Sunday’s sermon: Preciousness in Brokenness


Text used – Luke 7:36-50

  • Introduce Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos → In this eccentric, transformative, and powerful story, we meet two central characters: Margaret, a quirky septuagenarian living alone in her mansion in Seattle, WA surrounded only by a mass of antiques; and Wanda, a recently-heartbroken young woman and budding artist who is on a journey not only of miles but of the heart. As these two women develop an odd yet stirring friendship, they end up helping each other find more parts of themselves than either woman ever knew was lost. But in order to experience this life-changing relationship to the fullest, both women have to recognize one thing: they are broken.
    • Brokenness takes on interesting character all on its own – Wanda is a mosaic artist
      • Takes broken pieces – cracked and chipped and discarded bits of hundreds of lives – and makes them into something beautiful again → [READ SECTION]: “It’s my wedding china,” Margaret continued. … She began turning the plate over in her hands. “It’s very … ornate.” “It’s gaudy. Self-centered. Desperate. Preening. I’ve never liked it.” Margaret’s hands were gaining courage now; one of them left the plate and fell limply to her side. It’s just a plate, after all, she thought, at the same time knowing full well that it was much, much more than a plate. … With that, she let go. For a while, it was as if gravity ceased to exist, and the plate made its way to the hardwood floor with the dreamy languor of a snowflake. A great deal of time seemed to go by, and as Margaret watched the slow, unreal descent of the plate, she thought, I could still catch it if I wanted to, change history, interrupt this tragedy. It’s not too late. … The plate arrived. The sound it made was not nearly as loud as Margaret had anticipated, nor did it shatter dramatically as she had secretly hoped. Actually, the damage was probably not irreparable. But Margaret was in charge of this plate’s future, for the time being anyway, and she did not want to see it repaired. … Without knowing exactly why, Margaret giggled abruptly, and then, just as abruptly, stopped. “Crash,” she said. Wanda looked up from the ruined plate. “Margaret?” she said, putting a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem to realize that she had begun to weep. “Margaret?” Wanda repeated. “Are you – ?” “It’s all right, dear. Really. It’s what I want to do.” … As Wanda watched her haul the first armload of dishes outside and heard the clamor that followed a few seconds after her exit … she suddenly knew that she had found a home with someone who was as deeply aggrieved and crazy as she was. It was tremendously comforting.[1]:
        • Reminds me of both the woman in song we’ve been listening to and the woman in our Gospel story
          • Both have been chipped away at
          • Both have been broken
          • Both have been discarded
            • By society, and eventually …
            • By themselves
            • And yet, just like those shattered plates and saucers and bowls that became such beautiful mosaics, the end for these women was not in the brokenness.
  • Gospel story = probably one of the most powerful stories in all of Scripture
    • Main characters in this tale
      • Jesus
      • Simon, the Pharisee
      • Woman with the alabaster jar/vase – woman who’s gotten quite a bad rap throughout the centuries
        • Luke’s description – “woman from the city, a sinner” → has been characterized as a prostitute, often presumed to then be Mary Magdalene
          • No indication that this woman is Mary Magdalene
          • No indication that this woman’s sin has anything to do with sexuality → only sure thing is that her sin (whatever it was) carried a heavy social stigma – those in the room knew simply by the sight of her that she was a sinner
            • Something about her – her demeanor, the way she carried/presented herself, perhaps her bowed head and downcast eyes … something about her conveyed her brokenness in all its pain and shame and separation
            • Hear this recognition in Simon’s reaction to her presence: When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus [i.e. – Simon] saw what was happening, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.”[2]
              • Implication = that she is someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the presence of “decent people”
        • She reminds me so much of the woman in our song. → [PLAY SONG[3]]
  • Now, over the past few Sundays throughout Lent, we’ve talked a lot about this song – about the resignation and the brokenness we hear in it. We talked about what it means to be running on empty, about how we are never too far from the love of God, and about how, even when we don’t feel like we can go another step, God meets us wherever we’re at.
    • Said at the beginning of this sermon series that this song “sounded like Lent” the first time I heard it – sounded like the introspective and repentant nature of Lent → naming and claiming those less-than-impeccable parts of ourselves
      • Our mistakes
      • Our flaws
      • Our prejudices
      • Our reluctances
    • Heard the message of God’s love for us and message of God’s willingness to reach out to us even when we ourselves don’t feel like we can reach out to God
    • Most powerful message today = same message that Jesus has for the woman with the alabaster jar → It is not righteousness or perfection or outward appearances that make us precious in God’s eyes.
      • Gospel story – Simon appeared to be “in the right,” to “have it all together” → Simon was a Pharisee – a well-respected, well-to-do character in the community. At this point in Luke’s gospel, the Pharisees haven’t quite turned against Jesus yet. They’re still trying to figure out this teacher/preacher man who’s suddenly getting all the attention. So it was surely both a fact-finding mission and a matter of pride for Simon that Jesus had come to his home for a meal. And yet Jesus conversation is quite revealing.
        • Reveals Simon’s own failings
          • First, Jesus’ short parable about a debt forgiven and the gratitude emanating from that forgiveness: “Which of them will love [the lender] more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.”[4]
          • Opens Simon’s eyes to fact that he wasn’t quite as unblemished as he would have like to think – key = hospitality → Jesus describes in no uncertain terms the welcome – or lack thereof – that he received when he entered Simon’s home.
            • Middle Eastern culture places very high significance on hospitality and yet …
              • Jesus NOT offered a chance to wash the road dust off his feet – no water, not even a towel to wipe them off
              • Jesus NOT given a kiss of welcome (commonplace in that culture)
              • Jesus NOT given any oil to anoint his head (also commonplace in culture)
            • Simon, the ultra-correct, ultra-respectable Pharisee should have known to observe these cultural patterns, and yet, for whatever reason, he neglected them. But this woman – this debased and yet deeply devoted woman did all of these things for Jesus. She washed his feet with her tears of repentance and adoration. She dried his feet with the very hair on her head. And she anointed not his head but his feet – his feet! – with an entire vase full of precious oil.
              • Feet = much lowlier part of the body – not usually anointed → That was how much she loved and revered Jesus. Even his feet – his lowly, dirty, road-worn feet – deserved to be anointed.
      • Jesus: “This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. … Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
  • It is repentance … a turning and returning to God with remorse and our own declarations of love and devotion on our lips and in our hearts.
    • Hear again the words from Ps 51 we read during our Ash Wed. service to begin this season of repentance: The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.[5]
    • Sounds like end of song → speaking of herself (the girl that I knew):

And then she’ll get stuck and be scared
Of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day
‘Til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little
To bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone … but it used to be mine.

  • Even in the midst of pain and bone-weariness … redemption, renewal, peace
    • Scholar: Forgiveness can open the possibility that one is worth something. In fact, that one is worth quite a lot. This is freedom. Jesus reminds us that this freedom is the gift of a loving God. A heart that is bound by sin and shame withers and dies, but the love of a forgiving God lifts it to heights beyond our greatest dreams and causes it to sing in gratitude.[6]
    • Doesn’t erase our sins
    • Doesn’t make it like they never happened in the first place
    • Jesus didn’t say, “Your sins are forgotten.” He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
      • Song ends with the familiar chorus: She’s messy but she’s kind … She is lonely most of the time … She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie … She is gone but she used to be mine. → We will always carry the reminders of the things that we’ve done and said and the choices we’ve made that we wish we could take back. But when we turn to God – no matter how drained, how lost, how jaded, or how broken we feel … When we turn to God once again with a repentant and contrite heart, God will call us not broken and hopeless but forgiven … precious … beloved. Amen.

[1] Stephanie Kallos. Broken for You. (New York, NY: Grove Press, 2004), 131-133.

[2] Lk 7:39 (emphasis added).

[3] “She Used to Be Mine,” written and performed by Sara Bareilles. From What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, Epic Records, released Sept. 25, 2015.

[4] Lk 7:42b-43.

[5] Ps 51:17 (NRSV).

[6] M. Jan Holton. “Proper 6 (Sunday between June 12 and June 18 inclusive) – Luke 7:36-8:3, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 144.