Sunday, June 17, 2007

Proper 6C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32:1-8; Galatians 2:11-21; Luke 7:36-50

Summer officially begins in a few days, a fact hardly worth noting since we’ve had our shoes off and the air-conditioning on for weeks now. I’ve lived nearly all my life in the South, and while I love ice cold lemonade and fresh peaches, I really don’t like hot weather or sweet tea, and so I spend my summers searching for and sitting in the shade. Still, some of my favorite summers were spent at my grandparents’ house over in Spartanburg, SC.

My brother and I were little then, and we spent nearly every hour of every long summer day playing together, even when we were supposed to be resting after lunch, that hottest part of the day when our shadows disappeared beneath our feet and even the blue sky burned in the sun. Summer is the season when the afternoon shadows grow impossibly long and daylight lingers in the air well past bedtime. We played then, too, chasing fireflies round and round the shadows of trees and grown-ups. We played after we were tucked in the two giant-sized beds in the room we sometimes shared upstairs. A nightlight bathed one wall in a soft glow, more than enough for us to create an entire arkful of shadow animals with our fingers.

The shades and shadows of summer were always part of our play…except when they didn’t seem playful. On rainy days we played inside that big old house, from the attic all the way down to the basement. The staircase to the basement turned several corners before it reached the bottom, and every flick of a lightswitch illuminated just enough of the long way down and around that you could almost see the next lightswitch in the shadows. Piles of old books and rolled up posters and maps and dusty pillows became spooky shapes in the dim light. At night we laughed at the shadow animals we made with our fingers, but the shadows behind the closet door and the shadows under the bed were no laughing matter.

These are the sorts of shadows, the kind in which lurk real and imagined dangers, these are the sorts of shadows that we borrow when we speak of having shadow sides. They are the shadows we wrap around ourselves to hide the real and imagined parts of us that hurt and that cause hurt. Like piles of old books and posters and pillows, perhaps if we shove these parts of us into the shadows, they will be forgotten.

This morning’s readings flip a lightswitch for us, challenging us to see an all too real part of us that causes all too real hurt – we are challenged to see our sinfulness. Individually and as a community of faith we prefer to push the reality of our sin into the shadows, to politely say the confession and receive our absolution and then not to talk any more about sin. But this morning we are asked to face our fear of sin’s darkness and learn how to walk in the light. In our readings this morning we hear the stories of men and women who have done just that: David, Paul, and an unnamed woman, sinners who overcame the shadows of their past and welcomed the bright sunlight of God’s forgiveness.

As king, David should have protected the lives of his people. Instead, David gave orders that poor Uriah be killed so that his beautiful wife Bathsheba might become David’s queen. Of course none of this dark plan was hidden from God, who sent the prophet Nathan to confront the terrible shadows of David’s life. As king, David recognized immediately the sin of the rich man in Nathan’s parable. As a sinner, David couldn’t see whose shadow the rich man cast. Do you see this man? Nathan demanded. You are the man! The story is about you. You, upon whom God has lavished gracious care; you, whom God has always protected; the story is about you, to whom God gave the responsibility of caring for and protecting others. You are the man!

And so David was illuminated. I have sinned against the Lord, he acknowledged humbly, and though he would still suffer the consequences of his actions, he would not suffer the darkness of separation from the Source of his life, the Source of all life and light, who lavished forgiveness upon him not for the first time, and not for the last.

As chief persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ, Paul (known then as Saul), should have carried out his orders to arrest any who proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Savior. Instead, in a brilliant blinding flash of light, Paul was thrust into deep inner darkness where lurked the sinfulness of his life. When his eyes were finally opened, he could see beyond a shadow of a doubt the way that he would follow. The life I now live, Paul wrote, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

As a Pharisee, a keeper of God’s law, Simon should have known that the law was given to teach people how to live in relationship with one another and with God, who had long ago promised, I am the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. Instead, Simon used the law as a lens through which he could see shades and shadows, judge the depth of darkness in a person, and crop them out of his picture of salvation. When a woman began weeping at the feet of one of his dinner guests, Simon saw through his trusted lens only a sinner and a fool. As a Pharisee, Simon recognized immediately the picture in Jesus’ parable – the greater the debt that is canceled, the more gratitude the debtor displays. As a debtor, not in denarii but in sin, Simon couldn’t see that the parable cast a shadow over himself. Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded. Do you really truly see her?

For just a moment, let us hold this picture before us as motionless as children barely breathing, barely containing giggles under their covers when their mother’s shadow appears in the doorway of their bedroom late at night. Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded. Do you see? In the picture, Simon sees a sinner, a woman whose life is unclean and so whose touch would make others unclean. When she takes down her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, Simon sees a fool, a man who could not possibly be the teacher and prophet he is reputed to be. In Jesus and in the woman, Simon sees the shadow side of the law that is his guiding light, his torch.

Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded. Do you see? In the picture, Jesus also sees a sinner – in fact he sees two sinners. He sees the woman, who has dragged herself and her sins into the light and poured them at his feet, making his weary feet clean just as his touch has made her life clean. And Jesus sees Simon, who is blind to the light of the world at his own table, who withholds himself from his sisters and brothers and, though he cannot see it, from God as he waves his own torch and works his way to salvation.

Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded. Do you see? In the picture, the woman sees a savior. She sees the one who has invited her to the table, welcomed her as an honored guest, and forgiven her before she ever knew to ask. She sees the one who loves her despite her sins and shades and shadows. She sees the one who has shown her how to be in relationship, how to invite and welcome others, how to forgive, and how to love. Another preacher writes, “The woman’s extravagance is a picture – [a bright reflection] – of the extravagance of God’s grace.”

Do you see? With God, our sins are forgiven even before we ask, even if we never ask, even if, like Simon, we never realized we needed forgiving in the first place. Our sins are forgiven. God has let them go. And yet, our sins will continue to overshadow us if we are not able to confess them, to acknowledge our inability to stay in relationship with God without God’s help and grace and love and forgiveness. Do you see? Jesus demanded. The woman’s sins, which were many, have already been forgiven by God’s deep love and dazzling grace; therefore, she is able to show great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, who knows not how he needs God, loves little. Our sins are forgiven, we are washed and anointed and given a seat at the table. The only thing required of us is the openness to receive this lavish gift of grace, God’s cancellation of every debt, God’s forgiveness of every sin, God’s welcome of all people.

When we open our eyes and see the grace that bathes us from head to our own weary feet and toes; when we face our fear of the dark and reach deep inside ourselves to offer our shadows, our sin, our hurt, all that separates us from God and from one another, we are saved. And yet salvation is not so much a prize we earn or a destination we can ever reach as it is a way of living that may be perfected beyond our life in this place but is lived in part here when we allow God’s grace to illuminate our lives and all the lives and all the world around us. Salvation is lived in part here when we in turn carry that light not to cast shadows around others but to see how they, too, shine. For forgiveness is not restoration to what we were before – it is newness of life, and it carries with it a charge to walk in this way: to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.

As we are able to receive forgiveness, as we are able to receive grace, as we are able to love in response, as we are able to welcome all people to the table, as we are able to work not for salvation but because we are already saved, so will we hear the words spoken to us that were once said to David, This story is about you. So will we hear the words spoken to us that were once said to an unnamed woman, Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Amen.

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