God’s Kind of Community – June 17, 2001

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. 

Amen.

 

She’s got no name, but boy, does she have a story.

Have you ever noticed how in the scripture

 that there
are plenty of women – plenty of sinful women –

 running
around without names?

Well, sure they have names. 

 To their
friends and neighbors and mothers and fathers and partners,

 these women
are not unnamed sinners,

 but
they are loved ones with whom they laughed and cried

 and
suffered and rejoiced and shared their life and their love.

Nonetheless, in scripture they go about without a name,

 perhaps
because it was forgotten by the author or, more likely,

 it
was deemed not necessary to the story.

We have one such unnamed sinful woman in our gospel story
today.

And while it was a slight of justice

 to
rob this woman of her name and her identity,

 her
namelessness serves the purpose of highlighting not only her story,

 but
that of thousands of others in her day and ours.

For when we look at her we are looking at the unnamed
thousands

 who are
labeled as sinful outsiders,

 who
are pushed aside,

 and
whose presence makes many of us nervous. 

Today’s unnamed sinful woman –

 the unnamed
and outcast sinful woman whom we find

 at
the feet of Jesus and whose presence makes the host nervous –

has a story to tell, a story that we need to hear, a story
that we need to tell.

 

This story begins in community,

 in the home
community of our unnamed woman at her birth.

Although we hope that she was fully and completely loved by
her parents,

 she was
surely a disappointment to some in her family,

 and
perhaps to her parents,

 by nature
of her gender,

 for
after all, women were powerless in this ancient society,

 and the
birth of a female represented a potential loss of

 wealth
and prestige for her family.

Regardless of the attitude of her parents and family about
her gender,

 as a young
girl she would grow into her role as a woman,

 subservient
to any brothers or male cousins that she might have.

Furthermore, as she physically grew as a woman she would
find herself

 ritually
unclean and ceremoniously ostracised by the community

 on
a monthly basis because of her
biology.

As if this were not bad enough,

 at
some point along the line she was labeled a sinner.

 What was
her sin?

 Theft? Prostitution? Picking grain on the sabbath?

Luke doesn’t share that with us. We don’t know.

 Whatever
her unnamed sin was she was set apart,

 separated
from the community because of her sin,

 and her
name was replaced by the descriptive pronoun, “sinner.”

 Not
just a sinner but an outsider,

our unnamed woman could no longer be a part of the community
of her birth,

 and was
forced to occupy the margins of society,

 and
denied community, except for the community of the outcast.

And it was there,

 as a
resident in the community of the outcast,

 where
Jesus found her.

For just one chapter prior to today’s gospel reading

 we find
Jesus preaching on the plain to the outcast,

 “Blessed
are you who are poor,

 for
yours is the

kingdom

of

God

.

 Blessed are
you who are hungry now,

 for
you will be filled.

 Blessed are
you who weep now,

 for
you will laugh.”

And as the text a chapter before tells us,

 a great
multitude of people from all

Judea

,

Jerusalem

 and
the coast of

Tyre

and

Sidon

came to hear him. 

 They came
to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;

 and
those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

I can imagine that our unnamed sinful woman was among that
multitude

 hearing
the Good News of the

kingdom

of

God

,

 that
the

Kingdom

of

God

is hers,

 that
authentic community with God and her fellow sufferers is hers.

And perhaps, too, she was there to witness the healing

 of the
Centurion’s slave,

 a
fellow outsider,

 or
the raising to life of a widow’s dead son.

Perhaps she not only heard the word but saw in these
miracles

 the hope
for her own redemption,

 that
this man of God who proclaims Good News

 to
the marginalized,

 who
heals the unclean and who raises the dead,

 could heal
her uncleanliness and raise her from her social death.

Indeed, what she heard in his words and saw in his miracles

 was the

kingdom

of

God

, and it was good news.

Out of gratitude for his message

 she seeks
him out and offers him the ritual of hospitality –

 washing
the feet and annointing –

 for
he has come into her life.

But she does this not with clean water, but with tears of
pain,

 for this is
where Jesus entered her life –

 in
the pain, at the margins, as an outcast.

And it is precisely this interaction between Jesus and the
outcast

 which makes
the host nervous,

 for
it turns his world upside down.

“If this man were a prophet,” he says to himself, “he would
have known

 who and
what kind of woman this is who is touching him –

 that
she is a sinner.”

But the host has it all wrong,

 for it is
precisely because Jesus is a prophet (and much more)

 that he
touches and is touched by the outcast, the sinful, the unclean.

In our host’s understanding God comes into contact only with
those

 who behave
in prescribed ways,

 and
who follow certain rules.

Indeed, perhaps we think the same way.

 How many
people have been denied the good news because it was

 hidden
by church codes of behavior and dress and

 de-facto
assigned seating?

 How many
teens with alternative fashion taste

 have
been turned off to church because we tell them

 that
blue hair, male earrings or baggy pants are unacceptable?

 How many
gay and lesbian people have been denied the good news

 because
they have been told that God hates queers?

Yet Jesus himself tells us earlier in Luke that he has come

 not for
those who follow the rules

 but
for those who are cast out because of those rules –

 for the
sinners and the poor and the outcast

 and
all those rejected by a regulated society.

By reaching out to an outcast and a sinner,

 Jesus
violates the host’s sense of propriety and justice,

and offends those for whom love and compassion take a
backseat

 to
human reason, rules, order or tradition.

Jesus reaches out to the kid with blue hair,

 to the
person who looks, acts or even smells different than us,

 to the
person who has been told over and over again that

 God
hates them because of their sexual orientation.

Jesus is on the other side of those lines that we draw,

 forming
community out of those who are rejected by our communities.

 

And so as we begin our summer together,

 and as we
begin to look at the

Kingdom

of

God

together,

 our first
impression is one of a community of outcasts and sinners,

 gathered
in opposition to and at the discomfort of many

 who
find comfort in rules and regulations

 that
clearly define who’s in and who’s out.

Yet we also see in this kingdom a guiding principle,

 one of
forgiveness and mercy.

 The act of
love that our unnamed woman has shown to Jesus

 occurs
as a response to the good news of forgiveness,

 the good
news of freedom from sin

 and
restoration to community with God and others.

This unnamed woman’s story,

 and thus
the story of so many other unnamed men and women,

 is one of
death through sin and isolation and oppression,

 and
new life through the love and mercy of Christ.

Brothers and sisters,

 that is the
story of the

Kingdom

of

God

and of Christian community,

It is our story,

 for
in our baptism we have each died and been raised again,

 restored
to God and to each other by the mercy of Christ.

The Good News is that the

Kingdom

of

God

,

 the
community that God gathers us to be,

is one marked by the radical and irrational love of Christ,

 and
which destroys all that would divide us.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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One Response to God’s Kind of Community – June 17, 2001

  1. Steve Martin says:

    Nice sermon Chris!
    My only suggestion is that you not forget to add that Jesus said,”go and sin no more.”
    God put rules in effect so that we might live a better life in relationship to Him and the neighbor. And probably more importantly to kill us off to the self (convict of sin).
    So I’d say, as did Jesus, that the rules are important(not one jot or tittle shall be undone). If you don’t think you’re a sinner you have no need for the Jesus on the cross. You might tip your hat to Jesus the teacher, Jesus the helper, Jesus the …whatever. To know that you are unhealty and in need of the great Physician is to be placed amidst the law and in the law and then to realize that you come up short. And then maybe be a little sorry for it. Luther said that being sorry for it is enough.
    The gospel of affirmation, anything and everything goes, creates a guiltless society that has no need of the God on the cross. In fact He becomes an offense.
    It doesn’t take much of the Law to do it’s job. And then the Gospel will stand out in greater relief and hopefully grab a hold of the convicted sinner.
    Food for thought!
    Take care Chris and God bless!
    – Steve

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