Everyone Needs Healing and Forgiveness!
The text for this sermon is Luke 7:36-8:3. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on June 13, the Third Sunday after Pentecost. Prayers for healing were offered later in the service.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Later in the service today we offer prayers for healing and anointing with oil. I remind you of this because I couldn’t help but read today’s lessons through the lens of the healing ministry of Jesus and the Church. If I had to guess at a number, I would guess that about 10 percent of our members have ever come forward at a worship service to be personally prayed for and then have the sign of the cross put on their forward with oil. If you are part of the 90% who have never come forward, I hope you will really be listening today.
Who is here today that needs to be healed and forgiven of their sins? Just the ones with the most obvious needs? What about those of us whose need is not so obvious? Anyone here fighting a demon or a temptation? Anyone here need strength to forgive and get over being hurt? The need for healing extends to us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
What we have learned from Jesus is that healing often is linked to forgiveness of sins. Jesus gave a wonderful gift to the Church: we are given the power to forgive sin in his name. To know that Jesus has forgiven you and that you can then forgive yourself and others is indeed a wonderful part of the healing ministry of the Church.
In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus is a guest at a banquet held at the home of a Pharisee. I wonder if this Pharisee even imagined the lesson he would learn that evening from Jesus. Luke tells us that the guests are already at the table eating. The Greek word for “at the table” really means they were reclining (as was the practice in Jesus’ day) and the guest’s heads were near the table and their feet were stretched out. This is what made it easy for the uninvited sinful woman to approach Jesus and start washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair and then anointing his feet with oil. The Pharisee was offended by this action, knowing that she was a known woman of the street and that she was breaking the Jewish laws of touching a Jewish man in such a way. And it gives Jesus the opportunity to teach something important for those around the table and for those of us who gather this morning at Resurrection.
He presented a parable about a creditor and 2 debtors. When they could not repay the debts, the creditor forgave them both. Jesus’ question to Simon the Pharisee was this: Now which of them will love him more? You remember Simon’s answer: I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt. Yes, says Jesus, you are right. See this woman? Look at all the little things she did to show her gratitude. You did not do these things. “I tell you, her sins which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown greater love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Here’s a question from the story: Was the woman forgiven because she did so many things for Jesus or, were all the things she did for Jesus her joyous response for being forgiven? I think it is the latter and that is the way all Christians are invited to respond. When we are forgiven of our sins, we are released to praise and witness and serve in Jesus’ name.
In today’s first lesson and the gospel lesson we have 2 characters who share something in common: King David and Simon the Pharisee. What do they share in common? Neither appears to see themselves as sinful. David sees himself as special and he can fool himself into thinking that the rules for right living must apply to others, but not to him. Simon the Pharisee sees the sinfulness of the uninvited guest, the woman, but fails to see that he too is sinful, perhaps being judgmental and unmerciful.
One of the charges against Jesus was this: he eats with tax collectors and sinners. The challenge of the Church these last 2,000 years has been how to reach out in Jesus’ name to the world and not be afraid of being labeled as people who “eat with tax collectors and sinners.”
Last week several of us attended the Virginia Synod Assembly at Roanoke College. Our keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, Director of African National Ministries in the ELCA. He spoke of Virginia Synod Lutherans becoming Open-Handed Ambassadors of Christ. We can do so, he said, by touching the world. He challenged us to get muddy, bloody, sweaty and dirty as we build up and help others. Do you know that Lutherans are the largest social service providers in the USA because of our love of Christ? He also quoted one pastor with a further truth: It’s well-known that if you need help with food and clothing you can go to the Lutherans. It’s also well-known that if you want to hear about Jesus, you go to the Pentecostals.
I think that was his way of prodding us Lutherans to actually say the words behind our actions.
Today, I would ask you to consider stretching yourself. After we have communion and the prayer stations are ready, how about coming to one of us for healing prayers and anointing with oil? The ones praying with you are good at keeping your information confidential, you do not even have to say exactly what your need is, God already knows. You could even say “I seek healing” or “I need forgiveness.” At the end of the prayer, the olive oil, an ancient symbol for healing, will be placed on your forehead as a cross.
Then what? Be like the woman in today’s gospel lesson. Go out and live joyously, be bold in showing through your actions and life that you are truly grateful to the Lord for his love, mercy and forgiveness.