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Faith United Methodist Church

May 29, 2016

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-50

Prayer for Illumination: 

To words that challenge the world’s values, to words that bring the comfort of God’s presence, to words that speak of grace and forgiveness, we open our hearts.  Let these words take root in our hearts that we may grow in faith.  Amen.

Sermon:                                    Slow Down

We’re busy people, right?  We’ve got things to do, places to be, commitments to keep.  We have families and friends, jobs or volunteer work or both.  Some days it feels like we’re right out straight.  You all know what that expression means, right? Apparently it is a “Maine” expression. As in, “I’ve been right out straight tryin’ to get the driveway cleared since the blizzard hit.” My mother, a Mainer, used that expression after moving to Nebraska and no one knew what she was talking about.

It seems like there is always something demanding our attention ~ whether it’s a work commitment or a family obligation or a Resource Ministry meeting or housework that needs tending.  We jump from one event or appointment or responsibility to another.  Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it seems as if most of life is spent rushing to the next thing.

The past couple of months Gary and I have been settling into our new home. We’re finding that we are spending most weekends at Lowe’s or Home Depot. We’re lucky that we bought the house in pretty good condition, but there is still yard work and painting and the occasional appliance that needs fixing. Just when one thing is settled, it is time to deal with the next thing.  So I can kind of sympathize with Simon in our Gospel lesson today.  He was a busy guy with lots of Pharisee- stuff to do.  And, on this particular day he cleared his schedule to have Jesus over for dinner.

The truth is, Simon probably had mixed motives for asking Jesus to eat with him.  Jesus was gaining a reputation as a teacher and a healer.  Simon probably saw this dinner date as a way to bolster his standing in the eyes of the other Pharisees.  But Simon also, likely, had some questions about Jesus.  Could he be who everyone says he is?  Is this guy for real?  Simon wanted to see for himself.

So, reclining at the table as was the custom in that day, Simon got his chance.  Only, before Simon knew it, a woman who had a reputation of her own arrived on the scene.  Right before his very eyes she began washing Jesus feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.  And Jesus did nothing about it.  If this sounds like strange behavior to us, it was even stranger back then.  In those days women would not eat with men, and would only enter the room to serve food.

Simon couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  I can imagine him thinking, Someone like Jesus shouldn’t allow himself to be approached in this way!  This is supposed to be my dinner party!  Exasperated and annoyed Simon jumped to the only reasonable conclusion he could fathom, “If this man were a prophet,” he thinks to himself, “he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”  No other explanation seemsed possible.

Jesus, however, sensing what was going on in Simon’s head, invited him to slow down, to reconsider.  He told him a parable and asked him to reflect on questions of forgiveness and generosity and love.  And he asked Simon to consider the possibility that things are not always what they seem.  For instance, Jesus said, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair…You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”  Jesus did know what sort of woman this was, and he knew what sort of man Simon was as well.

It’s a human-thing to jump to conclusions, to judge other people and to justify ourselves.  You’ve heard the term ‘Rush to Judgment.’ How often do we write-off others because we disagree with them in some way?  It makes our world easier if we can put things in tidy categories.  Then we don’t have to think about it too much and we are free to get on with the next thing.  Unfortunately things like forgiveness and generosity and love are a bit more time consuming.

This story doesn’t have a tidy ending.  We don’t know how Simon reacted to Jesus’ challenge or if his life was changed because of it.  We don’t know if Simon became a different man because of his dinner with Jesus or if he just rushed on to the next thing.  However, based on Simon’s experience, we can ask ourselves some questions.  As Kate Huey puts it in her Lectionary Reflections, “When we look at those we consider sinners, those who disagree with us politically or religiously, who are considered, for one reason or another, our enemy can we look past our preconceptions, our assumptions, our cherished beliefs, and see a child of God?  Can we let grace change our lives, too?”

What would happen if we slowed down just a little bit?  We all know the Simon & Garfunkel hit, Slow down, you move too fast, You got to make the morning last, Just kicking down the cobblestones, Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.” What if we weren’t right out straight all the time? Would we slow down? Could we let grace change our life?  Would we see in each other people in need of God’s love, people in need of forgiveness?  Would we experience God’s grace for ourselves in new ways?  It strikes me that Jesus very seldom was in a rush.  In fact, Jesus didn’t hurry very much at all in the Scriptures.  He had time for Simon and the woman and the many others he encountered on the way.  Was Simon changed by his dinner with Jesus?  We don’t know.  But the real question may be, are we?

Let us pray:  O wise, gracious, living God. We thank you for the love that you have given in Jesus Christ, love that looks beyond our sin. O God, give us the grace to pass on the love that you have given us, give us the wisdom to see where that love needs to be given and give us the boldness and courage to give it. In the name of Christ we give you thanks and praise. Amen.  (Adapted from Isaiah Jones)