Pepe Le Pew and the woman who washed Jesus' feet
Some of you might remember a few years back, that some skunks got into the window wells in the church.
I noticed one Monday morning that the church smelled… well, a little ripe.
But it was Monday AA who discovered four baby skunks in our window well.
You could see them from the fellowship hall.
It probably had seemed like a safe place to keep her babies, but now mama could not get the babies out.
The good folks at the meeting placed a board down into the well so the skunks could climb out,
but it was no use.
I got the call at home from Mark, one the AA leaders.
He told me about the skunks, and said he had a guy who would get them out.
His name was Matt.
Matt returned the next day, and using a telescopic pole, nudged the skunks into bucket and hauled them out.
I guess the place smelled like home, though, because before Pete M had a chance to cover the window well,
the skunks were back again.
It was Sunday morning, and it was my children who discovered the skunks.
They’re still there, Mom! We have to get them out!
And they pestered me so much that there I was, in my Sunday clothes, kneeling over the window well
with a bucket and broom handle, trying to get them out.
I did not succeed.
I was going to let nature take its course; it would be easier to get the skunks out with a shovel.
But of course my children would not permit that.
So I got on the phone and called Matt.
It felt like a big favor to ask.
After all, Matt had already done the job once—now I was asking him to come again?
But Matt was gracious. I’ll never forget what he said:
“You know, I am a lot like that skunk. I have fallen into so many holes in my life;
But God reached into the pit and my own stink and pulled me out.
So I am happy to pull these little guys out.”
I was amazed at Matt’s humility and generosity.
What guy could have such compassion for skunks?
But as I reflected on it, I began to think that humility and generosity are related.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus is invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee for dinner.
The Pharisees were the good-two-shoes of first century Judaism--
they always seemed to do things right and let you know if you didn’t.
This was a proper occasion.
While Jesus was eating, however, a woman came in off the street.
She was crying and carrying a jar of ointment.
She knelt before Jesus and began to wipe his feet with her tears and her hair.
Despite this awkward display of emotion, Jesus did not stop her.
He let her anoint his feet with the ointment and received this strange act of devotion with grace.
But others were not so graceful, at least not in their hearts.
Simon the Pharisee thought to himself, “what kind of a prophet is this man Jesus,
if he can’t even tell that this woman is a sinner and shouldn’t be here,
let alone letting her hair down and touching him!”
Jesus, perceiving what Simon was thinking told a little parable about two people who owed money-
one owed the equivalent to 500 days of labor
the other 50 days of labor.
Both men were forgiven their debts, Jesus said.
Who will love the creditor more?
Of course Simon knew the answer—the one who had a greater debt cancelled.
Then Jesus applied the lesson,
talking about how Simon had neglected washing his feet, an expected act of hospitality
and affirmed how she cared for this need in a most heartfelt way.
“I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.
But the one whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
To be honest, I can identify with the stingy heart;
sometimes I hear my internal voice sounding a lot like Simon the Pharisee:
Why doesn’t he get a job? Why does she still live at home?
What is she doing here? Why is his life always such a mess?
I measure others against my own standards, forgetting that I am only where I am due to the grace of God.
But this attitude has been challenged by my visits to AA and other twelve step meetings.
You can step into a meeting and see people in business suits and others in obvious need of dental work
some seem like they have their lives all together, and others really don’t.
But no one thinks of themselves better than another
they all know that they are just one drink away from disaster;
they are a humble people, they know their limits; they are ready to let go and let God
and amazing things happen.
Our church has been the beneficiary of some of these amazing things.
Because not only has that long standing AA group provided skunk removal
They also installed our motion sensor lights for us, donated the 100 cup coffee pot,
upgraded our electrical system and installed our AC—all for free.
Their generosity to our congregation has been humbling.
We should be the ones giving, right? We have it together, right? Aren’t they the ones with the ‘problem’?
But like Simon the Pharisee, I find myself in shifting categories
who is righteous, who is generous, who is a sinner…
Jesus challenges our neat categorizations and tells us
you are all sinners! you all stand in need! and guess what…I will take you all!
I love you all! I accept you all.
Today Jesus puts the breaks on our measuring and judging.
He invites us to see the beauty in the other, the one we want to call ‘sinner’
he invites us to see ourselves in that person, and them in us.
He invites us to know ourselves as needy people whose needs are filled in him!
He wants us share his acceptance and love with those who society has labeled, not good enough.
Cookie and I have a few new ideas from assembly about this.
One is Rejoicing Spirits.
Rejoicing Spirits is a worshipping community of people living with cognitive or developmental disabilities
and their families.
The community generally meets at a different time than the host congregation.
There are several Rejoicing Spirits communities in MA, but none in CT.
With our growing appreciation of difference and what new people can bring into our community,
wouldn’t it be cool to host a worship service that included everyone of all abilities?
Wouldn’t you love to see the joy of their faces and experience their great love for Jesus?
There are so many ways our community can continue to grow getting beyond the labels to loving others like Jesus.
But the place it all begins is right here with Simon the Pharisee,
and having the change of heart that Jesus was offering him.
In order to truly welcome others, we first have to understand ourselves
as undeserving but included
as sinners but forgiven
as outsiders but welcomed in.
When we do, we will be like our friends at AA
Humble and generous
ready to save skunk or sheep
sinner or saint
Because we know we too have been saved, accepted, and loved.
Today in our OT lesson we the prophet Nathan tells a story to make a point.
King David had taken another man’s wife, and arranged for her husband to be killed.
David was the King and thought he could get away with it. But Nathan’s story points out his wrong.
I am going to give you the Veggie Tales version – it’s a song.
“…the rich man took to feed his guest, a very very poor man’s lamb.”
When I hear this song, I think not only of King David, but also our international food system.
The people in rich countries get food from all over the world.
In some places, farmers are growing food for international markets, but hungry themselves.
On top of that, we have so much in the US, that we waste 40% of our food.
It’s like taking the poor man’s lamb when we have so much already.
Our theme for assembly, the big gathering of people from churches like ours from all over NE,
was “No Reservations: A Place at the Table for Everyone.”
We talked about how ending hunger is possible, that there is room at the table for everyone.
When I was a kid, 1 out of 4 people around the world was hungry on a regular basis.
Those people didn’t grow right, and had health problems.
Now 1 out of 9 people are hungry. We have made progress.
There are so many ways we can work to end hunger.
We heard from a young woman who works with the ELCA world hunger appeal
and about how our dollars from our piggy banks make a difference.
We heard from a congressman who talked about laws which help end hunger in this country.
We learned about churches with community gardens and immigrant farmers and taking better care of our earth.
The prophet Nathan told that story of the poor man’s lamb not just to make a point,
but to change King David’s behavior.
The parable can change us too, to rededicate ourselves to ending hunger.