Come as you are, trust me again.
Nothing can change the love that I bear you;
all will be well, just come as you are.
- the words of our opening song today express the heart of our God and our Faith: that love is what truly matters, for this is the heart of God, and true Faith; not law, or conventional morality, nor who we are, or what we have, nor who or what we know, nor what we have done, or not done, nor what race, face, space, colour, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, politics, taste in music, ability to sing and dance, food allergies, beauty, quirks, height, width, shoe size, dress size, hat size, nor anything else we may have. Honestly! It really does not matter to God: the God of Jesus, the God of inexhaustible and unconditional love. Just ‘Come as you are; that’s how I love you.’ Do we believe that? Do we really believe that? For it makes all the difference, to us and to others, whether we really do. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that the very future of our church and our world depends on whether we do. Will we shape our lives, our church and world on this amazing grace of God’s hospitality? Or will we settle for loving ourselves and others in ways which do not reflect God’s love for us and for all of God’s Creation?...
Who and what do we identify with in this story? Do we feel the shame and scandal of Simon when our dedicated and attentive religious ideas are challenged and then turned upside down? Or do we feel the huge release of love, forgiveness and renewal of the woman when our longing for love and failings are met in Jesus? Or do we feel the inexhaustible and unconditional love of God as Jesus accepts and rejoices in sinners and rebukes the hard-hearted ‘religious’? Maybe we feel a mixture of all three? What would happen if something happened just like that right here, right now?
In many ways I believe we have reached a crossroads as church in our world today. Two pathways lie before us. We can either choose the way of Simon the Pharisee, or the way of Jesus the prophet. Which will it be? We can choose to be religious, in the narrow sense which so many in our society increasingly detest, and rightly so. Like Simon, we can be very dedicated, attentive to scripture, religious rules and habits, and hospitable to others, but only on certain terms. Or, like Jesus, we can recognise love and the desire for God, wherever and however it appears, even if it shatters our received religious ideas and practice. We can learn to rest more deeply in the truly biblical God of inexhaustible and unconditional love, and we can find ways to express that love in genuine hospitality to all who seek God’s love.
What would happen if something like today’s Gospel story were played out, right here, right now? What would happen if someone unconventional should express their need and love for God in a way which challenges our comfort zone? How would we respond?
I have to say that I have a great deal of confidence that we might actually respond quite well. Do you remember when we had a couple of young men visit us one morning, worse for wear after a night partying? How well did we respond then? And how well do we respond to Joshy, who, like the woman in our story, is so full of longing and love for God and yet also challenging to our comfort and order? And how well do we respond to the many, many, different types of people who pop up in this place, flow through this site, and sometimes settle and grow among us? You see, you guys are amazing. You really are. For being part of St Luke’s is not an easy thing at many times. We try to keep our doors open, don’t we, literally and metaphorically? We don't hide away, in a holy huddle as some Christians are tempted to do. We live right here in the very heart of the city and we try to love in the very heart of the city, all of our city, in all its amazing but also very challenging diversity. We live and love in the heart of the city, in order to live and love in the heart of God: the heart of God who wants all to come, just as we are.
You know, the other day I was once again bowled over by our local Muslim community, when they asked to use St Luke’s Hall for the Iftar gathering when they invite others in our wider community to join in breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening meal. It was such a wonderful event last Friday. But how many churches, do you think, are asked to offer such hospitality? And how many, do you think, would offer it? What would Simon, and what would Jesus do? We do have something very special happening here in Toowoomba, and St Luke’s is at the the heart of it. I see that same spirit of hospitality at work in so many ways here – in the generosity we extend to others of many cultures, through worship, funerals, our larder, the labyrinth, and in so many different ways. So let us recognise and give thanks for this Christ-like spirit of hospitality to others, and build upon it. The hall the other evening was fortunately just warm enough, but we still had a bit of a struggle with audio-visual needs. Our hall, and this worship building, needs some improvements, especially in terms of heating, to help develop our hospitality more fully. But in what other ways do you also feel we can respond better like Jesus?
For let me conclude with a further challenge to us, flowing out of our Gospel today. Last week, our Archbishop met with our local deanery clergy to reflect on how we respond to the call of Jesus to make disciples. How are we going with that, do you think? What might we do better? The possible answers are intimately related, I believe, with the cultivation of Gospel hospitality in us, as well as between us and beyond us. For, lets face it, all of us have a bit of Simon the Pharisee in us. Each of us can also be judgmental and lacking in generosity towards others. Like Simon, we can even use the Bible and our Tradition to uphold hard-heartedness, and limited hospitality, excluding people who don’t fit our received ideas of God. What Jesus reminds us of, in the his parable in today’s Gospel, is that we all need forgiveness. Church is a place for forgiveness not judgment, and church is a place for affirming and nurturing others in their wonderful difference from us: not trying to replicate ourselves in our limited love and ideas of God. At the end of the day, Jesus is saying, we are all like the woman in the story. We are all in need of God. We all long for God and will never be satisfied until we rest in God. And, vitally, we are all loved by God, whoever and whatever we are. So, to use words of John O’Donohue, let us pray:
May all that is unforgiven in you.
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquillities.
May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
Come, come as you are, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jon Inkpin for Pentecost 4, Year C, Sunday 12 June 2016