Check your filter regularly  – sermon on Luke 7.36-50

Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A fine-tuned machine. 

That’s how I want my car to work so I take good care of it. I’ve taken my sweet sweet prius in for her scheduled service. We are up to our 15,000 miles, check all sorts of things, including replacing if need be my car’s oil and air filters. If only the same could be done with people.

Now if you don’t know what a filter is. Let me give you an example of what it does. So, we hold most of our Village committee and team meetings across the street at Trinity. This past week, I got there early for a meeting, and I secured that big table booth that is kind of in the corner by the front door. I often arrive early so that meet and talk with, connect with the servers and maybe get some work done. I also like to be there to greet our members when they arrive. So on Thursday, I’m sitting at our table, with my computer open, jotting down thoughts for this sermon and I hear someone come in. I look up and not recognizing the couple, I say, “you are not my people.” I do not say this in my head; I do not even just whisper it under my breath. I declare it out loud, for if not the whole bar to hear, at least anyone within 10 or 15 feet.  

My filter was not working well. What I said wasn’t bad; it wasn’t evil. It just didn’t need to be said. Although you’ll never see one in anatomy, our filter just like in a car or a coffee pot, regulates what goes in and out. 

Sometimes, I wish my filter would have been working like the Pharisee’s in our story for today. After inviting Jesus to dinner, presumably having a good conversation (you know when you get past talking about the weather and sports). They are there reclining, and then that woman comes in. The pharisee definitely did not invite her, but somehow she get’s in. She doesn’t cower in the corner, she doesn’t wait until they are done talking. She barges in interrupts and disrupts their conversation with her oils and her tears, and her hands. 

Well this pharisee, while he may be wondering how this woman got in, his filter is working over-time. I don’t know if he personally knows her. I don’t know if he is stereotyping her. Whatever, his filter is telling him that she is a sinner, that she is unworthy and unwelcome. And, if this is obvious to the pharisee, why isn’t it obvious to Jesus, a supposed prophet, a holy man? How come Jesus doesn’t recognize her? He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” How come Jesus is letting her touch him? The Pharisee’s filter doesn’t let this thought, doesn’t let these words escape. None of this is spoken outside his own head—out loud.
Again, that’s the job of a filter—to regulate what gets through, what gets out.
According to the Pharisee, Jesus, obviously there is something wrong with his filter. Not only does he allow the woman to get close, close enough to touch, close enough for her tears wet his skin. This woman is emotional; she is a wracked with sorrow, with pain, and despair that’s how we usually describe her. But tears do not just fall when we are sad. She could be so thankful, so happy, so moved by the opportunity to see, to be near. Her joy, her relief that Jesus is there for her. That could be the source of this outpouring of oil and tears. Nevertheless, all the pharisee sees is that she is a mess.

So Jesus also addresses Simon the pharisee.

You know, if all we wanted was smooth superficiality, if all we wanted to do was get along, Jesus could have just agreed to disagree with the pharisee, kept silent, and kept the peace.

But as I said earlier, there is something off with Jesus’ filter. So Jesus speaks up. Now he doesn’t begin berating the pharisee. No, Jesus uses another method. He uses an example, a story about two people in debt. One has been pretty good and she owes only a little bit, the other that one is in over her head. But both debts are forgiven. Who is going to be the most relieved, joyful? Of course Simon admitted that it would be the one who owed a lot. Jesus could have left it right there. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.

 Well, I guess we know that Jesus’ filter is not about being polite or making friends.

Jesus points out that the pharisee’s filter is self-righteousness—what matters to the pharisee is whatever confirms his judgement of the way the world works and whatever makes him look good.

And again, that’s not how Jesus’ filter works. Do I have to spell it out for us? Jesus’ filter is love. Jesus let’s love flow freely. Nothing is going to get in the way of his, of God’s love—not appearances, conveniences, not even elections.

So, what do we call what we are doing right now? Worship. Service. Umm. Church, people of God, this is our time to check ourselves, to see what we’ve been letting through and letting out. Whether we just need to fine tune or a major overhaul, this is our time, our service time to replace fear, self-righteousness, self-consciousness, hate and hurt with joy and love like the woman at Jesus’ feet. Wherever you’ve been, it doesn’t matter where life has taken you, no matter how many miles you have on you, this is our service time. Let us be filled so much with God’s love that it flows freely, let our filter be love. Amen.


Happiness is Horse S***

Luke 7.17-35

17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. 18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples

19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men hadcome to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 24When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29(And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) 31“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” 

What things? Our passage for today starts with, “The disciples of John reported all these things to him. What—all these things?  
That can be a problem you know with bible readings we hear in worship on a Sunday morning. Sometimes our readings break up larger stories. So, did anyone wonder what these things were, that John’s disciples were telling him? 
Well it’s what we read last week, that the news was spreading of Jesus healing of the centurion’s servant and raising from death to life the widow’s son. Amazing things, right? The sick are healed; demons cast out; the dead are raised, the blind can see. Incredible.  
Just as Jesus had declared that day in the synagogue: remember that: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  
So why does John ask, “are you the one?” or more correctly why does he send his disciples back to Jesus to ask “are you the one?”  

Luke doesn’t tell us in these verses, but John has been arrested and is sitting in prison. 
Are you the one? John asks, because he’s heard all the good reports, the miracles the healing and all that. If ever there were a time for superlatives, this would be it! However, there’s still that matter of releasing captives, freeing the oppressed? Maybe, John is wondering. OK, Jesus it’s my turn. You can any day now break me right out of here. I think John’s got some real concerns, some real expectations. Maybe John knows things are not looking good for him, should John put his hope in Jesus, or another? Are you the one? John has some real expectations.
And if you didn’t know it already, the bad news is John is going to be sadly disappointed as he literally looses his head. Perhaps John should have lowered his expectations.
Because in an article in the magazine Psychology Today, Dr. Jeremy E Sherman argues that the secret to happiness in life is: low expectations. 
“This rings very true in my experience. I once expected to make it big, and when I didn’t, I eventually got over that expectation, and have been much happier ever since. Every little success these days is a surprise and delight.”

He goes on to say
 It makes me wonder about optimists. Are they so cheerful because they have high expectations or low ones?   

The joke goes that a child was so optimistic that, to test the extent of his optimism, his parents gave him a pile of horse manure. The kid’s eyes open wide with delight. He dives into the pile and starts digging. 

“What are you doing?” his parents ask.

The kid replies, “With this much manure, I’m betting there’s a pony in here!”

Imagine his disappointment when there wasn’t. 
Maybe the true optimist would say “Horse manure! That’s so much better than what I expected!  I thought you were going to give me anthrax for my birthday!” 
Even manure is a happy gift when your expectations are low enough.

Expect no good things to come to you, from you, from circumstances or from others and you’ll be eternally delighted, grateful for any good things that happen.

No expectation of a pony means no risk of disappointment. Assume you’re destined to spend eternity in hell and you will experience nothing but heaven. Expect people to be as bad for you as anthrax and you’ll be appreciative of whatever you get from them, even horse manure behavior.
So there you have it. All we have to do is lower our expectations and we’ll be happy.
Except that’s not the answer Jesus sends back to John. Jesus tells John (see what I’m doing) healing, teaching, forgiving. It’s as if Jesus is saying, John, don’t just look at yourself. Look beyond the walls of your cell. Look beyond yourself.
 Now I imagine I don’t have to tell you how counter-cultural that message is. It’s not what we. It’s not what I want to hear, especially when life’s been giving us—let’s say horse manure. Troubles tend to turn us inward not outward, especially when all we expect to be is happy.
The thing is. I’ve seen, and especially recently, I’ve seen a lot of turning outward going on. You may have witnessed it here, I remember the Sunday when Tracy (who is fighting breast cancer) listed off several names and concerns for us to pray for. And then, truly as an after-thought asked us to pray for her.
And when I visit someone who’s recuperating at home, or in the hospital or the nursing home. Sure we talk about how they are doing, but every time they also ask about others—how is Stan, how is Tracy, how is Vickie, Arlene?
And stories of people, especially in our country, but also all around the world, people looking beyond themselves, looking out for one another, people knowing that doing what they are doing—teaching young people, serving as lawyers, protesting, serving as human shield to protect mosques and synagogues, Planned Parenthood clinics, speaking up for others, even when told to be quiet. Elizabeth Warren was the farthest thing from happy when “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,”  
I think Jesus, in his words to John, was setting him free. Freeing him from his cell. So let’s not lower our expectations. Let’s change them. Instead of prosperity—peace, instead of success—sanctuary. Healing not happiness. Justice and not “just-us”. Amen.