew to be a sinner that her sins were forgiven, he did so publicly. But this wasn’t an act of absolution. Jesus was simply stating what was already apparently true. Her sins had been forgiven.

Jesus knew that with the knowledge of God. The rest of us could know it by her life and her behavior – if we had eyes willing to see it and hearts open to know it. The woman’s demonstration of love toward Jesus is the evidence of her forgiven-ness. Jesus said, “…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

By saying it out loud and in front of witnesses from her own community, Jesus was confirming for her, that she could live unbound from the past she knew and no one could force her back there if she chose not to go. ‘Your faith has saved you…” Jesus said. Now you may go and live in peace.

One of the hardest parts of the forgiveness experience, is receiving it – taking it in and letting it change our understanding of ourselves, our lives, other people, even God. The habits of self-contempt, self-destructiveness, and self-judgment can be very hard to let go of once they have become familiar companions in our lives.

Living as a people who are forgiven, healed, and renewed, we know that around here. We know that we don’t deserve the dignity and grace lavished upon us by God – and yet it’s ours for the taking.

We know it’s sometimes easier to go back to the way it was. The familiarity of what was, even though it was destructive to us, can seem so attractive to a tired soul. Plus, people all around us compel us to go back… don’t rock the boat… don’t throw the system we know out of balance.

You see, we do know how to live with a condemned sinner –even today. We exile them from our love and our community, we look down on them and judge them as bad (which makes us feel so much better about ourselves).

But if that sinner is forgiven and we can’t condemn them anymore, then how do we live in relationship with them? You may remember a similar question came up last week when the widow’s dead son was raised to life again.

It’s an honest predicament. Trying to be faithful to God, the Jews had certain laws (we call them canons today) to help guide them. Ritual purity was one of those laws and it was a very big deal for faithful Jews. So Jesus uses this moment to teach a different kind of purity – purity of heart.

Knowing the Pharisee’s honest desire for purity, Jesus tells him the story of the two debtors. One debtor owed much, the other half as much. Their creditor cancels both of their debts, and Jesus asks Simon: who will love the creditor more? The one who had greater debt, Simon replies. Right, Jesus says.

Then he turns to the woman and asks Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’ thereby immediately connecting her and Simon to the story. When I entered your home, you received me, but she has loved me lavishly, dangerously, selflessly. That’s why I say her sins are forgiven, Jesus said, because she has shown great love.

Simon was caught up short. He had only seen what he already believed about that woman – that she was a sinner. And so he had judged what she was doing - anointing Jesus’ feet – as the kind of unseemly behavior a sinner would do. Standing on accepted religious teaching, Simon felt totally justified in condemning her. She was, after all, unclean according to the law.

What Simon hadn’t seen, and what he couldn’t see, was what was in the woman’s heart. But Jesus could. Jesus could also see what was in Simon’s heart and now he was convicted by it just as David was convicted by Nathan’s story. That’s because for God, all hearts are open, all desires are known and no secrets are hid. God sees the truth about each of us and reveals it to us so that we can be set free from our sin.

Jesus’ proclamation of forgiveness set the woman free from the habit of her former life, a life which held her bound in the chains of poverty, and shame, and contempt. He set Simon free from the invisible bonds of his privileged status, bonds that strangled the love right out of him and blinded him to the truth about himself, others, and even God.

But there’s more. God’s forgiveness not only sets us free, it also sets everyone in community with us free – our household, as it were. And that’s important, because as Evelyn Underhill says, “A Christian does not stand alone.”

Evelyn Underhill was a 19th century mystic who called upon all Christians to be mystics, to practice contemplative prayer, something at that time only practiced by monks and nuns in the monasteries. Underhill believed that all Christians would benefit from entering into the transforming presence of God using no words and having no goals, just being there… being loved… and being transformed by that love.

As Underhill said, it isn’t just about us. “As well as the solitude of my soul before God, there is the responsibility of my soul to my fellow-men, as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ… I must in some way show [the]… characteristics of Christ in my life… according to my special call. I am part of the organism through which Christ continues to live in the world.” (The Light of Christ, Morehouse-Barlow Co., p 15)

St. Paul taught us how we might live as a community of sinners set free by forgiveness, reminding us that: “We have been crucified with Christ and now it is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us.

That’s why we pray, “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.”

Image source: Edward T Babinski,

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