This is the text of the sermon preached in Bradford Cathedral this morning (16 June 2013) by Sebastian Feydt, pastor of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, based on Luke 7:36-50.
Dear brothers and sisters, are we bound together by this biblical story? You as you are living here in Bradford and me who has come from Dresden?
Is Jesus talking to the Pharisees and the woman in a language which we all understand? If so, it must be the language of love. The language of peace. These languages we all understand.
And they connect us.
Because they reflect our longings: to be accepted and loved; to be able to take the next step in our lives freed from burden and guilt; to walk in peace. This longing for love and peace binds us together much more than many other things which were mentioned when Jesus, these men and the women met.
Self-righteous men who talk so much by themselves, who prejudge and judge so quickly other people – often women – still exist in today’s England or Germany as they existed in Jesus’ days.
That women are forced to sell their bodies in order to make a living – and that there are enough men who take advantage of it – this form of slavery goes back further than we can imagine. Prostitution is by no means the oldest business in the world, it is one of its oldest scourges. All recent efforts to make prostitution socially acceptable, to declare it a reasonable service in our modern society does not change the fact that love cannot be “made”, nor can it be bought. Wherever people try to, the language of love withers away. In the end it is muted.
Like the woman Jesus met: no sound passes her lips; she is out of words. Instead, her heart speaks. She pours it out by wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears.
I am touched by this thought.
This is not an everyday moment.
This is not a situation in which someone sheds a few tears out of anger. No, here we are confronted with an eruption of pain and despair and we find it hard to react in an appropriate manner. Just to put an arm around her shoulders to comfort her does not work – it didn’t work back then either. There is more going on than what could be healed by pity. This young woman is looking for a new life. She wants to be recognized as a person, to be addressed by her name and not to be reduced to her past.
This young woman at Jesus’ feet no longer wants to be mute and nameless. She wants to get up, straighten up, to finally start her true life.
Have you experienced such a moment in your lives as well? When it becomes obvious that life cannot go on the way it did any longer? Because the love there was between husband and wife or between partners had faded? Because the big dreams of a merry family did not come true? Because children left and loneliness moved in instead?
We all know times of crisis. We are no strangers to incurring guilt by ill-treating ourselves or others. It leaves us speechless, loveless, peaceless. And it raises our longing for being accepted and loved so that we can take the next step in our lives freed from burden and guilt.
And also to hear: Go and walk in peace.
By following her heart, the woman finds her way. She goes to where she knows she will be accepted: at the table at which she knows Jesus sits. There she gets on her knees. Humble she becomes. And she confesses her sins – to God. Without a word, but still comprehensively. In a way that has Jesus tell her: Your sins are forgiven.
If I want to confess the sins I committed in my life it’s not my mouth that needs to speak but my heart that has to bring it before God and the people. It takes a very special language to realize my guilt and the truth about me and my life and to bring it before God.
The woman speaks the language of love with her tears and her tender gestures. She experiences that she is being heeded and thus considered, accepted and thus admitted into society, acknowledged and thus appreciated. All that lies behind her is not going to build up anew in front of her. Neither she nor any of the other men can re-erect it. The way is clear. Jesus helped this woman to take that step.
This is what is meant by being freed: not FROM your past but WITH your past. I’m not free because I leave things behind but because I face them.
Thereupon Jesus grants the gift of forgiveness as the main precondition for reconciliation and for peace – Shalom. Goodness in our hearts and minds – and our lives. This nourishes the blessing
“Go and walk in peace!”
As Christians we can be peace messengers.
Does the world recognize us as such? As the ones who know how we can find peace?
– In ourselves.
– Together with others.
– Within society, between peoples?
Go and walk in peace!
What is it that connects us? It is the language of peace and light.
Let’s speak it! Here in Bradford. And in Dresden. In Afghanistan. In Mali. And when we ask what would do good to Syria …
Go and walk in peace.
Peace be with you!