Strength of Faith

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Sermon given at CTS Lutheran Church 6/12/16 based on the Gospel reading Luke 7:36-8:3  [editor’s note:  this sermon was written and presented by Anna.]

woman-who-poured-perfume-on-jesus-feetIt’s no secret that women in the Bible are mistreated. Many are unnamed and thought of as property. They belong to either their father or their husband. Even today, we hear news stories about mistreated, abused, and forgotten women. The woman in today’s Gospel lesson is one of the many unnamed. She didn’t say anything. But, she had a certain strength, a strength of faith.

She broke custom by interrupting a dinner to touch and serve a man in public, and she didn’t seem to care who noticed. There is power in doing something and not caring what others think. There was this house full of men with power and she came up right behind Jesus. Without a word she began to worship and serve him. She kissed his feet and anointed them, this whole time weeping. I imagine her as being so in awe of this wonderful being. This person is meant to save and protect her. And she was speechless. Overcome with emotion or possibly just not knowing what else to do she made herself even more vulnerable by breaking down crying. I wonder what it must be like to have such a faith, to believe that we will always be protected.

We don’t know a lot about this woman’s background, we really only know one thing. She was a sinner. Many people have tried to determine what her sin was. It doesn’t seem to matter or it probably would have been mentioned. All that was mentioned was the simple fact that she was a sinner. A sinner who knew that she needed Jesus. A sinner who also knew that she loved and wanted to serve Jesus. We are already a lot like this woman. We are all sinners. We all want to be of service to Jesus.

I don’t think that the woman took her faith for granted. For if she did, she would have been more like the pharisees. She would not bother to have served Jesus. Instead, she saw it as a gift. She served out of thankfulness. So maybe, having a strong faith includes knowing that there is no guarantee that we will have our faith. Of course it would never be God that cuts off the connection. However, we might have trouble seeing it. The questions then become, how do we act out our love? How do we hold onto a faith that is like the woman’s in this story?

Serving others is certainly one way, but the Pharisees were also serving Jesus. Granted they didn’t seem to be doing that terrific a job, but they were serving him a meal. What makes her different? The woman is serving from what she had…herself. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her own hair. She was completely selfless, serving because of her love and faith, not because she wanted something in return. The woman also served when she wasn’t expected to. It is great to serve others when we are asked, but we are called to always be in service and to do so because of our love and thankfulness.

We do not need to serve to be saved. But by serving we strengthen our faith. The more our service scares us to step out of place, out of our comfort zone, the stronger our faith can become. After all, you cannot know how strong something is until you test it and see how far it can stretch. Our faith is like a muscle. When you are working a muscle, it might tear and it might weaken temporarily. There will probably be some pain, but when it heals it will become stronger than ever. When we use our faith to take risks, doubt and fear might seep in. Our faith could weaken, but that’s ok. When we recover it will become stronger than ever.   

This type of serving that goes against the norm, is clearly harder to do than say. That’s why it takes so much strength, so much faith. There is always the risk of being rejected or judged by the rest of society. But then because of that risk factor, our faith will strengthen. As strong as this woman was to ignore the many pharisees, she did not yet have the strength to talk back to a man. That’s okay though because she wasn’t alone, and neither are we. She had help, and so do we. She had her faith, and so do we. For her, Jesus was standing next to her and spoke for her. He may have been dining with the pharisees that night instead of with the sinners, but he wasn’t going to forget about the people who were forgotten at the bottom of society.

We see a similar scenario in John Chapter 12 versus 1-8 as well, except this time we know the woman. It was Mary. She also knelt down to anoint Jesus’ feet and use her hair to wipe them clean. She was higher in society than the unnamed woman as she could afford expensive perfume. It has been estimated to cost a full years worth of wages, but she used all of it. Both women used all that they have to show their love. It doesn’t matter that one had more to give than the other. There is no set quantity needed to give in order to be saved. There is no justification needed to explain the amount of love we express. When Judas became upset that she wasted expensive perfume, Jesus again came to her defense without Mary saying anything.   

This is the Good News. When we cannot speak for ourselves, Jesus speaks for us. But, Jesus cannot physically stand next to us and speak like he did for both women. It is our faith in him that speaks for us. And there are many ways we can show our faith when we cannot find the right words. The way we serve others with all we have. The way we break customs that need to be broken. The way we step out to support, protect, and love one another. When we serve wholeheartedly we are practicing what Jesus spoke. Our faith keeps us moving, breaking down walls, even when we cannot see where we are headed. Yes, it is very hard to to let go of the reins. A lot of us like being in control, or at least understanding where we are going. As long as we can hold on, that’s great. However, there are sure to be times when we feel powerless. We will need to give up the reins and have faith that we will still reach our destination. There will be a time when we enter a house with our own pharisees where we are not supposed to speak. We are going to need trust, need to have faith, that either we will have the strength or that someone else will have the strength to stand up for us. We need to have faith that we will be cared for.

And we will be. Jesus always walks with those who need it. Maybe not in a large parade through all the cities and villages, but he is with us. He is also in us, so we don’t need to look far to find him.  We just have to look as far as each other. But this also leaves us with a very important task. We need to stand up and protect each other. We need to call out abuse when we see it, and show our support for those who no longer have the strength. We do not need to sacrifice ourselves and become a martyr. We do not need to stand up in front of the whole world and serve everyone. This has been done for us already in the life of Jesus. However, we do need to step out of line, even when it makes us uncomfortable and forces us to take a risk. We can start smaller, serving or standing up for one person at a time in front of just a room of people. I know that for me, and probably for several others, that is risky enough at the start. With practice by strengthening our faith, we can hopefully go larger. We can protect more people in front of larger crowds. But if not, that’s ok too. Even if we stand up for one person at a time, and keep doing putting ourselves out there, we are going to help a lot of people. Then if each of them stand up for others we would have started a whole chain of good going around.

There will be many days when our faith is shown through our actions, through our service. There will be other days when we are tasked with speaking out for each other. And it’s ok if there are days when we can do neither. Our faith lets us try again the next day after it has renewed us with strength. Just be sure that whenever you can, call upon the faith that you have.

Our faith has saved us, so take comfort.

Our faith has saved us, and we are forgiven.

Our faith has saved us, so serve others.

Our faith has saved us, go in peace. Amen.

What do you think?