Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who is at the table?

Luke 7:36-8:3
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
June 16, 2013

All of the commentaries and sermon starters I read this week implied that the gospel text is focused on women. How ironic on Father’s Day. Sorry guys you’ll have to see if the text treats you better next year.

Yet, I wonder if God would want us to see these texts or any texts as focused on a specific gender? Do you think? Do you think that one teaching of the bible has more to say to women than to men? or to men than to women?

What if the question or call of the biblical story isn’t necessarily to be a man of God or a woman of God but a disciple of Jesus Christ? No gender designation needed. I know, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. I know that there are differences between men and women. But I wonder if we genderize (I made that word up) I wonder if we assign gender to passages of scripture to the detriment of our daily life as people of God.  You know the old saying: what is good for the goose is good for the gander? What is good for the gander is also good for the goose.

So let’s see what this passage might have to say to us as men and women of God as disciples of Jesus the Christ, shall we?

There are two people in this passage a man and a woman. At first it would seem that the woman trumps the man in her devotion to Jesus. But I would like to submit that both Simon the Pharisee and the unnamed woman are people who are trying to follow Jesus. And receiving from Jesus the grace and help they need to do it.

Let’s first look at Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. Who invited Jesus to dinner! Before we get all high and mighty and offended by this poor Pharisee let’s cut him some slack. He did invite Jesus to dinner.
When was the last time you invited a homeless person to dinner?

In hindsight the Pharisee might be ashamed of the way he treated Jesus; but at the moment he was inviting a street preacher who was being followed by a group of 12 men and some women who were providing for his means. Hear again the end of the passage:
Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

This is the Jesus the Pharisee was inviting to his home. When was the last time you invited a homeless man into your home and washed his feet, kissed him in greeting and anointed his head with the oil of gladness?
Let alone a man who had 12 men and an assortment of women from all walks of life following him as if he were, well God incarnate or something?

Yeah, me neither.

And even more, he invited Jesus to his home for dinner with other guests! Let me read the verse at the end of the passage: But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  There were other invited guests. So Simon wasn’t trying to be like Nicodemus, all secretive about his meeting with Jesus. He was openly and honestly inviting Jesus to dinner.

For some reason, maybe because Jesus feet were especially dirty, maybe because he was lazy, maybe because he didn’t see the need, Simon decided that this particular dinner was going to be a more casual affair. He didn’t treat Jesus like he would a truly honored guest. He didn’t get out the bowl of water to wash Jesus feet, he didn’t produce the oil that would have expressed pleasure and welcome at the company of Jesus, Simon didn’t even greet Jesus with a kiss of welcome.
In Middle Eastern countries that is what you do when you meet someone you want to welcome into your ‘space’. You kiss them, we give out handshakes, and they kiss each other’s cheeks. Not just once but on each side and then again.

In other words, Simon decided to treat Jesus and this meal casually. Nothing fancy, nothing special.  
For us it would be like the difference between setting our table using paper napkins instead of ironing the linen napkins. Or the good china and the everyday plastic stuff.

Simon was going casual. And no one seemed offended. Even Jesus simply took his place at the table. Until…

Simon allowed a woman from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, to enter his house!
Simon opened his door and allowed this unnamed woman who happened to be in town and knew that Jesus was sitting at Simon’s table into the dining area.
Simon was a hospitable man! And he wanted to know more about this Jesus.

And it is the woman who teaches Simon what he needed to know.

Now I find it ironic, in this story filled with ironies, that this woman is given no name, just a description, a sinner. From this description commentaries and biblical interpreters have assumed that she is a prostitute, a woman who brings shame to the neighborhood and is whispered about in the dark corners of a room.
But all we are told is that she is a sinner and truth be told, that description applies to each and every person sitting around that table, except for Jesus.

This nameless woman who represents the entire dinner party, changes this casual dinner into a banquet. With her expensive perfume, her oil of anointing, her tears of cleansing and her act of gratitude she fills the room with all the ceremony and honor that should have been given to Jesus as soon as he entered the house.
 While the rest of the room shifts uncomfortably in their seats, coughs and avoids looking at the woman, Jesus perceives their distress and discomfort, probably their body language is enough to give it away. Jesus didn’t have to use any special powers to figure that one out.
So he asks them: If you own someone 5,000 dollars and someone else owes the person 500 dollars and the person forgives both your debts, which debtor is going to be more grateful?
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
You are right, Jesus answered. This woman has been forgiven many, many sins and she is showing her gratitude.

Now Jesus didn’t say to Simon or any of the others in the room, you are ungrateful prigs. No, he offered them all a part in the story. Do you owe a little or do you owe a lot. You call this woman a sinner, but you do realize don’t you, you are all sinners?
And I am telling you, Jesus says, you are all offered forgiveness.
If you have a lot of debts, a lot of things on your plate that you are ashamed of, they are cancelled. If you have a little debt, just enough to make you feel less than good, they are cancelled. Even if your sin is self-righteousness and failure to name your own sin while calling someone else sinner: Cancelled. It is all Cancelled. Forgiven.

Those at the table asked the right question. Finally, someone asked the right question: Who is this who can forgive sins?

I would think by this time, everyone in that room would have realized: we are all debtors, we each in our own way owe so very much and we have not sought out forgiveness nor expressed the gratitude that would reflect the amazing gift that forgiveness is in our lives.

And so the question is: who is this who can forgive sins?

And the answer: This is Jesus, savior, the merciful one, the guest in our homes, the one who sits at our tables each and every day.

Are we welcoming him into our lives with gratitude that is minimal or with gratitude that reflects the amazing, amazing guilt free life that we have been granted?

Who is this who forgives my sin? Who is this that forgives the worlds sin? Who is this that forgives your sin?

Each morning we are given the opportunity to open the doors of our lives, to welcome him into our lives, to greet him with the oil of gladness, the kiss of peace and to feel the waters of our baptism renewing us again and again as we live as forgiven people.

God’s people.
Who is this who can forgive sins? He is the one who sits at our tables and invited us to sit alongside him. He is Jesus.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A New Song

Psalms 96
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
June 7, 2013

One of the joys of annual conference is singing with a group of 1000+ Methodists accompanied by amazing musicians playing all sorts of instruments. The first service I attended was one of those amazing experiences. The praise band was, well, praising. The song we began the service with was awesome, familiar
We sang well, there is nothing like a bunch of Methodists singing a familiar hymn. We even got some clapping going.
Then we spoke some great liturgy together about Jesus being our rock and strong help in times of need
Then it was time for another song. It started out very familiar. An old gospel song from my teen years, once again everyone sounded awesome; until we got to the chorus. The words were the same words I remembered but the tune was totally different. Totally different! Strange!
In a cynical tone of voice I said to my colleague, “I have NEVER sung it this way before!” and we laughed.
I wish I could remember the name of the song.  Here’s the thing, I asked a colleague the name and she couldn’t remember it either but she did remember how difficult the chorus was to sing.

In all my 20 years of worship planning the most difficult part has been to choose hymns that satisfy everyone and still speak to the message of the bible texts chosen for the day.
I am fortunate now because I have tools available that I didn’t have 20 years ago. I have the two United Methodist Church hymnals loaded into my iTunes on my computer and I can find the hymns and songs from the new green hymnal on line usually through YouTube.

I understand the struggle it is to sing unfamiliar hymns. I was just faced with it at annual conference.
YET, on the other hand, young people appreciate both the old hymns and the new hymns. I appreciate, and our praise team appreciates, both the old hymns and new expressions of songs that praise God. Many of you appreciate both the old and new hymns of the faith.

I wonder if the Psalmist was dealing with people who were struggling with learning to appreciate all expressions of praise. Do you remember how many Psalms there are in the bible? 150. Each one a compilation of songs sung in worship in the ancient temple. Now, not all 150 were written at once. New ones were being added and I wonder if the newest ones had to be introduced slowly, with special care not to upset those who came to hear the old psalms. I wonder if this psalm was written to encourage the adoption of the newest psalms. For the psalmist begins: “O Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord and bless God’s name.”
I wonder if he, as the psalm and singing leader in the temple was hearing the comments that contemporary pastors hear: “Don’t make us sing too many new songs, pastor. We won’t like it.”

Well really, it is easier to live in the past isn’t it, with what we are familiar and what we know. It is easier to look to the past and sigh because things aren’t like they used to be and it all seems so much more complicated.

As a new resident of this community I hear a lot of sighing about what was. And I would have liked to have been here when there were two hardware stores and a selection of clothing stores, grocery stores, even a jewelry store. I’ve seen the poster that depicts the old downtown.

We look at the main street through town now and sigh for what isn’t and what was. We feel as if our town is abandoned, left over, forgotten, a has-been. Not worth much of anything.

But we are United Methodist’s! We take seriously God’s promise of being with us, going before us and calling every place sacred and worthwhile.  We are UM’s! It is our job and calling to let others know that God is here. God is with us. God’s blessings are right here, right now and there isn’t anything any one can do about that. God loves us and that is that.

Now letting our community know this is tricky in a small, close knit community. We don’t want to be accused of trying to steal the sheep from other churches. We don’t want to seem as if we think we are the only gig in town worth knowing about.
Yet, we do want people to know that we believe with all our hearts souls and minds that God is present here, right now. And that if we as a community, continue to acknowledge God’s presence we will be better able to see the good, seek out the noble and encourage the holy and sacred within our own community.

And we know as people of God that a healthy community that sees itself as a place of sacred worth, gives our children, young people, adults and seniors a place to grow and thrive and become who it is God created them to be.

And we know as people of God called Methodists we are to be the ones who name it as so and who work to make it so.

That is why, this summer we are going to be physically blessing the places within our community. We will begin this morning by making stepping-stones.
Out of simple forms and concrete we will fashion a way of saying to our community, God is here, what you are doing here is of sacred worth, we want you to know that we see it and want to be a part of God’s work of blessing your work.

Now this month we are going to be working on stepping-stones for the businesses in Chatfield. Looking at Main Street you might think, well that won’t take too long. We will need about 1 dozen stones. Right? WRONG. I have a list of businesses posted around the church. Guess how many businesses that have storefronts are in Chatfield? 67!

So we have to get busy making stones today and keep at it until we have enough made. I don’t think we realized what we were attempting. But this is good isn’t it? Just this will remind us that there is more here than meets the eye.  Already we are realizing that this community is more vibrant than we thought. More alive with possibilities than we expected. What is really good to know about these businesses is that young people own many. These are men and women who have chosen the Chosen Valley for their home and place of business.

You know Wesley was a great proponent of honest good work. Without a healthy economy Wesley knew that children didn’t get fed or taught or cared for. Without a healthy economy older adults didn’t get the medical care they needed. Without a healthy economy the stress of home life was unbearable. Without a healthy economy the work of God in the world could not get done. Wesley’s first mission was to the coal miners in England. He went right to the mine sites to preach and teach the love of God to those men who had to spend hours in darkness working 7 days a week. Because of their work schedule they were unable to attend church on Sunday morning. Wesley wanted the miners to know that God had not abandoned them because they were unable to attend church. Wesley wanted the miners to know that they were God’s children, worthy of God’s sacrament, and able, even under horrible working conditions to act like children of God. Wesley wanted them to know that they had sacred worth. And that their families deserved men who were living lives of dedication to the holy and good.

Wesley knew that the song had to be sung in a different way, to a different tune, for a different audience, even in a different place.

We want, I hope, to be people who will hear the new song God is signing in our midst. The words and tune will not be familiar and it might seem dissident at times, difficult to sing, even.
But we are called upon to hear it. And to join in as we learn the words and begin to recognize the tune.

This summer we will be singing the song of God in the midst of our community, literally. And letting our community know, God’s song is here. Hopefully someone will hear the song again or for the very first time and begin singing along with us.