Things Done and Left Undone
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 7:36–8:3
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 15-16, 2013
“Things Done and Left Undone”
I’m finishing reading a book called The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, a memoir that chronicles her growing up years in a very unconventional family, but ends with her success as a writer, journalist, and editor. The book deals with the complex relationships between the author, her three siblings and her parents. Her father, although a brilliant man who taught his children at home about physics and geology, was an alcoholic with a violent temper. He couldn’t hold onto a job which meant the family lived like nomads, suffering from extreme poverty, hunger, and unbelievable living conditions. Her mother was an artist who had no interest in cooking a meal that would be eaten in fifteen minutes when she could create a painting that would last forever. One by one, all the kids moved to New York City to get away from the chaos of home and parents, and slowly through hard work established themselves in successful jobs. Mom and Dad eventually followed them there and became homeless. As I was reading through the book and the author would describe unreal situations in her home and family life, I thought to myself: “That couldn’t have happened.” But in fact, it did happen; it all happened. Everything she wrote is a true story, as unreal and unbelievable as it seems. In spite of all the psychological, physical, and emotional damage that he inflicted on his wife and children, despite all the things he had done and left undone, Jeannette Walls loved her father. On Father’s Day, it is especially appropriate to lift up the critically important role that fathers play in their families, and the impact that this has in the congregation, community and world. Now more than ever, godly and loving dads are needed; men who are willing to sacrifice self for the sake of their family just as Christ sacrificed himself for us. As we consider today’s Gospel lesson, the account of the sinful woman who is forgiven by Jesus, the theme for today’s message is “Things Done and Left Undone.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The setting for the Gospel lesson is a dinner party, hosted by a Pharisee named Simon and given for Jesus. In the midst of a relaxing meal, this unnamed person only described as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37), crashed the party, comes up behind Jesus and begins to do some pretty strange things. She cries and cries, wetting Jesus’ feet and drying them with her own hair. No self-respecting Jewish woman would let her hair down in public. She then breaks out ointment, described in Matthew’s account of this incident as “an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment” (Matthew 26:7). All of this was viewed as very bizarre and scandalous behavior. We can well imagine how everything in the room would have gotten very quiet very fast, people with raised eyebrows looking at one another trying to figure out what was going on. What prompted this woman to do what she did? What had she done or left undone that caused her to act in this way?
We don’t know the backstory of this woman’s life, but surmise that she was a prostitute, or at least someone who was caught in adultery. That’s what the phrase “woman of the city” meant. Her life was broken and shattered by sexual sin, and she knew it. Avoided as an outcast, she saw in Jesus the possibility of forgiveness. In today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14) we see King David also caught in adultery, his secret sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, found out and exposed. The difference between him and the unnamed woman in the Gospel is that she was conscious and aware of what she had done; he was not. There may have even been a sense of entitlement on David’s part that since he was king of Israel, he could have whatever woman he wanted. Power can do that to a person. The Lord condemns David’s sin, just as He does our sins today. Psalm 32, which we read together, is one of the penitential psalms written by David (see Psalm 6, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143), and speaks to the reality of sin in our lives, things done and left undone: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered… I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’” (Psalm 32:1, 5).
We may not be like the father of Jeannette Walls described in her book, but we’ve all got things in our life we’re not proud of. How do we make right what we have done and left undone in our own lives, our own sins of commission and sins of omission, the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do? In truth, we do not and cannot make all of this right. No one can, but God can. Setting things right begins with acknowledging the truth of our condition, something we do whenever we prepare to come to the Lord’s Supper. We speak together these words: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone…” That is confession, and it must be sincere, real, and from the heart, not just going through the motions and checking the box. Confession that is real and heart-felt looks to what God in Christ has done for us, how God did not spare the life of his only Son, but gave his life for our sins. Confession not only acknowledges the awful truth of what we have done and left undone, it also trusts that for Jesus’ sake God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jesus has taken upon himself the curse and condemnation for sin that rightfully belonged to us, as we heard in the Epistle lesson: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13; see Deuteronomy 21:23). And so when the words of forgiveness, the absolution, are pronounced, these are God’s own words to each one of us: “Almighty God, in his mercy, has given his Son to die for us, and for his sake, forgives us all our sins.” To this, we can only say Amen, and thanks be to God.
Whether we know it or not, like that woman in the Gospel lesson, we also have been forgiven much. And being forgiven much, we are called now to love much – not miserly or begrudgingly, but richly and freely, just as God in Christ has loved and forgiven us. And doing so, we honor the One who has so richly forgiven all that we have done and left undone. Amen.