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Monday, November 15, 2010

Special Reserve (Luke 7.37-50)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 14, 2010 - Consecration Sunday
Some Music Used 
These Hands (Deyo)
Take My Life (Tomlin)
My Jesus, I Love Thee (Sjolund) - Jim Terrell, soloist

Offering (Baloche)

Special Reserve
Texts: Luke7:37-50

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today is Consecration Sunday. That may mean something to some of you and others may have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay! My hope is that after looking more closely at the significant story in today’s text, that we will come face to face with a powerful and moving picture of consecration.

Last Sunday I looked at this same passage – actually the first few verses of chapter eight – to talk about stewardship. Stewardship has to do with giving or giving back to God, understanding that everything already belongs to Him. So stewardship can refer to time, money, affection, and any other number of offerings to God. And there is such thing as a good stewardship and a bad stewardship. We can give God our best, our second best, or our leftovers.

Stewardship describes our understanding and handling of resources, that we are stewards of what God has entrusted to our care.

Consecration describes the act of setting apart our resources (and ourselves) for God. In baptism and communion, I consecrate or set aside ordinary tap water, bread, and juice for God’s purposes and activity. So today we take time, having considered the meaning of stewardship, to consecrate our ordinary selves and resources for God’s holy or extraordinary purposes. It relates nicely to the sentence we have out front: “Ordinary people; extraordinary God.”

In today’s story we will see two people responding to Jesus’ presence in significantly different ways. And there is a marked contrast there. The first and apparent contrast is in their station in life – their appearance and reputation. But as the story unfolds and Jesus teaches, we see that the deeper contrast has to do with themes of stewardship and consecration – how and what each person has done in response to the presence of Jesus.

First, there is a lot going on in terms of the historical context. Let me walk through that and then we’ll look at the great contrast and how we might be challenged in our own lives before God.

A Lot Going on Here

There is a lot going on culturally in this story, and it is not all immediately apparent. Much of what I will say comes from historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars diligently studying aspects of first century Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture. I mention all that to say that there is great value in trying to understand the context and culture of different portions of the Scripture, much as one of our Sunday school classes is doing this Fall.

So in our text, a Pharisee asks Jesus to come eat at his house. We read the detail that they “reclined” at the table. This clue answers several questions we would have of this story. For one, it indicates a certain kind of dinner – a certain social kind of dinner – where the house was open to outsiders. Particularly with Jesus being treated as a Teacher or Rabbi, the custom would have been for the poor or interested to come quietly listen to whatever he might say, though they would not have had a place at the table. That explains how it was that a woman such as the one in the story might come into a dinner party.

The style of meal also explains some of her actions. She brought the alabaster jar of perfume with her, most likely to anoint Jesus head in recognition of him as King, or perhaps prophet. Because the dinner guests were reclining – lying down toward the table, with feet away from it, she only had access to his feet. You heard what happened next. She began weeping – we’ll come back to why in a moment – and as her tears fell on his feet, she wiped them with her hair.

That is probably the strangest part of the story for us, right? But it is not without precedent. You have probably heard about the washing of feet. It is something a host would provide for a guest. With sandals and lots of dirt, people’s feet quickly became dirty. In a household of means, a servant would wash a guest’s feet, either with a towel (as Jesus did to his disciples before the Last Supper), or if a female servant, sometimes with her hair. It was a startling gesture, to be sure. That her hair was down and showing indicated she was not a woman of standing. That she used it to wash Jesus’ feet indicated a servant attitude toward one of greater importance. But those two facts were what was startling, not the use of her hair for this purpose (which is the odd thing to us).

And then, having washed Jesus’ feet, she anointed them with the perfume as she kissed his feet. Again, we can be confused or draw the wrong conclusions from the kissing. There was nothing romantic; in that culture it was a kiss of greeting, respect, and honor. Basically, her anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet were both actions honoring someone of high standing or reputation. She just didn’t have access to Jesus’ head – at the table – and washed, anointed, and kissed the only part of him she could reach, which only served to accent her respect of him.

Now, why was she weeping? On one hand, we can only guess. But the context – from Jesus talking right before this passage about the repentance signified in John’s baptism, to his explanation about the woman’s debt, to his acknowledgment of her faith and forgiven sins – suggests that she is repentant, believing, and grateful… that these are tears of sorrow and joy mixed together in the presence of the one in whom she has found peace.

There are a few other points that are not immediately obvious. One might think, when Jesus turns to Simon and begins a parable, that Simon Peter is present and Jesus is having a teaching moment with his disciple as he so often does. But what actually seems to be the case is that Simon is the name of the Pharisee hosting Jesus. Quickly, several things suggest this. Simon was a common name (even among the disciples there is Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot). The Simon in this scene calls Jesus “Teacher (Rabbi”; in Luke, the disciples almost always call Jesus “Master” and the Pharisees and others refer to Jesus as Teacher/Rabbi. More directly, in verses 44 and following, Jesus rebukes Simon for not showing standard signs of hospitality. It would not have been a disciples’ place to do these things, but the host’s responsibility.

Realizing that Simon is the hosting Pharisee rather than the disciple Peter makes the contrast between Simon and the woman all the more significant, and that’s where I want to focus now as we try to understand what consecrating ourselves and our resources means.

Special Reserve or a Bare Minimum

Hopefully we have a handle on the customs and culture and dynamics of the story. Next week we will look particularly at the short parable Jesus told Simon, focused on gratitude. But today I want to focus on Jesus’ “explanation” in verses 44 and following. It is only there that the startling contrast between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman come to light.

At first glance, and evidently from Simon’s perspective, one thing is going on. Simon, a Pharisee and man of some standing, is publicly hosting an up-and-coming popular Rabbi in his home. It seems to be a social event meant to be seen and heard, though only by the “right sort” of people. The woman’s intrusion is disruptive in a number of ways and seems on the surface to be anything but a thoughtful offering. It is perceived as rude, messy, unnecessary, and anything but respectable.

Simon didn’t say these things to Jesus, but “to himself.” But Jesus read his heart (ironically proving to be the kind of prophet Simon reckoned he wasn’t!).

Jesus allows the whole thing to play out, only turning toward the woman in verse 44, after allowing all her attentions and after having an exchange with Simon about debts and gratitude. But it is when he turns to her in verse 44 that he speaks to Simon (turned away from him) and interprets her actions in front of Simon, the woman, and everyone else in the room.

And Jesus doesn’t just interpret her actions, but does so by contrasting Simon’s actions (or lack of them).
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (v. 44)

You [Simon] gave me no kiss [of welcome or greeting]; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. (v. 45)

You [Simon] did not anoint my head [even with basic olive oil]; but she anointed my feet with perfume. (v. 46)
Simon the Pharisee, invited Jesus to come to his house, on his terms, and provided the bare minimum of hospitality. The woman, sought Jesus out, likely having heard Jesus’ earlier teaching on repentance and she poured out everything she had, materially, emotionally, spiritually – not to be seen and esteemed, but in complete humility, mingling tears, humble service, and treasured possessions.

Do you hear the contrast? Let it sink in… it nearly wrecked me when I got it all untangled.

I find far too much to identify with in the religious person who gladly welcomes Jesus into my house as long as it’s on my terms and with the limits I set. I congratulate myself on “being seen with Jesus” and miss the depth of faith and love of a sinner, broken in repentance and gratitude.

I know who I am more often. What about you? Who are you?


Today we pause to consider consecration as the act of setting aside ourselves for Jesus. As I said last week, this is not about raising funds for the church budget. It is far, far deeper than that. Consecration is the deep response of one who has understood the depths of our sin and the deeper mystery and grace of God’s love. It is not bringing a few dollars for a nice lunch with Jesus, but bringing that which we reserve as our best, most, and deepest – from our sorrow and disappointments to our hopes and dreams to our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The message is not, “You aren’t doing enough.” It’s not that at all.

Rather, the question of this text is, “Who are you in relation to Jesus?”

You can’t fake what the woman was doing. That’s authentic; that’s real; that’s consecration. Amen.

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