One of the things I do when I travel is attend Episcopal Churches in different places. This is an interesting experience because it gives you some exposure to different congregations and practices. There is more variety than you might think in the practice of the faith. You would think that this BCP would standardize things, but you would be surprised. Susan pointed out to me that this visiting churches makes you vulnerable. In some ways you take a risk when you visit another congregation.
The practice of the faith is a personal thing, and it is a big leap to go worship with a bunch of strangers. You might not guess it given all the semi-personal stories I tell as part of my sermons, but I am really a fairly private guy. You take a risk when you visit another church. You might be rejected or judged. You never know.
I attended a church once when I was in Virginia for some classes at Virginia Theological in Alexandria. There were probably 60 people at the early service, and they had special parking spaces for visitors by the door. It was clear that this church had done a lot of work to establish a welcoming committee. I had members with special name tags come speak and make sure I was familiar with the prayer book. The priest came to meet me after the service. When I told them that I was a visitor from out of town, it was like flipping a switch. Their evangelism was only interested in new members, and since I would never be back, they were quick to move on.
I took a risk to attend a service. I risked being rejected. I made myself vulnerable. It was not making myself very vulnerable, and I am a tough guy and all, but you step out of your comfort zone sometimes.
Now I want you to think of the incident in today’s Gospel as a study in taking a risk for the faith. A woman who is a known sinner washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and wipes them with her hair. She kisses his feet and anoints them.
Jesus is judged by the Pharisee. The woman is judged. It turns out that some things take place that require some courage. They require people to take a chance.
We have heard this story enough that we don’t stop to think about what an odd set of circumstances we are hearing described. If we were all at supper club and a neighbor with a bad reputation came in and started washing Rob Holl’s feet with her hair or kissing my feet, I can tell you it would seem pretty strange. There would be some wives with some questions. People might start talking.
This story is surprising, because Jesus lifted up the bad woman and slapped down the good man. Simon was a good man. Everyone makes mistakes, but Simon made fewer than most.
So I am going to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of the Gospel today. The woman takes a risk and makes herself vulnerable. Jesus takes a risk and makes Himself vulnerable. The Pharisee does not get it.
I want you to think of the ways in which you are willing to take a risk for the Gospel. How are you willing to make yourself vulnerable and maybe have someone judge you? Any time we reach out to people we are taking a chance. It may not be much of one, but we can be judged like the woman was or misunderstood like Jesus. We can visit a church to worship with our brothers and sisters and feel rejected by them.
Jesus told the woman her sins were forgiven, but he did not tell Simon that his were. Simon would have asked, “What sins?” for one thing, but Simon was a sinner too. The real difference between the woman and Simon was that the woman desperately sought mercy. Simon didn’t realize that he needed mercy.
I have one last story for you, and it comes from Out of the Salt Shaker, a book by Rebecca Pippert. She tells about a college student whose name was Bill. Bill wasn’t what you would call a snappy dresser. In fact, Bill didn’t wear shoes in summer or winter. Rain, sleet, or snow, Bill always went barefoot.
There was an attractive church across the street from the campus, and Bill decided to attend worship there. By coincidence, that congregation which was attended mostly by well-dressed, middle-class people had decided to reach out to the students across the street. They had been trying to figure out how to do that when Bill walked through their door.
Dressed in his jeans and T-shirt and wearing no shoes, Bill stood out like a sore thumb. He walked down the aisle looking for a seat, but no one was willing to move to make a space for him. That wasn’t a problem for Bill, who simply sat down on the carpet at the front of the church. At that moment, he became the center of attention for most of the people in that congregation. Then an elderly man got up from his pew and walked down the aisle toward Bill. As he made his way down the aisle, people tensed. Was the old man going to make a scene? Was he going to make Bill move? Was he going to ask Bill to leave?
But when the man reached Bill, he simply lowered himself and took a seat on the carpet next to Bill. That’s where the two of them worshiped together that morning.
As you consider these Scriptures today, ask yourself whether you are more like Simon the Pure or Barefoot Bill. I hope that we have some people here who are more like that old man who went to sit on the carpet with Barefoot Bill. That man understood today’s Gospel and was willing to take a risk.
I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. Tom at St. Thomas Episcopal – Plymouth
June 12, 2016; Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 6
1 Kings 21:1-21a