4th Sunday after Pentecost—Year C—June 16, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
This week, one of my neighbors put up a new wooden fence around her backyard. This new boundary drastically changed the look of the parsonage backyard and changes the ways that I might engage with my neighbor in the future.
So watching the work progress got me thinking about all the boundaries in today’s Gospel reading, the boundaries that are put up for good or ill, and those that are brought down, also sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing.
(1) First you have the boundaries of society and religion that the woman must have crossed in order to be consider and called a sinner. The story does not go into any more detail about what her sin was, but we know she was a sinner. Her sinful behaviors seemingly separate her from others in society, like the upright Pharisee, and by his definition from God.
With his proclamation, the Pharisee upholds the divisions in society and attempts to erects a barrier between God and people along the same lines, but not just with regards to the woman, but Jesus also. We do not know why exactly the Pharisee invited Jesus over for dinner, but we do know that he was not as hospitable as could and should have been. By neglecting to wash his guests’ feet, Simon the Pharisee is saying something about his perceived status of them. He sets himself and those like him above Jesus, the woman, and presumably all other “sinners.” He erects a boundary between his group and the others.
(2) And along with that boundary, he includes a boundary between those “others” and God. This boundary is illustrated in how the woman is called a sinner and questioning Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. The division that separate Simon from the “others” also attempts to puts God on his side.
But it is not only the Pharisees of Jesus’ time that erect these boundaries. As Dorothy, Ann, and I (and the rest of the attendees of the New England Synod Assembly last weekend heard), there are many people in America that have experienced parts of the church doing this today…people of faith claiming that they have all the answers, and hold the only way to God, and are therefore better than those who do not claim a relationship with God. This has turned many away from the church. The hypocrisy is an impenetrable boundary for them, not a boundary between them and God, but between them and the body of Christ and from participating in the life of the church.
And although I would like to think that the ELCA and Lutheran Church of Framingham does not erect boundaries like this, saying to some people that they do not have equal access to God’s love, we can get lumped in with Christians that do. And on top of that, I wonder, are there other ways that we might erect barriers that keep others from fully participating in the life of the church and sharing in Christ’s gospel of love and forgiveness? Even simply expecting everyone to worship and serve the way that you do is erecting a sort of boundary of fed by judgment, just as Simon did.
(3) But on top of all the boundaries we erect between us and others, we also are responsible for erecting boundaries between us and God as well. Each time we sin, that is what we do, we separate ourselves more and more from God. Thinking that we have no need of God, that we can do everything on our own, that we have no need for forgiveness, because realty is obscured.
So we are walled off from others, and we wall them and ourselves off from God, just like the Pharisee did. What a bleak existence!
But thankfully we are not left there, walled off from everything and everyone. We can erect the walls with ease, but we cannot tear them down, but God’s love and forgiveness can and does!
God breaks down those same boundaries through radical hospitality in the form of forgiveness. God restores our relationship with God and the rest of creation. With that immense act of love, the cancelling of our debt, the breaking down of walls, our futures are opened up, for relationships to be renewed, to exist without boundaries.
By sinning, that is, breaking the boundaries that God and society sets up in the form of laws and rules, (because honestly, how can you be in relationship with your neighbors if they cannot trust you not to steal or kill?) we set up boundaries between others and ourselves, we impede the relationships for which God made us.
But God breaks those boundaries subsequently as an expression of love. God redefines through Jesus Christ who is in and who is out, opens up full participation in the salvation story, including everyone.
But the gospel story does not end there, and neither does ours. The boundary breaking is not over, because just like the woman, we too defy normal conventions in the name of the gospel in order to express our appreciation for the gift God gives us and to respond and share it with others through service.
Boundaries of convention are broken in gratitude for God breaking down the boundaries that we set up thinking we did not need God.
In the 2nd century CE, Christians were looked down upon because they all ate together and kissed each other, they practiced equality in worship that was not familiar to Roman society. How do we defy the perceived norm of society today, as the church, to spread the gospel to ALL, to serve ALL in need, to say to those society might call lower or least “you too are a child of God, your sins are also forgiven”?
We are called to accept Jesus’ radical welcome, to not be surprised if it changes our life like it did for that woman, and then go out and share the radical message of love to the whole world, offering sometimes even our tears if it is all we have. Amen.