Fall to Grace

Series: Red Letters: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?

 “Fall To Grace” // Luke 7:36-50

Sunday, April 7, 2013 @ Jericho Ridge Community Church

Series: Red Letters


Good morning everyone!  My name is Brad Sumner, I’m part of the teaching and leadership team here at Jericho Ridge and I want to invite you to come in and take you seats.  I hope you had a great spring break, I know we did.  We were able to do some travelling – courtesy of my grandfather, we went on a family reunion cruise with almost 30 other family members, and I am happy to report we are still speaking to all of them.  At least I think we’re still speaking to all of them.  Last weekend I opened with a photo of some exotic food from a mission trip many years ago to the Philippines which made some of you feel uncomfortable, which is good because that’s right along the lines of our topic for today.  We’re going to wrestle with the notion of “What makes you feel uncomfortable?”   


While we were away, we had the opportunity to go snorkeling.  And I have to be honest… I put on a brave face for my kids, but there are things I the ocean that make me feel uncomfortable.  I can remember as a kid swimming in the Gulf of Mexico near a sand bar in Florida and I was way far away from the boat, and all of a sudden, I see this greyish fin begin to ply through the water towards me.  And immediately the theme song from Jaws begins to play in my head and I am trying to swim back to the boat, knowing that I will never make it in time.  The fin came closer and closer and closer and my young life flashed before my eyes and then boom – up pops this little nose and head and it turns out it’s a very tame very cute dolphin.  It took my heart a very long time to return to my chest from my throat where it had become lodged and on that day I decided that being really, really far away from the boat makes me feel uncomfortable. 


On this recent trip, we were out on a small boat in Grand Cayman and they took us out to a place called Stingray City.  And the guide says to me “just jump in the water with this chunk of squid in your hand and the stingrays will come right over to you.  Don’t worry - they’re as gentle as can be! We call them the butterflies of the sea!”  So against my better judgment, I jump in, and now the stingray is coming toward me and its right up on me and as I’m holding it all I can think about is “please don’t kill me like you did that Crocodile Hunter guy in Australia!”  If stingrays can smell fear, then mine got a big whiff of it that morning.  I was as awkward and stiff and as uncomfortable as I could be while still managing to stay afloat!


But take the question of the water and onto dry land in the day to day places where you and I live our lives. What makes you feel uncomfortable?  If you sit with the question for a while it becomes a bit unsettling…  Perhaps for you, uncomfortable feelings well up when you are put in a socially awkward situation: you feel awkward when somebody says of does something totally inappropriate.  Perhaps they violate some social convention or taboo – like going right up to the painting at an art gallery and touching it. Or wearing waaaaay to much perfume into the hospital as they walk right past the sign that says “this is a scent free zone”.  Maybe the idea of your kids running with around a friend’s house which has lots of breakable items right at kid level makes you uncomfortable.  Maybe going to a very fancy party where you have to make awkward chit chat with people does it.  Or maybe it’s when you are approached on the street by a person asking for money.  Maybe being here this morning does it for you! 


We often feel uncomfortable as human beings when we are outside out comfort zone or we are put in situations that defy the norm or our expectations.  Push us too far and we feel uncomfortable, awkward and often our response is to just hope that the whole thing or the person who caused it goes away.  We don’t like to feel uncomfortable, do we?


In Luke 7, we see what may well have been one of the most awkward interactions Jesus had while he lived and walked on the earth some 2,000 years ago.  I want you to use your imagination as I read the text to try and draw out that sense of tension that just fills up the room when there’s a socially uncomfortable moment.  And as we look at this passage, I want us to explore our own places of comfort and discomfort and see how Jesus calls each and every one of us to fall to grace.  Let’s pray as we begin. 


I’m going to be reading from Luke 7:36-50 and as I do, a few different artistic interpretations of the scene will come up on the side screens and then the text will come up when we get to verse 44.  So get comfortable either with your Bible, YouVersion or your imagination and we’ll jump in.


Luke 7:36–38

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sit down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.


Luke 7:39-43 (just read

Scripture Slide 1 - Luke 7:44 -46

Scripture Slide 2 - Luke 7:47-50

How awkward is that – on so many levels?!  The questions that this ought to stir up in our minds are many but let’s start back at the beginning of the encounter.  First of all, this women busts in on a dinner party in a private home to which she was not invited – awkward!  It’s intriguing to me that she remains unnamed in the story and the specifics of her sin are also unnamed.  Many historians and commentators make a strong case that she was the town harlot, a well-known prostitute.  But intriguingly in Luke’s account, all we know of her is that her sinful reputation preceded her. 


And not only does she come into Simon the Pharisee’s home, she comes right up to the honoured guest, Jesus, falls down at his feet and begins to touch him.  Like, a lot…  On his feet.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like people touching my feet.  Touching feet feels kind of intimate to me.  But this woman disregards all common conventions and falls down at Jesus’ feet and begins to openly weep.  Not just a few tears, mind you… She cries enough to fully wet His feet so that it requires the even more awkward moment when she takes her hair and mops up the mess!  And she keeps going!  Now she’s kissing Jesus’ feet!  It’s all very socially squeamish.  And kind of disgusting.  In the ancient world, remember, they walked everywhere.  And without hush puppies and New Balance, right?  I mean, their feet were in horrible shape.  And Jesus says later on that they were unwashed so it’s not a pretty stained glass picture. 


And then the woman has brought with her something that’s also quite out of place.  Very, very expensive perfume.  This is not your run of the mill foot cream.  This stuff cost a full year’s salary per pound!  In the ancient world, this kind of perfume was reserved for special occasions – like anointing priests in Exodus 30 or important civic feasts (kind of like a presidential inauguration).  Sometimes even the burial of important people was marked with this kind of stuff.  You just didn’t bring it out for every dinner party.  And on top of this, we have to ask the question “where did this woman get the kind of financial resources to acquire this expensive perfume?  If she’s a prostitute, she’s been doing a very brisk business to garner that kind of coin!  The whole thing is just very, very inappropriate. 


And I love Simon’s first reaction: He blames Jesus.  He thinks to himself “This whole awkward situation is Jesus’ fault for letting that prostitute touch him.  If He was really a prophet he would know what kind of woman is touching him. And he would know that she is a sinner and he would have never let what just happened get so awkward and out of control!”  But you see, Simon actually never believed that Jesus was a prophet.  And if he did, this event shattered that notion. 

Because to the religious person in the Jewish first century, separation from sin was the mark of holiness.  You had to maintain the purity of your testimony by not getting anywhere close to ‘those kind of people’.  Their motto was Isaiah 65:5 “‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me!  I am holier than you!”’ But because Jesus is God and he knows what Simon is thinking Jesus goes right for the heart of the issue.  But he does it by telling a story.  The story of two people who are in over their heads in debt.  The one owes almost 2 months wages, and the other owes 10 times that much – over a year and a half’s salary!  It’s quite the high risk loan.  And Jesus is careful to point out that the debtors had literally nothing to pay.  They had no bargaining position. They had no equity left to draw from to extend the loan… They were done. But in a scandalous act of grace, the creditor kindly forgave them both. 


Can you imagine a car dealer wiping out an entire obligation on a vehicle?  Can you imagine your bank calling you up and saying that because they made 3.3 billion dollars last year that they are going to pay it forward and take care of the rest of your mortgage?  Can you imagine MasterCard calling up and saying “don’t worry about it – I know you way overspent last year, but don’t sweat it, all is forgiven!”  It’s hard to imagine because it just doesn’t happen.  Except when Jesus gets involved in your story and invites you to fall not from, but into grace. 


Because Jesus isn’t finished with his scandalous story…  the next Red Letters are the really shocking ones and cause the greatest stir amongst the onlookers.  Jesus turns, looks the woman in the eyes but is talking to Simon and paints a stinging picture of contrasts.  “Simon, you didn’t offer me the common courtesy of your lowest household servant bringing a bowl of water and a towel to wash my feet up when I came in from the street.  You didn’t welcome me with the traditional Middle Eastern greeting of a kiss on the cheeks.  You didn’t bring out even the least expensive olive oil for me to freshen up.  You invite me over for dinner but show me no love.”  Luke 7:47 - I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”    


In Luke’s gospel, all of the stories in this section are designed around contrasts.  And the whole of chapter 7 is filled with stories about the presence or absence of faith.  And it pushes our buttons a bit and offends our sensibilities because Jesus says and does some scandalous things.  He declares with authority that this woman’s sins are forgiven.


Now, we need to ask a few questions about these Red Letter words because it can seem at first glance that Jesus is simply rewarding her for her kind gesture to him.  And we need to ask “Is Jesus saying you can be saved by works?  Is He in any way suggesting or modeling that her works or her deeds have saved her?”  or that our good works could lead us to a place where Jesus would say to you or I “your sins are forgiven?”.  Here I think it’s important to take both of Jesus’ concluding statements together to help us understand what’s going on here.  His last statement is “your faith has saved you, go in peace.”   Throughout the Bible, there is connective relationship between our faith and our actions.  But the ordering of those two is critical.  If we think that our actions or works produce faith in our lives, we are mistaken.  Listen to what Paul says in I Thessalonians 1:3 “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love…”  Anything you or I do for God ought to rightly grow out of the soil of faith and love in our hearts and lives.  The Scriptures say “we love Him because He first loved us.”  We don’t change our behavior first and then God demonstrates love to us.  Works come out of our faith, prompted by love.  And so here with this woman, it’s important to be clear that Jesus rewards the woman’s bold faith which she demonstrates by her actions (not visa versa – our works do not save us


In other words, the presence of real and genuine love causes and calls out a change in our behaviour.  I can remember back to just over 18 years ago when Meg and I first met.  And as I started to fall in love with her, my behavior toward her started to change.  I started want to hang out with her more.  The tone and depth and focus of our conversations changed.  My thoughts about my and our future started to change.  But you don’t tend to behave your way into genuine love.  You choose to begin to love someone or something and then your actions begin to flow out of that place.  Similarly, love is the motivator for anything that you do for God in our lives. 

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts things in the right order:  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Faith precedes works.             


I don’t know if you remember it, but I grew up with a little song that was designed to help keep us on the straight and narrow.  “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little eyes what you see. For the father up above is looking down in love. Be careful little eyes what you see”.  And then there were other verses about your ears, hands and feet.  Well, as true as that may be, I want to turn it on its head this morning and use those lines to help each of us draw some application for our own lives from Lk 7. 

The first thing that strikes me is where Jesus’ feet take him.  [Be careful little feet where you go].  Jesus is often accused of hanging out with sinners and so this text is often appealed to push people outside of their comfort zones to hang out with the less that savory people in your town.  It’s often paired with James 1 to remind people not to be fearful of associating with those of low esteem.  But it strikes me that Jesus’ feet also take him to Simon’s home.  A self-righteous hypocritical member of the upper class, the religious and political elite of his day.  And Jesus is just as concerned for Simon (reaching “UP”) as He is for the woman (reaching “DOWN”).  Here in our city, we work and partner with the Gateway of Hope but we also partner like we did last weekend with the Township of Langley.  Our volunteers might find themselves handing out food at the food bank in the morning and having lunch with local politicians or business leaders that afternoon.  We partner with the Gateway of Hope but also with the Township of Langley.  Why?  Because all segments of society need to know and experience the forgiveness of sins & the mercy of Jesus. So we need to think about reaching up and reaching down. 


But here’s where I think sometimes we get stuck…  Our little feet don’t always take us into these places.  Part of it is that suburbia allows each of us to hide our needs and our brokenness behind resources.  Most of us have the capacity to look good on the outside and mask what’s going on inside.  But even more concerning to me is that our feet sometimes don’t’ take us all that far from home.  Our feet are often careful to walk only within the boundaries of our pre-existing comfort zones.  And here’s where Jesus’ actions and His challenge to Simon can cut pretty deep because they challenge this preoccupation with separation.  By the radical nature of his actions, Jesus is reminding Simon as well as you and me that Separation is an inadequate model of holiness…  Just moving to the suburbs and hoping that our kids turn out OK isn’t good enough.  Just trying to steer clear of sin and the wrong people isn’t what Jesus modeled for us.  Our feet need to take us places that are outside our comfort zone.  And let me nudge you a little bit here to Beware getting stuck in the subculture.  Especially in a place like the Fraser Valley, there is a whole parallel world that you could spend all of your time in.  You can send you kids to Christian schools, listen to only Christian radio stations, enroll in only Christian sports leagues, read only Christian novels, and the list goes on.  I’m not saying any of these things are wrong in and of themselves, but if the motivation for them is that that you or your kids never have to hear as swear word or be exposed to “those kinds of people”, then we’ve missed the mark!  Our feet aren’t taking to the same places Jesus’ feet took him.  Mennonites have been very guilty of this in the past and it’s something that we need to repent of because separation doesn’t equal holiness. 

Alright, I shall hop down off that soap box and wrap it up here.  Not only do I want to grow in my awareness of where my feet are going or not going, but I also want to be aware of what my little eyes are seeing or not seeing.  I am finding that learning to see other people through the eyes of grace is a challenging proposition because sometimes there is a lot of stuff that gets in the way.  If I was sitting at the table with Jesus, I’m not convinced I would have responded graciously because I have a variety of responses when I encounter someone who has a strong reputation.  But I have been challenged in my life recently to Can you see past the actions, past the exterior, past the piousness, past the reputation, past the differences, to the person behind what you see?  I’m still growing in this and it’s one of the things I’ll be praying about when we move to our response time in a few minutes.  How do you see people? 


The final concern that I often hear from people is that when we get into these places, that we are elevating grace and de-consequentializing or minimizing sin.  Be careful little mouth, what you say.  If we look to Jesus as our example, with this woman, Jesus didn’t brush past her sins in a headlong race for her to experience grace.  Her sins, and they are many, Jesus says.  Are forgiven her.  But the whole point of Jesus’ story about the debtors is that neither of them could act on their own to get out of their place of indebtedness.  One was in a little in debt, the other a LOT in debt but they were both still helpless.  And since they are both still invited to fall to grace, Jesus simply observes that Minimal forgiveness = minimal gratitude.  I wonder if some of us who experienced salvation at a young age are at a profound disadvantage here when it comes to kingdom gratitude.  Sometimes we think that we’re are or were pretty good people so God is lucky to have us on His team.  But if MasterCard gave me a $30 credit on my bill, I’d be grateful but I wouldn’t give my life to them.  Now, if they paid off your $300,000 mortgage unprompted and with no strings attached, there’s a slightly different attitude toward them!  But how God’s grace works – He doesn’t ignore our sins, he simply notes that each and every one of us owned a debt we couldn’t pay and so He decided in His mercy to pay it Himself by sending his own son to cover the costs on the cross, that’s what we celebrated last weekend with the events of Good Friday and Easter.  


On Thursday, I was on Twitter and I saw a great tweet by author Rachael Held Evans.  She simply said “It's okay to let grace get   a little out of control. That's the whole point.”  And in many ways, that’s the whole point of this story and of your story and mine – and that Jesus invites each of us to fall to His grace.  [Prayer team: Ralph, Dave and Jodi]… Communion = come to the table. None of us deserve it, but all are invited.  

What makes you feel uncomfortable? In Luke 7, we encounter what might be the most uncomfortable social and ethical situation Jesus ever faced. His response teaches us that it's okay for us to let grace get a little out of hand from time to time (after all, isn't that the point?).

Speaker: Brad Sumner

April 7, 2013
Luke 7:36-50

Brad Sumner

Lead Pastor

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