Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Etiquette errors

Luke 7: 36-50
Emily Post would have been appalled!!!   The rules of social behaviors were being broken left and right! 

Simon, the Pharisee, broke every etiquette rule of the time when inviting an honored guest for a meal.   It was clear Jesus wasn’t just anybody- Simon addressed him as teacher and would likely have been given the seat of honor next to Simon at the table.  But even so, Simon neglected his guest.  Simon needed a lesson on hospitality from Emily Post. 

Simon, whether he realized it or not, sent a message to Jesus and the rest of the guests.  Jesus was not really wanted or needed in Simon’s eyes.  As a Pharisee, Simon was used to being treated with honor and respect and although he may have been surrounded by others with a similar status in the community, he felt superior.   Maybe he had heard about Jesus and wanted to get him on his turf, catch him off guard- maybe Jesus would say something- dangerous.  Simon was not disappointed.

The woman in the scripture lesson knows her position and her life situation as a sinner and knows she needs Jesus.  Since Simon isn’t showing Jesus the respect he deserves, the woman is compelled to act.  She is overcome by love and devotion for Jesus and gets so caught up in the emotion of the moment that she commits a social faux pas as well- she allows men to see her hair.  It was a very intimate moment for a woman to unveil her hair and was intended for only her husband but she is so caught up that she let it down and used it to dry the tears from the feet of Jesus.

While Simon and the woman both break etiquette rules- Simon errs on the side of not enough respect and affection and the Woman errs on the side of too much affection. 

The woman in the story is labeled as a sinner, justifiably I am sure.  The woman knows her faults.  She knows she has lived a sordid life, made many mistakes, poor choices, and has been ostracized from society because of it.  She knows she has no hope for redemption outside Jesus Christ.

Simon, on the other hand, is also a sinner but he just doesn’t know it.  In his mind, he has always done the right thing, followed the rules, and always been an upstanding member of society and yet he does not know love.  He has been able to cover up his faults and short comings with this public persona.  He has been faking having it all together for so long that he has begun to believe it himself. 

It is a lot easier being Simon than it is the woman in the scripture lesson today.  We do this all the time.  When we have times of emotional stress, instead of dealing with it we dry our tears, look in the mirror and chastise ourselves and say things like “get it together.”  We have phrases in our society like “fake it till you make it” “put your best foot forward” “nobody likes a cry baby” “ignore and it will all go away.” 

We spend so much time trying to look good in front of others that eventually we start believing it ourselves.  We, like Simon, put other people like the woman down, exaggerate their flaws and down play our own so that we can make ourselves feel better about ourselves.   We don’t like admitting we have faults and failures so we say things like, well at least I don’t do –THAT and at least I don’t act like her!  We are so accustomed to doing everything we can to feel superior and to be independent that we don’t realize when we are lost and need help. 

The woman on the other hand is very aware of her faults.  We don’t really like people like her because they draw attention to themselves.  They are zealous about their feelings and beliefs.  They know that they need help and they aren’t afraid to ask for it.  Maybe they are grateful for things that you think are trivial or not really all that important.  They are passionate and sometimes that makes people uncomfortable.  We don’t really know how to deal with it so we avoid it. 

Jesus sees this in Simon and the other guests and rather than point it out directly he does  that thing Jesus does and tells a story- Helps the people recognize themselves without ever blaming, pointing the finger or putting people on the defensive.

The parable Jesus tells Simon and the other guests at the table has nothing to do with money.  It is not really about random people it is about Simon and this woman.  It is about us.   Do we recognize how much we need Jesus or are we still under the delusion that we can save ourselves?  Do we count our sins and say- well, it’s not really that bad.  Or, can we look in the mirror and see the innumerable sins of our lives and see the blood of Christ washing them all away? 

The part of this story that really caught my attention is often over looked.  Jesus says the one who was forgiven the most debt loves the most but he also said they were both forgiven their debts.  Both the one who owed the most and the one who owed the least are both forgiven.  It is not that the woman is forgiven and Simon isn’t.  They are both forgiven- one just appreciates it more.

No matter which person you identify with the most.  Christ came for all, those who recognize their sins and those who don’t.  Those who have tried to live a right life and failed, as well as those who never seem to make the right choices.  Those who love much and those who are stingy with their emotions.  Those who count their sins as many as well as those who count their sins as few.  All can be forgiven and all are loved by God.

No matter who you are- Can you look at Christ on the cross and recognize that all that was for you?  Christ came to save not only the woman who was a sinner but Simon, the Pharisee.  Christ dinned with sinners of all sorts not just the ones labeled as such.  And Christ died for sinners the same.  We all need saving, whether we realize it or not.  We all need Christ.

Realizing this is and acknowledging just how much we need salvation is what brings us closer to God and more profound connection with the one who knows us and loves us anyway.  Instead of hiding behind our fears, being open and vulnerable with God is the way to a deeper relationship.  It is honesty, desire and focus on love and the source of that love in Christ that fulfills our lives, changes us for the better and moves us to share the love of Christ with others. 

This love gives us confidence to offer the same words of comfort Jesus offered-“Your sins are forgiven” and once we recognize who Christ is and that he is the source of love and our only hope for salvation- we too can leave as the woman did- in peace- knowing that faith in the one true God has saved us.

Monday, June 17, 2013

trust who?

1 Kings 17: 8-16

This story is one of three in a row of Elijah’s miracles.  There is a drought in the land where the god Baal is being worship.  This is ironic because Baal was the god of fertility-for people and land and despite the people’s pleas, prayers and sacrifices the land was without rain and without harvest.  Nothing was growing and people were starving. 
They knew of the One true God but did not worship God.  Elijah was sent to this place to bring them back to God- to show them that the false idols they had been leaning on for protection and provision were inadequate.  Elijah’s presence and the miracles he performed in the name of the one true God was proof of who was really in charge... and it wasn’t Baal. 

This story although ancient is replayed over and over again even today.  Our false idols may not have the name Baal but none the less, they do exist.  We place our hopes and dreams in things like careers, investments, spouses, youth, lottery tickets, the government, and education but time after time we are let down and disappointed. 

We get a false sense of security from products and promises that seem too good to be true- creams and injections that promise to make us look years younger, diet pills that promise we will be skinny in the blink of an eye with no exercise required.   Get rich quick schemes that promise wealth and riches without a day’s work.  Self-help books that promise happiness if you will follow these seven easy steps. 

Even the church uses these schemes to mislead people.  While I was on vacation I woke up one morning to an evangelist on TV promising that if you sent him $1000 dollars all your money and legal problems would go away.  I couldn’t even bare to watch it. 

It is an idol of money and wanting something for nothing, camouflaged as faith. 

This widow had nothing to offer.  Her hopes and dreams had been smashed by false idols.  She and her family are desperate and on the verge of starving to death when Elijah arrives.  

Most of us have never experienced the desperation of this widow.  We may complain about not having enough.  We make look at our small house, old car, and cabinet filled with food we just don’t want to eat.

Many of us function from the perspective of “not enough”.  We are a glass half empty society. We always want something more, something better.   We are weary about welcoming people into our lives who may not be able to carry their own weight.  We fear that if we share what we have somehow we will be lacking.  We hoard money and things afraid that we might need it one day instead of trusting that God will provide what we need according to the grater plan.

We have been burned by people who take advantage of our kindness and generosity so we are wary about helping others.  We are scared to go out on a limb, risk our own stability, provisions and emotions because we are afraid.

God tells us, like he told this widow through Elijah, Do not be afraid.  While the widow didn’t have anything to offer- she was going to die anyway- she could still be hospitable and why not see if this stranger’s prediction would come true. 

She didn’t stop at one biscuit, she invited him into her home, continued to be hospitable and God took the lead and proved that it was not the false idol that would provide for her needs but God is the only one who is truly able to provide. 

Faith requires trust.  Trust that if we do what we can out of love for God and one another the ability to give and love will never end.  While faith in God requires trust, it also requires action, a willingness to show hospitality to a stranger, generosity and a willingness to share what little we do have with others.  This is not a down payment on a future miracle like the evangelist wanted his viewers to believe.  It isn’t about wishing and hoping God will come through when times are tight.  It is walking and talking our faith and trust each and every day.

Christ, like Elijah, was sent to us to remind us that the false idols of our day are insufficient and that there is nothing that can be trusted other than God.  Christ’s life is the ultimate expression of that trust and the ultimate proof that God will provide and Miracles can happen.  Christ’s prayer asking for some other solution than his crucifixion was not granted but because there was trust, love and a willingness to risk everything that even in the death of Christ, we have hope.  The miracle was not that Christ didn’t have to suffer but that there is life past death.  It is not that we have a life without problems but because of Christ we have hope in spite of our problems. 

Faith is trusting God, that no matter what, there is a plan and God will provide.  It is hope in a future with God- a life fulfilled by love not an end to problems, not an easy life, not an expectation that all our prayers will be answered in exactly the way we desire.  We may never have all we want.  We may never have the best of everything and we may never be as successful as we would like and bad things may happen but we still have hope in a God who does love us and is able to care and provide for us all that we need. 

When we pray for miracles, when we ask God to provide for our needs, when we trust that God loves us and cares for us, when we humble ourselves and realize that God is the only one who can answer our prayers it gives us hope and encouragement.  We know that there are no guarantees in life but when we are willing to take the risk, and step out in faith that God will meet us- the possibilities are limitless for God, miracles can and do happen and God can provide. When all our false idols have turned to dust, God will remain. With God there is always a ray of light, always hope, always a tomorrow.