SERMON JUNE 12, 2016 - LINDARA
Today we have been made aware again of the struggles that many people, and women in particular, face to be safe. Our safety, our security, is one of the basic necessities of life, from the moment of conception to the day we die, yet all around us we see images of people in the world, in our country and our own city and community who do not have a place of safety. Safety is not far behind food and water as a necessity for survival. We come here, to church, and I hope we feel safe, yet we can’t always assume that. People can come and feel fearful of being judged for things that have happened to them that they may not feel safe to reveal. After one sermon Clive preached when in ministry in New Zealand, and older lady of 92 asked if he would go and see her. He did, and she told him that she had been raped as a 16 year old and felt she had to marry the man. She had never told anyone. Her children had no idea. Indeed she had never been baptised and had always felt very wrong about having received communion for years. She was baptised soon after with just her elder there. She died not long after and Clive was the only one at the funeral who knew her story.
There should not be an assumption that we are all the same because we are all individuals who have had our own life experiences. But what we heard in the reading from Luke’s gospel today says something important about this.
First though, I can’t pass by the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Naboth with his vineyard. It’s a terrible story of an innocent man whose bit of land had been passed down his family for generations. That connection was of utmost importance to him. It is hard for us here who have probably all moved from place to place and house to house in our lives to imagine what that must be like. Unfortunately the story for our Aboriginal peoples is different and this passage from Kings would carry resonances. There is the king who acts like a petulant spoiled child and his wife, a foreigner, who is a scheming powerful woman. For them, human life is expendable. But the point of the story is that God sees and sends Elijah the prophet, whose role it was to speak what is right and just. He tells Ahab and Jezebel that punishment will certainly fall on them. They do indeed each meet with a bad end.
There is a lot in the Hebrew Scriptures about evil and punishment, about falling from faith, about judgement and God’s eventual mercy. There seems to be too much struggle, too many mistakes and too much bloodshed and pain. It can seem like a pattern that we can both understand, because it is very human, yet seems different from the way we understand our faith through Christ.
Jesus reframed the story. He offered a new understanding. In him we do not have a remote God who could be merciful and also full of righteous anger. We have God in Christ showing us a deep human connection through relationships of respect, of a brave re-casting of tradition and Law, of the valuing of life and identification with those who were unfairly judged, along with the outcasts, the unloved, the ugly.
Today’s reading from Luke is about the woman making her way to Jesus as he reclined at dinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee. It will be familiar to many. We know that many taboos were being broken. The woman shouldn’t have been there at all. Simon hadn’t treated Jesus with the customary hospitality of offering him water to wash before the meal. The woman should not have touched Jesus’ feet, far less wept over him. She should not have poured perfume on them, filling the whole house with the scent. The woman was already judged as a sinner. We may know these things and we know that Jesus accepted her. But he actually did more than that. There is an interesting and important sentence that follows from Jesus’ response to Simon about the debtors who were forgiven. The sentence reads: “Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon…” We need, first of all, to picture this. They were not sitting at a table. They were reclining, almost lying, at a low table, each person leaning on an elbow, their feet stretched out behind them. Can you imagine the woman there behind Jesus, at his feet? As he turns towards her he has his back to Simon as he addresses him. Jesus is reinstating the woman by the way he includes her within his circle. She is the important one. She is not just forgiven. She belongs.
She belongs, as do those other women who Luke names as following Jesus: Mary Magdalene who had been an outcast, from whom, we are told, seven demons came out. She is there alongside other women who had social standing and prestige through their husbands and their wealth. They show us very clearly this new community around Jesus. People who found in him a whole new basis for society and belonging. A place of safety because they were valued each for who they were, and not just because they provided the dinner. Luke gives several of them their names because he wants us to know that they were an example of how the company around Jesus was breaking the mould. The life with Jesus they may have chosen didn’t offer them security but they knew they were safe.
For us here, and as we look to those we meet, to friend and stranger, there has to be space around our caring so that anyone can know that it is safe to be themselves, whatever hidden pain they may bear. It is only in the place that makes no assumptions, that people may, in their own time, feel safe to be able to share some of the burden they may carry.
We have heard today of people who have painfully had to find courage to break free from what was unsafe. They may not be able to imagine how they can integrate into a caring society again. We have heard about those who help, who give their time, offer safety, support and listening, people who help others to know that they matter.
The Lindara markets are important in many ways for how they help build community and caring. We hope and pray that the work of the Family Programme may continue to support people who otherwise might be invisible to us, but who are known and loved by God as are those who help them. We uphold them in our prayers, for we are all Christ’s people together.