"Light From A Shattered Lamp"
Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler
Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-50
Frequently when Pharisees invited rabbis to their homes, the meetings were held outside where the host provided a public buffet of food and liquid refreshment. They also provided comfortable places for people to sit or recline amidst their spacious gardens. Everyone was welcome to come. Each visitor hoped that he or she would hear some pearl of wisdom that the visiting teacher might speak.
Among the walk-in guests on this particular day was a woman whose shameful reputation was apparently well-known. She knelt at Jesus’ feet and washed them with her tears and then she dried them with her long hair. Then she rubbed perfume on his feet and kissed them repeatedly. Eugene Peterson translated what happened next with these words, “When Simon, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus, saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man really was the prophet I thought he was, he should know what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him’”
One of the realities of our common spiritual nature is that we seldom see things as they are. We see things as we are. To the Pharisee, this woman was a social leper. She was damaged-goods. The Pharisee could not hide his lack of comfort for what he was witnessing. He was horrified that his invited guest had to stoop to indulge this woman by allowing her to continue touching him in this manner. However, from Jesus’ perspective, her spirit appeared as light coming from a shattered lamp. We never know how often we will find God in unlikely places and coming from unlikely people.
All through the Gospels we learn that Jesus knew how to accept people with the same understanding and compassion wherever he found them. The only people who challenged Jesus’ comfort levels were those who knew their faith well and were not open to growing beyond what they had been taught or how they have been trained to think. Yet, for the most part, even to these people, Jesus was tolerant. (Luke 5:30f) Clearly, the Pharisee and Jesus perceived this unwanted visitor very differently.
Friday night I received a compliment from Ronnie Young. He was also indicating to his readers that he tunes in from time to time while I am delivering my sermons. This compliment came in an email that he had sent to others on his list.
He wrote “I think Dick Stetler must have written this Law. Am I right?” The Law Ron was referencing is called, The Law of the Garbage Truck. What I am about to read is one of those themes that has been recycling for thousands of years. That theme is about the choice we make when we have to respond to someone’s insensitive, calloused, arrogance. This Law is placed in a parable that could have happened to us yesterday.
One day I hopped into a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of the parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started scolding us with colorful language.
My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean it was an authentic, sincere smile. So I asked him, “Why did you do that? That guy almost ruined your car and his stupidity could have sent all of us to the hospital!” This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, The Law of the Garbage Truck.
He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger and full of disappointments. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it from time to time and sometimes they dump it on us. We must not take their behavior personally. That’s who they are. It is best to smile and wave, wish them well and move on. If we don’t, we might take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home or on the streets when we are driving.
The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day. Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so . . . . Love the people who treat you well. Pray for the ones who don’t. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it. No one ruins your day unless you allow it.
The themes that have recycled throughout history come in many forms. Sometimes they confront us as a falling-down drunk, a prostitute, a religious zealot, a rude sales clerk, a person who has been living on the street, an arrogant, uninformed supervisor, a person who peddles gossip, someone who never says, “thank you,” or someone who is not happy until they find a weakness in you and then they celebrate that finding with anyone who will listen.
These people are out there. They live among us and in some instances we might be one of them. The minute we surrender our peace to them, the buzzer goes off signaling that we have missed the mark on yet another test.
After reading the unmistakable facial expressions of disapproval of the Pharisee, Jesus engaged in a little storytelling about a man who loaned money to two people. One owed the man 500 pieces of silver and the other 50. When he learned that neither man could repay the debt, he chose to forgive the indebtedness of both. Jesus asked Simon, “Which person do you think will love the moneylender more?” The Pharisee, sensing that the Master was about to teach him a lesson responded, “The one who was forgiven the larger debt.” Jesus said, “Correct.”
Knowing that the Pharisee was harboring feelings of contempt for this woman, Jesus began to list the number of common social courtesies that Simon had overlooked when Jesus arrived at his home. He said, “You gave me no water for my feet! You did not welcome me with a kiss. You provided no olive oil for my head. However, this woman has not stopped washing, drying, perfuming and kissing my feet since I arrived.” The suggestion that a prostitute was somehow better than Simon must have been troubling to hear.
At this point, Jesus said something that we can easily miss in our reading. He said, “I tell you, the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven.” In this passage it is not Jesus who forgives the woman of her sins; it was her love that demonstrated that her constantly missing the mark with her choices had already been forgiven. How can this be?
Forgiveness can be very confusing to a lot of people. Remember, we seldom see things as they are; we see things as we are. Our understanding is that when someone hurts or disappoints us by their words or conduct, we are the ones who need to let go of what they did. We are only restored to our peace when we successfully rise above our hurt feelings.
That taxi driver in the earlier illustration is a clear example of what it looks like when a person is not offended when others act like children. He was not going to allow the childish behavior of others to spoil his day no matter what they do.
The man in the black car, however, demonstrated that he was still like a toxic garbage truck who had just dumped part of his load on the taxi driver. He did not care that he almost caused an accident. He may have left the scene angrier. Keep in mind that the taxi driver never lost his peace. He could wave to the man and even pray for him with words from a sincere heart.
The woman who came into Simon’s courtyard was not like the man in the black car. She came knowing how to give away light even though her lamp appeared to her as being shattered. Fortunately, her lamp was not shattered to the mind of God. Jesus said, “. . . the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven.” Jesus simply told her what was clearly evident to him – “Your sins are forgiven.” Other gathered listeners who heard what Jesus said, heard something quite different. They questioned, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
When we think more deeply about the nature of God’s spirit, we may discern that our sins are automatically forgiven for all of us all the time. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ teaching of forgiving 70 times 7. Absolutely, no faith or beliefs are required for this to be true.
God does not need to forgive our sins because God is never offended when people choose to act as spiritual infants. If this were not so, the taxi driver would be more understanding and compassionate than God. That would be impossible. Yet, such a conclusion may challenge our current understanding of God.
That taxi driver was participating in God’s spirit by smiling and waving in spite of the arrogant attitude of the other driver. God knows that we will mature in spirit in our own timeframe, not God’s. For God there is no timeframe. Too often it is we who create God in our image, giving God a wide range of limited, human emotions like intolerance, anger and impatience. Again, God does not mind what we think and believe. When we leave our solid forms at death, everything we perceive about our lives and beliefs will change and finally become clear.
Kahlil Gibran in his book, The Prophet, reflects the thoughts of Palm 139 when he wrote,
When we change how we think, when we change our attitudes, when we change the judgmental thoughts that we have allowed to smolder within us, all such hostile emotional patterns within our spirits will fade immediately. This is what happened to the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet. Jesus saw the light coming from what she considered herself to be -- a shattered lamp. She had to greet what Jesus told her with profound relief and gratitude.
To know we are instantly forgiven for everything during every day of our lives puts the responsibility on us for everything we do. We do not have to please God. We do not have to please our friends or business associates. Our mission for coming to the earth in these forms is for each of us to become the one-of-a-kind polished diamond that we were designed to be. Heaven will accommodate everyone on the level of awareness to which each has awakened. We seek our own destiny by the choices we make, something each of us is doing whether we are believers or not.
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” She had been traveling down a road that brought her no peace, no comfort and no friends. Those consequences helped to change her mind on what she wanted out of life. Jesus recognized what Simon could not see; he saw light growing brighter and brighter from a shattered lamp.
Are we aware of how we perceive others whose values and faith are different from ours? When we only know how to hold on tightly to what we believe, we are no longer open to perceiving God’s continuing revelations that appear to be coming from the most unlikely places. Remember, we do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.
We thank you, God, that life is a classroom without walls. We thank you that we have the privilege of refining and defining ourselves each day. We have learned that struggling helps us to establish our lasting values. We have learned how our choices create the opportunities found in each day. We have learned that there can be no growth of spirit unless we are willing to adjust how we perceive. Lead us, O God, to recreate ourselves by learning and discovering more wholesome ways to communicate. Spare us from asking you to do for us what we need to do ourselves. Guide us to learn how to replace our thoughts of frustration with those that produce peace, to replace our masks with faces that reflect compassion and to replace our desire to please others with values that exude the qualities of leadership. Amen
Loving God, we are always humbled by the surprises that come to us when we learn how to step away from our needs and desires and give to others without counting the cost. Instead of asking you for help during our personal prayers, how energized we are when we become your voice, hands and feet for someone else. We experience meaning when we give a senior a ride to church or take them to a doctor's appointment. We experience our purpose when we write words in a card to someone who lost a spouse, a parent or a dear friend. We feel of value when we listen to someone who is challenged by one of life’s fragile moments.
Thank you, God, for calling us and sensitizing us to be in mission every day. Help us to become more comfortable and confident in our role as angels in the flesh. May we not seek "to fix" people but learn to guide them to sort out the beauty of who they are. Help us not to assume responsibility for managing anyone’s journey but learn how to remain a friend that is compassionate yet who also knows the value of allowing others to learn how to tie their own shoes.
Bless us today with minds, hearts and spirits that remain centered on our relationship with you, however we define that. As we extend to others who we are, help us to create a world where men and women remain free to grow without guilt and fear as each fulfills his or her purpose for being here. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .