Saturday, 15 June 2013

Goodbye - God bless you: Trinity 3


Luke 7: 36 - 50

The story of a woman anointing Jesus is one that is found, with various differences to the details of the story, in all four gospels. This must be an important, even a vital, story.

So let’s look at the story first from the point of view of Simon, the Pharisee, who Luke tells us is the host for a meal to which he has invited Jesus.

Simon is a Pharisee: he is very concerned about knowing, understanding and keeping the law of Moses, as a means of showing loyalty to God, being one of God’s peoples, obeying the command to love God and love others.
He is presumably impressed by what he has seen of Jesus – his teaching and healing ministry, and he wants a chance to see Jesus close up for himself.
  
So imagine how disconcerted he is when a woman in the city, a well-known sinner, gate-crashes the meal and begins making a spectacle of herself, weeping on Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair, pouring expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet. There’s no way Simon can have a serious theological discussion with Jesus with all that going on!

And he’s a bit disappointed that Jesus doesn’t get rid of the woman. He thinks to himself "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner.". Jesus the rabbi, the wise teacher, surely wouldn’t want this sinner touching him like this.

Then Jesus finally turns his attention from the woman at his feet to Simon ‘I have something to say to you’
‘Teacher, speak’.
But all Jesus wants to do is tell Simon the story of two people forgiven debts – one a large amount – over a year’s wages, the other a smaller amount – just over one month’s wages. Which of the forgiven people will love the forgiving lender the most? Obviously the one who is forgiven most – the one who has most to be grateful for.

But then Jesus gives Simon a huge shock “You see this woman?”.

How could Simon not see the woman! But what Simon sees is a sinner, who should not even have been let into his law-abiding house, and who certainly shouldn’t be touching Jesus. Simon sees someone utterly unlike himself, who he wants nothing to do with, who he would like to see leave his home & stop being a bother.

The shock is going to come as Simon sees this woman as Jesus sees her:
You gave me no water for my feet – she bathed my feet with her tears
You gave me no kiss – she has not stopped kissing my feet
You did not anoint my head – she has anointed my feet.

Who has treated Jesus with honour and respect? The woman, the so-called sinner, the one Simon considers unclean.
And why has she done all these things for Jesus? Because she has been forgiven all her sins, and so she shows great love.
Jesus sees a forgiven sinner, and the one who has been forgiven much, loves much.
Perhaps Simon thought this woman could never be forgiven, but Jesus declares she is forgiven and tells her ‘go in peace’.

Why is this story so important? Because it turns all the old ideas about sinlessness and worship of God on its head.

In Simon’s Pharisaic tradition people who were unclean were not welcome in the Temple to worship God. First you must be clean – then you can worship. But Jesus concentrates not on sin but on love, not on our efforts to be sinless but on God’s grace.

This woman knows she is forgiven, and so who acts in love and gratitude to Jesus for that forgiveness. In case Simon or anyone else doubts her right to approach Jesus, he says, loud and clear ‘Your sins are forgiven – go in peace’.

The love of God is capable of forgiving all sin, giving everyone a fresh start. Those who realise they are forgiven, love God and want to worship and serve him. And when we accept God’s forgiveness we are set free to live in peace.

I can think of no better theme for my last sermon here. This is the best of the Good news.
Human beings tend to bog each other down with rules and regulations about how to be good, or dutiful, or worthy of God’s love.
Perhaps there’s a bit of a tendency to do this in a time of vacancy sometimes – as we fret about how long it will be until a new minister comes and what we should be doing in the meantime.

But Jesus stands it all on its head – first, God loves us, and wants to draw us into a relationship with him. God forgives our sin and makes us new. When we realise that we are set free to love and serve God, and want to love and serve other people and tell them about God’s love for them.
If I had to summarise it and leave you something to aim for as a church in the future it would be

Believe the Good News
Be Good News for others
Share Good News with the people around you.

And may God continue to bless you with grace & love. Amen.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Goodbye - God be with you - Trinity 2


This is my last sermon for this church, as I move in less than three weeks' time: there will be another goodbye, to the other 3 churches, next week! 

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17
We have heard three amazing stories this morning.

First the story of Elijah & the widow of Zarephath.
I love the story. The widow takes pity on Elijah (who is in the middle of a battle of wits with King Ahab) and uses the last of what she has to feed him - but then find that her oil & flour lasts all three of the – the widow Elijah & her son, for many days.

Then in the second story, the son dies. The widow wonders whether she is being punished for some sin, and feels that the presence of Elijah has brought her to God’s attention in an unwelcome way. So Elijah takes the boy, prays for help from God, and he is restored to life and given back to his mother.

And then the third story our gospel reading of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain by Jesus.

So what do we make of these stories?

On one level the Elijah stories could just look like 'you scratch my back & I'll scratch yours'.
The woman has cared for Elijah in the famine & now he cares for her by raising her son.
Then the message of those two stories would be to be nice to people in case they are God’s messengers and can do you some good in return.

But that seems a bit feeble, and is ignoring the power and will of God in the whole thing.

The fact that she is named as a widow (and actually that’s all she’s called – we are not told her actual name), give the story more depth.

God's concern for a social justice that extends especially to 'widows and orphans' is well attested in the Old Testament. And what can be more heart-rending than a woman who has not only lost her husband, but also her son?
So God's justice & God's kingdom demands action.

Elijah is moved to pity for the woman of Zarephath - and that is when God's power breaks into the story - the power of life beyond death: and the son lives. Elijah shows that God’s will is for good, not ill.

The woman fears she is being punished for some sin and that that is why her son is ill: God acts to show that is not the case. God wants life, wholeness, peace for all his people.

In just the same way, it seems, Jesus is moved to pity for the woman of Nain. This young man becomes one of only three people raised to life by Jesus, along with Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

It is hard not to face the challenge 'why these people & not all the others?'. Why didn’t Jesus spend his time on earth bringing lots of dead people back to life?
And yet such a physical raising is only temporary and Jesus wanted to show people a way to life that was about permanent change, about life he called ‘eternal’ life – life that was at peace in this world and accepted that God’s love will carry us safely through to be with him forever.

It seems that Jesus acts in this case – and in the case of Jairus’s daughter & Lazarus – for the sake of the grieving relatives. But for the people who have died themselves there is no sense in which Jesus is ‘rescuing’ them, because they are already at peace. Otherwise, if the dead people themselves had been in danger, surely Jesus would have raised more people back to life?

So I wonder how these stories are speaking to us today?

I am very aware that this is my last Sunday here.
I hope I’m not being melodramatic when I say something is dying – or at least ending.

We all feel sad at the parting of the ways, and maybe we would like to pray for God to bring it back to life – turn the clock back, give us all 6 more years together.
And maybe we fear that as we part, as this life dies, as things change, we might find that God has abandoned us.

But the power of God to change things is as alive as it was for the widows of Nain and Zarephath. God’s will is to bless with life, not punish with death.

And so wherever, whenever, whoever we are God promises that his food will not run out: this bread and wine is always available, and through it God feeds us with his very own life, as we remember Jesus. Through this communion we are promised new life, eternal life, God’s peace and wholeness.

So may we be fed and strengthened for the future God has in store for all of us – and may we know God’s power and peace, today and always.
Amen.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Trinity 2 - June 9th

Readings for this week are:

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17

I'm much taken by the story of Elijah & the widow of Zarephath. I love the story of the oil & flour that lasts - but also like the extension into the story of the widow's son, which of course lies nicely alongside the raising of the son of the widow of Nain by Jesus.

So what do we make of these stories?

On one level the Elijah story could just look like 'you scratch my back & I'll scratch yours' - the woman has cared for Elijah in the famine & now he cares for her by raising her son.

But the fact that she is named as a widow, give the story more depth. God's concern for a social justice that extends especially to 'widows and orphans' is well attested in the Old Testament. And what can be more heart-rending than a woman who has not only lost her husband, but also her son? So God's justice & God's kingdom demands action.

Elijah is moved to pity for the woman of Zarephath: just as Jesus is moved to pity for the woman of Nain - and that is when God's power breaks into the story - the power of life beyond death: and the son of each woman lives.

It is hard not to face the challenge 'why these 2 sons & not all the others?'. And maybe that's always the challenge of healing - what about those who are not healed?  I hope it makes sense to say that these extra-ordinary cases reveal something of God's will for us all - life and not death, wholeness and happiness: yet ultimately our time on earth is limited and is only the gateway to true life.

Challenging... more to follow I hope.