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Sermon for Sunday 12 June 2016

FIRST READING 2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-14

26When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. 1And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”


PSALM Psalm 32:1-7

1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! 2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! 3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. 4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. 6I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. 7Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.


SECOND READING Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

GOSPEL Luke 7:36–8:3

36One of the Pharisees asked {Jesus} to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 1Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.


This is week three of our series on the core values of the NALC and today we’ll be talking about what it means to be Traditionally-Grounded. According to the NALC website, (theNALC.org) Traditionally Grounded means that “we affirm the ecumenical creeds and the faithful witness of the Church across time and space. We endorse the form and practices of the universal Church that are consistent with Scripture, particularly the office of the ministry and the tradition of worship under Word and Sacrament. We seek dialogue and fellowship with other Lutheran churches and with faithful Christians of other confessions.” Being Traditionally Grounded means that we look to the Bible first and then to the traditions of the church that are consistent with God’s word when developing our doctrine and teaching statements.
Now before you nod off, I realize that the last two weeks have been a lot to take in. I could see that by the glazed looks on your faces last week. Both last week and the previous week’s sermons were heavy, full of information taken from Luther’s Large Catechism and the writings of respected theologians both past and present. So this week I’d like to come at this from a different direction. I’d like to examine what it means to be Traditionally Grounded in light of our gospel reading.
Our gospel lesson for today is a wonderful story. At least, it is for me. Others however, might not be so quick to agree. The one thing we can agree on, is that it’s certainly astonishing. What might be helpful in contextualizing this story is to put it in the context of a dinner party at your house or even a potluck here in the Fellowship hall.
By this time in Jesus’ ministry, He had garnered quite a bit of public notice. All sorts of people had been attracted to Him — rich, poor, educated, illiterate, from the highly respectable to the lowly riffraff. So to have this famous rabbi come to dinner was very special and everyone would have been excited and perhaps a bit nervous at the same time — after all this Teacher had had some not too complimentary things to say about the religious leaders, one of whom was His hosts at the moment.
We can’t be sure what motivated Simon, the Pharisee, to issue the invitation. It’s quite possible that the religious leader desired to hear more from this Teacher and wanted an opportunity to discuss His theological views. Remember that this was a Greek influenced culture and arguing and rhetoric was highly valued among the elite of society. Perhaps, it may have been a case of wanting to be “seen” with the right people; being able to name drop to increase one’s standing in the community. Or perhaps there was a more nefarious reason. Jesus made no attempt to hide His assessment of the current religious establishment, so there had to be a reason for Simon to invite Him. No matter the motive, Jesus accepted the invitation and was reclining at dinner.
Suddenly, an uninvited guest appears — a woman described in the text as one “who had lived a sinful life in that town” (Luke 7:37). It doesn’t take too much imagination for us to figure out what kind of sinning that life entailed. She comes over to Jesus, begins to pour expensive perfume on His feet, weeping as she does so and then wipes his feet with her hair. It was a gesture that caused the other guests to stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. If you think this would be uncomfortable today, consider how it would have been in first century Palestine; it was almost unimaginable.
Women, as we’ve come to understand, did not intrude into the company of men who were sitting at the table for dinner; in fact, even wives were seldom included. As to her, very public, show of affection, it would have been excessive in the extreme — letting down her long hair in public, which was simply not done, wiping His feet with her hair and then kissing them. For polite society, especially the pious elite, this was getting way too intimate. On top of all that, what does this do to Jesus’ stature as a holy man and rabbi to not only be known by this lady of questionable reputation, but to be touched and treated in an overly familiar way?
Cultural norms would dictate that Jesus would brush her off and the story makes it plain that this is precisely what His dinner companions and host expected. You can almost hear the story being told the next day. “Did you hear what happened to Jesus last night? This woman of the street got cozy with Him, anointed His feet, let down her hair and then kissed His feet. And do you know what He did? Did He send her away? Noooooo! Instead, Jesus jumps to her defense and tells one of His famous stories.”
Simon, Jesus said addressing the religious leader, two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, (almost two-years wage) and the other fifty, (about two-months wage). 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? (Luke 7:40-42) To this Simon replies, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled” (Luke 7:43).
You suppose, Simon? The answer to Jesus’ question is self-evident: Jesus had a way of doing that in His parables. Then Jesus tells His host the reason for this woman’s remarkable behavior. She had been forgiven … a lot! The story doesn’t tell us, but this certainly wasn’t the first time she had encountered Jesus. The evidence is clear that she had listened to Him teach and preach, hearing His words of forgiveness at some previous encounter and had come to experience the remarkable sense of liberation that came with it — thus, the outpouring of gratitude. But there’s more that we need to acknowledge here, it was more than just a show of appreciation, it was the public acknowledgement of the change that had taken place in her life.
It’s one thing to receive God’s grace, it’s another to demonstrate to the world the life changing effect that this has on one’s life. For this woman’s life to really change, the rest of the town had to know she had been forgiven as well. She wouldn’t be truly whole again until she was no longer a social outcast. Thus, the meeting at the party. I’m sure this woman hadn’t been invited by Simon. But it does make you wonder if she had been invited by Jesus. The scene Simon and his friends witnessed that day could have been Jesus’ clever way of beginning the process of restoring her to the community. It’s quite possible that this is why the story ends with Jesus telling the woman, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50). It wasn’t some pie-in-the-sky bye-and-bye reconciliation with God, but wholeness, healing, shalom in the here-and-now reconciliation. This is indeed a challenging story when examined and one that we need to look at a bit further.
Of course it’s always good for us to insert ourselves in the story, as part of our examination, and to ask, which of the characters would I have been? Jesus? The woman? Simon and friends? As for me, and being truthful, I know my tendency would be to be Simon. As hard as it is to admit, I can be judgmental and self-righteous without too much effort. But a story like this reminds us that this isn’t what the church we serve or we should be about. Contrary to what far too many people think, the church isn’t in the morality police business. The church is in the sharing of God’s good news in Jesus Christ and grace business. Or in the context of this vignette, the forgiveness business. Even Billy Graham acknowledged that this is one area that the Lutheran faith has it right.
If we take nothing else away from this text but the fact that our call is to extend God’s grace with others, then that would be sufficient. It would be enough because, quite frankly, when the church forgets about sharing God’s wonderful gift of grace, we get into trouble. But, as always, there’s a caveat. It is, however, important for members of the church to speak up concerning the sins of society, but we can’t let that overshadow the fact that no matter what, God’s mercy is what this world needs. We must hold fast to the Bible’s teaching and God’s commandments, but we must remember that God desires that for anyone who believes, God’s grace is available. And when we’re tempted to allow our piousness to take control, we would do well to remember a certain party at the home of Simon the Pharisee.
Several years ago, Tony Campolo wrote a book titled The Kingdom of God Is a Party in which he tells of flying to Hawaii to speak at a conference. He described checking into his hotel and trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, between the time change and his internal clock, he was up at 3 a.m. It was still dark, the streets were silent, the world was asleep, but Tony was wide awake and his stomach was growling. So he gets up and prowls the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything was apparently closed except for a grungy dive in an alley.
As the story goes on, Tony quickly learned that this place, in the early morning hours, was regularly frequented by prostitutes who came by at the conclusion of their night’s work. One, on this particular night, mentioned that tomorrow would be her 39th birthday and that in her entire life she had never had a birthday party. When the ladies left, Tony asked the man behind the counter about what he had just witnessed.
The man confirmed that they were all regulars, including the birthday girl, Agnes. Tony wondered about the possibility of throwing a birthday party for her the next night. So they did. At 2:30 the next morning, Tony was back. He had crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that said, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” The counter man had prepared a cake and gotten the word out on the streets about the party so the place was jammed — wall-to-wall hookers.
At 3:30 on the dot, the door swung open and in walked Agnes. Everybody was ready — they all shouted and screamed, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Agnes was blown away. She was stunned, her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost fell over. Once things settle down, Tony Campolo got up on a chair and said, “What do you say that we pray together?” There in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon in the middle of the night with half the prostitutes in Honolulu listening, he prayed for Agnes, “that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.”
When he was finished, the counter man leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, said, “Hey, you never told me you was a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?” It was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit provided the right words, Tony answered him quietly, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” The man thought for a moment and said, “No you don’t. There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. Yep, I’d join a church like that.” The question is what kind of church are we?
Many churches today suffer from one of two problems. First, there are those churches that think that welcoming and affirming are the same thing. They think that to share God’s love means that they can’t condemn the sin and welcome the person. They must accept and embrace both. This is, of course, a problem because Biblical interpretation is left to societal agreement which negates Biblical authority. The second problem some churches suffer from, is the exact opposite.
This second group of churches think that they must exclude “sinful” people from their assembly, lest they be seen as embracing sinful behavior. Again these churches are confused about what it means to be a welcoming congregation. Both these attitudes are of course wrong. To be the Body of Christ in the world, means that we need to welcome those in need of God’s grace into our midst, to share His love, to extend His boundless mercy and to teach them God’s will and plan for their lives. To be affirming means that we need to recognize the struggles some may have and help them to live a Christ Centered life. There’s an indirect quote from the Bible many like use that is applicable here; love the sinner, hate the sin.
While there is no one verse in the Bible that says this exactly, the teaching is solid. In Psalm 5:4 we read, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” And Jesus, in His response to the lawyer in Matthew 22 said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (verse 39) Living a Christ Centered life and a sinful life at the same time is incompatible. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24) Therefore, for us to be Christ’s church in this world, we need to welcome all whom God calls into our midst, extending the love of Christ, while at the same time, we must be careful in acknowledging sin as such. It’s a hard task sometimes, and it might mean leaving our comfort zone. For us to be a Mission Driven congregation, we must reach out to all in need, welcome them into our midst and take responsibility for rightly teaching them all Jesus commanded us. Again we can look to Jesus as an example of how we’re to do this.
In our gospel reading Jesus went to the heart of the problem that separated the woman from both God and society, sin. He didn’t tell her it was OK, nor did He shun her. He extended the Father’s love and forgave her. We need to be in the welcoming and forgiving business. But we need to remember that for forgiveness to happen, there must be contrition, a deep desire to change one’s life and actions. The woman of the town demonstrated this.
Now I’m sure many of you are asking at this point what has all this got to do with being Traditionally Grounded, which is the third core value of the church? In order to answer that, we need to examine the attitude and actions of Simon, the Pharisee.
As far as Simon was concerned he was justified in his reaction and attitude toward the woman. The religious leaders had developed a list of rules that the Hebrew people were to follow, all based loosely on Mosaic law. The problem was, as time went on, the list of rules got longer and longer and the worship and obedience of God’s commands got less and less about following God’s instructions and more about obeying the list of rules created by the religious community. In essence what was deemed as acceptable behavior was now seen through the lens of society and less about what the Bible actually commanded. The religious community made up rules to suit their desires rather than following God’s law. This is why being Traditionally Grounded is so important.
To be Traditionally Grounded means, first and foremost, that we seek God’s will for us in His word and that we allow the Bible to interpret itself. Second, when further clarification is needed, we look to the church fathers and traditions that are consistent with Biblical teaching and use them to help us in our Christian walk. To be Traditionally Grounded means that we never substitute the lens of society as our source and norm but look to the Bible alone, sola scriptura as Luther used to say.
Our gospel lesson for today is a challenging one. One that teaches us what we’re to be as a church; welcoming and loving in the name of Jesus and at the same time faithful to God’s word in our mission and teaching. It’s not always easy to keep things in perspective, but with Jesus as our example and the Bible and solid traditional teaching to assist us, we can be faithful disciples in God’s kingdom.

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