Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Saved by Faith

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel


Central Lutheran Church is known for its music program and the Brombaugh organ. One of the local pastors joked this week that Pastor Ron and Mavis Barth were having their anniversary celebration at Bethesda Church because they wanted accordions not organ music. We all laughed. I, for one, am glad for the beauty of our worship and music and that we have an organ not accordions leading our worship. I am also proud of the beauty of this building, designed by the nationally renowned architect Pietro Beluschi. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo where I served before coming here was known for its willingness to take progressive stands on many issues but also for the beauty of its windows. If we have architecture students visiting this building to study Beluschi’s design, we had architecture students from North Dakota State University visiting St. Mark’s to study the Italian stained glass from the last century. My favorite window showed the risen Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene. She was easy to recognize with her lush flowing red hair; I think the art word is “Titianesque.”.

Pastor John will preach on St. Mary Magdalene in a few weeks so I won’t mention much about her. She is listed in our Gospel text along with other disciples of Jesus: the twelve but also women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna and many others …these disciples of Jesus were bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Mary Magdalene with her seven demons—was she the woman who had come to the Pharisees house bringing an alabaster jar of ointment, who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, who was condemned by the Pharisee who was Jesus’ host for her many sins and who condemned Jesus the guest for not recognizing what kind of woman she was and then allowing her to touch and defile him? The text never identifies Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair. We do not know what the seven demons were that had beset Mary. The church did not identify Mary with this woman until Tertullian at the end of the second century. Ever after, Mary, the disciple and apostle of Jesus, has been brushed with the paint of sexual sin.   Our pericope continues that identification because instead of concluding at the end of chapter seven, we also have the first verses of chapter eight.

What is important in this story of the sinner is her redemption. She has sinned much but she also loved much. Jesus told a parable of one who owed a great debt and was forgiven the great debt and his host, Simon, recognized that the forgiveness of the one who owed five hundred denarii was indeed greater than the forgiveness of the debt of fifty. In the same way, this woman who had sinned greatly showed great love and was forgiven. As Isaiah had said long before, “Though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Jesus never said the woman was not a sinner. He did not justify the sin, but justified the sinner and said to her “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Our text today proclaims the wonderful Gospel message that all people are saved through God’s grace which is received through faith alone. We are forgiven by Christ. We are loved by God. We are saved by faith.

Some have noted that grace is like water. It always flows downhill. It may snow at 29,000 feet at the top of Mount Everest and eventually that moisture flows down to the sea. In the same way grace always goes to the lowest places in our lives. God is seeking the lost to save them, to search for the outcast, to forgive the secret sins which we do not like to recognize or acknowledge. God in Christ is seeking just those sinful, shameful places which we hide from others to reconcile us.

Like Nathan in our first lesson, the Law condemns. It finds our sin and points the finger, “You are the man.” Judgment comes upon our sin for God is not mocked. No one is righteous, no not one. But God does not stop with judgment upon sinners for Jesus comes with another word, “You are the woman.” Yes, you have sinned but God’s final word is not judgment but salvation. Your sins are forgiven. Christ has the power to forgive because He has paid the price for sin. He has shed His blood as a sacrifice and rose to proclaim God’s victory over sin and death.

Jesus doesn’t say to the woman in this text, “Go and sin no more.” Who among us is forgiven and ever after sinless? We sin every day. We fall short over and over again. The good we would, we do not and that which we would not, that we do. Paul could say this of himself. Why should we be any different? Or the woman in our text? Jesus just tells her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” It is an accomplished fact. The Greek word is present perfect. The action is completed. This woman is saved so she can live in peace.

Mao Gen was a Chinese exchange student who lived with us summer before last. Some of you remember him and his friend Shue Yueh with us in church. This spring he had to take his university entrance exam, the Gao Kao, which is highly competitive. I asked him what he would do if he didn’t pass with grades high enough to make it into college. He answered succinctly, “I would kill myself.” He is the only child of his parents and the shame seemed to be so intense that he would take his life rather than bring that shame upon the family. The China Times recently reported that one fourth of Chinese students have considered suicide.

In Japan, two government ministers caught in a recent financial scheme took their lives because it has long been considered the honorable thing to do rather than bring shame. Rates are rising. 32,863 people committed suicide in Japan last year, according to the Asia Times. Many were failed businessmen or jobless workers or those who could not cope with job stress, but 339 students committed suicide. Suicide rates are twice the world average in China and in Japan, the government is seeking a way to change the national culture of suicide. Suicide is also an epidemic among some in this country. The despair and shame of gay and lesbian young people drives them to suicide 300 times that of other youth—300 times!

I don’t know if people today have much sense of sin, but they do of shame. Sin is breaking God’s commandments. Guilt is proper for wrong actions, words, thoughts. Shame is feeling bad for being. You are not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, rich enough. You didn’t find a husband or wife. You didn’t get a good job. You aren’t thin enough, athletic enough, pretty enough. You aren’t white. You aren’t heterosexual. You don’t meet expectations. We live in a culture of shame not guilt; you can’t change who you are even if you change what you do. I will never be tall, be an Oregon native, have a bishop or pastor for a father or live off a trust fund. You may never be rich or famous. You may never write the great American novel or invent the next, best thing. Your children and grandchildren may not be great scholars or athletes or investors.

Do not be ashamed of who or what you are. Are there parts of your life that you would rather others didn’t know about? Join the rest of humanity. God’s grace is sufficient for you. Like water God’s grace will seek out those low places in your life. In the tough times, then it is that God wants to be with you giving you strength and courage. In your shame, God is there whispering, “You are good enough for me; my grace is sufficient for thee.” You are saved not by what you have accomplished or the opinions of others, you are not saved even by your opinion of yourself; you are saved by God’s grace in Jesus. You are saved by faith in Jesus. Live your life in His peace.

I love our building and our organ; I loved St. Mark’s for its windows. But above all I love the church—the people of God. I love how you forgive one another. I love how you reach out to others; how you go about bringing good news of God’s kingdom in your daily life. I love that Good News business we are in because there is so much bad news all around us. Above all I love Jesus because He died for me, because He forgives my sins, because He tells me I can live in His peace. He loves you too. Amen.

Copyright 2007 James D. Kegel.  Used by permission.