Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16 Sermon

Thomas Beckett, Joan of Arc, Janani Luwum: When you cross a King or a Ruler, you often pay with your life. These three found that out. Beckett by four knights of Henry II, Joan of Arc by the uncle of Henry VI, Luwum at the hands of Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin.

Each of them were killed because they were seen as an obstacle to what the ruler wanted. "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Henry II is said to have uttered, it could have been true for the others as well.

It was true for King Ahab of Samaria. Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab, and the King wanted it for a vegetable garden but Naboth refused to sell his ancestral inheritance. It was his family’s land.

The King went to bed sullen. But Jezebel, his wife, refused to give up so easily. She hatched a plan to frame Naboth and have him killed. And her plan worked, Ahab is set to take over Naboth’s vineyard! Enter Elijah the Tishbite to confront the King and the treachery brought by Jezebel.
“I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you."
Elijah calls the king to account for the evil deed done on his behalf. The King may not have wanted Naboth killed but his death got him what he wanted, the vineyard and he was happy to take possession of it.

But of course, that is now how God expects us to act and sends Elijah to reset the moral compass of Ahab and his people. How does God expect us to act?

Everyday when I drive Aidan into Jockey Hollow, I am greeted by Sandy Hook Elementary School with the words “we choose love,” written in the windows.

We choose love. I think that is a great summary of what God expects of us even in the face of horrible violence. It is not the easy choice. The easy choice is revenge, to act on our feelings, to strike back! (or in King Ahab’s case, to take what is not rightfully his.)

We choose love makes us stop in our tracks and look at the larger picture and consider what God expects of us: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. On that hangs everything we read in the Bible. Love God, Love Neighbors – We choose love.

In the Gospel, Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for a meal, he is curious about him. But a woman in the city having heard where Jesus was, also entered Simon’s home, bathing the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointing his feet with ointment… Simon is upset that such a sinner had entered his home, and he questions how prophetic Jesus is because he is letting this woman touch him.

Jesus knows what is in Simon’s heart, and tells him a parable about two debtors; one who owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, the creditor canceled the debts for both of them. Jesus asked, “Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."

And Jesus goes on to tell Simon that he is right BUT as Jesus entered his house; Simon did not respond with hospitality but the woman from the city chose love; she gave Jesus hospitality by washing his feet & anointing them with oil.
Jesus says, “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven and Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
The woman’s sins were forgiven by her loving acts. Simon, on the other hand, did not love much and is not praised for his inaction. God acts with forgiveness and love and that is what is expected for our lives. Jesus says – choose the good – choose to forgive and to love!

And sometimes the most appreciated response to an act of love is quiet, grateful acceptance, just as Jesus did at that dinner.
The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma said he learned that lesson while touring Namibia a few years ago. After a company of African dancers and musicians performed for him, Ma wanted to reciprocate and took out his cello to play for them. But Ma remembers with a laugh, "They said, 'Stop. Don't play. We want to play for you.' It was hubris on my part to bring my cello."

The experience was a lesson in humility for the renowned musician. "To be a good performer, you have to have a strong ego," Ma says. "But to be a really good performer, you have to make sure your ego is not the center. To play Beethoven, you have to figure out who he was, and how that's encoded in the music. And then you have to realize you are not Beethoven." [Newsday.]
We are neither Beethoven nor God. We are simply whom God created each of us to be. The story of the woman who washes the feet of Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee is a lesson in both humility and love. Pharisee and sinner stand as equals before God (just as a King, a Priest, prophet): We all have all been given much by God - and we have countless opportunities to express our love by giving and forgiving as God gives and forgives us.

The woman in today's Gospel becomes the model of such a loving response made in faith-filled praise for the forgiveness and compassion of God she has received. As Yo-Yo Ma discovered, humility enables us to welcome into our lives the gifts of God offered by others with love and respect. So today, let us choose love through our words and deeds and welcome such love in return. Amen.

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