"Big Deal." That's how you say the sermon title. Of course, you know that if you have teenagers. They can dismiss things important to you with a simple, disdainful, "Big deal." That can frustrate us, anger us, but you just can't order someone to consider something a big deal when they don't. They must learn the importance of it for themselves. The text before us teaches us that forgiveness of sins is a big deal.
"Of course, forgiveness of sins is a big deal," you say. O really? Isn't forgiveness of sins predictable, usual, everyday in this building? Have you ever come here confessing your sins and found them not forgiven? Does any hymn end with your sin and guilt still on you? Isn't every sermon going to end the same way, with forgiveness? Big deal. I've actually overheard my own members in other churches say things like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We're sinners, but we're forgiven." A professor I had in college use to say, "Of course God in heaven forgives my sins. What else would He be there for?"
Forgiveness of sins is no big deal to people who expect it, and it is no big deal to people like Simon the Pharisee. I said, "Simon the Pharisee" because Luke wants you to note this especially. 4 times in the first 3 verses Luke tells you that Simon is a Pharisee. Do you think Luke thought we would forget? No. Luke wants us to remember what he has told us about Pharisees: they loved money, they justified themselves, they despised others, and particularly Luke wants us to recall what he said earlier in this chapter about them: They rejected God's purpose for themselves not having been baptized by John. That is, they rejected forgiveness.
You can see why. Who needs forgiveness when you think you have enough works to please God? Who needs forgiveness when you're better than everyone else? It's people like this sinful woman who need to worry about forgiveness not me. You're not worried about forgiveness, are you? Your sins are no big deal. No one could point to you saying, "There's a sinner." Your sins are too well hidden for that. O you have a sin here or there. You have this little lust or this bad thought, but who doesn't? Forgiveness is no big deal where sins are no big deal.
But forgiveness is a big deal to those whose sins are a big deal. Take the woman in our text. Remember this is not a parable; this is a real flesh and blood woman who had gone bad. The text doesn't tell us her specific sin. We just know it was well known and universally condemned. Immediately we think her sin must have been sexual, some seamy, shameful thing. But perhaps her sin had been aborting a child or deserting her family. Or maybe her sin was nothing more than what you and I have done: gossip, losing her temper, stealing.
One thing is for sure; while her sin was big to the city, it was even bigger to her, but here is where we need to be careful not to get mixed up. She's drawn to Jesus not to get forgiveness, but because she already had it from Him. Jesus says to the Pharisee that "her many sins have BEEN forgiven." How sweet the taste of forgiveness must have been to her for her to publicly go into the house of a self-righteous Pharisee who thought he would be tainted if she even touched him! How relieved this woman must have been by the forgiveness Jesus had proclaimed to be able to bare the stares and scorn that came on her when she entered the house! How grateful she must have been to Jesus. She didn't go there to cry on Him; her eyes sprung leaks spontaneously. She didn't go there to further disgrace herself publicly, but when she saw she had gotten Jesus' feet wet, she couldn't help but let down her hair to dry them. How rich she must've been made by Jesus' forgiveness, for she poured a small fortune on His feet.
All these selfless acts of love point not to her big heart, but to the big deal of forgiveness which you and I must be missing. We must be missing just how wonderful, just how total, just how complete forgiveness really is. Where the woman heard that Jesus was the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world, we must be hearing the Lamb of God carries our sins for awhile. Where the woman heard that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for sinners, we must be hearing that Jesus came to pay for some sinners. Where the woman heard that Jesus bore her griefs and carried her sorrows, we must be hearing that Jesus is bored with our griefs and wants us to carry His sorrows. OR, dare I say, is it that we think of our sins as just a 50 dollar debt not a 500 dollar one? O yes, Jesus carried away all our sins, paid for all our sins, and bore all our griefs, but it just wasn't all that big of a deal?
I think we're missing how big of deal our sins are. They're such a big deal that we can't live with them without constantly being forgiven for them. That's the only conclusion I can make from this text. Jesus plainly says the woman had been forgiven. But then Jesus pointedly says to her, "Your sins are forgiven." What? She came there because she was forgiven. She cried because she was forgiven. She let down her hair and wiped Jesus' dirty feet because she was forgiven. She poured expensive perfume on His feet because she was forgiven. Yet still, Jesus absolved her, sent her sins away publicly. Sins are that big of a deal. When their weight finally hits us, we will be crushed under them unless forgiveness is applied to them.
The town didn't forgive the woman; they still called her "the sinner." The church in that town, run by Pharisees, wouldn't forgive her; that sort of woman didn't belong in their church. Her sins were too serious, too notorious, too heinous to be forgiven. Jesus, however, knows of no sin so serious that He didn't carry it to the cross. Jesus knows of no sin so notorious that He didn't pay for it. Jesus knows of no sin so heinous that He didn't bear its griefs and carry its sorrows. Jesus knows of no sin, not even yours, so big that it's too big of deal to be forgiven. And Jesus wants you to know that personally, if need be. Through the mouth of your pastor, Jesus will personally forgive you of any sin you confess. Though you have forgiveness for that sin already through Jesus, just like the woman did, still if you need to be forgiven personally, Jesus will forgive you personally just like He did her.
Jesus does the monstrously big thing of forgiving your sins. Right now your sins might seem like pets, frisky things playing about your feet, and so forgiveness seems like no big deal. But like in horror stories, one day those small playful things that only nip and snarl now, will grow to be gargantuan monsters dripping slime and barring teeth. It may come through the Law showing you how serious your sins are. It may come from the Gospel touching you with Christ's love showing how wicked you must be to have sinned against such love. It may come with sickness or death when every sin you've ever done will seem abhorrently evil. But come it will; one day sins that seem so small now are going to be monstrously huge and frightening.
Therefore, I tell you now, Jesus already knows that; He already knows the truth about your sins. He went to the cross knowing how serious, heinous and notorious they really were. When He sprinkled you with water at Baptism, He knew He was forgiving you for that sin you now or one day will blush over. When He absolved you by that pastor, Jesus already knew how wicked your sin was even if you didn't. When Jesus feeds you with His Body and Blood, He knows full well the wickedness of sins you have committed with your body even if you do not.
Even if your sins are as big of a deal as this woman's, so a whole town and a church reject you. Know that Jesus does not; He forgives you. But also know that plenty of people will challenge your forgiveness. In the woman's case, they said, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" They wanted to rob this woman of the comfort of forgiveness, of the certainty that her sins were sent away. They wanted her to see herself as the sinner of the city, the one everyone was free to point at and ridicule. They didn't want her to believe that Jesus' words could send away sins that were as big of deal as her own.
And that's what will happen to you when your sins show themselves for what they really are. The devil, others, and your own conscience are going to tell you Jesus can't forgive something that monstrously big by Baptism, or Absolution, or Communion. Your sins are just too big for you to emerge from Baptism free of them. Your sins are just too big for you to go away from Absolution with a free and clear heart. Your sins are just too big for the Body and Blood of Christ to handle.
And the devil, others and yourself will be right. Your sins are a big deal, a bigger deal than even you think. But they are not bigger than what God thought. God thought your sins were such a big deal that He sent His only beloved Son to die for them. And now what does this same God say? Go away and feel bad about your sins? Don't feel too free from them? Spend the rest of your days mourning them? No. Listen to what God in flesh and blood says to the woman who saw her sins for the big deal they were and who saw Jesus' forgiveness for the big deal it was. Listen to what God in Christ says to this poor woman whom others wanted to rob of the comfort of forgiveness. He tells the woman that she was not wrong to believe, to trust, to put full confidence in the fact that her sins really were forgiven. "Your faith in Me and what I've done has saved you now and for all eternity."
Christ the God/Man trumps men, even a whole city of men, even the conscience of this woman. God's Word carries more weight, is a bigger deal than even her sins. God's Word is a bigger deal than even your sins. You are not wrong for believing your sins of yesterday really have been carried away by Christ. You are not wrong to believe your sins of today are really on Jesus not you. You are not wrong for believing that Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion are bigger than your sins.
Therefore, you, like the woman in our text, can literally, "Go into peace." Though the devil, the world, and your own conscience say you can't have peace because your sins are a big deal, Jesus says, "Go into peace." Go as if you have no cares, no worries, and no condemnation, because that's what it means to have no sins. Go as if God was your true Father and you were His true child. Go as if you could ask Him anything as dear children ask their dear father. You can go this way because you have peace with God your Father through Christ your brother who hung on the cross to make peace between God and mankind.
Friends, from this point on the liturgy is littered with peace. At the close of the sermon I will say, "the peace of God will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting." Right after Christ has joined us again in Bread and Wine, I will place my hand on the altar letting you know what I say comes from what's on the altar, and turn to you and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." Finally the whole service ends by the Lord placing His name on you, lifting up His countenance upon you and giving you peace. Friends, the liturgy starts by making a big deal out of our sins by confessing we are "poor, miserable sinners" who deserve temporal and eternal punishment, but it ends by making a bigger deal out of the fact that we have peace with, from, and in God through Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IV (7-1-01) Luke 7:36-50