Thus Says the Lord

“Thus Says the Lord”

1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21        Luke 7:36 – 8:3


“Thus says the Lord”…that phrase seems to have a threatening…judgmental tone…when Elijah speaks it to Ahab…but when Jesus says something similar to the woman in our story from Luke…it has a different feel.

The woman…the Pharisee identified as a great sinner…shows us some basic truths about faith and love…unlike Ahab’s wife…Jezebel.

The woman labeled sinful in Luke demonstrates an ability to overcome barriers…with God’s help…barriers like the perceptions about her.  As a woman…just thinking about getting near to Jesus in a public place was a great risk.  Women just didn’t do such things in the culture of that day.  The fact that she was a sinner increased the risk…since a religious figure like Jesus might reject her.

But…her gratitude and her humility were so great that getting close to Jesus was all that she cared about.  She weighed the costs and concluded that Jesus would respond to her humble approach.  And…her faith was honored.  Did you ever stop to ask how many of us today would be so bold as to come forward and publicly identify with Jesus knowing that some might reject our approach to him…that we might feel so unworthy of approaching him that he would reject us?

Maybe we’d feel less worthy than Simon…the Pharisee…who was so righteous.  Simon was like the duchess who responded to an invitation from the Countess of Huntington in eighteenth century England.  The Countess was a great supporter of John Wesley, and another well-known evangelist of the day…George Whitefield.   The Countess invited the duchess to join a crowd listening to Whitefield preach.  This was her reply:

“It is monstrous to be told, that you have a heart as sinful as common wretches that crawl on the earth.  This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.”

Only a twitty duchess…raised in the insular… racist…upper class of old England…would say such a thing.  But thousands have used the same thinking to avoid Christ’s teaching to themselves and others.  They feel they are “good people” who don’t need reminding.

But they might be guilty of thinking about sinners and relating to them in the same way…the same way as the Pharisee.  It is so easy to wall people off subtly from God…and give the impression they are beyond God’s reach…rather than spending the energy and the effort to bring them into God’s forgiveness.

Check the news reports…and the coffee shop conversation…and these words from Darrell Bock.  He’s the research professor of New Testament studies and professor of spiritual development and culture at Dallas Theological Seminary.    He wrote, “In the public debate on the great moral issues of today, the church cannot risk being right while making its case in a wrong way by using the same politics of power and pressure that the world wages.  Such an attitude will not yield the fruit of forgiveness, especially if the opportunity of forgiveness and the tone of divine love that led Christ to die for sinners never surface as the church communicates its message.  In pursuing moral values in our communities, we must never lose the ability to communicate the most important value of all—the love of God expressed in the offer of forgiveness.”  There are people just like the Pharisees out there today.  Remember…each of us…and the sinner…started in the same place…in need of divine forgiveness.

Paul made it clear that like the two people in Jesus’ parable…we are all debtors…unable to pay…when he wrote in Romans….”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We can learn from Paul…who wrote to Timothy…”Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  St. Francis of Assisi…the man after whom the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic church is named…wrote…”There is nowhere a more wretched and miserable sinner than I.”

Hard to believe…isn’t it?  Paul…the worst of sinners?  St. Francis…the most wretched and miserable of sinners?   The more these men walked with Christ…the more sensitized they became to the nearly invisible…their own…inner sin.  They knew they could make holy pronouncements one minute and a few minutes later become vile sinners with their word or their deed…with their envy or judgmental righteousness.

Their greatness…their very spiritual health…was based on their knowledge that they were sinners in need of the constant grace of God…just like each of us here today…just like everyone on the other side of the sanctuary doors.  We cannot fall into the self-righteous trap of believing that God’s grace has been so effective that we don’t need it anymore.

As we engage in that coffee shop conversation…interact with others in some way….we must live out the belief that like the woman…and…unlike the Pharisee Simon…forgiven people love God and all of God’s people.  Those who are forgiven much…love much.

As John wrote:….”We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”   (1 John 4:19-21)

I encourage you to read the stories on the front page of today’s newspaper…stories of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston a year ago…and of the lives of the people directly affected by that massacre.  Then answer for yourself and to all you encounter…the question behind the stories…have we come as far as we need to come.

When you wake up on a warm, sunny, Sunday morning…turn on the television…and hear of an attack on a night club in Florida…with at least twenty people killed and another 42 injured…with an assault rifle among the weapons used…you have to ask have we come as far we need to come in sharing love.

Our love for others…like that of the woman…is an indicator of our spiritual health.

Jesus is pure…without any sin…holy…perfect.  Yet this sinful woman sensed from him…not condemnation…but forgiveness and acceptance that freed her to pour her love upon him.

Though her sins were extreme…the woman was forgiven.  She felt the freedom and joy of her forgiveness.  She loved.

Do we truly love Jesus as she did?

Do we see our own weaknesses before we see the weakness in others?  Do we realize how much we need Jesus in our lives?  Do we understand the danger of sin within us?

To come to him for salvation…restoration… strengthening…hear his words….”Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   (Matthew 11:28-29)

With unconditional love…Thus says the Lord.

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