Free From Shame; Free to Love (A Sermon for June 16th, 2013)

Luke 7:36-8:3

It’s a beautiful dinner party. Simon is known for these. Everything always comes off perfectly. The table settings sparkle. The flowers are fresh. The cocktails are classy. The food is presented in beautiful courses with garnishes. The guest list is small and select: all people who are model citizens—well-respected leaders—scandal-free. And it’s all to honor their special guest—this new preacher in town.

Everyone can tell that he doesn’t really fit in. He’s from the country. He looks uncomfortable, and doesn’t eat his salad with the right fork. But the guests are nothing if not gracious. They continue to engage the new preacher in small talk, and no one makes any disparaging comments at all when they find out what parts of town he’s been visiting. He’s new. He’ll learn.

But then there is a clatter and a scuffle in the foyer, and a door flings open, and she clomps in. They all know her. She’s the woman who can’t control her children in public. She’s the woman whose children each have different fathers. She’s the woman who has 15 cats and a satellite dish in the front yard of her decrepit home, and “how exactly can pay for all those TV stations when she’s obviously using food stamps to feed her kids?” She’s a nightmare. It’s shameful. Everyone here knows who she is, but no one has actually talked to her. She seems to keep to herself, and that is fine. They wouldn’t know what to talk with her about, anyway.

But here she is, crashing a beautiful dinner party.

She clomps in wearing her bright pink Crocs, holding a large bunch of heart-shaped balloons in one hand, and a plastic-wrap covered sheet cake in the other. There is a large, tattered canvas bag hanging off one shoulder, and it comes close to knocking people in the head as she squeezes her way around the dining table toward the guest of honor.

“Hi,” she gasps out to the new pastor when she reaches his seat. “I heard there was a party for you, and I wanted to pitch in. heart balloonsI made a yellow cake with coffee frosting ‘cause you said the other day that it’s your favorite.” The sheet cake is deposited in the center of the table next to the crystal candlesticks. Then she digs into the canvas bag and pulls out a casserole dish, “because you liked that tune casserole I made you so much,” and a party hat that reads, “You’re #1,” which she sets on the preachers head, and a garish multi-colored monstrosity of a scarf, “because this will be your first time with a real winter—I made it for you when I found out you didn’t bring any with you.”

“And the balloons—well, I just had to get them because you make my heart feel so full already, and your heart is so full of love for people, and I just think you’re amazing.”

Simon has indulged the woman this far, but he can hear the murmuring around the table. The whispers about how she seems to be prowling for a husband. The eyebrows raised that this preacher has clearly eaten at her home, already, and how many times, exactly? And was it really just eating, hmmm? This dinner party is quickly devolving into a scandal, which Simon would very much like to avoid. His eyes flick between the preacher and the woman, trying to discern whether the new preacher has any clue what a mess this woman is—how unsavory her company is—does he understand what this looks like? Simon’s disapproval etches deep lines around his frowning mouth.

The preacher sees it. He is not naïve, or stupid, or inconsiderate. He sees things. And he sees Simon’s inner turmoil. So he speaks up before Simon works up the nerve to confront the woman.

“Simon,” the preacher says, “There’s something I want to say.”

Simon feels a moment of relief. The preacher will handle the confrontation for him. “Yes, Teacher,” he rushes, “Please.”

But instead of confronting the disruptive woman, this preacher spoke to the host of the party: “Imagine that a well-off man gives loans to a couple of neighbors. One owes him $5,000 and the other owes him $50,000, but neither of them can pay it off. The man makes the decision to forgive both debts. Now, which of the neighbors will love this man the most?”

Simon squirmed. “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt to pay?”

“You have answered well,” the preacher replied. Then he turned to face the woman, who was glancing around the room, nervously, as if she just realized how out of place she was, and was becoming self-conscious.

“Do you see this woman?” the preacher had a tenderness and awe in his voice that Simon did not understand.

“This woman has baked me my favorite cake, and a casserole she knows I enjoy. But, here in your party, you have made no attempt to find out what I actually like. You just served what you thought looked impressive for a dinner party.”

“This woman made a scarf just for me, because she knows I came from a warmer climate. But no one in this room knew where I came from, because no one bothered to ask.

“Clearly, she has experienced a big forgiveness—the kind that rocks you to the core, and leaves gratitude and love in its wake. That’s why she loves so freely. But those who are already perfect have no space for forgiveness in their lives, and there is no room for love to grow.”

Then the preacher turned to the woman and said, “Forgiveness is amazing, isn’t it? I’m so glad you’ve experienced it.”

The stunned silence in the room began to give way to mutterings between the other guests: “Who does he think he is?” “How rude!” “What is he implying here?”

But neither the party-crashing woman nor the new preacher in town paid any mind. They gazed at each other with a soft, gentle respect and affection. “You get it,” he spoke for her, alone. “You’ve got a big heart, and it’s your salvation. I’ll see you around.”

The woman walked away with a smile on her lips and a swing in her step. She felt free for the first time from the layers of shame that had bound her for so many years. She felt free, and for the first time realized those party-guests in the fancy dining room were not free. They were trapped, too. Trapped by shame, trapped by pride, trapped for any number of reasons. But the worst part, from her perspective, is that they are missing out on him. Missing out on his love, his goodness, his gentle, forgiving smile. Missing out on getting the chance to know and be known—to love and be loved, just the way they are.

She’s the luckiest woman in town.

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