Mercy Me

 

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Father’s Day                                                                                

June 16, 2013

Luke 7:36-8:3; Galatians 2:15-21

 

How many of you think that being a good person is important?

 

I’m not talking about being perfect. I’m just talking about being good. I don’t think there’s anyone here laboring under the illusion that they’re perfect given that so many of us are married.

 

I’m really just talking about being good, decent, honest, kind. How many of you think that being a good person is important; so much so that you try, as best as you are able, to be one?

 

I certainly do. I’m not afraid to admit it. I try to be good. Anybody else?

 

All right. Well, here is a slightly different question, and for this one you don’t have to raise your hands or call out an answer. I just want you to think about this for a moment.

 

Do you think that God loves you because you’re a good person or do you think God loves the fact that you are a person who tries to be good?

 

Do you think God loves you because you are a good person or - to put it a slightly different way - do you think God just loves you; and the fact that you still try to be good is kind of like a bonus?

 

I ask this, because I think there is something about the way we’re wired or maybe just the way we are raised, that makes us think God loves us because we are good, or at least loves us a little more when we are better.

 

All my words, Paul’s words, Jesus’ words about the true nature of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love, aside, there is something in us that finds that grace, that mercy, that love, kind of hard to accept.

 

I mean sure, it’s great and all for those people who really need it, and Lord knows they are out there. But for good, decent, honest, kind people like you and like me, (who –let me be clear - know we aren’t perfect, because that would make us proud and/or self-righteous and we don’t want to be that, right? We just want to be good. So let me start again.)

 

For good, decent, honest, kind people like you and like me, who know we aren’t perfect but still try really hard to be, it’s nice to know grace is out there to make up the difference as it were. But, I think if we’re honest, we’re kind of hoping, in the end, to need as little of it as possible.

 

Perhaps I’m just projecting. The truth is, I really don’t know if you think about things like this or not, but for me, when my time comes and my race here is run, I’d so much rather hear God say, “well done good and faithful servant,” then something like:

 

“You! Angel! Yeah, you, over there. Go kill a fatted calf because your sister who was dead is alive again, my daughter who was lost has been found.” 

 

Honestly, I think I’d be a bit put out by that sort of reception. I mean I’m not lost. I haven’t been lost for a long time; at least not as far as I know. I know where I am. I’m here… pretty much every Sunday.

 

My church attendance record is stellar. I’m actually pretty good at being good…kind of a professional at it, if you know what I mean. Which is to say, I’ve got a lot more in common with Simon the Pharisee than I do with that woman who snuck in and ruined his dinner party - you know? - ruined it with all her hair and her tears and her sweet perfume.

 

I might get some funny looks when I walk around with this little piece of plastic round my neck and people might think some strange things about me, but I’m pretty sure - thanks to my collar - that one thing they don’t think is that I’m a sinner… at least not a sinner like her.

 

Now to be fair, we don’t know exactly what her sin was.  All we know is that whatever it was it was public knowledge, which is why most people assume she was a prostitute.

 

I don’t think people think I’m a prostitute when I walk around in my clericals. At least I hope people don’t think I’m a prostitute when I walk around in my clericals. Do you think people think I’m a prostitute when I walk around in my clericals? No. That would be rather unfortunate now, wouldn’t it?

 

And yet right there, with the choice of that one word, “unfortunate,” I’ve tipped my hand. As good as I try to be, I’m still pretty darn judgmental. In fact those two tendencies tend to run together - being good and being judgmental - in large part because good is a judgment call.

 

I don’t want to be like that woman precisely because I want to be good. I wouldn’t want people to think of me the way they thought of her, talk about me the way they talked about her, treat me the way they treated her.

 

It’s nothing against her. Unlike Simon and the other Pharisees (who I am also pretty quick to judge, ironically, because they are so judgmental), I am truly happy that Jesus showed this woman mercy.

 

I am glad he showed her respect. I am not the least bit scandalized that he would offer her forgiveness or welcome her love and attention. It is part of why I love Jesus as much as I do.

 

But, if I’m honest, and I mean really, truly, brutally honest, there is a part of me, not unlike Simon and his friends, and maybe a part of you, that is all too quick to distance myself from her as well.

 

Which is to say, there is a part of me that thinks she needs that mercy more than I do… so much so that she can have it; have it all.

 

I don’t want to be like her.

 

I don’t want God to love me in spite of who I am. I want God to love me because of who I am. I don’t want God to love me in spite of what I’ve done, but because of all I’ve accomplished. I’d rather work overtime for God’s approval than fall down at his feet and beg for mercy.

 

Earning my way into God’s good graces feels a heck of a lot better than simply getting it for free, a heck of a lot safer too, in large part because it makes sense.

 

Do the right thing and God will love you.

 

That makes sense.

 

Do the right thing or God will get you.

 

That makes sense.

 

Do the right thing because it’s the least you can do, given that he died for your sins and all.

 

That makes sense.

 

Merit. Fear. Guilt. All of these motivations make sense.

 

Only here’s the thing. The gospel doesn’t. It doesn’t make sense. It’s part of why people got so upset with Jesus back then and why we still miss the point even now. The gospel doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s completely unfair. 

 

The good news Jesus came bearing was not that God will love you if you do the right thing or say the right prayers. The gospel is not that God will forgive you once you get your life together and finally start living up to your God-given potential.

 

The gospel, the good news that Jesus came to bring, is that God loves you.

Period.

Full Stop. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The good news is that there is nothing you can do or say or accomplish or believe that can make God love you more because God, your God, loves you already.

 

Friends, Jesus didn’t come preaching a blueprint for salvation. He didn’t come to teach us how to get God on our side. The gospel isn’t a list of rules you need to follow in order to please your maker, secure your ticket to heaven, or ward off hell.

 

You want to know what the gospel is? I’ll tell you what the gospel is. The gospel is an invitation, an invitation to fall in love with a God who loves you just as you are, without one plea… an invitation to fall in love.

 

Simon didn’t get that. Nor did his friends.

 

If I’m honest, I don’t always get it either.

 

It’s an awfully dangerous way to think for good, decent, honest, kind people, especially for good, decent, honest, kind religious people. I mean what would happen if word got out?

 

What external pressures or restraints would keep people in line? If God loves you no matter what where is the incentive to be either good or religious?

 

It’s a good question; it’s just not the right question. Actually when you get what Jesus is saying, you realize just how irrelevant the question really is.

 

Because you see, the reality is that when you truly experience how much God loves you, when you drop all the pretense and lay down your fear and your guilt and your need to earn God’s approval, like the woman with the alabaster jar, you find that lo and behold you want to be good just because God is good. You find that you love God, because having been loved in this way, how could you not?

 

Like Peter, James, and John, you find that you’d drop everything to follow him, like Mary, Joanna, and Susannah you find that you’d give everything to follow him, like Paul you’d be willing to risk everything to follow him….because deep down you know that the God who loves you would not only drop, give, and risk everything for you, but that in Jesus the Christ… in Jesus the Christ…. he already has.

 

Thanks be to God. Let us pray

 

O God you have searched us and you know us and yet you still love us. You love us. What good tidings of great joy you bring. God grant us the grace and the humility and the trust to live into the reality of your love no matter what we’ve done or left undone, no matter who we are or have failed to be. Help us to live into the reality of your love no matter what, that we might truly know the joy of our salvation, this day and forever more. We pray this in your name, Lord, amen.