A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Luke passage from scripture exhorting us to be ready and keep our lamps lit—because in life, we never know when the master will be back for the wedding banquet—stated otherwise, we don’t know when God’s grace will break into our lives. We considered the ways that we spiritually procrastinate, keeping us unready to embrace those instances. Many of us know the desire to journey more deeply through life, to take as author M. Scott Peck calls it, The Road Less Traveled. And yet, we find a multitude of reasons to stay on the easy road—which by the way, ends up not being as easy as it first looks. This week, we look more at the spiritual engagement we are invited not to put off. What might it look like to seize the spiritual opportunities of life? But before going any further…
Let us pray: Grant us the courage to ask for help and the wisdom to accept it, O God. Teach us with sacred story and Spirit. May they fill the God-sized hole in each of our souls, readying us for the fulfillment of the sacred journey. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.
We are broken. At least that is what our religious tradition tells us. But if we look at the world around us or could gaze in a mirror with the power to reflect our souls, it may only confirm that notion. We are people and sometimes people do things like hurt each other. Sometimes we are gloriously inconsistent and make questionable decisions. We may struggle at one time or another with feeling unsure, apathetic, fearful, fatalistic, or lost. We are all inhabited by an ego that loves leading us astray. The garden story from Genesis sets the tone for considering our brokenness, using deep myth to explain our propensity to disobey God. The result of that brokenness is banishment from the fantastic life Eden has to offer. To be sure, the Christian tradition often uses the word sin, to describe our condition and actions that lead us away from God’s goodness. Sometimes that word appropriately describes it. But when Christians start calling each other or those who do not consider themselves Christian sinners, it does more harm than good. The word is used to demonize, obscuring the good and image of God within us that we want to draw out. Sin, remember, is not always born out of evil intent but rather a byproduct of brokenness. But the good news is that regardless of our nature, God loves us still.
Renowned storyteller Kevin Kling captures this in one of his tales: “Back in the days when pots and pans could talk, which indeed they still do, there lived a man. And in order to have water, every day he had to walk down the hill and fill two pots and walk them home. One day, it was discovered one of the pots had a crack, and as time went on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man and said, ‘You know, every day you take me to the river, and by the time you get home, half of the water’s leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot.’ And the man said, ‘You don’t understand. As you spill, you water the wild flowers by the side of the path.” And sure enough, on the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried, beautiful flowers grew, while other side was barren. ‘I think I’ll keep you,’ said the man.”
We are broken but God values us anyway and knows that we can help water flowers around us analogous to Eden’s flora. In fact, it is precisely through our brokenness that we may find wholeness and help others do the same. Henri Nouwen talks about a “wounded healer” in his book with the same title, and the idea is attributed to Carl Jung but may have its origins in Greek mythology. A wounded healer is someone who may be better able to help another heal because of already experiencing a wound. It may lead to an ability to empathize of understand in a way that someone unwounded may not. And certainly, when we acknowledge our brokenness, we take the first necessary step toward healing. The good news of our Lord is that even though we are broken and experience brokenness, through grace, through God’s willingness become human and experience great spiritual and physical wounds, God empathizes with us and understands us. And through God’s amazing love, we are offered restoration.
In our gospel passage that Trancito read, Jesus eats in the home of a man who likely did not come across as broken. He was an educated church leader who welcomed Jesus into his home. The Gospels often report Pharisees exhibiting self-righteousness. And it makes sense. They are not only learned, but steeped in the knowledge of God’s law. They possess social status. We may get an impression from the Gospels that Pharisees were not good people. I suspect some were and others not so much. But as Jesus’ contemporaries, they were considered by many as paragons of faith, which is what makes our Gospel story so intriguing. This morning, we hear a Pharisee being juxtaposed with a sinful woman—a person with little social status. Being a woman was strike one and being labeled a sinner was strike two. Remember what I said earlier about designating people as sinners, because Jesus ends up exalting her. And Simon the Pharisee is perplexed. He asks himself, “‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
I suspect Jesus knew precisely what Simon was thinking. If you are the distinguished guest in someone of high repute’s home, and an uninvited sinner enters and begins bathing your feet in her tears, while kissing them and applying very expensive alabaster ointment, it is probably noticed. Pharisees are portrayed as ordered and rule-abiding, and the woman’s actions appear spontaneous and unconventional, not to mention socially inappropriate. But Jesus interprets the situation by posing a riddle to the Pharisee. He tells Simon, ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’
The implication? Yes, in the eyes of the world, the woman was in need of greater restoration than the Pharisee. But rather than demonizing her as a sinner, Jesus recognizes that because of her brokenness, her loving actions toward him reveal a profound capacity to love him and experience gratitude for his love. In fact, Jesus explains that her actions outdo those of the religiously superior Simon. ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ The pot with the biggest crack has the greatest capacity to water the ground over which it passes—does it not?
Jesus makes it sound like love for him is proportion to how much people perceive needing it. The Pharisee did not need Jesus as much as the woman did. He had a home, an education, he was a he, and a leader in the church. She was a she and a sinner. But Jesus’ love for her fit her deep need. Her love was need based. But a more subtle implication of the passage is that we all need restoration. Even the Pharisee—even the debtor with less debt still needs to cover the debt. Jesus may have been teaching the righteous, the wealthy, and the wise who heard the Gospel, that they too are broken and in need of God’s love. He may still be teaching that to us.
A church member lent me a book called Falling Upward—A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by renowned spiritual writer, and Albuquerque local, Richard Rohr. I am only a little ways in, but have picked up that the premise of Rohr’s book is that, “there are at least two main tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold,’ (Pg. xiii). Rohr contends that most people put their effort in working to make a strong personal and social identity. We want a container that gives us currency and conveys togetherness, success, and security. But our spiritual calling goes beyond that and requires deeper contemplation. That is what we do when we probe more deeply than appearances.
When our focus is not what the world sees but on the soul that God sees, we find ourselves on the right track when it comes to realizing that God gives meaning and purpose to the contents of the container that is our identity. And if we recognize that our containers are broken in several places, and we tend spiritually to that brokenness, we then find ourselves ready to be filled with God’s love—we find ourselves on that deeper path. Some of that love may leak out before we are fully restored, but God’s response is clear. To each one of us as individuals, with our small and large cracks, and to our loving but imperfect faith community, God reassures us: “‘You don’t understand. As you spill, you water the wild flowers by the side of the path.’ And sure enough, on the side of the path where [I] carried [you], beautiful flowers grew… ‘I think I’ll keep you.’”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Palabra de Vida
You will find sermons preached by Rev. Robert Woodruff and guests preachers.