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March 26, 2017



3.26.17                                    Lent 4                - Luke 7:36-39,44-50 ESV


36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

    44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  





Change.  Lots of quotes about change.  “Nothing endures but change,” Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said.  “Change before you have to,” business guru Jack Welch said.  “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill said.  “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude,” American poet Maya Angelou said.  “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said. 


There are many more.  You’ve all seen changes in people.  A teenage girl’s personality changes from bubbly to brooding, and her make-up and clothing style reflect it.  A high school boy falls in with the wrong crowd and starts mouthing off to parents and dropping out of school.  It goes the other direction, too, sometimes.  A troubled young lady reluctantly goes on a mission trip and comes back all excited about helping other people.  An angry young man who couldn’t keep a job joins the Marines and comes back lean and clean cut, full of “Yes sirs” and “No Ma’ams.”  What changed them? The only person you can change is you, some say.  Carol Burnette is quoted:  “Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.”


Well, we believe there is another Person who can change us.  In fact, as we’ll see in this installment of our sermon series on repentance today: TURN TO JESUS; HE CHANGES YOUR LIFE.


Some things don’t change.  We get the impression that Jesus didn’t decline dinner invitations very often.  He went to dinner parties with tax collectors and sinners, it says in the gospels, and here we read He went to a Pharisee’s house for a banquet of some sort.  Other than his name, Simon, we don’t know much about this man.  Of course as a Pharisee we know he was a religious fanatic, compulsively keeping the laws of Moses and obsessively observing the rules they had added. (Can you say, OCD?)  We don’t know where Simon lived, or what the occasion was, or who else was on the guest list, or what was on the menu.  We can guess what his motives were – more likely to find fault with Jesus than to feed Him a good meal.


One thing we know is that someone who had not been invited somehow crashed the party.  “Behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at his feet (note: they reclined on couches around the table) weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”  Who was she?  We don’t know, although that doesn’t stop some from speculating.  How did she get in?  Perhaps the answer lies in the architectural design of the day.  An upscale villa would have an open courtyard that could serve as a banquet hall.  With servants coming and going to bring food and beverages, this woman could have mixed in and gained access.


However she got in, whoever she was, the people at the party knew her and what she did.  She was a “sinner,” probably a prostitute, recognized in their community for plying her trade.  It’s hard for us to put ourselves in the sandals of this sinner.  It’s one thing to call her a hooker, another to understand her life experiences.  How did she get that way?  Was she abused as a child?  Was she battered by a pimp?  Was she forced to sell herself to put food on the table?  Did she cry herself to sleep, hoping, praying she could be different, she could change?  Did anyone care? 


Not Simon the Pharisee.  You can almost see him look down his nose at her as he said to himself in regard to Jesus: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”  Judgmental, holier-than-thou, the definition of a Pharisee from what we know of them – he was the classic example.  And it’s almost as easy for us to condemn him as it was for him to condemn her.  C’mon now, haven’t you been quick to judge others without knowing their circumstances?  I know I have.  Was he one of those individuals who are driven to be perfect by demanding, domineering parents?  Worried that he might mess up, afraid to make a mistake, trying desperately to look good on the outside for fear someone might see what he was really like on the inside?  Did he need to cut others down to build himself up? 


Knowing what he was thinking, Jesus had something to say to him; we didn’t read all the verses in this encounter.  He told a parable about a moneylender and two debtors – remember?  Both owed substantial amounts but one ten times more than the other.  Neither could repay the loans, so the lender cancelled their debts.  “Which of them will love him more?” Jesus asked Simon.  “I suppose,” he stuttered, “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”  “Right answer,” Jesus declared. 


“Then turning toward the woman,” we pick up the narrative, “He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’”   Do you see her as a human being?   Then Jesus proceeded to check off a list of things she did to show her love for Jesus. Though extravagant, perhaps, it was mostly common courtesy, basic etiquette hosts did for guests in those days (water to wash dusty feet, an oriental kiss of greeting on the cheek, lotion for dry skin in that climate) – things Simon didn’t do for Jesus.  Begging the question, Why not?  Jesus answers for Simon it was because she was forgiven much, therefore she loved much; and He implied, because you don’t think you have much to forgive, you love little.  And then Jesus pronounces the absolution on this woman: “Your sins are forgiven.” (Literally, “stand forgiven” the tense of the verb conveys a completed act with lasting effect.)  And He sends her on her way:   “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Redeemed!  Renewed!  Restored!  She is a changed person!


Yes, Turn to Jesus!   He changes your life!  I could say, Amen, but not quite yet.  We need to know a little more how that works. 


First, turning to Jesus is in response to some information about Him.  The woman “learned” that He was in town.  That assumes she knew something about Him.  She had heard about the mercy He showed, the grace He bestowed.  She didn’t know all the facts but she wanted to find out as much as she could in person.  She obviously was acutely aware of her sinful life, so the law of God - written in her heart, her conscience, or learned in the synagogue at a younger age – was working.  The law shows our sin.  It creates guilt.  She needed to hear the gospel that shows our Savior, the good news of forgiveness, fully and freely offered by Jesus.  That creates hope.  Her acts of love for Jesus were not deeds of penance to earn His forgiveness; they were sincere signs of repentance, sorrow over sin, so that she could appreciate the gift of forgiveness which she received by faith.  Not faith in her decision to go to Jesus, but faith in Jesus, the object of her trust, was what saved her.  As a result she could go in peace, not just a positive feeling, but an assurance of salvation – that everything would turn out OK because of Jesus.  That was the change in her that really mattered. 


Are you a changed person?  Jesus changes our tears of shame into tears of thankfulness too.  Jesus ate dinner at a Pharisee’s house, and He invites you to dine at the banquet of salvation.  Psalm 23 says of the Lord: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  The woman anointed Jesus with precious perfume.  Jesus turns right around and anoints you with his holy, precious blood in the Lord’s Supper.   The woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.  Jesus turns right around and washed you with the cleansing flood of Baptism.  The woman kissed Jesus’ feet.  With those same feet Jesus runs to you proclaiming the glad tidings of great joy – “Daughter, son, your sins are forgiven.  You can go in peace.”   Your past is behind you, your future is bright!


The forgiveness of sins changes everything about our lives.  Formerly lived out of envy for ourselves, now our lives are lived out of love for the Lord.  Paul summarizes it well: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:14-15)  Christ’s love changes lives.  Our faith now itches to express itself in love.  Our eyes see a church; love sees a special place to meet with God.  Our eyes see a stranger; love sees an opportunity to show concern for a neighbor. 


All of this and much more – not to impress fellow Pharisees, but to thank a loving Lord.  Simply put: “We love him because he first loved us.” (1 Jo 4:19)


Change is hard.  Even the famous “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr makes it depend at least partially on us.   “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Good advice, but this I believe is far better: Turn to Jesus; He changes your life.  Amen.