Sunday, June 13, 2010

Proper 6C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Summer officially begins in just about a week, a fact that hardly needs noting with the heat index already climbing over one hundred degrees.  I've lived 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.

Some of my favorite summers were spent at my grandparents' house in Spartanburg, SC.  May 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 bare feet and even the blue sky burned in the sun.  Summer was the season when the afternoon shadows grew impossibly long and daylight lingered 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 spare room we sometimes shared upstairs.  A nightlight bathed one wall of that room in a soft glow, making just enough light 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 cool damp bottom, and every flick of a light switch illuminated just enough of the long way down and around that you could almost see the next light switch in the shadows.  Piles of forgotten old books and rolled up posters and maps and dusty pillows became spooky shapes in the dim basement light.  At night we laughed at the shadow animals we made with our fingers, but the shadows behind the closet door or under the bed were no laughing matter.

These are the sorts of shadows, in which lurk real and imagine dangers, that we borrow when we speak of having shadow sides, when we speak of being shady.  They are the shadows we wrap around ourselves to hide the real and imagine 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 light switch on for us, challenging us to see an all too real part of ourselves that cause all too real hurt - we are challenged to see our sinfulness.  Individually and as a community of faith, we prefer to sweep the reality of our sin into the shadows, to politely say the confession and receive our absolution and then say no more about it.  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 a man and a woman who have done just that: King David, and the unnamed woman of our gospel story, sinners who overcame the shadows of their wrongdoings 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, and then took Uriah's beautiful wife, Bathsheba, as his 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 the story Nathan told.  As a sinner, David couldn't see that the shadow cast by the rich man was, in fact, his own.  Do you see this man? Nathan demanded.  You are the man!  The story is about you, David!  You, upon whom God has lavished such 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 David saw the light.  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 illumination, who lavished forgiveness upon him not for the first time, and not for the last.

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 a sinner at the feet of a fool.  As a Pharisee, Simon recognized immediately the picture in the story Jesus told - 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 story's shadow was cast, in fact, over himself.  Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded.  Do you really truly see her?  Do you see yourself, Simon?  Do you really truly see yourself?

Perhaps the presence of light and shadow in that room was as uncertain as a child's nightlight lit bedroom, filled with playful shadow animals and scary dark corners.  Do you see? Jesus demanded.  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 also a fool, a man who could not possibly be the teacher and prophet he is reputed to be.  In both Jesus and the woman, Simon sees the shadow side of the law that is his guiding light.

Do you see this woman?  Do you see?  Jesus also sees a sinner.  He sees two sinners.  He sees the woman, who knows she has nothing to hide, and just as his forgiveness has washed her clean, so she now washes his feet in a generous and loving act of gratitude.  Jesus also sees Simon, who is blind to the light of the world at his own table, who has cast people like the woman into the shadow and, though he cannot see it, has shuttered himself from God as he brandishes his own righteousness like a torch and works his own way to salvation.

Do you see this woman?  Do you see?  The woman sees a savior.  She sees the one who has already invited her to God's table, who has 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 we see?  Do we really truly see?  With God, our sins are forgiven before we ask, even if we never ask, even if, like David and Simon, we never realized we needed forgiving in the first place until we were shown the light.  God has let our sins 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 and with others 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 love and grace; therefore she is able to show great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, who is blind to his own need for forgiveness, he shows little love.  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.  You.  Me.  David.  The unnamed woman.  Even, bless his heart, Simon.

Or do we, too, suffer, from time to time, from something of the same self-righteousness - I mean, blindness - that afflicted Simon?  Do we judge him?  Do we think ourselves better than him?  Do we justify our dislike of him by his dislike of others?  Do we distance ourselves from him?  Do we see this man?  Do we see?  Jesus, charged by the Pharisees of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners, sees Simon the sinner, and in showing him what grace and gratitude look like in the life and actions of the woman, he shows Simon the light.  So also Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners, sees us.  Jesus, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets or shades or shadows are hid, really truly sees us.

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 down inside ourselves to offer up our shadows and shades, our sins, our hurt, and all that separates us from God and from one another, then 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 right here and now 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 right here and now when we in turn carry that light into the world, not to cast shadows around others but instead 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 an invitation to walk with Jesus, through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the reign of God - a reign in which the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the sick are cured, the deaf hear, and dead are raised, and the poor are raised up.

As we are willing to receive forgiveness, as we are willing to receive grace, as we are willing to love in response, as we are willing to welcome all people to the table, as we are willing to live and work not for salvation but because we are already saved, so then will we be able to say with Paul, It is Christ who lives in me.  And 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.  Amen.

Artwork: "Vesper Light," by Angela Wales Rockett; "David and Bathsheba," by Marc Chagall; "The Allabastar Jar," by Daniel Bonnell; "Gracious Spirit," by Anne Randolph Rechter; "The Center of Everything," by John C. Little; "Elemental," by the Reverend Caroline Kramer.

No comments: