Simple and Amazing Grace
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
“The one to whom little is forgiven loves little. “ (Luke 7:47b) We are more and more filled with love and joy as our congregation, and Christians everywhere, are being transformed by God’s holy Spirit with heavy groans, sighs, and hand wringing from being the first church of Saint Simon, to the lowly church of the unnamed woman.
The transformation is profound and amazing. Yet, the method to accomplish it is quite simple. It’s only a matter of changing our perspective. Maybe you’ve experienced something like this when you travel. Christmas the year before last, Kari, the kids and I were coming up out from a cave at some tourist destination miles off the main highway in the middle of the jungle native to the Yucatan peninsula somewhere south of Cancun when I happened to sit down next to another family from Chicago. Suddenly, they were my new best friends.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this too. As the distance and duration of travel increases, differences among those we encounter from home decrease. They may be black, white, Latino or Asian. They could be from Rockford, Elgin, the Quad cities, or St. Louis. It doesn’t matter. It feels like they’re like old neighbors or even family.
On Christmas Eve 1968 astronaut William Anders snapped a photo of earth rising over the lunar surface during the Apollo 8 mission. If I could show it to you, you would all recognize it. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared the photo, called Earthrise, “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Another author called its appearance the beginning of the environmental movement. From a distance, it is easier to see what we all share in common rather than what divides us.
This change in perspective, clears the way to loving one another and all living things more deeply. Something like this happened for the unnamed woman in today’s gospel. It profoundly changed the way she understood her life in the world. It emboldened and liberated her. She had no shame. Instead, she is filled with a spirit of joy that created in her a profound generosity and deep capacity for love. She traveled through the complete and utter breakdown of the ego, pride, and trust in ourselves which people of faith everywhere have followed for centuries to become flawed and loved children of God.
Franciscans call it poverty. The Carmelites call it nothingness. The Buddhists call it emptiness. The Jews call it the desert. Jesus calls it the sign of Jonah. The New Testament calls it the Way of the Cross. (Richard Rohr) They’re all talking about the same necessary step in the journey of transformation. By God’s amazing grace, the unnamed woman now lives in a new place, united with God and all living things in Christ. It is the same journey of transformation I see God is working now in this congregation and in the wider church throughout the world.
Jesus asked Simon “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44) Simon looks at the unnamed woman and is silently filled with judgment and contempt. He sees what separates them rather than what unites them. As yet, he does not see he stands under the same need of grace that she does.
The setting of our gospel story is a formal banquet in a private home, where guests of honor recline gracefully on couches while their feet stretch out behind them. It’s a scene people of Jesus’ day would recognize as one specifically intended for scholars and Rabbis to offer lectures on moral and theological questions. Simon—privileged, successful, and admired by all for his religious devotion—invited Jesus to be a guest lecturer at a public meal held in his home. Jesus was there to give a formal presentation.
We don’t know what Jesus said. The real lesson didn’t start until the surprise entrance of a woman, “a known sinner,” interrupted the refined atmosphere of this upscale gathering. The unnamed woman arrives unescorted, but presumably she and her sins were known to those present that day. She seems to already know Jesus. Apparently, the depth of that experience was life changing, and profound.
From Simon’s perspective the unnamed woman walked into his house like a homeless addict into an exclusive store on Michigan Avenue. If Jesus were truly a prophet he would have her thrown out.
She carries an alabaster jar of ointment. It is a public lecture. Yet, everyone knows this open invitation does not really extend to her. She doesn’t say anything. Yet, her actions speak volumes. At the sight of Jesus, she begins to weep. Her tears begin to fall upon Jesus’ feet. She unfastened her hair and began to dry his feet. She continually kissed his feet as she wiped and dried them, and anointed them with oil. Perhaps you can feel the discomfort this scene might cause in yourself —at an unplanned interruption of a prestigious social event.
What do you see? It’s simply a matter of perspective. The spirit of transformation at work in us at the table, the font, and through the life-giving Word is that we might see more and more through the eyes of Christ. God’s grace is working to throw out the spirit of Simon in us so that we might become better at welcoming one another into the Holy Communion we share with all life in God. It’s that simple. It’s that amazing.
The unnamed woman is a charter member in the true church. Black, White, Latino or Asian, it doesn’t matter. Male, female, transgender or they you have a place at the table here. It’s not that Christian community is colorblind or indifferent to differences. It’s just that these differences are not more important than what unites us so that our diversity becomes enriching, empowering, and amazing.
We are members of a living and holy sanctuary of hope and grace. Look along the glass wall to the side chapel. You’ll see ten core values that help us define the shape of the community of the unnamed woman that even now, God is shaping us into. Worship, Community, Compassion, Clarity, Courage, Challenge, Service, Integrity, Public, and Nurture, we strive to embody these values without shame, filled with a new spirit of joy, generosity and thanksgiving. These values help us measure the strength of our eyesight for the gospel by how well or how often we see people as Jesus and the unnamed woman does, and not like Simon does.
The Holy Spirit is working to move us down the path of transformation through the renewal of our hearts and minds that is profoundly changing our perspective and our church. Like the unnamed woman, we have begun to discover the joy of being the loved, free, and flawed children of God. God’s grace has embraced and loved us exactly as we are and at the very same moment, now calls us to be more than we have ever been before. It’s that simple. It’s that amazing.