+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +
Text: Luke 7:48-50
Theme: Forgiven and Restored
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In today’s gospel account we learn of a woman who very openly risked shame and ridicule to have her sins forgiven by Christ. We have much to learn from her humility. What sins are you in denial about? What transgressions do you fear to confess? What secrets do you hope to keep concealed? What public offenses are you ashamed of? These questions probe the heart and confront the mind of every human being even when not deliberately addressed. In our human relationships we use masks and guises and may even try to hide from ourselves. But each of us is completely transparent before God. The Scripture says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”1
For any and every sin God calls us to unrestrained repentance.
Then He never fails to remind us of the deliverance that reconciles us in His love. This reality has very tangible consequences. The effect of baptism is that it brings you into a state of conflict with the world that you weren’t in previously. Yes, unbelievers too can find themselves at odds with the prevailing philosophies of the culture at any particular time. The very secular-minded person can still have ethical standards that clash with societal norms. The thoughtful humanist may oppose abortion, support traditional marriage, and generally work towards a morally upright culture. For this we give thanks.
But the unbeliever is never completely in conflict with the world because he or she believes life in this world is in some measure an end in itself. To some degree satisfaction and pleasure, accomplishment and legacy (including the hope that humanity progresses towards an ever higher estate of allowing these goals to be achieved) are the be all and end all goals of this life.
The Christian, however, is fundamentally at odds with the world’s agenda; not firstly by choice but as a result of the new baptismal identity. There can be no consensus, or comfortable agreement with secular teaching. The Christian always prays for and works towards the conversion of the unbeliever. Yet the world will never be brought into complete unity with the purposes and will of God. To believe that the world will ever be completely Christianized is in direct contradiction to the teaching of Christ Himself? Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”2
Luther directly critiques the misguided attempts of people who want to have peace with God and harmony with the world apart from Christ. “And here the perversity of man seeks peace before righteousness, and for this reason they do not find peace…the righteous man has peace with God but affliction in the world, because he lives in the Spirit. The unrighteous man has peace with the world, but affliction and tribulation with God, because he lives in the flesh.”3
The Holy Spirit leads the believer in these struggles of the flesh. To shun the temptations of the world never comes naturally to the Old Adam- the sinful nature. We will always have a very real degree of attraction to any self-serving opportunity. This is true for baser things like lust and over-indulgence; and also more sanitized pursuits such as greed and recognition. These desires easily take on a life of their own. That is why the Bible uses the language of crucifixion even when describing our sanctification. The Scripture says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”4 And the apostle says today, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”5
Dear friends, our faith matures not by progressing unimpaired on an upward trajectory, but by the continual practice of repentance. Evil and ungodly desires and practices are piled onto the dump heap upon which the cross is planted and the believer breathes again the fresh air of forgiveness. Our baptism doesn’t get more distant; rather its power becomes a joyful sight for sore eyes. The cruciform, or cross-shaped life, is the Holy Spirit’s blueprint for leading the Christian to a maturity of faith. But again, this maturity doesn’t involve a string of easy, unrivaled victories. The baptismal life is a series of drownings and resuscitations that ends only when God removes us from this sphere of evil and temptation and the need for forgiveness becomes obsolete.
The strength of Mary’s devotion is evidence of her understanding the magnitude of the forgiveness granted to her. She was a woman of ill-repute, of tarnished reputation and the locals knew her situation well. In the presence of Pharisees Jesus was allowing her to wash His feet with her tears and perfume. This Pharisee named Simon reasoned that Jesus was unaware of this woman’s status in society. If Jesus were even as savvy as a prophet, why would He let an indisputably sinful and unclean person be in contact with Him?
Here is precisely where we reach the pivotal truth of the matter. Jesus Christ came for sinners. No exceptions! He humbled Himself, He lowered Himself, He publicly allowed Himself to be demeaned for the sake of the unclean, the outcast, the despairing; for the sake of us all. Now people may say that’s very honourable, but other people could do that and what does it accomplish in the end? Sympathy? Pity? Dear friends, Christ is not anyone; He is the incarnate Son of God. His touch heals, His word changes things, His promise effects forgiveness, His death brings life and His resurrection secures eternity!
Mary understood her spiritual indebtedness and she knew she could never pay it off. She knew that debt could only be cleared by the mercy of the Lord. How easily we under-appreciate what this means! Remember the man who called the police and reported that all of his wife's credit cards had been stolen. Then he added, "But don't look too hard for the thief. He's charging less than my wife ever did." Yes, it’s not only better that someone else handles our debt; it is our only hope.
Mary knew this better than the Pharisee who thought he could handle it himself. But “the woman came believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshipping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from Him, she truly acknowledged Him as the Messiah.”6
So if in our own estimation there is little for which God needs to forgive us than the strength of our response will likely be correspondingly weak. If there is little to forgive there is little need for God’s mercy. If we remain convinced of our relative innocence then the Good News of pardon in Christ isn’t really so great and neither is our devotion.
Dear friends, Christ said three important things to Mary. “Your sins are forgiven.”7 “Your faith has saved you…(and)go in peace.”8 These are the same promises and blessings we receive from Him today- absolution in this place, the blood of forgiveness from this altar. They are not empty words or fine-sounding niceties. They are divine words of authority imparting to us the salvation He accomplished with His blood. “For…it was not with silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb with out blemish.”9 Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday after Pentecost
13 June 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Hebrews 4:13 2 Luke 18:8
3 LW 25:285-6 4 Galatians 5:24
5 Galatians 2:20 6 AP IV, 128:154
7 Luke 7:48 8 Luke 7:50
9 1 Peter 1:18-19