Note: The website program does not support many punctuation marks and they have been automatically removed.
Proper 6C 2004 Galatians 2:11-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
One of the really interesting things about the Church and church history is that at times the more things seem to change,
the more they are the same. Take the two stories Saints Paul and Luke are telling in the epistle and gospel for today. One
commentator noted that they are really great stories. They both talk about the same things, and they both set forth two of
the really important things in the Gospel. (1)
In his letter to the young church in Galatia, Paul describes what must have been one of the great fights of Church history.
The background of it goes back to the very earliest time immediately after the Day of Pentecost when the Church started in
Jerusalem. All of the first Christians were devout Jews who observed most of the Law of Moses, including lots of regulations
concerning what you ate and with whom you ate it. This law included regulations that said that Jews and Gentile were not supposed
to eat together, not share a common meal. And of course, from the very beginning, the Eucharist Holy Communion -- was a common
meal. The church in Jerusalem took this very seriously, and any Gentile who wanted to become a Christian also had to become
a Jew, be circumcised, and adhere to the Mosaic law. In order to gather at the Lords Table, you had to have this extra credential.
That was the rule in Jerusalem, and everywhere else, for a while.
But then there was Antioch. Antioch was a large cosmopolitan city 250 miles north of Jerusalemdeep in Gentile country.
St. Paul was sent by the church in Antioch where he spent a year after his conversion oddly enough, the church in Antioch
was founded by Jewish Christians fleeing the persecution in which Saint Stephen was stoned to death, the persecution of which
Paul was a leader until he was struck down on the Damascus road. The Church did things differently in Antioch from the way
things were done in Jerusalem. In Antioch, Gentile converts did not have to become Jews, and Jewish Christians ignored the
regulations about meals; so Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians ate together, and shared Holy Communion together and
the agape meal which followed. Everybody pretty much ignored the Mosaic law about this and the Church in Antioch was thriving.
This whole issue was and is a big deal for some people, and the question of what sort of credentials you had to have to
share the Lords Supper was one of the roughest issues the early church faced. It can still be. In some Protestant denominations,
if you are not a member you are not invited to the Lords Table. When my stepson married a Roman Catholic, it was made very
clear during the wedding that unless you were a Roman Catholic you were refused Communion. As I said, one of the really interesting
things about the Church and church history is that at times the more things seem to change, the more they are the same.
Anyway, back to the story: Saint Peter, also known as Cephas, and who was the first of the Apostles and one of the two
main leaders of the church in Jerusalem, came to visit the church in Antioch. At first, Peter liked the way they did things
there. He shared meals with Paul and the Gentiles, despite what the Mosaic law required, and he fit right in.
Then Saint James the brother of Jesus and the other leader in Jerusalem sent certain people to Antioch to check up on
things. Peter was afraid that these were traditionalists who Paul calls the circumcision faction. So when they arrived, Peter
suddenly began to worry about the Law. He changed his mind, backed off, and became very careful and very public about keeping
the Law and avoiding the Gentiles and eating with only the right people.
Saint Peter never quite got it right at first many times. It was Saint James who made the decision that Gentile Christians
who became Christians need only observe two things from the Mosaic law to be acceptable to Jewish Christians: one, dont take
as food idol meat, or what has been strangled, or animal blood. And two, abstain from fornication.
So Paul lost his temper and blew up when he saw Peter beginning to act so self righteously and holier than the Gentiles.
He read the riot act to Peter in front of the whole congregation and the visitors from Jerusalem. It must have been quite
a scene, with these two giants of the church, nose-to- nose, red faced, working and shouting at the top of their voices, to
establish a theological point not unlike some meetings that have happened in the last year in the Church.
Its an important point. Who belonged at the table of the Lordwhat credentials were required for an invitation? Who was
right, Saint Peter or Saint Paul? Peter, when pushed, relied on his credentials, on his Jewishness, his observance of the
Law, his traditionalism for admission. Paul said something new; he insisted that, because of Jesus, credentials no longer
mattered. He said that to Peter loudly, in front of God and everybody. In the end, Paul wonbecause he was right when he said,
We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. I do not nullify the grace
of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Something very much like this was going on with Simon the Pharisee in our gospel for today. Saint Luke recorded many stories
in which people on the bottom of the social and religious ladder are presented at an advantage. In this one Jesus is the guest
of a Pharisee. That means the house, the meal, and everything connected to them, were properPharisees were special guardians
of the Mosaic law, and no detail of required observance and obedience escaped them.
At the same time, formal meals with out of town celebrities were also a spectator sport, and major social events for the
whole neighborhood. The invited guest reclined facing into the area where the food was served. The rule was that anyone could
show up to watch the meal and the discussion, but the uninvited guests stayed outside the circle formed by the invited guests
feet. Prostitutes such as the woman in the story were often required to remain outside the walls of the house where they might
listen as best they could. (2) Although for such a one to show up, and to make a scene was not unheard of. The real scandal,
in Simons mind, was that Jesus allowed it. If Jesus knew what sort of person she was, Simon thought Jesus should have run
her off as not being good enough even to get that close to him or to the table.
In effect, Jesus tells Simon the same thing Paul told Peter. Talking to Simon about how Simon had omitted every optional
amenity a gracious host usually provided a guest was, like Pauls rebuke to Peter, a way of making a larger point which is
simply that credentials do not matter when it comes to sharing the table with the Lord. To rely on your own strength, your
own worthiness, your own credentialsespecially that perverted form of self-righteousness that says, at least Im not as bad
as she is, is not only to court Jesus anger, but to guarantee it.
The reason the woman was closer to the kingdom of God than Simon the Pharisee because she did not hide from God Jesus
-- and she did not hide from the truth behind a wall of self-righteousness, silly credentials, and no longer meaningful ritualistic
To claim, by virtue of good behavior or anything else, the right to Gods presence and Gods favorand the attendant right
to judge whether others so belongthis is such a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel, and ourselves, as to separate
us firmly from God. I know of two people who for a long period refused to go to Church because the people who came were not,
in their opinion, as perfect as they were. And so they found themselves separated from the community of the people of God
and these two needed that community desperately. But their self-righteousness prevented them from knowing it.
Now, the second important thing only has power when that first one is heard and felt. The second thing is that everyone
is invited. The second thing is that it really does not matter, finally, who we are. The source of our lives, the basis for
our invitation into Gods presence, our invitation to come freely to the Lords Supper is Gods loving grace and forgiveness,
nothing else. And to rely on anything else is to lose it all.
Gods love for us is absolute, total, unconditional and free. We cannot work our way into that love, we cannot sin our
way out of it. We live by Grace and forgiveness. Our lives as Christians are not about somehow managing to get loved or saved
or accepted by God. We have that; we are given that, we begin with that. Our lives as Christians and the practice of our faith
are about responding to the gifts we have been given. Saint James said, But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who
deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect
law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing.
Since all are unworthyincluding ourselves, we dont have to worry about that or spend a lot of energy on it. It doesnt
really matter. Everyone is invited to the table; everyone is offered the gifts of grace and forgiveness. That is how we begin.
Then, we are called to take those gifts, accept them, and share them with a world dying for that Good News. Jesus says to
each of us what he said to the woman in the story: Your faith has saved you, go in Peace. And he calls us to hear that, to
believe that, to live that, and to share that.
1. The Revd James Liggett, Sermon for June 13, 2004, Proper 6C, Worship that Works, Selected Sermons at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/6087_40339_ENG_HTM.htm
Themes and ideas adapted from this sermon
2. The Revd Nicolas R.D. Dyke, Sermon for June 17, 2001, Proper 6C, Worship that Works, Selected Sermons at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/6087_6961_ENG_HTM.htm