Worship notes for Sunday, May 4th: meeting God at table with Jesus #2

We are back from our retreat in Louis-ville (aka Brooklyn) where we were on baby duty this week caring for our grandson. What a total gas - and to make it even better, his parents are some of our favorite people in the whole world, too! We closed out our sojourn with a trip to one of Atlantic Avenue's gems: Sahadi's Fine Foods (check it out @ http://sahadifinefoods. com/When our daughter first moved to Brooklyn, she turned me on to this place and over time her husband has worked there, too. Now it is a source of wonder and revelry in all the great Middle Eastern imported goodies that are available. (I found everything I need for my post-Easter series: Meeting God at Table with Jesus!)

Then it was time for a leisurely lunch at Tripoli which specializes in Lebanese fare. It is always a treat for me to spend time with my children and their families and this was extra sweet. We then headed home for an easy-going drive on a beautiful spring afternoon. We were eager to pick up our puppy, Lucie, after being away for a week. And given the blessings of smart phones, our friends from church who were caring for Lucie invited us in for dinner, wine, music and conversation. What a blast.

And now we are home - and it feels good to be back at our resting place. I just printed out my worship notes for tomorrow and I look with anticipation for greeting the congregation. This week we'll be trying to discern what we can learn about God through the meal Jesus shares with a woman from the streets. It will be a rich conversation - so if you are in town, please join us @ 10:30 am. (btw I am just going to post the basic and rudementary worship notes over the next six weeks as this will be a rich time of congregational conversation.  What's more I am going to push the envelope re: informality for a time, too so please know that what follows is just the start of what will take place in the morning.)

The story of the woman breaking an expensive jar of perfumed oil on the feet of our Lord is one of my all-time favorite passages in the Bible. It is apparently also an important story for us to wrestle with, too because all four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – include a version of it in their books.

+  And what I find fascinating is that each of the gospels sets this story up in different ways:  both Matthew and Mark place the action in the home of Simon the Leper while Luke tells us the feast happened at the home of Simon the Pharisee while John says it took place at the residence of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. 

+  What’s more, each of these story tellers seem to want us to draw different conclusions from the action of this story, too:  Matthew and Mark want to tell us something about Christ’s anointing and his approaching death, John wants us to see how Mary is the ideal disciples while Judas is a slacker and Luke offers us another example of Jesus breaking down barriers between women and men, Jews and Gentiles, insiders and outsiders.

And all of these versions of the same story tell us something about the nature of God whom Jesus reveals to those with eyes to see.  So what I’d like to do this morning in part two of our series I call “Meeting God at Table with Jesus” is see what we might make of this story and then talk about its implications for us.

Now each of these stories take place in a different setting – they all involve Jesus eating with different people – but the hosts are all different – so what could that possible mean?

+  In Matthew and Mark this feast takes place in the home of Simon the Leper – what significance does this suggest? (Jesus the healer – what does Jesus answer when John the Baptist asks are you the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?  The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see and the poor are set free from their burdens…)

+  In John’s gospel, however, this feast takes place in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus – what does this suggest? And then Luke places the meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee…

And what do you make of the fact that all four are simultaneously different AND true?  (The grace of God is greater than one story or even one perspective…?)

Now let’s look more carefully at three elements in Luke’s story:  the setting at the Pharisees house, the actions of the woman and Christ’s response.

+  Luke is writing to a mostly NON-Jewish audience and his emphasis has to do with God’s universal promise of grace and love to all people – how is that point developed by placing this story in the home of a Pharisee?

+  Could it be that Simon – who once represented power and influence for the Jewish followers of Jesus – now looks like one of the outsiders, too? That God’s grace is grand enough for even him?

+  And to bring this female sinner into the mix seems to be a description of what the church looked like in Luke’s generation:  women and men together, holy joes and janes mingling with well-know heretics and sinners – do you see what I’m suggesting? This is a picture of what the early church wrestled with in embracing God’s universal grace – it was uncomfortable – it was messy – and it was hard.

+  Luke makes this clear by giving us all the sensual details of what the woman does when she crashes the party:  she weeps upon the feet of Jesus, she caresses them and dries them with her hair and then she pours perfumed oil upon them all while Jesus is reclining and eating. 

+  She is sensual and grateful and fully alive – and the texts all say that she did something beautiful for the Lord – she acted in a way that celebrated forgiveness. For her it wasn’t an abstract idea, it was an incarnational reality.

So what strikes you about this woman who is identified as a sinner from the city?  (Her sin is never identified – nor is she given a name – scholars believe she had met Jesus before and acted in gratitude to a previous act of forgiveness – that is her actions are what gratitude looks like AFTER receiving grace.)

And then there is the mini-treatise on forgiveness:  how it unlocks gratitude – how the open heart shares gratitude extravagantly while the cheap or afraid heart becomes miserly – even how forgiveness cancels out the past and creates a fresh new start for even the most notorious sinners.

+  Luke wants us to realize that God’s forgiveness is life-changing – it is free, it lasts forever and it eliminates the sins of our past – that’s the good news:  so what do you think about that?

+  The bad news is that somebody always reacts to God’s amazing grace with judgment:  in each of these stories somebody complains that forgiving this woman isn’t right or fair.  In Matthew and Mark it is the disciples who complain, in John it is some unnamed guests and in Luke it is Simon the Pharisee. 

It doesn’t seem to matter where forgiveness is offered, somebody is going to complain – and that’s the bad news:  forgiveness always unlocks somebody’s judgment…

So what part of all of this grabs your attention: the forgiveness or the judgment -the extravagance of grace or the complaining?

+  Who do you resemble most in this story:  Jesus, the woman, the Pharisee?Does this strike you as scandalous or hopeful?  Or both?

+  And can you infer anything about God’s nature from this wild story of grace and sin and radical hospitality?

So much of what passes for “morality” and “religion” is built on fear and shame – it comes out looking like a contest about who is IN and who is OUT – when the way Jesus practices his table fellowship is all about radical hospitality where even people like YOU and ME are welcome.  Now I don’t know about you but for me this is reason to shout: THANKS BE TO GOD!


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