Sermon for Pentecost 4(c)
Luke 7:36-50 + 2 Chronicles 33:1-6, 10-18 + Galatians 2:11-21
Today is a day to remember. Two baptisms. Two confirmations. Amelia and Anna, you were baptized right here in this church – Amelia, 13 years ago, Anna, almost 14 years ago. You became members of God’s family, baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You’ve had the advantage of growing up surrounded by God’s Word and God’s family, knowing him as your God, trusting in him as your Savior.
Matthew, Amanda, you didn’t get to be baptized as babies. You didn’t get to grow up surrounded by God’s Word. You didn’t get to know God as your loving Father or Jesus Christ as your Savior. But you’re here today, now able to say, along with Amelia and Anna and most of the rest of us, “God’s own child, I gladly say it. I am baptized into Christ.” And you will remember this day for the rest of your lives. Amelia and Anna, you’ll remember it, too, as the day of your confirmation in the faith of the Church catholic, the faith of the confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church, as the day of your First Communion here at the Lord’s Table with the rest of your spiritual family.
One of God’s special gifts to you today, to all of you, is the Gospel you heard read a few moments ago. Of all the Gospel accounts that could have fallen on this special day that some of you will remember for the rest of your lives, this is a really good one. How much more clearly could the Holy Spirit emphasize to you that everything – your baptism, your confirmation, your entire Christian life, and even, one day, your Christian death – is all about one thing and one thing only: It’s all about the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ Jesus.
There are three main characters in this memorable story: Jesus, of course, Simon the Pharisee, and the woman who had been a career sinner. Simon belonged to that group called the Pharisees. Just to review, the Pharisees were the law-abiding citizens in town, the regular synagogue-goers, religious supermen. They even made laws where there were no laws, just to be on the safe side of things. To use a modern example, if the speed limit says “45 MPH,” they would drive “25 MPH” just to be safe, and they would sit behind the wheel and point at all the people going by faster than they were. “Humph! Bunch of sinners! They’ll never get to heaven. God sure is lucky there are people like us around!”
So Simon hears about Jesus, that he’s a teacher, a prophet. He wants to check Jesus out, so he invites him over for dinner, along with a bunch of other people. Not that Jesus was the honored guest, though. Simon doesn’t even show him the common courtesies a host back then would show his guests. No water for Jesus to wash his dirty, dusty feet after walking on dirt roads in sandals all day. No greeting at the door with the traditional friendly embrace and kiss on the cheek. No olive oil poured on his jet black hair to make it shine. No, Simon wanted Jesus around, but not as anybody special, not as anybody who meant anything to him.
Then there was that woman. She had a reputation in that town, a well-known sinful woman, a career sinner. We don’t know what her well-known sins were, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that she, too, had heard about Jesus, maybe even heard him speak. And when she found out Jesus was at Simon’s house, she knew that’s where she needed to be, too.
What a picture! Jesus reclining at the table, as they did back then. Then in walks this famous woman. She stands at Jesus’ feet and bursts into tears, tears that fall on Jesus’ dusty feet, tears that she then wipes up with her own hair. She kisses Jesus’ feet and pours this expensive perfume on them – myrrh, the same spices that the Wise Men had brought to the baby Jesus some 30 years before.
You can hear the stunned reactions from the rest of the guests. “What is she doing? Oh, how embarrassing! Get a hold of yourself, woman! Stop groveling! Have some self-respect!” But Simon the Pharisee wasn’t as much bothered by the sinful woman as he was by Jesus’ reaction to her. Jesus was just letting her do all this. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Holy men are not supposed to interact with sinners. Jesus must not be a real prophet, because a real prophet would know what kind of reputation this woman had, Simon thought. A real prophet would send her away.
But Jesus didn’t send her away. Instead, he let her worship him this way. And then he very patiently told Simon that little story about the two men who owed money. One of them owed 10 times more than the other. Neither could pay his debt. Incredibly, the moneylender forgave the debt of both of them. “Tell me, Simon, which one of them will love that moneylender more?” “The one who had the greater debt forgiven, right?” “Right, Simon! You’ve judged correctly!”
But before Simon the Pharisee could get too full of himself, Jesus turned that story back on Simon’s head. “You’re the one who doesn’t love me, who isn’t devoted to me, Simon. I wasn’t worth so much as a bit of water to you, but to this woman I was worth many tears and much humiliation. I wasn’t worth so much as a friendly kiss on the cheek to you, Simon, but to this woman, I was worth a hundred kisses on the feet. I wasn’t worth so much as a few penny’s worth of olive oil to you for my head, but to this sinful woman, I was worth a jar full of expensive perfume.
“And do you know why? You know why you love me so little and she loves me so much? It’s all about the forgiveness of sins. You figure that, being a Pharisee and all, your debt with God is pretty small, so when I come promising one thing and one thing only – the forgiveness of debts, the forgiveness of sins, you don’t really care. You don’t want what I have to offer. You love me very little, because you think you have little that needs forgiving. This woman, however, is troubled by a multitude of sins, afflicted in her soul by a life-long career of rebellion against God, so when I come promising the forgiveness of sins, that means something to her. I mean something to her, and she loves me much, not so that I will forgive her, but because she knows that, in me, she has the forgiveness of her many sins.”
Then Jesus turns to that woman and announces to her exactly what she trusted in him to announce to her. “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests were appalled that Jesus dared to announce forgiveness in the name of God, but then they didn’t know what this woman knew: that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior from sin whom God had promised to send, and the only one who could forgive her debts. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”
It’s all about the forgiveness of sins. Simon didn’t think he needed it, didn’t have faith in Jesus for it, so he loved Jesus, the forgiver of sins, very little. And it became a vicious circle for Simon, didn’t it? The less he recognized his debt with God, the less he appreciated the forgiveness of sins. The less he appreciated the forgiveness of sins, the less he loved the Son of God, the forgiver of sins. The less he loved the Son of God, the more debts he had that needed forgiving, because to fail to love the Son of God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is a sin against the greatest commandment.
How do you break out of that circle? Stop seeing yourself as Simon the Pharisee, and start seeing yourself, keep seeing yourself as the sinful woman – the career sinner who sees her sins as clear as day, but also sees in Jesus, the pledge of forgiveness. And knowing that forgiveness, she finally begins to love God for the first time in her life and she shows it in great humility and meekness, there at the feet of Jesus.
Oh, don’t be like Simon. Never imagine that your debts with God are tiny. They aren’t. Whether you’re a well-known sinner or a sinner in disguise, you’re just as unable to pay your debts to God as anyone else, because the debt incurred by our sins is costly. No payment is ever enough.
Except for one. How does the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed go, ladies? “Jesus Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death.” His blood was precious enough to cancel all debts, to forgive all sins, even those deep, dark, secret sins that no one knows about except for you.
How does that redemption – the forgiveness of sins – become yours? Through faith in Jesus as the forgiver of sins. See how the Holy Spirit moves you to trust in him in today’s Gospel! Jesus doesn’t turn away the career sinner when she comes to him in repentance. He welcomes her. He announces forgiveness. Go in peace!
So trust in him for that, for the forgiveness of sins. Look to him for that, and not for anything else. Matthew and Amanda, why did you come to be baptized today? Were you trying to cover all your bases, just in case? Were you trying to show Jesus how committed you are to him? Of course not! Baptism is about the forgiveness of sins, the pledge of the Triune God to forgive your sins every day of your life through faith in Christ Jesus.
Young ladies being confirmed today, why will you kneel in a few moments before the baptismal font to be confirmed in the faith of your baptism? Why will you come faithfully to the Lord’s house? Why will you come to the Lord’s Supper today and for the rest of your lives? It’s all about the forgiveness of sins. When your debts to God are small, when your sins are few, then you can stay away from God’s house. Then you can stay away from the Lord’s Supper. But then you will be like Simon the Pharisee, so pray to God that never happens.
Young ladies being confirmed today, why will you make a promise in just a few moments that you will suffer all things, even death, rather than fall away from this faith? Why will you devote your lives to serve Christ, in humility, in kindness, in obedience to his commands? In other words, why do you love Jesus much? Isn’t it because he’s forgiven you much? Isn’t it all about the forgiveness of sins?
The same goes for all of you who acknowledge your sins and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. What will inspire your love for the Lord Jesus and his Word and his people? How will you get through life on this earth? How will you face the day of your death? It’s all about the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ Jesus.
So remember this day, you confirmands and all you who have been baptized. Remember Simon the Pharisee. Remember the sinful woman. And most of all, remember the Lord Jesus, the forgiver of all sins, the forgiver of your sins, by faith in his name. Go in peace! Amen.