The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 12, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 7:36 - 8:3  Sermon Title: Grace

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     When I was in High School I had a little side business.  We had a choice in my school of either bringing a bag lunch or buying a school lunch.  If you brought a bag lunch, you could buy a milk to drink.  This was before the water craze, I guess we had drinking fountains, but nobody walked around with water bottles or anything.  I found during High school that you could either buy the $1.50 standard lunch, which was balanced and normally pretty good, or you could buy a slice of square pizza, a hamburger or a few other things that they offered, for different prices.  There was enough variety that I could find something to eat every day, and honestly I was not that picky on what I ate as long as I ate.
     So at the start of the week my mother would give me enough money for the week, I think it was around $10.00.  This allowed me to buy a lunch every day, and also maybe cookies one day, an extra milk another day, a few extra things during the week, as long as I budgeted.  I would put the money into my wallet, and carried that with me.  Almost every week there would be one of my friends who forgot money for lunch, or maybe wanted a milk or cookies but didnít have the money on them.  So I would do a quick evaluation of credit worthiness.  Have I ever lent them money before?  Did they pay it back the next day?  How much could I trust that this person would pay me back?  And then, just like when you apply for a loan today, the interest rate was based on what I thought their credit worthiness was.  Not really sure, well I will try it, but they will agree to 100% interest, I give you a dollar today, you give me two tomorrow.  For those who borrowed more frequently, but always paid the next school day, I might only charge 50% interest.  I will give you $2 today, you give me $3 tomorrow.
     Now those rates may seem high, but I was almost 6 feet tall, and didnít even weigh 100 pounds.  It was not like I was going to go and break someoneís kneecaps for not paying me back.  And I didnít understand fees like the payday loan places of today.  So if someone was charged 100% interest and they didnít pay me until the end of the week, it was still the same amount, didnít raise the amount they needed to pay me simply because they forgot the next day or two.  If it really dragged on, I just knew that next time they approached me to borrow lunch money, they would continue to pay the full 100%. 

     But there were the special cases.  Many of my friends came from families that were well off.  50-100% interest rates were nothing for them.  But I also knew those that were struggling a bit.  Maybe this kid didnít get lunch money from his parents because they donít have it.  And when I suspected that, it was a simple pay me back tomorrow.  Here is a dollar, give me a dollar tomorrow.  Or here is a dollar, donít worry about it. 

     And even some agreed upon loans I made were forgiven.  None of these had signed contracts or even anything written down.  It was just a quick negotiation and they had their money.  So there were times I misjudged.  Never lent this guy money before, he agreed to 100%, I ask him the next day, doesnít have it, ask a few more times, never has it.  I realize that I am writing off that loan as a mistake.  I am forgiving his loan.

     Before I go on I should clarify that I did not make much money doing this.  Some weeks it would allow me to buy an extra slice of pizza or an ice cream, but many weeks even that didnít happen.

     But this thrust of the story we read this morning has to do with forgiveness.  Jesus arrives at the house of Simon the Pharisee.  A Pharisee was a Jew who believed in both the written Torah, the first 5 books of our Old testament, and also the wisdom of the prophets.  They were a less conservative group of Jews who felt their maybe more to God than just those laws set out in the first 5 books.  But Pharisee also means ďset apart.Ē  They were set apart from the Gentiles, those who would make them unclean.  It was a practical matter, they wanted to stay clean in Godís eyes, so they did not participate in actives that Gentiles partook in, and it was easier to maintain those Jewish laws if they kept to themselves. 

     Jesus was invited to Simonís house.  Jesus was starting to be known, and people wanted to hear more about him.  It was almost like politics in New Hampshire, you invite a candidate into your home, invite all your friends, they tell you who they are and what they stand for.  So they are expecting Jesus to do that.  He has done some healing, done some casting out of demons, has some followers. 

     But a woman interrupts the dinner.  Talk about an extravagant welcome, at least for those times.  Jesus, like most of that time wore sandals, roads were dusty and you walked, so when you arrived at someoneís home, they would offer you water to wash off your feet.  They would greet you with a kiss.  They might offer you oil for your head.  But this woman starts kissing Jesusí feet, cleaning them with tears and wiping them with her hair, and applying ointment to them. 

     You see, this woman understood forgiveness.  We donít know what kind of sinner she was, many make a jump to assume that she was doing things that could be considered sin today, but we donít know that.  Being with Pharisees, she could be judged a sinner for breaking any of the Jewish laws.  Although it is not said, I suspect that this woman had already been forgiven by Jesus, and her attention was based on joy, not on am obligation to do something in order to be forgiven. 

     And when Simon confronts Jesus on this, Jesus tells a little parable ďA certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?Ē Simon admits that probably the one with the greater debt would love him more.  This woman had many sins that needed to be forgiven, so her love is greater than those who may not have sinned as much.  And then Jesus adds a little twist to the knife, pointing out that Simon did not over him the basics of a guest when he arrived, but this woman has gone overboard with her outpouring of love.  ďBut the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.Ē

     Forgiveness is so important, as it equals the playing field.  It opens up dialog.  Forgiveness at heart is the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense. That's why the analogy to a debt works so well. Forgiveness cancels relational debt and opens up the future.

     But letís be honest, I find it hard to forgive.  When I feel that something has been done to me, in a mean spirit, I react.  I donít mean violence, but I stew over things when I feel I have been treated wrong.  I donít sleep, I think of ways I could have reacted, I replay the events in my mind.  I think about what else I can do. 

     Just a few weeks ago we had Glenn get a shot when he went for his check up at the doctorís office.  In New Hampshire the Department of Health and Human Services purchases vaccines for every child under 18.  Those vaccinations are sent to doctorís offices and clinics to be given out to children who need them.  There is no insurance requirement, no income levels you have to meet, it is just a program paid for by our tax dollars in cooperation with insurance companies.  Our doctor told us that the vaccine was paid for by our tax dollars, and their office would charge about $20 to give the shot, which will be paid 100% by our insurance company.  You can imagine my shock, and anger, when I opened the bill for $249.  I called and was told it was for a vaccine.  I called DHHS to get specifics for the program, called them back to tell them that they paid nothing for the vaccine, and could not legally charge $249 for something they got for free.  Then they told me that it was not for the vaccine, but it was $249 to actually give the shot.  I told them that they could not charge over $23.00 to give the shot.  Eventually they sent it for review, and it appears that they did make an error, the vaccine was paid for by the state, and the actual giving on the shot was only about $20, which would be paid for by our insurance company. 

     Do I forgive them?  No.  Perhaps it would be easier to forgive if they included ďWe are sorryĒ in some way to me, but after 3 phone calls of ďWe are right, you are wrong, if you bill is not paid on time we are going to send you to collectionsĒ it is hard to forgive. 

     And there are others I have held grudges on for way too long, some of which eventually worked out in my favor, others that did not. 

     I have defined sin as anything that separates us from the love of God.  Holding onto grudges is sin.   Not loving our neighbor is sin.  Not being willing to forgive is sin.  We believe that we have been forgiven, that is part of our faith, but there is the other part of that, go and sin no more.  That forgiveness is something that is not once and done, but continual.  We are forgiven, we are told to sin no more.  Yet we all do.  I would bet on the way home today that someone is going to be in front of me going 5 miles an hour under the speed limit.  Of course, there is no place to pass them, which means that I will arrive home 5 minutes after I expected to be home.  And in the end, once my frustration with them is passed, it will not matter at all. 

     Maybe the call from this passage for me is to really look at where my grudges are.  Do I need to hold onto grudges, or can I let some of them go?  Maybe at times I need to be more willing to forgive, maybe I need to be faster to not let myself develop the grudge to start with.  Maybe by taking the idea of going and sinning no more, I will need less forgiveness.