Yesterday a number of you were here at the church for a spring cleaning work party. Today our church looks like a million bucks, inside and out. Some of those who participated are pictured on your bulletin cover. Some of you might recognize Alan Compaan on the left. Others might recognize Pr. Alvaro from the City of Refuge church on the right. In the middle is Ezwin, who is responsible for almost all the outdoor trim work that was done. This photo, for me, represents the message and power of today’s gospel reading.
Simon the Pharisee was a devout man of wealth, influence and power. He’d heard about this teacher and wanted to see if Jesus was all he was cracked up to be. So, one day he invites Jesus over to his house for dinner. Imagine if this was your house and your guest. All of a sudden an uninvited guest crashes the party. But this party-crasher is not one of Simon’s influential friends. It’s a woman, and a woman with a reputation. At that point, what would you do? Maybe, call the police?
But Simon doesn’t call the police. He simply watches…and silently criticizes—not only the woman, but Jesus, too.
Then Jesus speaks. Simon, I have something to say to you. Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Although Simon had made a show of inviting Jesus to his house he had neglected all the customary rituals of hospitality.
Simon was a man of wealth, privilege, influence and power. The woman had no wealth, no privilege, no influence and no power. But Simon judged, criticized and complained. The woman was full of gratitude, praise, and a spirit of service. Where she was rich, Simon the Pharisee was poor.
Our attitudes and the people we surround ourselves with have great power to shape who we become. The choices we make in response to opportunities God sends our way shape the person we become. The life of Simon the Pharisee, at least in this story, was marked by missed opportunities for growth and service. Simon was a man who had become distracted. He had built a life carefully organized around certain traditions and beliefs. In stark contrast to his carefully controlled world is the woman’s out-of-control spirit of love and service. Although a religious man, Simon’s priorities led him to criticize and complain when he could have been grateful and joined in serving others.
What’s true for individuals is often true for faith communities. When I arrived here ten years ago this was a bustling place on Sunday morning. People then, as now, took pride in upkeep of the facility. But we can admit that there was also a bit of “This is our church; we don’t want anybody messing it up.” And nobody did mess it up because after Sunday, the rest of the week our buildings were mostly dark and cold and empty.
But something happened along the way. I don’t know exactly when but it might have had something to do with our decision as a congregation to welcome homeless men into our facility one month out of the year. A decision like that is a bit like the woman at Jesus’ feet: out of control, outside the usual rules—and likely to stir people up! But you did make that decision. And we have been the ones who are blessed every year since!
One decision like that can lead to confidence in accepting other opportunities God sends our way. A few of the more recent ones are printed on your bulletin insert.
I want to share with you something that may not be obvious from this list, and that is: Where God’s people are faithful in a little, God will multiply the opportunities, and also the ability to accomplish that good work. But here’s the most astonishing thing: Where we take risks in extending hospitality–especially if it’s sharing our property–we don’t have to go looking for opportunities to serve. Opportunities come looking for us!
For example, two years ago we hosted an intern. That was only possible because Pr. Paul Hoffman, who preached here last Sunday, recommended us as an intern site. And Pr. Hoffman recommended us only because he recognized our spirit and record of service. We didn’t go looking for an internship. It came looking for us.
There used to be only one congregation that worshiped in this building: Lakeridge Lutheran. But years ago you extended an invitation to the City of Refuge church. We didn’t know at the time that City of Refuge would become an important partner in maintaining this facility. And then, yet another opportunity came knocking on our door. You have welcomed Seattle International Church to worship in this building. And guess what— this past week that congregation, with United Way of King County, the Boeing Corporation and others, have asked if we would like to provide space outside our building to hand out free lunches to children and teenagers. We didn’t go looking for this opportunity. It just landed on our doorstep.
Years ago, we decided to welcome Alcoholics Anonymous into our facility. It started out as two meetings a week. A few months ago another AA group asked to meet here. Now we have three! Someday, when the story of this congregation is told, people will not say, “What a beautiful lawn or beautiful building they had!” but, “That was a place where I found hope and meaning and new life.”
For years many of us were praying that our parsonage might be not just a cash cow but a ministry for people in need—maybe outsiders, like the woman in today’s reading. Then, one day, Compass Housing Alliance came knocking on our door. Once again, we didn’t go looking for an opportunity to serve. God sent the opportunity our way.
I could go on and list the Center of Hope day shelter for women and children. I could mention Luther’s Table and the Compass Veterans Center. And did you know? While the work party was going on inside and outside our building yesterday, the Open Door Ministries Board of Directors was meeting here in the library!
Do you see how this works? The Holy Spirit every day is looking for grateful hearts and communities willing to serve. We can choose the spirit of Simon the Pharisee, or, we can choose the spirit of the woman at Jesus’ feet. The proof of your faithfulness is not just accepting opportunities to serve, but, that those opportunities have come looking for us. As today’s gospel story teaches, God rewards grateful hearts and an eagerness to serve with joy! Maybe most importantly, the “outsiders” whom we serve can become our teachers.
Which brings me back to the photo on your bulletin cover. These smiling faces represent the new thing that God is doing among us and a new spirit among us. We work to set aside the Pharisee’s spirit of complaint and criticism. At our best, like the woman at Jesus’ feet, we recognize the Living God among us. We don’t have to go looking for opportunities to serve; God is sending abundant opportunities to us! AMEN