Fourth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

June 28, 2020

Lessons:

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

 

Just before the climax of a great many books and movies and plays, there is a speech that changes everything.

The speech comes at halftime at the big game or on the eve of the final battle or as the ragtag bunch of misfits are about to descend into the cave or the dungeon or the sewer and face the monster. Morale is low, our protagonists are figuratively and sometimes literally on their knees. And the speech – given by the coach, the queen, the least socially awkward of the misfits – is what allows them to get up and continue.

Jesus gives a speech like that today. There are twelve people in Jesus’ gang of misfits, twelve people plus Jesus himself to make a Messiah’s Dozen. Let’s imagine that you and I are each one of the twelve. Jesus gathers us in the locker room – if you’re following along at home, we’re at the very beginning of Chapter Ten in Matthew’s version of this story – and he stands up on one of the benches, he takes a breath, and he proceeds to give us a speech so alarming and strange and beautiful that it would get a lesser coach fired, fired even before he stepped down back onto the locker room floor.

The speech begins this way, with two instructions:

First, Jesus says, you have authority. You have authority to cast out demons and to heal everything and everyone and to raise the dead.

Maybe we look at each in confusion. Do we have that authority? These kind of seem like varsity level miracles. But before anyone can put their hand up to ask a clarifying question, Jesus keeps on going.

Second, do not get ready. Don’t take money, don’t take a change of clothes, leave your smart phones at home.

Now, if any of you were Boy or Girl Scouts you will know that even though the speech has barely begun, Baden Powell is audibly grinding his teeth right now. Do not be prepared, Jesus says. Not even a little bit.

Unprepared, Jesus says, you are to go. You are to leave this building, go outside, go into the community, and there you are to proclaim the good news. You are to say:

The kingdom of heaven

has come near.

Now, if folks welcome you, let your peace be upon them. But if they don’t welcome you…

And maybe some of us start rubbing our hands together now, because if Jesus has given us the authority to heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, then Jesus must also be giving us the power to destroy anyone who crosses us. We’re waiting for him to give us laser vision and Spiderman webs enough strength to lift someone in the air and huck them into next week. We are going to mop the floor with these suckers.

If folks don’t welcome you, Jesus says, then clean off your shoes. Shake the dust off of them. And then keep on going. There will be judgment. But that is God’s work. Not yours.

And then Jesus keeps on going:

You are going to be handed over, Jesus says – handed over meaning being put into the back of the truck or the train or into the room without windows, the bolt in the door sliding hard into place behind you. Handed over meaning that control over your life belongs to someone else. You will be beaten and dragged before the authorities.

And then Jesus repeats the instruction:

Do not get ready. Do not be prepared. You might want to prepare a defence, but don’t.

You don’t need to. The Spirit of your Father will speak through you.

Do not be afraid, Jesus says.

But then he adds something that, maybe, sounds less than reassuring.

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, nothing is secret that will not be known.

Again we look at each other: Nothing? Including that time that I…

Jesus, Is this good news?

And Jesus says: Do not be afraid.

You might think I have come to bring peace. I haven’t. I have come to bring brass knuckles, a gun, a sword. I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. If there is a relationship in which one person has power over another, I am going to turn that into a fight.

This is the part of the speech that changes everything in which Jesus’ voice is getting louder, his gestures more animated, the spit leaving his holy lips with greater velocity.

Take up your cross.

Take it up. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

And then, after all of that, here comes the climax of the speech. Jesus says this part quietly.

Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones – they will never lose their reward.

These are the orders. This is the end of the speech.

This speech is alarming and strange and beautiful. It is so, so confusing. And here at the end, it is so, so simple.

Could it possibly be that simple?

Could it be that the test for whether or not you and I are following the Gospel is really as simple as the question: Did we give a cup of cold water to the little ones? Did we give a cup of cold water to the ones who thirst?

Jesus steps down off the bench and walks out of the room. He leaves us there with the echo of his words. Jesus has given the speech that changes everything. And now. Now you and I have to decide if we will do as he has told us.

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Jeanne Kaliszewski

July 7, 2019

Lessons:

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

For thus says the Lord:
I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bones shall flourish like the grass;

There is a certain way you can hold a child in your arms. A certain way you shift
your weight from one foot to the other, a certain angle at which you can position your hip. You might sway slowly side to side or bounce if the child needs settling.

This can feel like the most natural thing to do, to pick up a child and rest them on the
little perch your body so easily creates, you don’t have to think about it really, your body knows instinctively what to do.

There is a certain way a child can just collapse into your body, a certain way their
weight can just sink, so utterly, into your chest when they lean back. There is a certain way their feet dangle, a way they can squirm until they find just the right spot.

Holding a child on your hip or the crook of your arm or your on your lap, to give love
and comfort, to receive love and comfort in return, is as basic a human need as to sleep and eat.

And there is a certain moment, sometimes, a moment when you are holding a child
and you and the child are in sync, your limbs relaxed, your breath matching theirs…and in that moment there is peace, such deep and inexorable peace.

Peace…. like a river, to quote the prophet Isaiah in today’s reading from the Old
Testament, a river full to almost overflowing, meandering slowly past the bank. And while our translation of this verse renders the phrase ‘prosperity like a river’, the word in the Hebrew is shalom, peace. This word in Hebrew is not, according to one commentator, a peace that is simply the absence of malice…it is the peace that is the wholeness that comes only through proper relationship with God.

And the people the Old Testament writer was writing for are a people desperately in
need of peace. A people driven from their home, from Jerusalem, in 587 BCE when the
Babylonians invaded and destroyed their city. A people who spent decades, generations, in exile and now, when this text was written, are returning to their home, a home they might not recognize, a home changed and ravaged by years of foreign occupation. But like a child returning to their mother, they are returning to their God who will be there to comfort them and offer them peace.

In today’s Gospel Jesus also speaks of peace. In this commissioning of the 70 to go
out as lambs amidst wolves, Jesus tells these disciples to carry nothing with them, to greet those they encounter with the words “Peace to this house.” They are offering no simple peace however, but like the Hebrew shalom, this is a peace which is about wholeness and relationship with God.

We have lost that sense of the word peace I think. The German theologian Dorothee
Sölle, in her book “The Window of Vulnerability” writes that this Biblical concept of peace has, in this current world order, been absorbed by and become synonymous with security., that we now look to a person with guns and ammunition to provide us with peace.

This kind of thinking leads to walls and tanks and guns. This kind of thinking sees
those fleeing the violent insecurity of a home they once knew and crossing the border of another as a threat. This kind of thinking, which prioritizes security over wholeness and love, separates families and locks up children in cold, crowded dirty cells instead of picking them up, rocking them gently.

But the kind of peace we find in Christ, the kind of peace he talks about in today’s
Gospel, is found in letting go of those things the world tells us lead to security – armies and guns and walls and money and things and achievements- and instead opening our arms wide and embracing those in need of comfort, feeding those who are hungry, holding the hands of the sick and the dying.

Jesus calls us to a kingdom peace, a peace which asks us, each and every one of us, to
leave the security of our comfortable places (our homes, our cars, and yes even our pews) and venture into the world carrying nothing but the Best News Ever that in Christ God entered the world. And in and with and through Christ we too can participate in bringing peace to a broken world.

Taking part in the kingdom peace that Jesus is talking about today also asks us not
only to offer hospitality to those who come through our red doors, but to accept the
hospitality of others in the world, to stay with them a while, to share the stories of our faith and the way the kingdom of God has come near us.

And that is scary, my friends. It scares me. It can feel just as Jesus described, as if we
are lambs being sent out into the midst of wolves. But in the upside kingdom of peace that Jesus proclaims, the lamb carries the blessing of God with them and that kingdom comes near everyone, all we encounter, even the wolves of the world. That does not mean that we will always feel secure, we will always feel safe, but we will have the blessing of the peace of Christ with us.

One of the things I was most looking forward to upon being ordained to the
priesthood was offering God’s blessing at the end of the Eucharist and it is still just about my favorite ‘priestly’ thing to do. And the words that are often offered at the moment are from Paul’s letter to the Philippians which offers the peace of God, which passes all understanding to the community of believers to which he was writing and to us.

And while I love and am deeply grateful for the privilege to offer God’s blessing, I
think that we all should leave here blessing one another, blessing everyone we meet,
reminding the world that the kingdom of God has come near.

So I wonder if, this week, you can offer a blessing to someone or something. It can be
small. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World suggests starting with a stick you might encounter as you walk down the sidewalk. Take a moment, recognize that you did not make this stick, imagine the stick’s story (did a bird once sit on it? did a flower bloom at its edges just a little while ago?), wonder at the miracle of this piece of wood that once was an artery of a tree, and she suggests you can say (whisper perhaps) a blessing:

“ “Bless you, stick, for being you.”

“Blessed are you, o stick, for turning dirt and sun into wood.”

“Blessed are you, Lord God, for using this stick to stop me in my tracks.”

And then maybe, after some practice, you might try a bird, a cat, a friend, the man you
encounter sleeping on the sidewalk…offering the blessing of Christ’s peace, which is really just a recognition of the belovedness of all creation, to the world.

And in these blessings we offer one another, in the relationships we build, in the comfort we give and receive, the comfort like a mother might offer her child, picking her up, adjusting her on the side of her body, swaying side to side….that is the comfort that overflows from God.

That is peace that shall make our hearts rejoice and our bones flourish like grass.

That is the certain way that God holds us all.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

June 17, 2018

Lessons:

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4,11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17
Mark 4:26-34

 

One of the gifts of this past week at the College for Congregational Development was spending part of an afternoon with the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. (Those of us who went on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land will remember that we also ran into Bishop Curry in Jerusalem. I am beginning to suspect that Bishop Curry is following me around.) We had the opportunity, as a group, to ask him questions. And so I put up my hand and said something like this:

You have witnessed and endured a lot of unfair things in your life, a lot of unjust things. And yet you appear to be a joyous person. Why is that? What is the source of your joy?

Bishop Michael thought for a good length of time before speaking. And then he told us that part of his joy came from the people who raised him and with whom he grew up – he spent his early life with people who loved neighbour and loved life, and he caught that love from then. And then he said that another part of his joy came from scripture. We laugh with Jesus, he said, and then we cry, and then we laugh again. And then we go to the cross and we weep. And then that Mary Magdalene tells us that the tomb is empty. And we meet the resurrected Jesus and we laugh once more.

Listening to Bishop Michael talk about the Bible I was reminded of the old preacher who said that the reason he was so full of joy was that he had read the story and he knew how it ended.

That encounter with Bishop Michael was one of those holy coincidences that the Holy Spirit keeps on putting into my life and, maybe, into yours as well. Because hearing a spiritual leader talk about joy in spite of hard news, in the midst of hard news: well, that felt pretty timely this week.

The news coming from our southern border is awful. The news of children being taken from their parents by the agents of our country is appalling. Our nation is telling parents that they are taking their children to bathe them and then not bringing those children back. Our nation is deliberately causing the suffering of children, it is weaponising the suffering of those children. And then the leaders of our nation are citing the Bible to justifying that suffering.

Here is Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

There are two words for using the Bible in this fashion. (Actually, there are more than two words, but there are only two words that I can say in church. One of the other words I am not going to say has to do with bulls and what they what they sometimes leave in a field after a big meal.) The first word that I am allowed to say is proof texting: this is the habit of pulling a verse of scripture out of its context and away from scripture’s wider arc towards love and justice in order to back up your argument.

Romans 13, by the way, has an infamous history of being used in this fashion. This is the passage pointed at by slaveholders to justify the practice of owning other people. This is the passage cited in Nazi Germany to justify a brutal dictatorship. This is the passage cited in South Africa to justify apartheid. (There is a fantastic article in Washington post, by the way, that walks you through some of the history of folks defending their society’s wildly immoral actions by pointing at Romans 13.) Suffice to say, when you draw on this passage on an occasion such as this one, you’re not in such hot company.

There is a second word for using scripture in this fashion, for recruiting to sculpture argue that the state has God’s blessing to separate children from their parents and store them in a box store turned prison. A good number of people have said that word on Twitter. I’m going to say that word this morning.

That word is blasphemy.

Let’s do some Bible study. Let’s see what else scripture might have to say here. (And I am hugely indebted to my friend Heather for assembling most of these verses.)

Hebrews 13:2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.

Zechariah 7:10: Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor.

Leviticus 19:33–34: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress…

Matthew 22:37–40 (This is Jesus talking now, our Lord and Saviour): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

On these two commandments hang everything. One more (and this is nowhere close to an exhaustive list – this is kind of a huge theme in scripture) before we get back to Romans 13:

Matthew 25:34–36: Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

What is that passage called, by the way? Does anyone know? This is the Judgment of the Nations. Jesus says that this is what we together will be judged for, for what our nation does. This is how we will inherit the Kingdom, by welcoming the stranger.

But what about Romans 13 itself?

Paul writes in a rhetorical style that is pretty foreign to us. It is one of the things that can make his letters a hard read and sometimes an opaque read. He may not always mean what he appears to mean on first reading. For the sake of argument, however, I am going assume that Paul means pretty much just what he appears to mean in the letter. He is saying: Hey recipients of my letter in Rome, you should obey the law.

What is vital to understand here is that this letter is what scholars call situational. It is written by Paul to a particular group of people in a particular time of place. And the group to whom Paul is writing is comprised of Christians who are living under the boot of repression and brutality, who are enduring state-sponsored violence. He is saying to them: Obey the Roman’s law so that you don’t get yourself killed.

This is a letter, in other words, written as consolation and encouragement and advice to people who are living under oppression. It is a not a letter extending permission for the oppressor to do whatever evil it sees fit, so long as it passes a law first. If there is any question about that, then let’s keep on reading in the same chapter. Romans 13:

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Maybe in light of the news from the border and the distortion of the Bible that we have heard in response to it, my question to Bishop Curry should’ve been different. Maybe what I should have asked is not, “given everything you have witnessed, everything that is going on in the world, how do you remain joyous?” but rather, “given everything you have witnessed, everything that is going on in the world, is it appropriate to be joyous?”

Today is the day at Grace on which we honour the choir. The choir which serves so faithfully across the fall, winter, and spring. Its members are here every Thursday night and every Sunday morn. If St. Augustine is right and those who sing pray twice, then the choir has doubled the amount of prayer in this room.

That is something for which to say thanks.

On an occasion such as this, when we name and say thanks for the presence of beauty in our midst – when we name that we are putting our time, talent, and treasure into beauty – sometimes you will ask a question of yourself or someone else will ask a question of you. And that question goes like this:

Given all that is wrong in the world, where are you putting resources into beauty? Why are you putting resources into joy? (For the purposes of this sermon, I am going to use the words “beauty” and “joy” more or less interchangeably.)

Think how many hungry people we could’ve fed by putting resources into food instead of installing stained glass windows or repairing a the organ. Why are we wasting our time with beauty and joy?

That’s a question that we need to take seriously. I’ve thought of at least two answers. The first is that beauty, that joy is a source of holy energy for us. Sometimes anger is a catalyst into action – when you hear about what is happening on our southern border, it is appropriate and motivating to be angry. But my experience is that if I get stuck in anger, I end up embittered and cynical. I don’t act at all.

Part of the reason that I come to church and seek out beauty is that this is a place in which I refill my reservoir. That refilling allows me to participate in justice, in compassion.

The other reason that putting resources into joy matters is that doing so reminds us of what the Kingdom looks like. The delight and experience and communion we experience here in church – that is what life is supposed to look like. We come here to remember what God wants for all us of, including refugees and migrants. Part of what church does is to give us a point of reference so that, when we see the news, we can look at it and say: That’s wrong. That’s not the way that people deserve to live.

Dostoyevsky was right when said, Beauty will save the world.

Today we hear one of a number of Gospel readings about the scattering of seeds. I think that these readings are funnier than we sometimes allow. In all of them there is this element of incompetence in the sower: the seeds are scattered all over the place, on rocky ground and on good soul; or in this case, the seeds are scattered by someone who is ignorant, who watches the seeds grow but doesn’t know how.

I wonder if these stories mean that the Kingdom is without limits, that God shares it broadly, that nowhere and no one is off limits, that even those places where you think the seeds ought not to go, there too God sows.

Or maybe these stories mean that, when the seed lands on the rock, you and I have the job of moving it to the soil. Maybe these are stories about our role as co-creators of the Kingdom.

We encounter joy in the choir, in Art Camp, in one other. That joy invites us to go forth and participate in building up the Kingdom of God.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Lessons:

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

 

 

Then turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon:

Do you see this woman?

The late British Science Fiction writer, Douglas Adams, is probably most famous for his whimsical series of novels, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I am equally fond of another pair of books by Adams, both of which focus on the adventures and misadventures of a lazy and brilliant detective named Dirk Gently. One of the reasons that I find the Dirk Gently books so engaging is that, in them, Adams makes creative and effective use of the literary device of telling the story from the perspective of multiple characters, so that we variously experience the narrative through the eyes of Dirk himself, from one of his clients, from his client’s romantic interest, from a ghost who is wandering the streets, and – this is the perspective that I remember most vividly – through the eyes of a horse.

The horse explains to the reader that he has one great pleasure in life: hanging out in the meadow, perhaps under the shade of a tree, and eating grass. And he explains as well that he has one great complaint: people keep on jumping on his back and expecting him to carry them places. During one protracted scene in the book, a monk sits astride the horse, paralysed by spiritual doubt, while the horse wonders about just who this guy is wearing the robe and sitting on top of him. At that moment in the narrative, Adams inserts an editorial aside that sits somewhere between comedy and cultural commentary and maybe even prophecy. He says:

It is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

[Whereas] it is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them.

All of a sudden, here in the middle of his playful detective story, Adams gives us a startling and powerful comment on the nature of power and of privilege. When we enjoy privilege, when we are on top of another within a hierarchy, odds are pretty good that we don’t give the one who is below us much thought. When someone else is on top of us, well, it is hard to think of much else.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. I typed this sermon on my Macbook, a laptop computer that I use daily at the office for work and at home for recreation. People who have visited the factories in China in which a company called Foxconn employs a massive workforce to build Macbooks and iPads and iPhones for Apple tell us that the process of building these electronic consumer goods is much less automated than one might guess – that human beings are manually assembling most of the parts. And they tell us as well that the conditions at these factories are frequently unethical and exploitative and soul crushing: workers labour in an accident-prone environment, they are denied the overtime that is payable to them, and their work is numbing in its repetitiveness. Infamously, Foxconn installed nets on the exteriors of several of its factories several years ago in order to stop its employees from escaping their work through suicide.

I’ve known these facts for a while. And yet as I typed them out on my laptop earlier this week, it occurred to me that I have never so much as considered the hands that built my Macbook. I’m not sure if I didn’t want to think about the people who made my machine or – and I don’t know if this is worse – if it simply didn’t occur to me to think about them. I am the one sitting on the horse. And now that I’ve noticed my perch, I’m suddenly nervously curious: do the people who endured drudgery and, perhaps, suffering in order to build my computer ever wonder about me?

What other examples of privilege – of rider and horse, to use Adams’ image – might we think of? How about transgender folks? My cousin, Eric, is a transgender man living in Kamloops, British Columbia. Eric recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail in response to an article in that paper that argued that “normal people” don’t think about the question of gendered restrooms. In his letter, Eric explained that this was precisely the nature of the problem: normal people don’t think about this question, normal people never have the experience of standing before a pair of restrooms and asking themselves the question: which one is least dangerous for me to enter? It is our privilege not to notice.

How about wealth and poverty? For most of us in this room, it is our privilege to be able keep on walking past the man holding the cardboard sign that says “Anything helps,” to never have to wonder about his life, to never suppose that he was once a baby eagerly awaited by proud and loving parents who were full of dreams for his future. How about race? For those of us who are white, it is our privilege to see a police car in our rear-view mirror and have no anxiety whatsoever about what its flashing lights might mean for our safety. I bet that, together, we could come up with a whole lot more examples.

So. Jesus is hanging out in the home of a Pharisee, a man, as we will learn partway through the story, by the name of Simon. If we were to translate “Pharisee” into contemporary vocabulary and experience, we could probably say that Jesus is at the home of someone who is comfortably off, who is respectable, who goes to church on a regular basis. Someone, in other words, who is a lot like me and, maybe, a lot like you. And a woman crashes the party. This woman, Luke tells us immediately, is a sinner. (There is a popular tradition of assuming that this woman’s sin is sexual in nature, that she is a prostitute, but actually the text is quite silent on that subject.) She begins to bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears.

Simon is appalled that Jesus doesn’t call security, that he doesn’t have the woman kicked out. He doesn’t say anything out loud – that would be impolite. But he makes a mental note that Jesus isn’t as quite as impressive as he thought he was, that Jesus isn’t really leadership material.

Jesus sees Simon stiffen, he sees the sudden coldness of his host’s body language. And so he says:

Simon. I have something to say to you.

There is a whole lot going on in what Jesus says next, more than we can tackle in one sermon. Here is the parabolic question about the two debtors. Here are the series of contrasts between the actions of the woman and the inactions of Simon. Here is the final, scathing assessment of Simon: The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. Here is the forgiveness of the woman’s sins, a forgiveness which startles and, perhaps, scanadlises everyone sitting around the table. But what I’d like pay particular attention to this morning is the second question that Jesus poses to Simon:

Do you see this woman?

Now, one way of reading this text is to conclude that this sentence simply has the purpose of establishing context, of calling Simon’s attention to the person whom Jesus wants to talk about. If I were to say to you, “Do you see the choir?” I would simply be letting you know that I was about to talk about the choir and its ministry, about the creation of music. But I want to suggest that Jesus is doing something far more than drawing Simon’s attention to the woman. I want to suggest that Jesus’ question actually sits at the very core of Jesus’ message.

Do you see this woman?

At rudimentary level, of course Simon sees the woman. He is aware that she is in his house and that he is unhappy about it, much as you and I would be aware and unhappy to find our kitchen infested by ants. But beyond the level of nuisance or interruption or social embarrassment, he is not aware of her at all. To put that another way, Simon is aware of the woman at the same level that I am vaguely aware that someone must have made my laptop and that I have to walk around the man lying on the sidewalk and that being a transgender person before a pair of bathroom doors or a person of colour being pulled over by the police must suck. But at a deeper level – at the level that Jesus is interested in – Simon and I don’t see at all.

Do you see this woman?

If Simon and I are truthful, our answer is “no.” We have a rider and horse relationship with people like her.

The final question in the baptismal covenant goes like this:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

And the Prayer Book invites us to make the promise:

I will, with God’s help.

Jesus reminds us that respecting the dignity of every human being begins with seeing every human being.

The genius of the Gospel writers – of Luke and his three colleagues – is that they will tell us a story such as this one and then they will leave it without an ending. Luke tells us about the parable of the debtors, the question Do you see?, the series of contrasts between Simon and the woman, the indictment of Simon, the forgiveness of the woman’s sin. And then the story just ends. He leaves us wondering: How does Simon react? What does Simon do?

Luke leaves the work of writing the ending up to you and me.

One possible ending sees an irritated Simon wrapping up the party finished as soon as possible. And then getting together with his friends the next day to tell them: “You won’t believe what happened. I had this guy as a guest at my house and he brought some woman with him – I think she was homeless. And he forgave her sins!” And Simon and his friends can agree that Jesus is totally unhinged.

But what about another ending? An ending in which Simon takes Jesus’ invitation and chooses to see the woman – and maybe here is the bigger risk – to be seen in return. Maybe he asks her: Where do you sleep? How do you live? What are your hopes? Maybe she asks questions of him. Maybe Simon is surprised by what this conversation opens in him, maybe he has an experience of what theologians call “reverse mission.” Reverse mission is what happens when we serve at the Friday Night Meal, or go to visit someone in the hospital, or travel to a foreign land to get a school started, or fight for a advocate for a higher minimum wage, and we are surprised to discover that, even though we went to offer healed, it is we who are healed, it is we who are transformed, it is we who are made whole.

Maybe Simon and the woman see one another. And they connect. They see one another human beings. as individuals filled with the spark of the Divine.

And that changes everything.