God’s Deep Love and Complete Forgiveness: But We Have No License to Sin – June 12th 2016
Mark and I sang my Anointing Song before the sermon: “She Bathed his Feet with her Tears, She Dried them with her Hair.”
The Time after Pentecost (IV) Lectionary 11 – June 12th 2016
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 Psalm 51 Galatians 2:15-21 Luke 7:36-8:3
God’s Deep Love and Complete Forgiveness:
But We Have No License to Sin
You’ll notice that in the second lesson Paul warns us not to allow the grace of God to give us a license to sin. Our text reads, “So in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant to sin? Certainly not.” This translation is problematic because we believe that “we cannot by our own strength or effort believe in our Lord Jesus Christ or come to him.” The New International Version translation is better: “If while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!” In the Cotton Patch Epistles, which contains some crude language, please forgive me, it says, “Hell no!” Christ does not promote sin. If we have died to sin, how can we let it come alive in us again?
But consider the story of David and Bathsheba. David, who cherished God so very much that he wrote all those psalms, playing their tunes on his harp, and as great a king as he was, was still a real sinner. He commits adultery with Uriah the Hittite’s wife and then has him murdered to marry her!
Luther often writes that we should take comfort in the way God forgives real sins, because God forgave David and Bathsheba. The name “David” means darling and David remained God’s darling. Jesus, God’s Son is even celebrated as the Son of David. So his adultery and murder were forgiven him. Thus we can take comfort in the fact that God forgives us our real sins, not imaginary ones. So the way God forgave David’s sins, ours too are therefore forgiven.
Their consequences, however, remain. David’s son Absalom rebelled against him. When he took his father’s throne, his advisors told him to sleep with all of his father’s wives – they had harems in those days – to assert his kingship. Joab David’s commander Killed Absalom. Riding on a royal donkey, his long blond hair was caught in a tree, and while hanging there, Joab ran him through with his spear. David returned to his throne and grieved his son’s death bitterly: for weeks he walked through his palace, saying, “Absalom, my son Absalom” over and over again, not accepting any comfort. The sword never left the House of David thereafter and he did not have peace in his reign again.
But what a way the Prophet Nathan brought this rotten spot in David’s cover up out into the open. David thought he had gotten away with his crime and continued to ride on God’s grace. But Nathan nailed him and the scandal became open knowledge to everyone. David had to undergo falling into the abyss of guilt and shame. In that state he writes the 51st Psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me out of your Presence, Oh God, and don’t take your Holy Spirit away from me.”
And David was forgiven. Of course, David was different from Herod, who had taken his brother Philip’s wife. David, after having experienced Nathan’s speaking truth to power, did not say, “Off with your head!” as in the case of John the Baptist.
David repented and was forgiven.
The woman who anointed Jesus feet was also forgiven. We do not know why, nor do we know her sin. But she loves, adores, and worships Jesus in gratitude for it. Perhaps she was the woman caught in adultery, when Jesus confronts her attackers and says, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” saving her life. She may have been Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven devils. This story is read on the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.
Now in those days they did not sit at a table the way we do. She did not have to crawl under the table to anoint Jesus’ feet. They ate in Roman style at a triclinium: they lay on cots with their elbows on the table. Three tables were set up in a U form, so that the food could be served. Four tables would have made a square, shutting out the servers. Thus the feet of those at the meal were easily accessible.
But what lavish love she pours on Jesus! And her story will be told wherever the Gospel is preached, because she anointed the Christ, the Messiah, which means the anointed one in Greek and Hebrew and she had the honor of anointing him, even though she was a sinner much like David.
Now does that give us license to sin? In no way. We are to die to sin and come alive in Christ as new human beings.
Perhaps Luther’s “Sin boldly!” comes to mind. When Luther told Melanchthon to sin boldly, but more boldly still believe, he was encouraging him to stop militant Anabaptists, who claimed that they could not be criticized because they were filled by the Holy Spirit. Violence had no place in the spreading of the Gospel and they were aligned with the Anabaptists of the Sword, like Thomas Müntzer. Luther said, “They swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.” The Anabaptists of the Staff were pacifists, but these Anabaptists were part of the Wittenberg Disturbances, who were not pacifists. Melanchthon thought he might sin against the Holy Spirit if he stopped them. Luther wrote to Melanchthon that he had to stop them. “Sin boldly, but more boldly still believe.”
When priests began to marry in the Reformation, they had to sin boldly, but it was against what human beings at the time named a sin, which really was no sin. The celibacy of priests by dint of the canon law, fostered untold corruption, perhaps it is the cause of it even in our days. Back then for a fee paid to the bishop, a priest could have a concubine. Then he merely paid another fine for each child he conceived. But the marriage could not be legal and the child had to be illegitimate. Meanwhile the bishop was cashing in! Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Prince of the Humanists, was the illegitimate child of a priest. He remained so upset that he never spoke Dutch, only Latin his whole life, except when he died, his last words were, “Oh God!” in Dutch.
Luther taught that God’s law was to marry, because in Genesis it said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Human vows had to be temporary unless a priest or nun had the gift of celibacy. But very few people do.
In Berlin Germany, in St. Philips, where I was a vicar, we had two Lutheran sisters called deaconesses. Their celibacy vows in the Lutheran way were humanly conditioned. When the pastor’s wife was killed in a car accident, one of the sisters gave up her vows, married him, and became his wife. The other sister continued nursing the sick and elderly shut-ins of the congregation. She was happy to continue her call in that wonderful service. Imagine if we had two deaconesses who were nurses regularly visiting our shut-ins?
We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. And God has mercy on us all. Even, as hard as it it, on those who are self-righteous, like the Levite, Simon, in our story today. He may even have wanted to test if Jesus was a real prophet by setting the whole thing with the woman up, according to one commentary, although I don’t believe it. But he argues that when Jesus raised the dead son of the Widow of Nain, which was the story last Sunday, all the people said, “A great prophet had arisen in their midst.” The Levite could have said to himself, “I’ll invite Jesus to a dinner and see if he is a real prophet or not. If he was for real, he would reject that sinful woman.” But Jesus compared the lavish love of the one with the smug and judgmental self-righteousness of the other – and whether it was a test of Jesus or not, the self-righteous Levite is tested and falls short. Love covers a multitude of sins.
When testing, trying, and judging Jesus, like in the case of Jesus before Pilate, Simon the Levite and Pilate are the ones really being judged and are shown to fall short.
Smugness often provokes the passionate to sin. Self-righteousness causes a lot of sin. But does someone’s smug self-righteousness give us the license to sin? In no way! I don’t have to repeat what the Cotton Patch Epistles say. We have died to sin and it is no longer we who live, but Christ, who lives in us! “We don’t need another scandal. We’ve got all that we can handle.” Mark and I could sing another song. But our wonderful God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and forgiveness! Amen.
 From the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism.