Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us pray:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In the name of T Jesus.
You may or may not have noticed, but in all the settings of the Divine Service that we have in Lutheran Service Book, there is no singing in the liturgy, until you have received the forgiveness of sins. It wasn’t always this way. Back in The Lutheran Hymnal, the singing in the liturgy stated almost immediately. “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” the pastor would say, and the congregation would respond in song:
heaven and earth.” “I said, I will
confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” the pastor would continue. And likewise, the congregation would sing out:
forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”
That’s not how we did it this morning, however. And that’s not how it is in any of the services
in Lutheran Service Book? In Lutheran
Service Book, there is no singing in the liturgy until you have received
the forgiveness of your sins.
Once your sins have been forgiven in the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit, you respond in song with the Introit, a Psalm of Praise, then comes the Kyrie and the Gloria in Excelsis. And that pattern, established right at the beginning of the Liturgy, continues throughout the Divine Service. The Lord speaks, and His people respond. The Word of God from the Old Testament is placed into your ears, and you say, “Thanks be to God.” The Spirit-breathed epistles of the Apostles are heard, and again, you respond, “Thanks be to God.” The Words of Jesus himself are heard in the reading of the Holy Gospel, and the saints who are gathered have a joy that bursts forth into song: “Praise be to Thee, O Christ.”
Later on, you hear the Gospel of Jesus preached to you in the Sermon, and in joyful response you sing the words of Psalm 51 in the Offertory: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” You hear the Word of Jesus in the Word of Institution, and you joyfully respond with the Agnus Dei. You receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins, and you respond with the song of Simeon in the Words of the Nunc Dimittis. The Lord speaks His Word to you, and you respond with praise and thanksgiving in Psalms and hymns and other spiritual songs. Even the hymns you sing are the joyful response of the particular Gospel that has been spoken to you that day.
Because that is the Divine Service: a gathering of sinners who have deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment, being freely forgiven all their sins. That is true worship: the faithful response to what God first gives to you. That is faith: hearing, and believing, and trusting the Word of God spoken for you. And that is love: God serving you with the Words of eternal life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a people, who cannot help but extol the one from whom they have received grace upon grace.
So why have I drawn your attention to his patter of response in the Divine Service? Why have I pointed out that true worship is always produced by the Word of God’s saving work in Christ proclaimed to sinners who are in need? Why have I begun today’s sermon by showing that faith and love are both the result of the forgiveness of sins being received, rather than the source of it? Because it is exactly what we see going on in today’s Holy Gospel. Jesus forgives, and His forgiveness is received by faith. Jesus forgives sins; and the faith which receives that forgiveness produces worship and love.
One of the Pharisees, presumably the man named Simon that Jesus ends up responding to, has invited Jesus to his house for a festival banquet. And so, with any festival banquet, the host and his guests would recline at table—they would get comfortable with cushions on the floor while dinner was served. But that dinner was somehow interrupted by this woman.
Now, Luke doesn’t tell us how that woman got there, and it probably doesn’t matter, I think it’s safe to say that she wasn’t one of the invited guests. She wasn’t one of the those who had received the Pharisee’s invitation to dinner, nor was she one of the Pharisee’s servant women. Luke just tells us that, behold!, a women—a sinful woman—had learned that Jesus was reclining at table within this house with the Pharisees, and so she brought him an alabaster jar full of ointment.
Thank about that for a second. Here was a woman, who was known around town as a sinner—which probably meant that she was a prostitute or some other kind of adulteress—but her sin doesn’t keep her from seeking out Jesus and coming to him. Doesn’t that strike you as just a bit odd? I mean, how do you respond when you have sinned, and done what is evil, not only on God’s eyes, but in the eyes of the whole community? What do you do when your sin is known by everyone around you and cannot be denied? What do you do when everywhere you walk, and no matter where you go, the guilt that you already bear is added to by shame?
You retreat, do you not? You avoid that person who you have wronged. And you go around town hoping that nobody who knows what you have done will be at the store. And you hang your head when forced into crowds where you cannot hide, because you know what everyone else is thinking about you. And more than likely, in addition to the guilt you feel inside, and the shame which is heaped upon you from the outside, you have a really hard time getting up the nerve to pray, to praise, or to give thanks to God. And that just makes you feel worse, and so your guilt is added to, and you find every reason why you no longer deserve to come to Jesus. When you know you have sinned, and that your latest sin is just one of many sins, and you know that others know your sin, you do not naturally, or easily, seek Jesus out. On the contrary, when your sin is before you, and you know that the guilt and shame you are feeling is deserved, your natural response is the same as Peter’s response in Luke 5, verse 8, when he said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
But that woman—that sinful woman—did not retreat. She did not cower in guilt, or hang her head in shame. Her sin did not keep her from worship, nor did it make her retreat into hiding. That sinful woman did not respond to her sin in any way that was natural to her, or to you. That sinful woman did not allow her sins to keep her from seeking Jesus, because somewhere, sometime before that festival banquet in the home of Simon the Pharisee, that sinful woman had heard the preaching of Christ, and had received the forgiveness of Christ, and believed that what Christ offered in the forgiveness of sins was true even for her and her many sins. And that, you see, is why that women, whose sins were many, was seeking out Jesus to worship him.
She had heard the Word, and received the Word, and believed the word of forgiveness that Jesus had spoken to her. She has faith in the Words of Jesus. And that faith must express itself in in prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving to the one from whom she has received grace upon grace. And so she seeks Jesus out, unworthy as she is, but believing that her sins which are many, are all gone. And she adores Jesus, and extols Jesus, and gives Jesus true worship because Jesus has first loved her. It’s Divine Service, is it not?
Jesus had forgiven her. Jesus had given this sinful woman the gifts of salvation. That’s why he told the parable to Simon, the Pharisee. She was the debtor who owed 500 denarii, and had her debt freely forgiven. She was the debtor who responded to that amazing grace of God by believing that it was true, and seeking out the one from whom she had received grace upon grace so that she could anoint him with oil, and bow down at his feet, and kiss this king, who had given her everything. He had put away all of her sins. He had cancelled her guilt. And because of the Word that He was preaching, the shame that others would have added to her burden would also be removed. Because Jesus would love her, and Jesus would acknowledge her, and Jesus would forgive her, anyone else who thought otherwise, simply didn’t matter. Because nothing was going to stop her from giving Jesus all thanks and praise, even if she had to do it in the house of those who hated her.
This is why faith saves. It hears of the work of Christ atoning for sin on the cross. It hears of Christ being crucified for the sins of the world. It hears of sins being forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and it believes that the sins which are atoned for, and the sins which Christ died for, and the sins which are forgiven in name of Jesus, are my own.
Faith hears the proclamation of the Gospel, not just for them, but for you. Faith says, “my sins are many, but my sins are gone, because Jesus died for my sins.” Faith says, “my guilt is atoned for on the cross of Christ.” Faith says, “by the grace of God, I have been given the gift of salvation,” because Jesus has declared it so. Faith hears that Gospel, receives that Gospel, and believes that the Gospel is true, for you, because that Gospel is the authoritative Word of God.
That Gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe. That Gospel preached and taught and given to those whose sins are many, and whose guilt is great, and whose shame would naturally keep them away from Jesus, is the very thing that causes them to come to Jesus, and adore Jesus, and worship Jesus in spirit and in true, with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, because we cannot love, or worship, or even believe in Jesus without Him first loving us.
And how do we know that He loves us? Well, the same way that woman did. We hear Him say it. And He says it when He forgives our sins. In Holy Baptism, and in Holy Absolution, and in Holy Communion, and when a sermon is preached that proclaims Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins, Jesus is telling you again, and again, and again, what he has told you already before. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
And faith, believes that Word. Faith receives the promises of God in Christ. Faith trusts God’s word of forgiveness to be true. And so faith not only saves, but it is also the thing that produces all true worship. All Christian worship; all true worship; every prayer and praise and song of thanksgiving that has ever been offered to God is the result of faith. It is the result of hearing the Gospel proclaimed to you, believing that Gospel is for you, and responding the only way faith knows how.
Whether it is in the heart of a woman whose sins are many, or in the heart of a father who knows he isn’t really worthy of raising the children he’s been given; whether it is in the heart of one whose debt is known by all, or in the heart of one whose sins still remain secret; faith is the source of all true worship, because faith is that which hears the Gospel, and believes the Gospel. It is Divine Service, and it is why, anyone who knows that he, or she, is being forgiven much, will not stay away from Jesus, but will come to Jesus, and will love Jesus, and will even go out of their way to worship Jesus—because they know, that Jesus has first loved them. In the name of T Jesus. Amen.