Archive

Archive for the ‘Homily’ Category

Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a young child, Thanksgiving meant one of several things to me.  First and foremost it meant gathering around the television to watch the parade and wait anxiously to see Santa riding in the final float with his reindeer, and later we feasted on a huge turkey dinner with pumpkin pie.  My plate was usually full of turkey and just enough of the other things to ensure I’d be getting that pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.  It also meant my Dad and my uncles would be gathering to plan out the strategy for their hunting trips on Monday.  And of course it meant we would soon be taking a ride into the city to see the Christmas lights strung across the roads from street lamp to street lamp, and strolling down the sidewalks to see the magic of mechanical displays in the windows of stores such as Glosser Brothers and Penn Traffic.  Some of the toy elves would hammer and saw while others tied bows on boxes and of course Santa would be patting Rudolph on the head or wave to us as we stretched our little legs as high and tall as we could get without being picked up by Mom or Dad.

Those family gatherings, the preparations and trips were all part of a time and season where hope was attached to each snow flake that fell on the lawn wishing for a white Christmas.  The stillness of the cold nights held a certain peace that kept us youngsters from getting too rambunctious from having to play inside so much.  The TV programs of Frosty, Rudolph, and the short animations of Suzie Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe brought joy to our little hearts as they signaled the coming of Santa – and yes, Jesus, too.  But the thing that held us together most through whatever else came along was the love of a family knit closely together by their faith in the Holy child, Jesus.  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; the four themes we celebrate in the coming season of Advent may have been impressed upon a child through the events of the season in his or her surroundings, but these words are made manifest in that final celebration of the birth of Christ, the first and final Word: The Word found in today’s scripture readings that hold even more reasons to be thankful.

Scripture says “let’s not stop at the reasons to be thankful.”  The stories show us how to celebrate and in each reading we find a different aspect of what Thanksgiving can mean to us.  On the surface Deuteronomy may seem like it’s giving us another law but what it’s really doing is helping us prioritize our actions.  Many people in this situation – getting a new job or new income – would take what they have made or what they have been paid and make an offering after what is left from all of their needs, wants, and desires.  What we’re told is the opposite; that a true and mature faith requires us to make our gifts to God and God’s people first and what is left is for us to live on.  The wise souls know that putting God first in all of their actions is an act of thanksgiving done not with expectations of getting something in return, but actions done with love.  In the psalm we rejoice – for God’s mercy is endless.  When we walk with God or meet with Him, wherever that may be, we need to be constantly aware that we are on Holy ground and the only action required is to openly show our gratitude.  So we come before his presence with a song.

The epistle for Thanksgiving Day almost shouts aloud by itself!  Rejoice!  Again I say, Rejoice!  There is no coincidence that the exultet which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the chant that echoes the phrase “rejoice now all you saints and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets sound salvation” that it is the same joyful noise we make today.  We rejoice in the resurrection that leads us into Easter and Pentecost and now as we close the calendar of the church year we once again repeat the sounding joy with thanksgiving.  Surely there were times that were troubled and times where our thoughts veered off course, but they were for their own time; at this moment in time the focus of our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving.  Whatever is placed in front of us right now should be held in the light of goodness, purity, and worthy of honorable praise.  We should be thankful for everything and rejoice for all that is good.

And finally our Gospel puts the exclamation point on Happy Thanksgiving, with the knowledge through the Word that we are always fed with bread from heaven.  Why it’s even written into the Great Thanksgiving at the Offertory:  “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  We truly have been blessed this past year.  We’ve found strength in ourselves and support for each other.  We’ve made some errors along the way but nothing has damaged us.  For me to say that I’m grateful for all of you would be an understatement.  We’ve helped each other grow and with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the kinship of the Holy Spirit we’ll continue to move forward.  A new era awaits us.  It could not be more fitting for it to greet us as we give thanks and celebrate the things we have, and also as we head into the Advent season of waiting and preparing for the good things to come.  So as we give thanks for the past and present, let us also rejoice with Hope in our future, Peace in our community, Joy in our souls, and Love in our hearts.  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL Thanksgiving Day, Year C

Advertisements

99 Sheep and a Wedding Headband

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The Gospel in today’s lectionary tells the tale of Jesus once again being scorned for eating with sinners.  It’s here we find Jesus doing what Jesus does; he’s making his way through the towns, sitting down with the common people, talking about his Father.  Luke calls these common people “sinners” here, and customarily includes “tax collectors” among the group.  It’s been said these sinners were pretty much anyone who was uneducated.  They didn’t follow all of the rules because they didn’t know about them.  They were cast in positions below the priests and business people of the towns. The tax collectors are included with the sinners because they made their living off of other people’s income, often being accused of taking more than the going tax rate dictated.  So here we have Jesus, who has been teaching in the synagogue, healing the sick, and gathering quite a following, sitting around with people who, in other people’s eyes, don’t coincide with his standing in the community.  I’ve often thought it possible that the Pharisees and scribes were becoming jealous of his notoriety.  Whatever the case, someone who taught on the Sabbath would surely not lower themselves to hang out and eat with the likes of street people.   As the one who is always completely aware of his surroundings, Jesus hears the grumbling.  And as is his style, he gives them a parable; this one with two parts.

If ever there was an example of the perfect leader, the epitome of excellence in the field of being in charge, this parable has it covered.  Every time I hear about the person who loses one of his one hundred sheep and goes off looking for it, leaving the other 99 in the wilderness, I’m more drawn to what might happen to the 99 left behind than whether or not the one that is lost is found.  Look at it from this perspective.  How many of you have ever felt the uneasiness of leaving a large number of youth unsupervised while you attend to something else?  I’ve encountered that in both coaching and scouting.  I know there are teachers and scout leaders in here who can confirm what that feels like.  Perhaps that is why my mind goes there.  It takes a great deal of trust – and a bit more than a large amount of prayer – to have enough faith to make a decision that involves leaving large groups on their own.  That’s what draws me to this parable.  Not the action of the leader, but the reaction of the group.   The story not only says a lot about the group, it speaks volumes about the leadership.   Not only are they left alone without supervision, they are left alone in the wilderness.  Yet not one runs off.  If there are any class clowns in the bunch, they’ll be showing off for the others.  Some of the loners might stick to the edge of the crowd.  A bully might even try pushing some of the smaller members to the brink.  But they all stick together.  Maybe it’s something about the feeling of family.  Whatever it is, there is cohesiveness within the group and a united front that keeps them together.  Let’s hold on to that thought for a minute as we look at the second part of the parable.

We know that times can be hard and every dime counts.  And a silver coin, no matter what day or age, is something to be concerned about.  But when you start calling in the neighbors, turn on all the lights and move the furniture around to sweep the floor, it says this is not just about hard times.  Something is a bit more valuable than we think.  Scripture doesn’t always explain every detail, just what is necessary for the reader of the times to understand.  If we lived in that age, or had a Jewish heritage, we’d know that a bride’s dowry includes a headband made of ten pieces of silver.  It’s the equivalent of today’s wedding ring.  So yes, it would be a big deal if a piece of the wedding band was missing.  Who wouldn’t want to tear the house apart searching for it?

So after these two pieces of the parable are told, we now have a lost sheep with 99 others left in the wilderness – and a lost coin from a wedding headband that in its own right makes the rest of the coins worthless.  How can we weigh in our situation with either part of this parable?  Well, we can talk about how we are working together for a common goal; our experience and lessons learned from the past, combined with some very good teachers, is being placed in the limelight as we go through the process of searching for our next rector.  We can talk about doing what is necessary to save someone that is lost or has gone astray.  We do this every time we help someone through one of our outreach programs – the results might not be evident to us now but the effects of helping those in need can be deep and long lasting.  And we can talk about how barriers we create such as working classes and education levels don’t matter and we need to eliminate these barriers from our lives.  We do this every time we greet a newcomer that walks through the doors of this church and welcome them back with a personal note and thank you card.

But doing these things doesn’t mean we stop once we’ve achieved a portion of them.  The biggest and best is yet to come.  Will we ever be finished with the process?  Probably not.  There will always be some portion of something that is missing from our lives.  There will always be a need to work together to make something complete.  What we can’t forget is what we are instructed to do each time we succeed in this process.  After the lost sheep was found, the neighbors were called to celebrate the joy!  And when the bride had finally found the lost coin from her headband, everyone rejoiced!  They celebrated and gathered the community together.  So often we miss this.  So often we keep right on going with life and not stop to acknowledge the advances we’ve made when it comes to our spiritual achievements.  We throw parties for children graduating from kindergarten but barely make enough time for coffee and cake after a baptism.  We don’t think twice about what we’ll spend on a sweatshirt or hat when our favorite sports team wins a championship, yet balk at the cost of necklace or ring when we are confirmed or received into the church.  According to St. Luke, nothing is worth celebrating more than one person’s return to the church.  We need to stop, give thanks, and rejoice in these moments.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that we need to start the healing process and come together in community.  I mentioned how we need to reach out to each other in good times and bad.  We have begun our journey forward and we are making strides.  Yesterday we had five of our parishioners attend the required training for Visiting Eucharistic Ministers and when we receive their licenses we’re going to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice.  Rejoice that these people have heard the call to tend to the ill and homebound of our parish.   And as we continue to grow in other areas that have vacancies such as Sunday School Teachers, we’ll continue to reach out to more, and we will continue to give thanks and rejoice.  Rejoice!

Deacon Pete Gdula

Scripture ref:  RCL Year C, Proper 19

A Community of Healing

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a much bigger picture to today’s Gospel than the obvious question and answer to “why did you work on the Sabbath?”  We’ve read this piece of scripture and others like it numerous times and here we find it facing us once again.  So while we know how the story ends, let’s go back to the beginning.  Sometimes if we place ourselves as characters in the reading we can gather some other information.

Imagine a world where while you were traveling on foot, the only things you ever saw were on the ground right below you.  The sky is forever out of your view.  Perhaps you may catch a glimpse of the sun or the moon on the horizon from time to time, but in the mountain country that would be rare, as would be seeing the constellations and the night sky lit up with a billion stars.  You can hear the sounds of animals and you feel the wind, cold, and heat upon you. There is no scenic vista to look out over.  The dirt, grasses, and entire landscape is limited to whatever is directly in front of your eyes that are aimed just slightly ahead of your feet.  You have no idea how high it is to the tops of the trees, nor have you understood and experienced the awe of watching an eagle soar in the blue skies of the heavens.  The only home you know is under your feet.  But you know it well.  Perhaps like someone who cannot see at all, your other senses are finely tuned to help identify your surroundings.

Such is the life that is led by the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel.  For eighteen years most of the world she was familiar with was the one I just described.  Bent over, looking down, and probably relying on a staff of some sort that would provide enough stability to keep her from falling over.  Luke doesn’t tell us much about how she came to be this way, other than a generalized explanation of “a spirit”.  Some bible translations use the word “Satan” instead of “spirit.”  Doing so takes my memory back to the book of Job where Satan was the accuser and accomplice with God.  It seems the lack of further comment in the passage makes the reason less important.   Regardless of whether he means some sort of demon, or simply an illness that caused it, the focus shifts to the act of healing.

This is a rare moment in the Gospels where Jesus is not asked to heal.   The woman is present, and in the midst of the crowd in the Synagogue on the Sabbath to pray.  Nobody points her out as needing a cure.  Nobody carries her in on a stretcher or lowers her through the thatch roof to Jesus as we’ve read in other chapters of the Gospels.  She doesn’t fight 3through the crowd to touch his garment or climb up a fig tree hoping for a simple glimpse of him.  She is simply there like all the others, doing what she needs to be doing.  Her affliction is noticeable to everyone but she has done her best to avoid making a scene of herself.  After all, she is in a house of worship.  But through her entering and exiting week after week, it becomes evident that she is one of those ignored by society.  Those who pass her by on the streets ignore her bent body because most likely she won’t be seeing the faces that step from side to side and around her.  This is an ugly reaction, pretending not to notice someone in trouble.  The woman is probably numb to it after eighteen years; her emotions are callused from a silent ostracizing by the community.  Some of us have been in her shoes, but I’m guessing at least a few of us have been the observer of a situation like this at least once in our lives.

How many homeless people have we passed by on the sidewalks of our large cities, or even our local cities and towns and ignored their presence?  We pass by them, but with our heads turned aside so we don’t encounter that uneasy moment of eye to eye contact.  I would hope we at least offer up a silent prayer for them.  Better yet, to offer a warm smile and hello.  Jesus was fully aware of his surroundings in every way, particularly with those he referred to as “the least of these.”  Can you imagine him standing in the synagogue, preaching or reading to the crowd, stop in mid verse and say, “Woman, yes, you, come over here with me.” And then when she finally makes her way over to him he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  What does it take to move you into action such as he does?  Could we break away from our agendas and schedules long enough to at least acknowledge that there is someone hurting along our paths almost everywhere we go?  Can we be confident enough in our prayers to know how much they would help the situation?  Will we make a gesture that tells them they are somebody, a part of humanity, not just a body in the way of our stroll down the sidewalk? Jesus takes that chance and he does so completely aware that he is standing in the middle of a Sabbath service in a synagogue.  There’s a saying I think comes from the Franciscan order (correct me if I’m wrong) that says; “You must never break a rule unless you know the reason the rule was made in the first place.  Once you understand the ‘why’ you can break as many as you need.”  Jesus understands the why.  He understands that we need a day of the week for rest and re-creation.  He also knows that there is more right than wrong in breaking this law.  The church leaders, callus in their own schooling and self-righteousness, call it a sin; Jesus tells the leader that not taking action and not healing was the real sin.   In Mark’s Gospel we hear him say “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What seems to be a radical disregard for authority and legalism is in truth, an act of common sense and necessity.

There is one more part to this healing process that cannot go unnoticed.  Before she is completely healed and can stand upright he lays his hands on her.  There are other healings such as the Centurion’s servant who was healed without even seeing Jesus.  He even raised Lazarus from the dead without walking into the tomb.  It’s important to make note of this because the healing takes place not in private and not by request, but in a public arena without prior intent.  They are in a crowd and the unnamed woman has been singled out.  He tells her she is healed, but she does not respond until he lays his hands on her.  The touch that Jesus uses not only anoints and heals, but symbolically welcomes her as a member of this community.  It is the touch of inclusion.  It says “You are not a loner, but one like the rest of us, come and join us, you are fully capable of enjoying all that is offered here.”

Some of us have reason to look for healing in this community.  There are people who feel they’ve been wronged and there are those who feel others have been wronged.  Some steps have been made toward this healing, but as a community we’ve acknowledged there is more that we need to do in order to bring us up to a healthier parish than we’ve been in recent times.  I can assure you, your leaders are taking appropriate action to move forward in a direction that addresses all of our issues.  But as we see in today’s Gospel, we can talk amongst ourselves and with each other forever; but all of the words in the world may not be enough to complete the process.  We’ll need to put that symbolic act of a healing touch into action.  Let us begin this next phase of transition today.  As we share God’s Peace with each other from now on and forward, I ask you to share your healing touch with those around you.  Can we do this?  As we respond in our baptismal convenient, we will “with God’s help.”  Amen.

Scripture Reference:  RCL, Year C, Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17

Distractions and the Better Part

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Luke’s gospel story of Martha and Mary contains a variety of issues to choose from when trying to get the heart of what Jesus is saying.  There are a number of interpretations for this passage of scripture, so for beginners let’s look at several items of interest that can be argued.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with what Martha is doing.  Going about her assigned duties in the preparation or cleaning up after a meal is something we all do, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.  Secondly, there is not a polarization between Mary and Martha.  By this I mean the sisters have a very good relationship between themselves; the only other reference to them comes from John’s gospel where they mourn for Lazarus who has died.  Some believe there is a notion that this is strictly a gender issue dealing with allowing women to study and learn with the men.  But let’s now look at some other points and see where they will take us.

Most of us have been in the situation of hosting a dinner or party.  Being a good host or hostess requires us to do many tasks at once.  It is probably the best (and original) honest to goodness definition of what we today call multi-tasking.  Greet people at the door, prepare the meal, offer drinks and a seat, chase the dogs off the couch so there IS a place to sit, clean up spills, set the table, serve the guests, and chase the dogs out from under the table; this is only a partial list of things that sometimes involves just one person during the course of an evening with company.  Even with two people there is always the possibility of forgetting something.  We can easily relate to Martha who, by the way is probably the home owner.  The opening line says she welcomed Jesus into HER home.  When we invite people into our homes we can so often become wrapped up in what the chores are that we lose sight of the hospitality side of things.  We can even go as far as seeming to ignore the friends we welcome.  So we are not to assume or misinterpret that Jesus is telling Martha to stop what she’s doing, the chores can wait, or that Mary is doing the only thing necessary.  He says she is doing the “better part”; the word “part” being essential here.  Listening to the words of Jesus is essential and foremost, but He reminds us that He is the most important part of the hole, not the sole attention of our acts.  If that were the case nobody would ever get anything done because we’d all be sitting around listening to each other talk about Jesus.  We can identify with this situation in our church life.  We would lose focus of where all of our energy is to be spent if we are looking at who we are serving or leading and what the end result is for them, the actions take over and we begin to make the program our idol.  Each of our programs then becomes the center of attention and the person or persons we start out to help become a by-product of the system.  There should always be a focus no matter how many things are on our agenda.  At our most recent diocesan convention, there was a resolution to begin each meeting – regardless of what it is – with the question “What actions will we be taking during our meeting here that effects the poor?”  When we sit back and think about that it puts things in a different perspective than jumping right into reports and figures and assignments.

Jesus puts it this way.  He says “Martha, you are distracted by many things.”  The only thing to do is keep his teaching and words in front of our actions.  When we take our eyes and ears off of the sacred, necessary chores become dull and bothersome.  It’s as if our way of doing things have been reversed, or turned upside down where we’ve somehow placed the better part at the bottom of our “to-do” list.   A perfect example of this would be the story of Brother Lawrence.  Brother Lawrence lived in France during the seventeenth century.  He grew up poor and so at the proper age he joined the military where he knew he’d always have food and shelter.  One day he was resting under what appeared to be the lifeless limbs of a tree in winter.  It was one of those instances that place an indelible mark on your soul.  In a vision he recognized his own seemingly dead life could be awakened if he only sought to bring God into his own life.  Shortly after he was injured, eventually had to quit the army, and so joined a monastery in Paris.  Having no great skills outside of being a foot soldier, Brother Lawrence was placed in the kitchen to wash the pots and pans and clean the floors.  He immediately set himself to work praising God for giving him this job, and soon even the filthiest of chores became a delight for him as he was able to find God in the presence of it.  He knew that every act, regardless of how mundane, could be a medium for God’s love, and he dedicated every act of his with these words; “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  This, I believe, is what Jesus is telling Martha to do.  Do things for the love of God.  Embrace all that we do as an act of prayer.  If we could do this in just a portion of our lives imagine how much peace we would find and how much aggravation we would avoid.  For years I personally viewed St. Paul’s conviction to “pray without ceasing” as something unattainable for the ordinary people we are.  That was while I was being like Martha, and allowing the multi-tasking to distract me.  But the less I allowed things to distract me, the more I could then focus on keeping God and the body of Christ as the head of my household, and the easier some things became.  The challenges don’t vanish into thin air, the same things come along in life as they always did, but by keeping Christ first and reacting in faith that God is with you, somehow makes things easier to get through.

Finally, you know I’ve mentioned a few other times how I’m learning so much from Luke’s gospels on how his words were intentionally written for the “least of these.”  Not only does he have Jesus intentionally praising women for wanting to learn, he places Mary in a position to listen attentively, something that mostly men would be doing in that era.  And of course he also has brought his teaching out of the synagogue into public squares and now brings it into a humble home showing that there is no place that God’s word does not belong.  So as we go about our normal business for the day, as we head out of our houses this week to go to work or play or whatever our plans are, let us not forget that our first action should be keeping God as the better part of the day.   Let us not get distracted by the clutter, or the clanging of pots and pans, or the blare of the neighbors TV, or the barking of dogs chasing the cat back upstairs where they think he belongs.  Let us pray first for the guidance and presence of our Lord in all of our actions and reactions and ask for help in remembering to do whatever is the “better part.”  Amen

Luke 10:38-42

Forgiving Grace

June 16, 2013 1 comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to using the saying “What Would Jesus Do?”  We may also add “What Would Jesus Say” to the mix of these slogans.  They are designed to make us stop and think about the actions we take in life’s challenges.  Some argue we don’t know what Jesus would do because he never encountered some of the situations that occur in our modern world.   Still others hold the question relevant and adaptable to any and all situations.  Take for instance the story of a family who had two young children in the house.  One evening after supper Mom heard the two boys arguing in the kitchen.  She went in to find out what the commotion was all about and as she got closer she heard the younger one say, “but you had the last piece of chocolate cake last week!  It’s my turn and I should get the last piece of this one!”  And the older brother was saying “I’m the oldest, so I get what I want!”  Mom entered the room and says, “Boys, what do we do when we start arguing about things?  Don’t we ask ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?”  Well, the older brother stops and drops his head in apparent guilt, and the younger one says, “Jesus would say “here, you have the last piece of cake.”  Mom said, “Very good, now work it out between the two of you without fighting.”  She turned and walked out of the room with a smile thinking she had finally gotten through to her sons when she hears the older brother say “Okay, I’ll let you feel important, you be Jesus!”

That scenario may not be exactly like the story in today’s Gospel, but what it does is start the conversation of how we decide who in society is relevant and who isn’t.  Obviously, in the joke, the older brother maintains that his age gives him a status that places him above anything the younger one might think, even the option of taking turns.  What we have with Luke’s story is someone who is recognized as an authoritative figure in society; a Pharisee who expects his position in the community to give him an excuse for neglecting certain customs and courtesies.  He was a poor host and a prejudiced one at that.  The Pharisee has lost sight of the big picture.  He is so drawn into keeping the laws he has lost his compassion for humanity.  He fails to see God’s unending Grace and forgiveness being poured out to all regardless of wealth or status.  The focus is on Jesus allowing a sinner to fuss over him.  He doesn’t care that she is tending to the needs of his guest that he had neglected to provide for him.  Instead of noticing the good that is being done, all the attention is drawn to what could be wrong with the woman’s actions.

How often do we recognize this situation in the world around us?  We can become so concerned about who others are, what they have, what they don’t have, or what they are doing, that we lose sight of the bigger picture; or more importantly, lose sight of the real nature of how we are supposed to live with each other.  God’s grace was flowing abundantly and freely with the forgiveness that Jesus was giving to this caring soul yet few knew it.  The host was so full of himself he failed to offer the common courtesies of the times; a welcoming kiss, a bowl to wash up in, and a towel to dry off.  Simple things, of course, but it took a common person from the streets to notice this and willingly and compassionately do for the host what he himself failed to do.  We know the love that Jesus gives, so maybe you can imagine beginning there in person, being able to provide for his personal needs and having that love given directly back to you?  Love so deep the tears of joy could not be held back.  So many tears you wouldn’t need water.  Perhaps it would be in this moment that we see God’s grace in both the simple and complex issues in our lives.  Apparently this is nothing new.  We see examples of it throughout 4,000 years of recorded history.  We see it in our first reading with David’s want of another man’s wife.  Again it appears as a Pharisee’s jealousy over Jesus’s attention to a sinner.  And we find it in today’s world in a modern day greed that disregards all the beatitudes and the tenth commandment (you shall not covet … anything).  It may be difficult at times to grasp what it takes to see the big picture, to be fully human and see God’s grace given without distinction of class or culture.  That’s what the Gospels do.  That’s what the Good News is.  That’s what Jesus is teaching us:  How to be fully human.  The laws and commandments are there to guide us and provide everyone the foundation and framework to care for each other, but He says “Don’t stop there.  Don’t stay in the box.”  Boxes are restrictive and confining.  The host of this dinner, Simon, who knows the laws, has put all his energy into living by the law, putting everything into a tiny, neat box.  How unfortunate for the many people around him who could use his help?  And how unfortunate for him that he doesn’t recognize this gift that he can’t see?

He has taken the law to the point of making it his idol and has forgotten how to be human.  He segregates, judges and divides people based on their obedience to a code instead of their spirit and ability to be transformed.   Jesus sees beyond the structure, removes the barrier and sees the person in their true human nature.  He knows that we make mistakes.  For the text to mention that this woman was a sinner means whatever she had done, it was done with the public’s knowledge.  Everyone knew about it.  But it doesn’t keep her from recognizing who was in her midst.  We are also shown that Jesus recognizes when someone is genuinely sorry and he knows we are capable of making those mistakes more than once.  He knows this because he knows the world and knows temptation because he, too, is human as well as divine.   I recently had a discussion where we were talking about how hard it is not to confine God to our expectations where we say “this is what God is and this is how we are supposed to worship.”  That method is perfectly fine for starting out in life because we need structure and discipline to form us, and it takes practice to make sure we don’t keep falling back into bad habits.  But growth doesn’t happen when we resign ourselves to placing people in categories by our own errant judgments.  We ignore the human and put people in their places based on what side of the street – or river – they live on, where they got their degree or whether or not they have one, and even how they pronounce words or use words that don’t really exist like some of yinz do.

Personally, the more I read and reflect on the Gospel of Luke, the more it becomes central to the decisions I make in my life and the more I refer to it as a model of how to take the Good News out into the world.  Mainly, I’m drawn to Luke’s Gospel because of its inclusiveness and ability to bring the most neglected people into the picture.  He allows those on the fringes of society that are generally left out of so many important texts; the poor, the sick, the children, and the women to assume the actual roles they play in society.  I also believe there is a connection between those who are a part of our parish and the naming of our church as St. Luke’s.  I always tell the other deacons I know in and outside of our diocese how you make my job easy.  A big part of the work of a deacon is to take the gospel into the world and identify the needs of the people, taking those needs back to the church and moving the people towards those needs.   I’m overwhelmed at times by the number of you who have come to me, letting me know who needs help and attention.  The church and the community are much better because of it.  Perhaps that’s why I like this particular reading and how it adds the beginning of chapter eight to the end of it.  Luke doesn’t present a Jesus that does one kind thing for someone and goes back to being on top with the “in crowd.”  He starts at the bottom, with those who have been declared the least, and spreads his good news upward.  He prepares the way by showing the world that the way to salvation is not through laws and good deeds but through forgiveness, love, and grace.  His followers don’t stop with twelve men.  He gets support from women he has healed like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others who have been called sinners.  What was once denied to many by a few is now free to all from one.  Still today, as we follow Him we are also blessed by the grace received through it.  The love continues on.  The forgiveness never ends.  The grace never stops.  Amen.

RCL Proper 6 (Luke 7:36-8:3)