A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 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. 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.
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.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 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?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
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. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life.”
That’s how Luke described her, which wasn’t much of a description- but I suppose, even in a town as large as Ketchikan, just about everybody might have agues as to which woman she was.
Some might say that if Jesus ever went to a larger town- say, Juneau- it could be any man OR woman.
But anyway, here we are- Jesus, a fancy dinner at Simon’s house, and a woman that most righteous folk wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. And she was all over Jesus.
Tears, perfume, long flowing hair, and bare feet- that was a combination for scandal.
The Pharisees squirmed. They chafed. They scowled.
But they didn’t say anything- they only thought it…
If this man was a prophet…because, you know, some people were saying that he WAS a prophet, which made them squirm and chafe and scowl.
But he WAS a prophet, because he knew what they were thinking, and he gave them a riddle.
Two people have their debts forgiven- which one will love the forgiver more?
That’s easy- the one who had the bigger debt.
The one who sinned more often, more helplessly.
And they judged correctly.
So Jesus said to her three things:
Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.
That’s what Mercy says, And that’s what Mercy does.
So David- King David, rock star author of 100 psalms and strong-armed slayer of giants- that David- came to God, asking for mercy.
Not because he had adultery with Bathsheba, not because he had her husband killed in battle- But because he lived a sinful life.
But he almost got away with it-
He hid it so well that he even hid it from himself,
Which is what most of us do.
It’s what Simon the Pharisee did.
But God knew, and a prophet named Nathan knew,
And he reminded David
And David knew how very, very far he had wandered away from God.
He was cut to the bone
He fell on his knees
And he prayed his heart out.
Have Mercy on me, God.
Mercy comes from those who have been wronged-
In David’s case, it should have come from Uriah, and Bathsheba.
But Mercy also comes from the righteous and the innocent,
From those who chose to withhold judgment,
Because they are looking for something else.
Ultimately, Mercy comes from God, not only because God is compassionate. But because God’s purposes for humanity- for our redemption- are greater than judgment and punishment.
Mercy is the magic word that opens up the grave,
That unlocks the scarred and locked tight heart,
That reaches backwards from tomorrow
And saves us all from our past.
There is no questions that human beings have done horrible things to each other- especially human beings with power on their side. The sins of our past- and here, today, I can say the sins of the white man’s past- have damaged countless generations. Their CONSEQUENCE continues to harm.
As does the consequence of our individual sin- whether it is mine, or my grandfather’s. and it will not go away by ignoring it. Mercy is something more, and something harder, than looking the other way.
What does David ask?
Purge me with hyssop, one translation says.
Crush my bones.
The Mercy that David ask for is a cleansing, a transformation, a renewal that is hard work. the sort that begins with the knowledge of what we have done, and how awful it was- and continues to be.
That sort of Mercy will lead to something-
It will lead to a righteousness that is not self-righteousness.
Rather, it will be a righteousness that finds itself at the feet of Jesus, in full humility, shedding tears.
And it will find itself in deeds of justice.
And, it will find itself in the daily practice of being merciful,
In ways large and small.
Those who yearn for Mercy never say, “Forgive me, and leave me alone.”
Instead, we will always say, “Forgive me, and make me new.”
And being made new is hard work.
It’s the hard work of humility- like David, and the sinful woman.
It’s the hard work of understanding, like the work Jesus did on Simon.
It’s the hard work of devotion and worship-
The sort of works that, in the words to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “sets our minds on things above.”
But it starts with knowing you need it- which means those who need it the most are the least aware of their need.
That was Simon, and at least once a day, it’s me.
But knowing, I can begin.
I can begin with a prayer, “Lord make me new.”
I can begin with an acknowledgement offered to anyone I’ve hurt.
I can continue by making a daily practice of gratitude- that was what the woman at the dinner party was doing- and then rising form that practice and focusing on “whatever is true, noble, right, pure and lovely” -that was Paul’s practice.
And then I can be merciful to others,
And to myself,
All the while remembering this prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
To stop beating myself
For not doing things perfectly,
The courage to forgive myself
Because I’m working on doing better,
And the wisdom to know
That you already love me
Just the way I am.
It’s the work of a lifetime,
But it’s everything
That makes a lifetime worth living.
Your faith has saved you- Go in peace.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.