Proper 6c, June 16, 2013

June 24, 2013

Here’s The Thing!
Luke 7:36 – 8:3

7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him–that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Before Anne knew she would spend Tuesday crying at the airport as Hannis their exchange student prepared to return to Germany and and all day Thursday at Patrick’s freshman orientation event at UCA (in addition to all of the Annual Conference business) she was scheduled to preach today. But I was moved – either by sleep deprivation or the Holy Spirit to say that I wanted to preach today. And this may sound a little bit more like a testimony than a sermon, but here’s the thing – a remarkable thing happened to me last week! You may think I’ve lost my mind when I tell you this, but I didn’t go to Annual Conference last week – I went to a revival meeting!

It’s such a strange thing that occurred. I thought I was going to go to Annual Conference, and I ended up at a revival. I know I may be scaring some of you, I know I’m sounding a whole lot like a Baptist, but don’t worry about that. I didn’t leave Little Rock and slip off to Houston last week where they’re having the Southern Baptist Convention – but to use the language of John Wesley I can say that I felt my heart strangely warmed at Annual Conference. It’s one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me.

Now I must say that part of what prepared me for this remarkable experience is the low level of expectation I had for Annual Conference. The fact that it was going to meet in Little Rock meant that I wasn’t going to get to leave town and duck out of a few responsibilities. It meant that I had a few extra responsibilities. I had volunteered to be the greeter coordinator for people who were coming to Annual Conference, and I was anxious about that. I knew there would be people coming to downtown Little Rock from all over the state and I knew there would be some anxious hearts out there. It seemed like a good idea when I volunteered to have some people stationed at various approaches to the Statehouse Convention Center who could tell anxious people how to get to the registration table.

But as the day approached I was feeling pretty anxious about all of that. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out. But it worked out well. Remarkably we had just the right number of people show up to do that work, and it went well. I should have known that was a sign of things to come. But I didn’t. In fact I was just extra anxious when it came time for the Clergy Session to convene. I won’t go in to great detail, but in that session the Board of Ordained Ministry leads us through a multi-page report of the status of every person who is somehow in the process of serving in professional ministry. It’s a remarkably tedious report and we basically rubber stamp everything that the Board of Ordained Ministry recommends, but I was troubled by one situation. I have a friend who is in ministry and he had applied to become ordained as an Elder and they were recommending that he be discontinued in the process – meaning that he would have to start over in the process if he wanted to become ordained.

We were going to vote on that. And in that room of approximately 500 people. I was the guy who raised his hand and asked why. I got recognized and I had to run from the back of the room to the platform, and don’t think I wasn’t anxious about that. I told you a few weeks ago that I am about as intentional as Winnie the Pooh and as anxious as Pigglet. This means something to those of you who raised your kids on Winnie the Pooh videos. I was in full Pigglet mode when I arrived on the platform, and being true to my Winnie the Pooh self I had no idea what to say. I stammered something about how I wanted to know why we were going to discontinue someone that I felt was very gifted in many ways. And in order for the members of the Board of Ordained to discuss the case they had to call an executive session and dismiss everyone who wasn’t a fully ordained elder or deacon. So a bunch of people had to get up and leave the room.

I felt sort of bad about that, but I felt terrible about my friend being discontinued, and we needed to take that vote seriously. It’s a very unfortunate situation. The recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry was upheld and I hate what happened, but here’s the thing about that. The Bishop and the Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and many other people told me they appreciated me raising the question. I hate the outcome of the situation and we all know it represents some brokenness within our clergy community, but I also have some hope for healing to happen. And I think everyone would have felt worse if we had not paused before we voted on that line in our report.

I don’t like to lift myself up as the person who did the right thing. In fact I don’t have many occasions to lift myself up as the person who did the right thing, but it felt good to have done what I did. Of course I mainly knew I would have felt terrible if I hadn’t raised my hand, but I also feel that I was responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to speak up. That’s also a line from John Wesley. He encouraged the early Methodists to not resist the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I was scared, but I did what I felt I should do, and it was gratifying. I’m going to try to remember that – I hope you will too.

But now I’m going to skip from Sunday night, to 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, which is when our Finance Committee was to meet. Now as strange as this may sound, I don’t generally dread those meetings. It’s a good group of people and we generally engage in fruitful and upbeat discussion of how we are going to meet our financial challenges. But Tuesday’s meeting was bad. Only four of us were in the room when it was past time for us to begin and our faithful chairperson, Janie Fenton hadn’t even arrived. I went to the door to see if anyone else was coming and that’s when I discovered that one of our artists had locked the door on their way out and I saw Janie and another committee member driving off.

Now just prior to this failed meeting I had come from a workshop on how to form small groups in a church. The presenter was the pastor of a church in Omaha Nebraska that had grown exponentially over the past few years. I felt like I learned something at the workshop, but I was also struck by the contrast between his church and my church. Our contributions were really down in May, our attendance trend is flat at best, and it left me wondering was what I’m doing wrong.

I was low when I went to the Ordination Service Tuesday night, but I found myself remarkably uplifted by our Bishop’s sermon. He challenged us all to become imagineers. And that spoke to me. I came away reminded that I’m in a church where imagination is valued, and I really liked his challenge to find new ways to be the church in the time and place that we now occupy.

All of that set me up for the worship service on Wednesday morning, which is when Dr. Grace Imathieu was preaching for the second time. She had preached a very powerful sermon on Tuesday afternoon, but her sermon on Wednesday morning touched me deeply. Rev. Imathiu grew up in Kenya and she has a remarkable way of bringing Biblical stories to life, and she preached a sermon on the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, going after Jesus with every ounce of his being, and being healed. Her sermon put me in touch with how helpless I feel to fix all of the problems I’m aware of within this church, and how much I need Jesus. In fact her sermon made me feel like I was in the room with Jesus, and I was excited about that.

When the service was over I watched her as she was leaving the platform and I positioned myself between her and the door. I pulled out a business card and I approached her, and I was blubbering as I gave her my card and asked her to pray for me and my church. She was very comforting to me, and I take great comfort in knowing that she is praying for me and for us.

We have in our text this morning the story of a woman who was so moved by Jesus she formed enough tears to wash his feet. She was so lost in love for him she dried his feet with her hair, and I think I know how she felt. Some things happened last week that put me in touch with how much I long to be near to Jesus. And when I say that, what I mean is that I want to be in the business of finding where Jesus is alive in this world. I don’t want to be a like the Pharisee we see in this morning’s story who simply went through the motion of keeping a religious institution up and running – even if that institution is as non-traditional as QQUMC.

For one thing, I don’t even feel very successful at keeping the institution going. Our struggle to stay financially soluble is about the same as it was when I arrived, and the number of people who are involved with this church has been pretty level. I can’t point to any number that shows significant growth since I’ve been here, and I have been pretty discouraged about that. I feel good about keeping us going, and we’ve made some significant improvements to the building, but in my mind I never really get out of what you might call maintenance mode. Maintaining the building, maintaining the worship service, maintaining the programs we have in place.

And what we do isn’t bad, but I’ve been reminded of what our work is really about. It is about finding ways to join with the living Christ in this world, and to build a community that puts people in touch with the living Christ – who puts us in touch with the living God.

I’m sorry I haven’t really touched on our beautiful scripture lesson this morning, it is a rich story that is worthy of extensive examination, but I am primarily struck by the passion of this woman who had such profound trust and love for Jesus. Her desire to be near to him was unstoppable.

I have been put in touch with that same desire. I’m not really sure how to proceed with the work that is laid before me and us, but I have been reminded of what good work it is. It may be that I’ve been feeling a lot more like a Pharisee than a disciple, but I’m not confused today on what I want to be. I want to be the one who blubbers over Jesus – not the one who cares about all the wrong things.

I don’t feel newly equipped, I don’t know what we need to do to get our numbers up, but I do know one thing – I want to be in the business of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. That’s the thing I want to do and I believe he’s the one that has brought us together. You might never have forgotten that that’s what we’re all about, and I hadn’t totally forgotten, but I feel like I have been to that dinner where Jesus was present, and I’m still excited about it.

Here’s the thing: God is with us, we are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen


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