We are The Village Church… We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes ….In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness.
Today, our scripture reading invites us to focus on the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is crucial for people who are imperfect. This is why, every Sunday, when we gather together, we remind one another that we are not perfect, and that forgiveness is something we need to practice.
I have been a pastor for 23 years and for those 23 years I have been officiating at wedding ceremonies. Unless there are special circumstances, I meet with the couple at least 3 times to prepare for the wedding. You could call this pastoral counseling, as I am their pastor. I am not a therapist. I don’t try to assess whether or not a couple should get married. I have never tried to talk a couple out of getting married. By the time they are in my office, they are already way down that road. There is little chance I will convince them to reconsider. What I can do is try to give them some clues as to where they may have some challenges in their life together. You see, all couples will have challenges when we decide to spend the rest of our lives together. If you think it’s going to be all lovey dovey forever then you are naïve. It’s okay. It happens to the best of us. But eventually the reality of day-to- day life and all its stress kicks in.
Often in my conversations I have a chance to say something like this, especially if it is a younger couple or a couple that is still very much in the romantic love stage of their relationship. Romantic love is wonderful. It’s fun. I am a romantic. And we all hope there will always be some level of passion and romance in our relationship. But that high we get when we first fall in love rarely lasts forever. For a committed relationship to last, you have to want to stay together. It is a choice. At the end of the day, love is not a feeling, it is a decision. And mature love involves understanding that your partner is not the idealized person that you fell in love with. Your partner is an imperfect child of God, who will make mistakes.
Now, when she or he makes those mistakes, it is good to remember that they are that person you fell so in love with so long ago. They are still that person too. But they are not perfect. And guess what? You are not perfect either.
(By the way, for those of you who are not married or not in a relationship, and may not want to be, I apologize if you just felt left out by what I said. I have been there. I was single for 33 years. Hang in there with me. Much of what I say can translate to any relationship that matters to you.)
You see, in any relationship with someone we care about, we will have moments, at least once a week, possibly once a day, when we are disappointed or hurt. Hopefully, we can tell the person, and they will understand, and ask for forgiveness. Then the responsibility comes to us: will we forgive? Will we truly forgive and let it go, and not hold a grudge?
Now there are two sides to this. Both hold some responsibility. Because we have all been there when someone says: “I’m sorry.” And then they do the same thing again. The next day. It does not make me feel like they are really sorry. When behavior changes, then I trust that the person was really sorry.
But we have also been there, when someone says, “I’m sorry,” and we just hurt so bad, we don’t believe them. Or we just don’t want to forgive them. What they did was really bad. It was despicable. And they just should not be able to say, “I’m sorry” and think everything will be okay, because it is not okay. I HURT. You shouldn’t be able to make it all o.k. just with an I’m sorry.
It’s complicated to forgive, isn’t it?
Well, into this world of really complicated relationships, God sent Jesus. You see, God was sitting far away watching this creation of God’s. God saw that we were not “getting it” about how to live in peace, how to build strong relationships, how to forgive, and how to live with compassion. Even the Jews, God’s chosen people and some of their leaders like the Pharisees were just not getting the job done. They were getting all caught up in the minutiae of the law but they were failing to love.
So God sent Jesus. And he came into their homes and just tried to show them what to do. It was as if Jesus walked into every new town and said what we say every Sunday morning: “We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes ….In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness.” And then he would pick someone, and he would say, “Can I come to your house for dinner and let’s talk about how it’s going?”
On this day, Jesus went to the home of Simon, who was a Pharisee, a certain type of Jew who focused on the law, and often spent their energy pointing out the sins of other people. As the story goes:
He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Simon was judging Jesus because he did not scold the woman.
So Jesus told a story. He loved to teach people by telling stories.
41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
Then he really lets Simon have it because he says that Simon did not show him any of the customary hospitality when Jesus entered the house. Jesus says this woman was a better hostess than Simon who owns the house. Love is spilling out of her for me:
You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
There are several wonderful messages in this story for us.
First, No matter how imperfect and broken we are, we are forgiven. In fact, the more we need forgiveness the more of God’s grace and love we get. It almost makes me want to do some bad stuff so I can receive more of God’s love. Not quite, but almost.
But just look, for a moment, at the actions of this woman. She is audacious! She walks in, and basically interrupts a private dinner. And she does this very intimate act of washing his feet with her tears and her hair. Now remember that washing feet was a common act for a household servant to do, because people walked and the roads were dusty. But this was an amazing thing she did. She was not the servant. She did not live there. She was known to be a sinner. But she wanted to be close to Jesus. Some think that perhaps he had already forgiven her earlier in the day and she was coming here as a way of thanking him. His words saying: “You are forgiven,” were simply restatements of what he had already said.
You see, for the woman, ”Forgiveness is sheer blessing, something so beautiful and so important it breaks her heart and all she can do is express her gratitude. Why? Because she knows she needs it.” (David Lose http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2601).
But the second character in the story gives us an even more interesting message to ponder. The other character, “Simon, is pretty sure he doesn’t need forgiveness. He is righteous. Obeys the law. Does what he should. And so not only does he not need forgiveness but the very mention of it is threatening, offensive” (ibid).
Scholar David Lose writes: “In this scene, then, Jesus claims to forgive sin.
This was not his role in the Jewish scheme of things. He asserts the authority to set people free from their sin. People who know that they are slaves rejoice to hear this news. But people who live under the illusion that they are already free, are offended when Jesus claims to release them from sin. Who does he think he is?
“Over time that offense will turn to anger and that anger to violence. Forgiveness, it turns out, is one powerful word” (ibid).
You see, once our sin has been shown to us, and we are granted forgiveness, then we have a choice: rejoice or resent. We can, (David Lose writes) “Embrace our identity as sinners and as those beloved by God and forgiven all things, or reject our failings and with it God’s tender embrace. Which will it be?”
Jesus comes to forgive sin and that’s only good news to those who recognize their need and want it.
This is the good news for us. Jesus comes to forgive our sins. And once we realize this, then we are also challenged as people who follow Jesus – to be those who forgive.
Let’s go back to my example at the beginning of this message – for those who are married or in a committed relationship think of your partner. For those who are not, think of another significant relationship in your life perhaps with a parent, a child, a good friend, or even a co-worker. When you know you have messed up, or better yet, when that person says you have hurt them and you do not think you have messed up, but you can see that they are hurt, can you say, “I am sorry that my actions hurt you.” And then stop talking. You see, I think we often try to explain our actions rather than just seeing that we have hurt someone, and saying, “I am sorry I hurt you.”
Just think what a blessing it was to that woman when Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” He did not make her list them. She did not try to justify them.
When someone has hurt you, do you want them to try to justify why they hurt you, or do you just want them to say: “I am sorry that my actions hurt you.”
As the band comes forward to sing, I want to invite you to think about what makes it hard to ask for forgiveness.