Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend public gatherings. Even though a service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. (Note, this is NOTthe service streamed at Ocean Grove, because the congregation is having a guest speaker to commemorate Refugee Sunday.)
The usual audio files are not included this week due to technical difficulties, but these will return next week. There are also links to YouTube files for music. [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
‘Today is a day the Lord has made’, says an old religious writer, ‘let us therefore rejoice and be glad in it’. It is indeed! It is also good to be together again! For it is a sacred time, this. And a sacred place. So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
L: Life rises in our midst:
R: sometimes hard-won life.
L: It surprises us when it blossoms forth at unexpected times:
R: and in unexpected places. It comes with power stronger than death: All life born of faithfulness, life born of courage, life born of God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Surprising God, whose love leads us to new experiences, may we be open to your presence among us and within. Let us sense your glory in the sights and sounds of this day. Amen.
HYMN 474 – “Gather Us In” (click here to listen)
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “Christpower” by John Shelby Spong.
Look at him! Look not at his divinity, but look, rather, at his freedom. Look not at the exaggerated tales of his power, but look, rather, at his infinite capacity to give himself away. Look not at the first-century mythology that surrounds him, but look, rather, at his courage to be, his ability to live, and the contagious quality of his love. Stop your frantic search! Be still and know that this is God: this love, this freedom, this life, this being; and when you are accepted, accept yourself; when you are forgiven, forgive yourself; when you are loved, love yourself. Grasp that Christpower, and dare to be yourself! That is, I believe the pathway to God, the God whom I have en-countered in the profoundly human Jesus.
Let there now be a quiet time among us. May the silence remind us of the best hours we have known, and strengthen our resolve to live in that spirit which gives the better meaning to our lives….(at least 30 seconds silence)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
In today’s gospel, the woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house anointed Jesus with perfumed ointment. A gift of love. Justification by faith is a similar gift of love to us. No longer do we need to strive for acceptance by God by some kind of merit system. Our lives are forever anointed with grace. We are accepted and we are loved. And yet, in our communities of faith, we so often put conditions on acceptance of others, so let us pray:
Lord, when our behaviour fails to reveal our belief that your love for us is unconditional, forgive us. When we alienate others through judgmental or condescending attitudes, forgive us. When we believe that our faith experience is superior to the way others have come to faith, forgive us. When we insist, or even give the impression that the ‘way we have always done things’ is a faith requirement, forgive us. When we believe that we are justified in your eyes, O God, by our theology or our biblical knowledge, forgive us. Gracious and merciful God, remind us that the life we now live is through faith in Jesus, who loves us and gave himself for us. Therefore, with the apostle Paul, we affirm with thanksgiving: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
L: “Joy for all who take shelter in you, endless shouts of joy! Since you protect them, they exult in you, those who love your name. It is you who bless the penitent hearts, Yahweh; your favour is like a shield covering them.” And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R:Thanks be to God!
FROM THE EPISTLES – Galations 2:15-21
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 7:36-8:3
Here we are at Simon’s house. Simon is a Pharisee. Despite their bad press in the gospels, remember that Pharisees were deeply pious lay persons who devoted their lives to the study of Scripture, and who believed in putting Scripture into practice. Simon has probably invited Rabbi Jesus to dinner, probably for the discussion of some fine points of doctrine or some perplexing passage of Scripture. Into this scene of theological discussion – and, given the times, an exclusively male discussion at that – comes a woman. She is not just any woman, but a “sinful” woman we are told.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss,but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
8 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Bon Apetit”
Rarely in human life are boundaries drawn more clearly than around the dinner table. We take care whom we invite to dinner. Your daughter is dating a young man. “Dad, can I invite Geoff to lunch after church?” Your ears perk up. What does this mean? Who is this stranger intruding at our table?
Or you are at your first week on your new job. You wonder if you will like it; how you will relate to your new colleagues. Then someone says, “Some of us go out for lunch on Fridays. Would you like to join us?” And suddenly your level of optimism goes up a notch or two.
In my last church before retirement, in Bowral in the Southern Highlands of NSW, we started what we called FFISH groups: Food and Fellowship in Someone’s Home. There is good reason that the People of the Way, as the early Jesus followers were called, met around the meal table. For though boundaries are erected around the able, as well they should, once within those safe boundaries, we have less need for personal defences, and our individual boundaries are relaxed.
Eating is a place of intimacy, for the sharing of food together is one of the most intimate of human activities. The family meal, eaten by the gathered family at the end of the day is a sort of sacrament of family life, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
So the 23rd Psalm sings, “You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” The Psalmist knows that the one who will invite you to the table is the one who will stick beside you, even when you are threatened by your enemies.
For the Jew, every meal was a religious occasion. We get our custom of saying a blessing – a grace – before meals from the Jews. When you say a blessing before eating, you claim the dinner table as a place of divine grace and revelation. “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food” is a very Jewish prayer. If you want to know God, Israel says that you don’t have to go up to the mountaintop; all you have to do to discover the love of God is to consider the food on your table.
So today’s gospel puts us at the table with Jesus, who is the guest of a man named Simon, a religious person who spends much of his day studying God’s word and attempting to put his religion into practice in everyday life.
The blessing has been said, God has been invoked, and the conversation begins. First century Jews were often members of religious societies that met regularly for meals and conversation, so perhaps this is what’s happening in here at Simon’s house. They so seem to be discussing religion, and as I said, Simon is very religious.
All goes well until there enters a woman, a “woman of the city.” She comes in and falls upon Jesus, letting down her hair. And, yes, I think that the expression, “let down her hair,” meant the same then as it does now. She kisses Jesus feet and anoints them with oil and her hair.
This is more than Simon can take. It isn’t just that this woman has violated social propriety, it has occurred within the boundaries of a scared space and holy time, the dinner table. Of course, as Jesus notes, she is showing kind hospitality. It was customary, when a guest enters one’s house, to offer a kiss of welcome and to wash the guest’s feet as sign of hospitality.
But for Simon it is a religious issue. “If this man was a prophet – a real prophet,” he says, just loud enough to be heard by those at the table, “he would be able to see what sort of woman she is…a sinner.”
After all, what are prophets for if not to recognise sin when it occurs; to point to the boundaries between the holy and the unholy, the righteous and the unrighteous. If Jesus was a real prophet, he would be able to see.
Jesus’s responds with a parable: One man owes a small sum, another owes a very, very large sum. Their creditor forgave both debts. Which one would be the most grateful? The obvious answer is then applied to the woman and to Simon.
The issue then becomes one of perception. Jesus says to Simon, “Look at this woman. What do you see?” Does he see the woman who had offered the sort of hospitality that he had failed to, or does he merely see a sinner in need of exclusion? Does he see a code breaker who needs to be punished or a person full of spiritual hunger in need of life-giving nourishment? It all depends upon how one looks at the situation, and you will note the difference in the way that Simon sees the woman and the way Jesus sees her.
What kind of perception do we have when we gather around the table? Whom do you see gathered at the table of the Lord’s Supper? Is this just a meal for the “family,” that is, those of us gathered here in the fold? Or is this a meal of invitation and inclusion, meant to be shared with the whole world? Is this a meal for the religious elect? Or is this a meal for sinners being forgiven?
This is a story full of physical activity: of sight and smell, taste and touch. Jesus doesn’t bother the woman with the fine points of theology that Simon knows so well. It is enough for her to be at the table. She doesn’t say anything. She reaches out. She touches Jesus, offending poor Simon’s sensibilities, but for Jesus, forgiveness is not some doctrine to be believed; it is a feast to be enjoyed, a party to which outcasts are invited, a gift to be received with open hands.
So Jesus not only tells a parable at the table, he becomes a parable: a sign to the rest of us of what God is up to in this world. In Jesus, God is busy inviting the whole world to the table. The story poses a question for us to ponder: How do we insiders like this story? We have begun this service of worship with prayer and song, asking God to be present among us. We are here to receive Jesus into our hearts and minds, but how do we like this story about a woman of the city, an outsider and a sinner, who was better at receiving Jesus than the Simon the religious insider?
The Jesus whom we received is too often the Jesus of the elect, the Jesus owned by the insiders. But the Gospel brings us a Jesus who has this thing for outsiders; who makes the table, not just a place of warmhearted fellowship for the family, but also a means of grace, a sign of invitation to others to come join the family. Surely this is going to rub some people the wrong way: e.g. those who object to boat people being allowed into the country or those who would rather not share their street with an ex-con or an aborigine or a Muslim. How well do they receive this Jesus? How well do we receive this Jesus?
Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” I don’t think for a minute that he meant, “because you have faith, you have been forgiven.” This would be the old,”if you do this, I’ll give you this.” This is not the definition of grace. Rather, the woman’s faith is revealed by the fact of her daring to come to Jesus, daring to cross the boundary around Simon’s table, and thus Jesus can see something in her that Simon cannot see: the faith that recognises God’s open invitation to the lost to be found. Simon, for all his religion, and perhaps because of his religion, is blind to this.
If faith is a way of seeing, then the woman has it and Simon doesn’t. She sees in Jesus, an all-accepting, all-forgiving God who invites the world to his feast; Simon sees Jesus as only a would-be prophet.
Every time the church gathers for a meal, be it the Eucharist in worship or a pot-luck tea in the hall or a handful of people at a home fellowship group, Christ is there to extend the invitation. We are bidden to open our eyes and see among us the outcast, the unwanted, the outsider as sister and brother at the table, there at Jesus’ invitation.
“I don’t know that I’m Christian,” she said, “but I do consider myself very religious.” Problem is, Jesus, through his life, assaulted our view of religion, because we often use religion to draw lines across the world that demarcate the sinners from the saved, insiders from outsiders. When I went to my very first clergy gathering in Bowral, I naively asked if there were any Jewish rabbis or Muslim clerics. “Oh, no,” one replied, “they couldn’t possibly belong here.”
I wish my colleagues in the Southern Highlands Ministers Association could hear this sermon, for their constitution begins with a preamble, couched in very orthodox phrases, that excludes just about everyone from membership except bone fide insiders. It could have been written by Simon from today’s gospel story, and exemplifies the worst of religious exclusivity. Jesus makes “religious” mean something quite different, for he turns it into open-handed hospitality; a gracious welcome and invitation toward those our religion often excludes. What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who hears Jesus say, “Come to the feast,” and knows that means him or her, and who then turns to sisters and brothers throughout the world and says, “Come, join us sinners at the table.”
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
R: who is not afraid of our minds with all their questions, and all their doubting searchings for the truth.
L: We celebrate our God,
R: who knows and loves our deepest hearts, whose compassion is always greater than ours so that the measure of our kindness is always less than that of God.
L We celebrate our God,
R: who engages with our souls, Linking us with the mystery of the universe, the endlessness of eternity, yet is as close to us in our beings as a parent with a child.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD IN PRAYER
Please help us, most loving God, to be set free from worrying about our rights or reputation. Make your church a more inclusive community, where the free grace of Jesus is treasured and shared.
We pray for those who have fallen to sexual temptation, and who are now scorned by family, neighbours or old friends.
We pray for politicians who began with enthusiasm but later have become corrupted by status and power, and now are hollow and cynical.
We pray for common folk who get shut out of decision-making, and minor nations that are pawns in the power-play of super-powers.
We pray for the poor who cannot afford the best medical care or buy adequate legal counsel, and the unemployed who have no prospect of work.
We pray for all the folk who are deeply worried, depressed, confused, afraid, sorely tempted, ashamed, suffering or sorrowing.
We pray for the church in its many denominations, and especially for any who have grown arrogant, self serving, apathetic or misguided.
God our inclusive Friend, in your great wisdom edit our prayers, and use them for that greater purpose and pattern which is beyond our comprehension.Through Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, “Our Father…..”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORDS OF MISSION
L: Do not try to exceed your commission. Life is too short for grand gestures followed by self pity in the hour of failure. Go out to serve Christ without anxiety. Do what you can. Entrust to others what you must. And dedicate both your successes and your failures to the greater glory of God.
R:We are better than conquerors through the Christ who loves us.
May you always stand tall as a tree, be as strong as the rock Uluru and as gentle and still as the morning mist. Hold the warmth of the campfire in your heart. And may the Creator Spirit always walk with you. Amen.