My focus today is on Luke 7:47-48 – “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Let us pray … Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:7b). …
An unwelcome encroachment of technology: … Prompts. There are prompts for English or Spanish, to reach the directory or to leave a message. There are command prompts in DOS and Windows, Linux and UNIX. But today’s prompt is the question, “What prompts you?” We’ll ask that question to 3 people in today’s readings. … What prompted David, the preachers from Jerusalem and Jesus? Finally, like the woman who sinned, what prompts you?
First, sin prompted David. I am sure you are familiar with the story of David, Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah, a soldier under David’s command. If not, sometime this week, read Second Samuel.
Each new section of Samuel begins with storybook phrases: After the king was settled in his palace. … Then King David went in and sat before the Lord. … In the course of time. … The words that open the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.”
One notices that David, who personally led his armies to victory over the Arameans, Moabites, Edomites and others, now has the luxury of sending others to fight so he can stay home in the king’s palace. God blessed David with victories and now, his chosen one to lead Israel, could rule safely while others fought for him. Yet, as we soon discover, rather than being grateful to God, David takes God’s blessings for granted.
One evening sin entered David’s heart, and rather than checking his temptation, he submitted to his desires. Sin prompted David to send for Bathsheba. That one sin triggered an avalanche of deception, abuse of power and murder.
Our story is not simply the sin of one man, but the sin of a beloved king of a favored nation at the peak of power, illustrating that temptation touches powerful rulers and the common man, including me.
When I ponder what prompted David to sin, do I reflect on how I hide one sin by layering it with others? Do I cover my anger, jealousy or pride with deceptive lies? Moreover, if I am in a position of power – (And who is not?) – do I top off that first sin act with just one more so that no one will discover my dastardly deed? Like David, rather than checking my desires, do I submit to them? Do take God’s blessings for granted as David once did?
Of course, David cannot hide his sin from God. As David sent for Bathsheba, the Lord sent for Nathan. As David’s plot trapped Uriah, Nathan’s parable snares the king and extracts self-judgment. David sits in judgment of the rich man, invoking God’s wrath upon this scoundrel. When Nathan exclaims, “You are the man!” David, rebuked for his sins, admits, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
David’s sin, as a man, military leader, king and God’s beloved, was despicable. He offended Uriah, who lost his life; Bathsheba, who lost her husband; and God, whom David took for granted. God gave David every blessing in life, and in turn, he took God’s gifts as if he earned them outright.
For his sin, David is punished with his own anger. Ironically, his four-fold punishment of the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb resulted in the premature deaths of his first four sons. Yet, God remained faithful. Our merciful God forgave David of his sins.
We turn the page from Samuel to Galatians, which was Martin Luther’s pet epistle because he found in “Paul’s rejection of justification by works” support for his rejection of “salvation by good works”.[i]
We ask what prompted the preachers from Jerusalem to preach another gospel. … Pastor Henke’s sermon from June 2 on Galatians succinctly summarized the Law and Gospel. Recall his story about the man mired in mud, unable to escape his situation by obeying Buddha or Confucius. Only by Jesus climbing into the mud with the man, that is, God Incarnate coming to man – Christ’s death and resurrection – Christ’s sacrifice – was he saved.
This was the Gospel Paul preached when he was in Galatia: that one is saved only through what Jesus Christ did for us. Unfortunately, along came preachers from Jerusalem who claimed that Paul taught a truncated form of the Gospel. These Jerusalem preachers taught that justification is incomplete without observing works of the Law. They claimed that Paul left them without the guidance of the Jewish Law – all 613 commandments plus certain observations – and that they needed to do these things to avoid falling into sin. Besides, they claimed, in Jerusalem real apostles observe religious feasts and food laws.
Naturally, Paul railed against their doctrine, and reminded the Galatians that as one born a Jew, he knew the Law. Paul correctly taught that a strict observance of the Law would not lead anyone to salvation.
Only God – through what He did in Christ – prompted in Paul the proper response. After he met the Risen Lord and put his faith in Him, Paul died to the Law. He had to die to the Law so that he could put his faith in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul wants his fallen away followers of Christ to do. Die to the Law and put your faith in Christ the Risen Lord. Be prompted not by the Law but by faith.
Believe me that no matter how much effort you put into something – the Law, your job, your hobby, your passion – your ROI will always be less than your original investment. Don’t believe me? Believe my friend, Shawn Banks. Shawn is a successful executive and a scratch golfer. Shawn and I golfed numerous times, and he once told me something that applies to golf and anything else we do.
“No matter how much you put into golf, you only get so much back. But no matter how much you put into God, you always get back more than you put in.”
I think if the Galatians golfed, Paul could have used that line on them. You can observe the Law religiously, but only faith in Christ will lead to salvation.
That brings me to my third point. What prompted Jesus? … What prompted Jesus to do anything? Love. He is Love Incarnate, what else prompts him? So, what prompts him to dine at the home of a Pharisee? That is easy enough to answer.
Imagine for a moment that you are able to look into the home of Simon the Pharisee on a Friday evening around sundown. [ii] We are looking at a Sabbath Seder. For Simon the Seder meal is an opportunity for an invited guest to teach. Simon has invited Jesus as the guest of honor to teach because he thinks Jesus might be a prophet. Jesus taught in their synagogues and in the homes of other Pharisees. The question is: would Simon and his Pharisee friends agree with Jesus’ teaching?
Jesus’ teaching moved one woman so deeply that even though Pharisee table laws banned her from eating with them because she was unclean that did not stop her from honoring Jesus.
While today’s text does not state that she had previously heard Jesus, Luke implies that the woman was responding to Jesus’ earlier proclamation of God’s forgiveness.[iii]
Greeting Jesus as the most honored guest, she is so overcome with gratitude for God’s forgiveness that she begins to weep. Losing perspective of her situation, she literally lets her hair down, and violates the social mores of her culture by anointing Jesus. Unlike Simon, this woman truly welcomes Jesus as a prophet from God who has come to forgive the worst of sinners.
At this, Simon begins to question, even doubt, that Jesus is a prophet. Yet, precisely when Simon doubts, Jesus begins to teach … about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Simon answered Jesus’ question correctly. The debtor who owed an insurmountable amount loved the lender more. Then, he turns to the woman and explicitly forgives her sins. While Simon and his invited guests debate Jesus’ teaching, He dismisses her in peace. Imagine the tumult!
The irony is that during a meal where forgiveness and fellowship are offered, the invited but unrepentant guests reclining to eat with Jesus do not receive forgiveness and exclude themselves from his fellowship, while the uninvited guest comes as a repentant sinner and receives Jesus’ forgiveness and welcomes his fellowship.
Our Lutheran founders addressed this passage in Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession stating that the woman came to Jesus, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshipping Christ.”[iv]
The lesson for the Pharisees, the early Church and us is that to be present at the Lord’s Table and to eat with Him means that we accept Him as well as his gifts of forgiveness and fellowship.
In the Apology, we read that it is because of the woman’s faith that she “receives the forgiveness of sins, even though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow.”[v] In other words, honor God for his mercy and respond to others in kind.
Honor God for his mercy and respond to others in kind. That leads me to my last question: what prompts us?
Do we honor God for his mercy? If so, how do we honor God for his mercy? We will never get the chance to wash Jesus’ feet with our tears and dry them with our locks, but hopefully when we confess our sins to begin our worship, we do so sincerely, and accept God’s mercy gratefully.
But what about that second part of the statement from the Apology? As a forgiven sinner, how do I respond to others in kind?
How do I respond when my life is lived in a world that demands increased profits and test scores? Where we compete for the top spot in the job market and the line up? How do I respond to others in kind when life is about making the boss and bottom line look good? Closer to home, how do I respond to neighbors and family? As a forgiven sinner and family member, how do I respond to others in kind?
Last Monday, I spent 5 hours cutting trees. At one o’clock, I quit to shower and come to JW Anthony’s funeral. On the drive, I called Cindy and told her what I did – and then remarked, “It’s all for you.” At this, she chuckled. “It’s true,” I said. “Everything I do is about you. My life is about you.” Then I paused and asked, “And your life is about me, isn’t it?” She chuckled again and agreed … But it is true, is it not? Our lives as husbands and wives should be about our spouses. And when our children – no matter what their age – witness this, they see that the foundation blocks of a solid marriage are supported by the footer of forgiveness. Couples who honor God for his mercy respond to others in kind beginning with one another and radiate love to their children, family members, friends and fellow worshippers. That is our response to the loving-kindness to God’s mercy.
But what happens when – as Pastor Henke mentioned last week – when your life is reduced to rubble? Then what?
Those of you who read Donna Pyle’s story in the spring issue of the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly could not help feel for her. Donna’s life was on course for smooth sailing. The Holy Spirit brought her to faith, and she was serving him joyfully through her marriage, her career, the LWML and her writing. Yet it soon became clear that the Lord was going to give Donna the opportunity to look at her life and her faith in a way she never expected.
In December 2009 when she discovered that her husband was leading a secret double life, her life changed forever. She recalls it as “’the day the F5 tornado hit my marriage.’ … The divorce demanded Donna take another look at her world, her past, her present, and future. For starters, after 19 years, she was now on her own.”
In addition to adjusting everything – from where to live, how to manage finances and time, to changing wills and estate planning, there was the emotional turmoil. She was so angry that she put a phone through the wall and then discovered that she was no good at repairing sheet rock. “I just felt disbelief and overwhelming sadness at the senselessness of what had happened,” she said. “My heart was shredded. I didn’t have it in myself to forgive. It took God working in me and through me. And the most wonderful thing that came out of the divorce is my complete understanding of the need for forgiveness.”
Many are surprised when Donna shares her story of divorce and forgiveness because it doesn’t fit in today’s culture. She doesn’t hold anything against her ex-husband. She says, “There is such a revenge mindset in our culture, but there is no benefit in that whatsoever.”
Donna now writes and makes presentations on faith, and encourages Christian women to re-examine their Bible study. She had no idea what awaited her before or after the day that F5 tornado ripped through her life and destroyed her marriage. Only God’s grace keeps her going. … God’s grace keeps her going. …
So, let’s sum up. First, your sins are not so grave that God cannot forgive you. Second, you will never achieve salvation by following a law, an eight-fold path or five principles. Finally, Good News: God calls you to experience divine mercy, to honor Him and to love others even when they reduce your life to rubble because God’s grace will keep you going. … May God’s grace keep you alive in the Spirit, and … May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).