Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
2nd Reading: Galatians 2:15-20
Last Saturday I spent the day at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. Over the weekend Nick and I saw about 10 different shows, and maybe 25 different comedians. On Friday I was laughing so hard my stomach muscles were hurting. Saturday afternoon we saw several shows at the Doug Fir on Burnside, but I had plans to see a movie with some friends downtown. It was also the night of the Starlight Parade, so instead of taking public transportation, I decided that walking about a mile and half would help me get my exercise in and allow me the chance to walk over the Burnside Bridge, something I've never done before. It was a beautiful evening. There was a breeze. The sun was behind the hills and the sky was a lovely orange, that kind of magical light as evening is beginning. And just as I was beginning to cross, a woman started talking to me. She had a cart full of her belongings with her. She was very tan from being out in the sun. She first assured me she wasn't crazy and I thought, “Here we go.” So my lovely, leisurely walk across the Burnside Bridge became a little quicker walk, as I was basically trying to leave her behind, and one with the company of someone who lives on the edges of society. She was mostly pleasant and I was, too. I asked her name. It was Stargazer. She asked mine and I told her. She told me she'd been assaulted on the streets, beaten as a child, and other things we don't usually tell strangers. I told her it was my first time walking across this bridge. She thought that was pretty funny and told me I should walk around downtown more. I asked her if she was going to the parade and she said she was. Then as we got to the edge of the bridge, something else caught her attention and she went off in another direction. She seemed a little irritated that I didn't offer her money, but she never asked me for it.
I thought I was going to spend time looking at the river, looking at the sky, taking in the breeze. I thought I was going to have a prayerful time, just God and me, with people around, but not bothering me. But instead I found this person that wanted to connect with me, have a conversation, tell me about her life. It was uncomfortable. I felt irritated. But then I wondered if I had any less of a conversation with God than if I had just been taking in the world around me.
This Pharisee thinks he is going to have Jesus over, they will enjoy a quiet meal together, and he will have an experience of God that will confirm everything he already knows and he will go away comfortable, happy, and satisfied, and continue his life just as he has.
However, here is this woman in the Gospel. We usually think it might be Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Bethany, but Luke doesn't name her. Anyway, she makes things very uncomfortable for the Pharisee. It turns out that when we invite Jesus, for dinner or into our lives or into our communities, we don't just get Jesus, but we get his friends, and we don't get little baby Jesus who can't challenge our comfortable lives, we get fiery grown up Jesus, who sees right through us, right into our thoughts and corrects us, invites us to see the world in a different way, to see one another as fully human.
It says in the reading for Galatians, that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” What does it mean for Christ to live in us? It means that Christ's priorities are my priorities. It means Christ's friends are my friends. It means my life is different from the way it was before.
Without Christ, my priorities are myself and my family. That was my mindset walking across the bridge. I spent the day laughing. I was going to have a nice, quiet little walk and contemplate whatever came into my little head. I was off to another event that I could afford a ticket to, to spend time with a friend in the air conditioning.
But that's not really letting Christ fully live in me. I did not engage this woman fully. I didn't have time for that. I don't know that it would have helped anything if I had. I was civil to her. I looked her in the eye, but I did not look for Christ in her. So what do I do about that? I can feel guilt. I can try to do better next time. But I can also work for homeless rights, for affordable housing, for mental health services, for a more just city, for drug and alcohol services. I can leave intentional spots in my day to listen to people that I don't usually listen to.
I can speak up. Pacific Gas and Electric called me for a survey on Wednesday and when I finished answering their questions, they asked me if I had anything to add. I said that service outages and interruptions don't just happen when a tree falls on power lines. They happen when PGE shuts off power to a customer who can't pay. I told them I believe that people ought to have a right to electricity and that they can and should do more to help people who can't pay, especially people with kids and people who have health problems. Furthermore, to charge them exorbitant reconnection fees is ridiculous. It's not that people don't pay their electric bill because they don't want to. They don't pay it because they can't. I gave them pretty low scores on how they give to the community. What would it take to get all the Lutheran pastors of congregations that use PGE to call in and give the same feedback, or some congregation members? Would it make a difference?
For PGE, maybe I am that woman who barges in on their feast, on their survey to confirm that everyone likes them and they can keep on, business as usual, and makes them just a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes I am the pharisee, like I was on the bridge, and sometimes I am the weeping woman, full of emotion, and unwilling to shut up to make someone else happy.
The Old Testament reading for this morning is pretty disturbing. It is a story that explains in retrospect why something happened—why David and Bathsheba's first son did not survive, which those who are hearing the story will know that led to King Solomon, one of the few good kings that ever served Israel was anointed King next, reigning after his father David. They will also remember the story of how the people of Israel had pleaded to God to have a king like all the other countries, and how God warned them that wasn't going to solve their problems, but would probably cause more problems, but they insisted, so this is what they are getting. Even their good king, their best King David, feels entitled. He is like the Pharisees, spoiled, not expecting anyone to critique him, getting everything he wants, and taking what isn't his. No one can stand up to him, but God sends a prophet to tell him a story so that he will truly see what he's done and repent—turn back to God. Once he gets it through his head what he's done, that he sexually assaulted the wife of a General in his army, Bathsheba and once he learned she was pregnant by this encounter, sends that General to the front lines to be killed, he is truly sorry and hopefully he learned something from this experience. God forgives him. However, he still has to face the consequences of his actions. In the story we feel bad for Bathsheba, that she is assaulted, that her child dies, that no one ever asks her for consent. We feel bad for the child, who didn't do anything wrong. But like I said, this is a story that tries to explain why things happen in retrospect. David has an experience that gives him empathy. His child dies. Now he knows the impact of what he has done. He has ensured that Uriah the Hittite will die by placing him at the front lines. He has taken away someone's son. He has taken away someone's husband forever. He has done all this in order to take someone's wife, when he had plenty of wives already. And now his beloved son is gone and he is in profound pain. We would not wish it on him, but he's done it to himself and he's done it to many others. We hope he's not going to act like this again. We hope he's learning compassion for others. We hope he's learning that even the king faces consequences for his actions and that God doesn't show favoritism even to God's favorites. We all face the consequences for the broken world we help create, from the greatest of us to the least.
When we welcome Jesus, it is Christ who lives in us, not our own desires. As it says in Galatians, “If I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.” If David does whatever he wants to suit him, he is not serving God. He's like every other king that ever lived, like every other privileged person who wanted their own way at the expense of others. And if he welcomes God, he welcomes God's friends who are the vulnerable little lambs and the poor man in the story that Nathan tells David to reveal to him the error that he's made. When David experiences the loss of his son, he becomes the vulnerable, poor man. He knows how it feels to be helpless. Now he will begin to see the helpless people around him as actual people instead of obstacles to him getting what he wants.
Who are we in this story? Usually we are the Pharisees. We stand in judgment of people by the side of the road with signs asking for money. We think we know them. We say we know they will spend any money we give on alcohol. We say they make hundreds of dollars a day. We say they are faking being in need. We don't know squat. Until we sit down with them and listen to them and look for Christ in them, we don't know. And we are not ones to judge. How much do we spend on alcohol? We even sip it at church in Holy Communion! Jesus sees through our self-righteous judging. He knows that our judging keeps us at a distance from other people. He knows we judge because we fear—because we know that could be us, because we are embarrassed at our helplessness, because we don't know where to start. But where we start is with ourselves—noticing when we begin to judge and question ourselves. What emotion is under there? Fear? Anger? Sadness? What if that was my family member? What if that was my son or daughter or grandchild? What if that was God? And then we ask, how can we move from judgement to compassion, to let ourselves feel as deeply as this woman weeping at Jesus' feet, grateful for this relationship, forgiven and free. And we ask ourselves each day, “What is my life going to look like, now that Christ lives in me?” How do I divide my time? How do I spend time in sabbath and rest, listening to God? What do I see in my community where I can make a difference? What is worth shedding tears about? What do I see that hurts me so deeply? How can I work together with others to do something about it?
And each of us is the weeping woman, full of gratefulness and compassion, because we know pain and we know forgiveness and healing because of our relationship with God. We know that we have made plenty of grave mistakes. We've hurt others. We've been selfish and shortsighted, but God continues to say, “Your sins are forgiven. You're all right with me. Probably have some things to learn in this world and consequences to face here, but I will never leave you.” We are grateful for Jesus' sacrifice for us, the pain he endured, and the new life he shares even with those who've betrayed him. He even agreed to live in us, as messed up as we are.
One final thing, Bathsheba is never named in this part of the Old Testament story. The woman who washes Jesus' feet is never named. Yet, she is held up as an example for all the men. In the Old Testament, women were not considered full people. Bathsheba had no say about who she married. It was revolutionary that Jesus should see women as people, and even hold them up as examples of faith. The point of the Gospel, isn't that women are better than men, but that the outsider, the one everyone dismisses, has value in Jesus' eyes. This story is about seeing one another as fully human, as important and valuable as we are. At the end of this story in Luke, I always give a cheer because he talks about the Disciples and also some of the women who were with Jesus, and he starts naming them. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Stargazer from the Burnside Bridge, and Phylicia and Chloe, two transgender women I met at Synod Assembly. These are people, who have names, who have value to Jesus, and who are part of our community, who help make us whole, who teach us compassion and faith, and who we are to learn from and look up to. Whoever you are, God calls you by name. You matter in the Kingdom of God. Jesus not only tolerates you following him around, but welcomes your company, expects you to be there, because Jesus needs each of us with our full humanity, all our gratefulness and praise, to help reshape this world into one where each person is valued as fully human and each of us grows beyond our own desires toward compassion and love.