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Sermon for Ordinary 11 Year C

The Reverend Charles Royden - The woman who anointed Jesus feet Luke 7:36 -

 

I wonder how many of you have heard of the bath question?

Apparently it shows how people in surveys will say the kinds of things which they think they are supposed to say, how we try to fit in with expectations. Ask people how often they take a bath and they will reply with the answer which they think they ought to give. So it goes, how often do you take a bath.
Apparently If the collective answers were correct the number of baths being taken would mean that there would be no water left in the country it would all be going down the plug hole.

We are all products of this kind of conditioning. Fulfilling the expectations of others, being produced by our culture, influenced by our society.

The same is true for religious belief as it is for fashion sense, or anything else

The Pharisee who Jesus spoke with in the story today was a product of his upbringing and his religion. These had told him how to behave and what was good and what was bad behaviour. So he had learned what it meant to be a good person. It entailed staying away from the wrong sort of company and behaving in certain ways. This meant that whole groups of people were considered to be unsuitable people, they were bad people, sinners.

Let me introduce you to a can, it is dented can

I think that once, not long ago, these kinds of tins would have been sold off, cheap. I can remember going into supermarkets and there would be large bins with these tins in for people to buy. And there would be sign on the bin that read, "Damaged Goods”. People would buy these things because they were cheap rejects from the shelves. Apparently nowadays at Tesco they just church them in the skip outside, Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 had huge numbers of people ringing in saying that they go and pinch this stuff from skips outside supermarkets. And apparently sometimes at Tesco, if one tin is damaged they chuck the whole tray of tins out. The whole tray is rejected as damaged goods.

It seems to me that a lot of people, more than you might think, feel like this tin. Whatever the reason, things they've done, things life has done to them, things beyond their control, have made them feel like damaged goods...bent out of shape, crushed, of little value to themselves or anyone else

The woman in the story today had felt that way about herself. For whatever reason she felt that she was a damaged person . And it was into this situation of really low personal esteem that Jesus had somehow broken through and shown to the woman that she was not damaged , she was valued and loved by God. Other people might disregard her, the men in the village, perhaps even her family. But the one person who mattered most, her Father God, to him she was of utter value.

Now we know that we are loved and valued by God, we know the path that Jesus took for us to the cross. But Jesus had managed to enable this woman to know the same assurance of forgiveness. Note that this is not psychotherapy. Jesus is not giving the woman a pep talk, telling her that she has to learn to love herself. This is Jesus enabling her to know that she is loved by God and forgiven.

It seems to me that people today who are denied the existence of God are in a very difficult place because there is no way of them dealing with guilt and feeling repentance and knowing forgiveness. I know that the church has played its part in creating guilt, but just because you remove religion you do not remove guilt, remorse and feelings of failure.
Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day!

This woman met with Jesus and she saw in him the presence of God and knew that she was forgiven. From rock bottom she has suddenly realised that she was of great value to God. In some miraculous way Jesus had shown her that she was not damaged at all.

The Pharisees were not a bad bunch really. They did all the things which their society and their religion expected of them. Just like most us.

The influences of family, society, church all these things around us, can be good. That is how most people become Christians, because of where they are born and live and brought up. But Jesus expected that the Pharisees should be able to look beyond the horizons of thought and imagination which their society and religion placed upon them. Jesus wanted them to look outside the box. He wanted them to be able to do more than just accept the values and standards of the day, he wanted them to recognise the possibility of being different.

So it is with us as well. If the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we should be able to escape from the constraints placed upon us by people who believe that we should be Christian clones.

Let me suggest two things which we need to take away from this story this morning

First of all God wants us to know that we are valuable. No matter how much we think that the beauty of God in us has been disfigured or destroyed—we are precious to him. There are no damaged goods in a bin going cheap in God’s creation. We can look at people and see the image of God marred, disfigured and broken, but we have to get past the appearance of the tin and look at the goods inside which are made by God.

The second thing that God wants us to know is that it is not just us who are special to him. We have brothers and sisters, in God’s family we are not an only child. Just because people are different, does not mean that they are wrong.

The Pharisees represented a "sick religion" one that excludes people. Jesus' religion is one of grace....includes everyone. When Jesus looks at us, he does not see damaged goods. He represents a healthy religion that is redemptive and life-changing, not one that labels and condemns. Jesus spent most of his time hanging out with people at the edges of society, people who were considered damaged goods, that should give us a clue.

There is much that I rejoice in about the history of our Christian faith. However when Christians start loosing tolerance and respect for people who are different, then things have always got nasty. When Christians start to feel that they are better than others then we are just about as bad as religious people can get. The lesson today is a note of caution, the reject is the one that Jesus is really interested in.

So look at the story and the characters in it and try and see who you are like, how you would treat the woman. Are you a judgemental person who magnifies the sins of your family, your friends, people at work, people who have different points of view?

When we recognise this in ourselves there is held out the chance to change and become different, just like the woman in the story. Nobody who comes to Jesus is rejected, everybody is offered the opportunity to go away a changed person.