Sunday, January 24, 2010

In case you have blown it... Luke 7: 36-50

Glorietta Baptist Encampment just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico is something like the Shangri La of Baptist life. The first time I visited Glorietta with a group of teenagers I appreciated the little lecture we received upon arrival. During youth events, Glorietta had, and probably still has, a policy called “No PDA.” PDA is "Public Display of Affection." You are guilty of undue public affection if a Glorietta official catches you in a comprising situation with another person that goes beyond what that official considers to be “appropriate” affection.
I can’t help but think about PDA when I reviewed the scripture for today.

Picture the scene. Jesus is eating in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Other religious leaders are also involved in the dinner party. This august group is not eating in an enclosed dining room, but in an outdoor courtyard where bystanders can observe from the street. They are not sitting in chairs around a dining room table, but reclining on couches around a common eating table. Lying with their heads at the table and their feet out, the dinner guests form a pattern that resembles a big asterisk.
We don’t know the topic of conversation. Given the number of religious heavyweights around the table, we can guess they were discussing weighty theological issues. And then with no warning, a woman steps from the crowd holding an alabaster jar of perfume, and approaches Jesus from behind. She doesn’t introduce herself — she doesn’t need to. Her reputation precedes her, and even the squeaky clean Pharisees know she is a prostitute.
The room grows very quiet as this woman of the night kneels at Jesus’ feet. While the Pharisees grow tense and distant, Jesus remains remarkably relaxed. The woman doesn’t say a word. Instead, she begins to cry quietly. Large tears well up in her eyes, roll down her face, and on to Jesus’ feet. The Pharisees flinch at the sight of such "filth" making contact with Jesus. But Jesus makes no move to avoid the tears — he stays perfectly still.
Still weeping profusely, the woman slowly unclasps her luxurious hair so that it falls about her face and down to her waste. Now the Pharisees are gasping for air because the only time a proper woman lets down her hair is in a sexually intimate moment with her husband. The woman begins to use her free-flowing hair as a towel, wiping her tears from Jesus feet. Along the way, she begins kissing Jesus’ feet, and then anointing his feet with the expensive perfume from the alabaster jar. Meanwhile, Jesus does nothing to conceal the fact that he is deeply moved by the woman’s affection.

This is more —way, way more— than those paragons of propriety known as the Pharisees can swallow. Clearly, this is a glaring example of PDA if there ever was one! Simon, the dinner host, concludes that the press reports declaring Jesus to be the hottest prophet in Israel are dead wrong because if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — a sinner.

But Jesus, displaying the very prophetic powers Simon has just dismissed, knows Simon’s thoughts. And he responds with a story. Two men owe the same moneylender differing sums of money. One owes the lender 500 denarii, the other 50 (a denarius was a coin worth a day’s wages). Neither can repay, so the moneylender cancels both debts. Now, asks Jesus, which man will love the lender more?
Simon hesitates. He senses he is getting set up for the kill. And he’s right. “I suppose, he replies, the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” said Jesus.

Then, for the first time, Jesus turns and faces the woman who has just showered him with undue, unadulterated public affection. And he says to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me (the normal courtesy of) water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me (the customary greeting of) a kiss, but this woman from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not pour (even the usual cheap olive) oil on my head, but she has poured (an exotic brand) of perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus says to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven. The Pharisees are even more dumbfounded. Only God can forgive. Who does this man think he is — God? Once again Jesus senses their hostile thoughts. And once again he ignores them. Turning to the woman, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

I. Now this story contains good news and bad news. In case you’ve blown it at some point in your life, this story bodes well for you.

A. Maybe you cheated on your spouse, or have suffered from an addiction, or broke the law. Maybe nobody knows what you’ve done, not even your best friend. Somehow, you messed up big time, and your sin still weighs heavy on your head. Friend, this story can be very good news for you—if you’ll learn from it and live by it.

B. But in case you think you haven’t blown it, in case you think your are fine just the way you are, with little or nothing to forgive, this story is bad news for you. The point of the story for you is --- you are missing the point, you’re missing the grace, and you are blowing it in the worst possible way.

II. Let’s take a closer look at the good news side of the equation first. This story is cloaked in mystery. We don’t know the identity of the woman who approaches Jesus. Technically, we don’t know what sin the woman has committed. We don’t know when she first encounters Jesus.

A. What we do know is that somewhere, somehow Jesus’ love and forgiveness invaded this woman’s heart, and began to transform her into a new creation. What we do know is that this woman isn’t content to keep her changed life to herself, but has the courage to seek Jesus out to let him know what he means to her.

B. What we do know is this woman has a love for Jesus that is lavish and unrestrained. Truthfully, she doesn’t care if she breaks all the rules of protocol that mean so much to others in the room because she only has eyes for Jesus. It doesn’t matter if she looks like a lowly servant, or lustful prostitute. Nothing is going to hold her back from lavishing her love on Jesus, least of all her pride.

C. What we do know is that this woman, who has been wounded and abused physically by so many men now relishes having physical contact with Jesus because he has healed her of her emotional and spiritual wounds. Jesus has ravished her with his love and grace, and now, it’s her turn to ravish him with her love — even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

D. By the way, don’t make the common mistake of thinking this woman is forgiven because she loves Jesus so much. No, just the opposite is true – the woman is able to love Jesus so lavishly because she was forgiven so lavishly. Her love flows like a river because Jesus’ forgiveness had first flowed into her life like Niagara Falls.

Years ago just after the Korean War a young Korean woman gave birth to a little girl whose father was an American soldier. The soldier returned to America never to be seen again, leaving a young Korean mother to raise a daughter that looked very different from other Korean children. Her curly hair and light complexion resulted in a great deal of abuse for the mother, who eventually abandoned her daughter to the streets when she was just seven years old.

For two years this poor child wandered the streets, barely surviving. She almost starved to death, and was subjected to unimaginable abuse. When she was finally taken in by an orphanage at age nine, she loathed herself and her life.

One day a couple from America came to the orphanage for the stated purpose of adopting a little Korean boy. They spent time observing the other children in the orphanage. Finally, they noticed this little nine year old girl who weighed all of 30 pounds, had worms inside her body, lice in her hair, and boils all over her skin.
This pitiful little girl could not look the couple in the eye. But she felt the man cup her face in his big hands and say, “This is the child I want.” The little girl was incredulous. In fact, she ran away. But the couple pursued her and eventually took her home with them to America. Her life changed completely, and today she lives as a healthy adult and a follower of Christ in the Midwest.

E. You see, that’s what Jesus can do. It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve blown it in the past. Jesus can look past the ugliness of your sin, and see beneath the scars of your failures. He can look deep into the core of your soul and see the image of God there. He wants to cup your face in his big strong hands and say, “I love you and I want you as a child of my own.”
And he will do just that if you let him — let him love you, let him forgive you, and experience that forgiveness -- not just in your head, but deep, deep down in your soul. Have you let Jesus love you and forgive you and change you in the way only he can do?

III. You see, Jesus won’t invade your life with his love if you prevent him — like Simon did.

A. The problem with Simon, and so many religious people, is that even though they are familiar with the things of God they miss the point, and along the way they miss the grace. Even though they are around Jesus, they are not open to Jesus — not really. They don’t embrace Jesus. They just coolly analyze him, and warily observe him, without truly welcoming him. They are most comfortable not kneeling at Jesus’ feet but keeping Jesus at arm’s length.

B. The problem, you see, is that they have never experienced the life-changing forgiveness of God, not really. And the reason they’ve never been forgiven is because they’ve never admitted their sin. And the reason they’ve never admitted their sin is they refuse to see it. They are respectable, restrained, well-trained people who can think for themselves and make their own way in this life (or so they think). They pay their taxes, attend church, contribute their offerings, generally follow the rules, and take great pains to cultivate their reputation in the community. And they don’t intend to grovel at anybody’s feet, not even the feet of Jesus. They’ve got too much pride to stoop that low.

C. Now here’s what I want you to notice about people who think they’ve never blown it, at least not badly enough to need forgiveness. In the first place, they rarely, if ever, change. Truthfully, we don’t know what becomes of Simon the Pharisee and his friends after this episode. But we can surmise that they walk away from this dinner party convinced the prostitute is pathetic, and Jesus is a joke.
Like some of us, they know just enough about Jesus to be dangerous, but not enough to be changed.
The other thing I want you to notice is that people who think they’ve never blown it never change anybody else either. All they do is condemn others who’ve blown it.

1. I’ve noticed the only people who really help others change are people who’ve blown it, and know it, and have been forgiven by Christ so thoroughly and completely that they are in a position to help others who’ve blown it.
And that, my friends, is what church should be – a collection of people who’ve blown it, – and know it, – who’ve been forgiven by Jesus, – and are so full of his love they can’t wait to share it – with others – who’ve blown it too.

2. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phil Yancey tells of a social worker who is trying to help a prostitute so desperate that she prostitutes herself and her two year old daughter for money. Trying to find some way to break through to this woman, the social worker asks her, “Have you considered going to church?”
The prostitute says, “Go to church? Why would I ever go there? I already feel terrible about myself. Those people would just make me feel worse.”

Friends, we’ll know we are getting somewhere as a church when even a woman like that would say, “Go to FUMC? I’d love to, because despite the fact that I’ve blown it, I hear these people will love me anyway – just like Jesus.”


  1. Harry, my son and I listened to the focus on the family story with the girl from Korea while coming back from fishing in the Ozarks. And I can't say that I've ever been more influenced & moved than I was by her testimony. It is amazing what God's perfect love can do in our lives.


  2. Harry, my son and I listened to the story of the Korean woman while driving back from fishing in the Ozarks. What a touching testimony she has, it is amazing what God's perfect love can do in our lives.


  3. I seem to remember something about "perfect love casts out fear..."