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All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Through Christ We Are Freed to Live - 06/12/2016

This little dinner party at the religious leader Simon's house we read about in today's gospel took place at a time when hospitality was no little matter. When a host or a guest fell short in terms of table manners or social etiquette, it was very serious.

Duties of hospitality were considered one of the six meritorious deeds whose reward was like a tree, the fruit of which was enjoyed in this world, while the trunk remained for enjoyment in the world to come …  that's the stuff of salvation.

In these ancient times a host was expected not only to provide water for foot washing and a meal, but also to go out and meet the guests as they approached the home.  When it was time to leave, the guests were fed once more and then accompanied for some distance by the host as they headed off to their next destination.

The importance of hospitality in the Jewish tradition is quite apparent in the Old Testament as well. In Genesis we hear about the one held as the model of hospitality in the Jewish tradition: Abraham. “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (MAHM-ree), as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, 'My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.' So they said, 'Do as you have said.' And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.' Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” (Gen. 18:1-8)

Jewish tradition also held that special emphasis was placed on hospitality due to scholars. Those who showed hospitality to a student of the law had done the equivalent of offering daily sacrifice.

Jesus was considered a scholar by Simon. “Simon I have something to say to you,” Jesus says when he understands how Simon is judging the woman's acts of hospitality. And how does Simon respond? “Teacher, speak.” Even if he's saying that with cynicism or contempt, he is acknowledging Jesus' position as a scholar. To have had Jesus accept his dinner invitation is kind of a big deal for Simon. If there were one of those slick magazines being published in town –  the kind with all the pictures on the back pages of the fund-raisers and friend-raisers that go on in high society. The photo caption might have said something like QUOTE “Simon, Pharisee and rising leader, according to sources in Rome, held a dinner party at his home last week. Pictured, he and Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, shown at left, discuss financial matters and loan forgiveness.” END QUOTE The woman weeping over and anointing Jesus' feet would have been cropped out of the photo, of course. That is not subject matter fit for this slick and shiny publication.

So with that landscape of Jewish tradition and high regard for hospitality, the contrast in our story today between the hospitality offered by Simon and that offered by this woman is even more glaring – it is audacious.

We know Simon has heard about Jesus. Word about him has been traveling throughout the region – he's healed the man with the withered hand and done other things you're not supposed to do on the Sabbath. He raised the widow's son at Nain. This story is early in Luke’s Gospel, but the Pharisees and scribes are already looking for evidence to use against Jesus. And Jesus knows what those in positions of power think of him. Just before this story, Luke recounts the execution of  John the Baptist where Jesus says, “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon;’ the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘ Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus knows what strata of society Simon is putting him in, despite being addressed as “teacher” and “rabbi.”

But it's as if Simon is paralyzed by his own title of Pharisee and the ever changing and complex interpretation of the law that comes with that position. There's no evidence of the life-giving acts of traditional Jewish hospitality. Perhaps Simon believes his action – or inaction – is correct in light of having this scholar, who is really a drunkard, glutton and a friend of sinners, at his table. It's the right approach, Simon must be telling himself. It's the way of conventional wisdom. It's the safe thing to do. Or at least he thinks so. In reality, Simon's meritorious tree is drying up because of it; the fruit is shriveling and the trunk is rotting from the inside out.

The woman clearly knows who Jesus is too. We don't have a lot of details about how Jesus has changed her life, but we know she is faithful, her sins have been forgiven and her response is uninhibited, maybe it even feels scandalous. Her display of hospitality is much closer to what Abraham models. Did you  notice the different between Abraham's words and actions in that story? He stops the strangers and says “Hey, come on over to my place. You'll have a little water for your feet, a little bread for your belly and you can continue on your way refreshed and nourished.” When they accept the invitation he just throws it into 5th gear. Sarah's working on the bread, the servant is preparing a choice lamb … suddenly we've gone from bread and water to a feast. So while in contrast to Simon, the woman's behavior seems over the top, not safe, not proper table etiquette, it's really a lot like what Abraham models. It's audacious.

We don’t know what happens to Simon the Pharisee or the woman after this encounter. Perhaps the woman is one of the group of women who began traveling with the 12 after this, and backing the ministry with her resources. Maybe Simon ended up in that group of Pharisees we hear about later in Acts who believed Jesus was the Messiah. But we cannot know for sure. That part of this story is left completely open to all the imaginations that have heard or read it for generations past and generations to come.

But we gather here together and live in the way we do out there because of how the story continues for us. Through Christ’s audacious and lavish hospitality we are invited to the table here – repeatedly and without regard to our sinful natures. We share in the meal of bread and wine and it not only refreshes and nourishes us, it also reminds us of God’s forgiveness of our sins. It reminds us that we don’t have to be like Simon and hold so tightly to law and conventional wisdom and the safe thing to do … that we end up choking off life-giving hospitality and graciousness. Our salvation has already been assured through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Like this un-named woman, this one, who like us, is a sinner, we are freed to respond to God’s grace and forgiveness in ways that are bold, perhaps risky and unconventional, and maybe even a little scandalous. We can be uninhibited in our desire to share with others the audacious truth of God’s hospitality – that we are freed through Christ to live as God intends, marked as followers of Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, right now and for all eternity.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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