True Forgiveness

So I’m going to be honest with you – this is probably the hardest sermon I’ve ever written. Of course, it’s also maybe my eighth sermon ever, so maybe that’s not saying much. But I’ve been sitting with this text all week, mulling it over, praying about it, reading commentaries… I started to write this sermon three times, only to get halfway through and throw it away.

Luke 7:36-50

So I’m going to be honest with you – this is probably the hardest sermon I’ve ever written.  Of course, it’s also maybe my eighth sermon ever, so maybe that’s not saying much.  But I’ve been sitting with this text all week, mulling it over, praying about it, reading commentaries…  I started to write this sermon three times, only to get halfway through and throw it away.  And the thing is, I don’t think I’ve been having a hard time because it’s a particularly complicated story or because there is some deep lesson that needs to be tweezed out.  In fact, I think what this passage has for us is actually pretty simple.  I also think it’s unbelievably important.  And it’s this simple important thing that’s been tugging at my heart and making it feel next to impossible to find just the right words.  But as it turns out, just like the idea is simple, so are the words, and I hope you hear them now: You are forgiven.  That’s it, it’s that simple: you are forgiven.  Now, I know a lot of you have been sitting in these pews for a long time, so you’ve hopefully heard this before.  But I think this story is a reminder of just how powerful and real and complete and true the forgiveness of God really is.  And if this is your first time hearing this, or even just your first time in a while, I hope you really hear it today.

Let’s start with our story’s main character, the woman who comes to Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke, we are not told her name, but we are told that this woman is, unequivocally, a sinner.  In fact, she is labeled a sinner twice before Jesus himself confirms it.  In the midst of declaring her forgiven, he says, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.  Her sins, which were many.  No sugar coating it.  No beating around the bush.  This woman is a sinner, and everybody knows it.

And yet there she is, at Jesus’ feet.  The text doesn’t tell us why she comes to Jesus, exactly.  But she is so determined to find him, to interact with him that she sneaks into a Pharisee’s house uninvited and crashes a dinner party just to see him.  I don’t know if she had any expectations for her visit or a plan of any kind.  Maybe there was just something inside her that drew her in.  She certainly didn’t seem to make any special preparations, aside from grabbing the most expensive jar of ointment she could find.  We don’t see her make amends with people she’s wronged or offer any grand words of atonement.  She doesn’t have a list of excuses drawn up to justify her sinful actions.  She doesn’t come with her life straightened out or her ducks in a row.  She just comes and weeps at Jesus’ feet.

Talk about vulnerability.  It’s sort of terrifying to think about, right?  I mean, put yourself in her shoes.  To just have everything laid bare like that, to not be able to defend your past actions or even why you felt you needed to be there?  It would take some serious guts.

But here’s the good news: her risk pays off. Jesus accepts this woman, warts and all.  Despite the fact that she comes to him still very much a sinner, Jesus does not recoil from her or push her away, as Simon the Pharisee thinks he should do.  Jesus doesn’t rebuke her or ask her to explain herself.  He doesn’t dismiss her or tell her to come back at a more appropriate time.  He simply says, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”

And that’s it.  It’s that simple.  The woman comes, and she is forgiven.  It sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it?  Surely, there must be more – more she needs to do, standards she needs to meet, hoops she needs to jump through.  In a way, I think we want there to be more, because otherwise this forgiveness thing is beyond our control.  If there is something we can do or say to, not earn, but just predispose ourselves to God’s forgiveness, then we’re back in the driver’s seat.  The problem is, when our forgiveness is somehow dependent on us in any way, we start stumbling into falsehoods.  For instance, we might find ourselves constantly wracked with guilt wondering if we’re sorry enough yet for God to have really forgiven us.  Or we could put off really entering into a relationship with God because “God won’t find me acceptable yet… maybe once I have this one sin under control.”  Or worse yet, we might start convincing ourselves that, yeah, it’s nice to have God’s forgiveness available, but we’re really pretty decent people anyway.  When we put ourselves in the driver’s seat, we don’t need to take the same risks that the sinful woman in our story does.  We don’t need to be quite as vulnerable.  But, we also miss out on the fullness and the freedom of the gift that Christ has given us.

Romans 5:8 assures us that, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  While we were still sinners.  It does not matter what you’ve done or haven’t done this week or this year.  It does not matter if there is that one sin in your life, or two or three, that you can’t seem to shake.  Before you walked into this church this morning, you were forgiven.  And when you leave, you will still be forgiven.  And when you’re yelling at that jerk in traffic on Tuesday morning, you’ll be forgiven then too.  Because Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy, and he didn’t come to forgive the righteous.  He came so that you, though your sins are many, might have life and have it abundantly.  Your sins are forgiven.  Go in peace.  Amen.

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