A friend shared with me, “it feels like, everything I do is either sinful or makes me fat!.”
How often does it feel like that?! With food, not only fattening, but this food will raise your cholesterol, this food will your raise your blood pressure, this food might be good for you and it might not be good for you-no one seems to be able to agree on it. Even when you think you’re doing good and eating, like low-fat stuff, now we are starting to figure out that all of that fat we cut out of our diets we actually need and it wasn’t working anyways. It’s like everywhere you look, someone is saying no about something.
Then I hear how being a Christian is only about rules, about God saying no. That whole ten commandments thing, all of those “thou shalt not’s” are way to negative. Or being a Christian means no dancing, or drinking or doing anything fun. It just means sitting in a church building all day long looking holier than thou and being afraid of anything that might be fun. Everywhere you look, God is saying don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t live that way. No, no, no. Who wants to be a part of that?
That’s true, sometimes Christians have done that. Reduced a relationship with God to a series of no’s and don’t do that’s. Defining the quality of the Christian life by how well you don’t do things. To be sure, this was what the Pharisee’s (religious leaders) during Jesus’ earthly ministry were like. Everything was based upon what you didn’t do and who you didn’t associate with. Like this passage from Luke, when Jesus is sitting at the table with the Pharisee and this sinful woman comes in and fall down in front of Jesus, her tears washing rivers down his sand covered feet.
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
You don’t do that. You don’t let that kind of person touch you. You don’t associate with them. Doesn’t Jesus know? We’ll he must be a lousy prophet if he’s saying Yes to this kind of lady instead of saying no to her and kicking her to the dust. Because of all of the no’s running through Simon’s head, defining himself and defining God by all those no’s, Simon also says no to Jesus.
But is saying no so wrong? I certainly say no to my kids often. Can I run out and grab the ball in the middle of a busy street? No. Can I have extra ice cream before bed? No. Or, of course, just five more minutes! No. But like any parent, I know that my no’s can become too much. That my parental relationship can become defined by all of my no’s instead of my love because sometimes the no’s unfortunately become a reason all by themselves. The no’s rightly have a background reason that sometimes gets lost in the heat and the shuffle. Like I love you and don’t want you to get hurt, or feel sick and I want you to get enough rest. That’s what I want as a parent, but that’s also what I want them to want as well. I want them to love who they are becoming, to protect who they are and to love themselves that they take good care of themselves. Even though the no’s have a purpose, I want the most important motivation to be love.
That was a big part of what the Pharisee in our biblical account was missing today, he was missing the love. His life, his identity, how he saw others and his world, were all about the no’s and as long as he stayed within those boundaries he felt he was secure. But focusing first on all of those no’s, instead of bringing him into a place where he recognized Jesus did the exact opposite, it put another barrier between him and Jesus; because the no’s were all focused on the Pharisee and what he was doing.
But the same is true of the sinful woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her tears. As far as we know, she spent her whole life ignoring all of the no’s, who wants to be defined by those no’s anyways! I’ll do what I want. But again, just like Simon, the no’s were all about the sinful woman and what she wanted to do and it didn’t make her any happier and it built a barrier between her and Jesus as well.
Both the Pharisee and the Sinful woman, either by keeping all the no’s or ignoring all of the no’s found themselves in the same situation, apart from God and focused on themselves alone. But the Christian life, is not focused first and foremost on the no’s but upon Jesus and His love for us. What changed for the sinful woman was that she received something that went beyond all of the no’s that she was trying to ignore, she simply received pure, abundant, overflowing, unconditional love didn’t start with the no’s but started with who God is and how completely God loved her. That kind of love covers over all of the stupid things we have done and try to do and try not to do and simply embraces us body and soul in it’s unconditional love.
She was loved much and because of it she loved much. In Jesus’ love she let go of all of the no’s she was busy breaking, that she was consumed by, and was consumed instead by the love of Jesus. Because of his love she loved abundantly, without regard to what others thought or to the cost, but because of how great the love was that she received, all that mattered was responding to that love in as abundant ways as she could.
The Biblical account is then left open ended for us with the Pharisee. Will the Pharisee stay with the no’s, with the focus on himself or will he know the abundant love of God in Jesus and start there? What do we do? Are you believing, acting, feeling, like the broken sinful woman who received much love and gave much love or are you believing, acting, feeling like the pharisee who really didn’t believe he needed much love because we are too busy trying to break or keep all of our no’s.
I came across this small little quote by pastor and theologian Richard Foster. “The Christian life comes not by gritting our teeth but by falling in love.” Our Christian life, you and me, starts with love. The rich, abundant, overflowing over all of our stupid things we do and hold on to, love of God in Jesus. This love that we can never match or ever really deserve, no matter how many’s no’s we keep or no’s we break. Receive that love and love God back. When we are in this loving relationship with God, it doesn’t mean the no’s go away, the no’s are still there but in a different way because God loved us and we said yes to God.
When you choose to love someone you live within a whole world of no’s. Including no I will not marry someone else, no I will not leave you, no I will not forsake you. But the reason for the no’s are different, they are not for their own sake but because we said Yes to something else, someone else. We said yes to love. In our own relationships we do not do this well, we forsake the love and live in the no’s, but that is not how God ever works. God’s love is not a no to you but a yes and as we live in that love and respond to it, because we find all of our yes’s in God.
Yes you are loved. Yes you are forgiven. You have purpose. Yes you are going somewhere. Yes, you are not alone.
When we find all of our yes’s in the love of God through Jesus, it means saying no as well. No to loving our favorite sins more than God, no to despising other people like the Pharisee did, no to ourselves and yes to God. But the focus is different, it is no longer about keeping the no’s but because God did not say to no to you but says yes, I love you.