A very abbreviated and slightly altered version of the sermon I preached on Sunday.
I've been noticing a theme running through my recent sermons and blog posts: you can't tell by looking. You can't tell who's hungry by looking; you can't tell who's poor by looking; you can't tell who's suffering by looking. And now, a new variation on the theme: you can't tell who's sinned by looking.
So let's talk a little bit about sin today. Won't that be fun?
First of all, the readings today are fun because of the way that they talk to each other. When you hear the gospel and it talks about the "woman in the city, who was a sinner," I don't know about you, but my mind immediately goes there, and I think you know what I mean. But then when you look at the Old Testament reading about David, who has just been caught out after his affair with Bathsheba and having Bathsheba's husband killed, he doesn't say, "I am a sinner." He says "I have sinned." And the reading from Galatians really drives the point home that this isn't about sex when Paul writes, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners." So a sinner in this context is someone who does not live according to Jewish law.
But how very different it is to hear that someone is a sinner as opposed to someone has sinned. The first says sin is a person's identity, and the second that sin is an activity. And those sound very different.
So Simon the Pharisee has in his mind that sin is not his identity. But in this gospel story, Jesus turns identification upside down by pointing out to Simon what the woman did -- and what Simon neglected to do. Things done and left undone, as we say in the confession. Simon didn't do anything wrong; he didn't break any laws. But there is a lot he left undone, and Jesus points that out to him. Simon didn't offer water for Jesus' feet; he didn't greet him with a kiss; he didn't anoint Jesus' head. And the woman did all of those things. Simon thinks he's gotten it all right, and what Jesus points out to him is that he's missed the essential point of loving God and loving neighbor.
That's what Paul is trying to drive home in his letter to the Galatians: that it's not in following the Law exactly right that we're going to be free from sin. Instead, it's in what we do, what we offer, what we share, how we love.
And if and when we sin, Paul promises that grace abounds more. It's not in our own goodness and our carefulness not to break the rules that we are free from sin, but in God's forgiveness freely given. God's grace comes to us not because we have been good, but because God is good.
Maybe instead of worrying about what we have done wrong, we should be looking at those around us and asking, "What has been left undone?" How can we offer our love to others today?