I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.That’s what the readings are about this morning. We can learn from the choices Ahab and Jezebel made in 1 Kings (21:1-21), the sinful woman and the Pharisee host, Mary Magdalene and Joanna in the gospel (Luke 7:35-8:3), and the Galatians to whom Paul is writing (2:15-21).
It’s also not a bad Father’s Day call for those of us who are fathers—for the sake of our offspring.
For me, it all boils down to something Jesus says in the gospel. Look at verse 47. It all comes down to whether I love much, like the sinful woman who made a spectacle of herself at Jesus’ feet, or love little, like the Pharisee.
It’s the loving that counts, you see, because the loving comes out of the believing, faith-filled heart. Rule (or law) following will not lead to loving much, or at all. Rule following, even if we can pull it off, leads only to self-righteousness, self-satisfaction and scenes like this:
Luke 7:39 (ESV) Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”Ahab and Jezebel didn’t even bother with the rules, but that’s another story.
It’s the loving that counts because, as Paul writes to the Galatians, just following the rules and just doing the works the law requires, can all too easily become, “I’ll just do enough to get by.” As a father, for example, I could easily just go through the motions, doing enough to get by, dutifully, not giving anyone a hard time, but just enough so I don’t get into trouble. That would be like going no further than Paul’s “works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). Going-through-the-motions-rule-following and nothing more can be a hiding place from the real feet and tears and hair and kissing and intimacy and much love we heard about in the gospel. It’s the same with being a Christian. I can let saying my daily office, reading my Bible, accurate tithing, going to church and church work become an alternative to the real work of loving much—with the tears and feet and all the messy, too up close and personal things that kind of living entails.
Loving much requires the real faith and believe about which Paul also writes.
Galatians 2:16 (ESV)…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.It is faith and belief in Jesus, in particular, who loved us first and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Jesus loves us much and as we sang earlier, there's no love sweeter. Because of that we have received, undeserved, like the sinful woman in the gospel (Luke 7:48), forgiveness of our sins and the grace (God’s empowering presence to be who he made us to be and to do what he calls us to do) to love much.
Yesterday Giles Talbott and Kelly Sellinger were married here. As I often do, I spoke of the kind of love we heard in our gospel this morning—the John 3:16 kind with which God so loves the world. Anglican priest and scholar JI Packer calls it neighbour-love and, as I shared yesterday, he describes it like this:
Its total lack of self-concern is breathtaking. Neighbor-love seeks the neighbor’s good, and the true measure of it is how much it gives to that end.
Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.7The sinful woman went beyond the mere action. For her there was emotion involved. She was expressing her faith and belief in Jesus with acts of much love. In doing that, even though she probably didn’t know it, she was choosing life and immortality for herself, and providing us with an example to follow.
Following her example, let’s choose life and move ourselves and St Barnabas beyond mere “works of the law,” and rule following, to deeper faith and belief in Jesus, and with his help, to acts of much, much love, breathtaking in their lack of self-concern, in his name and for his sake.