Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 16, 2013
This past week I returned to the Virginia Theological Seminary for continuing education. I spent three years at the Virginia Seminary, so being on campus brought back lots of memories. Things at the seminary haven’t really changed much. We used the same classrooms. We ate in the same dining hall. I even stayed in the same dorm room I had during seminary.
But amidst all of the memories, there was one thing I had forgotten. Every day at seminary, I walked into the library. And there was a quote etched on the stone wall next to the door of the library. It read: “Seek the Truth. Come Whence It May. Cost What It Will.”
I had forgotten those words. I had forgotten those stirring and powerful words: Seek the truth. Come whence it may. Cost what it will.
The truth. Do we really know what the truth is anymore? I mean, the deep-down, soul-level truth. Do we actually take the time to look inside, to see who we are, to see the true picture of our lives?
See, our world today doesn’t want us to look inside. We are not encouraged to take an assessment of ourselves, to look at who we are. Instead, we are flooded with media stimulation. Television, movies, sports. I’m talking about People magazine and ESPN. What the overload of media does in our lives is like a drug – it distracts us from doing the hard work of looking inside; to seeking the truth. We are bombarded with commercials and advertisements and entertainment. And we find that it is much easier to sit on our sofa and watch other people do things, than it is to look inside. To look at the truth.
The story about Jesus this morning is about two people, two opposite people: Simon the Pharisee, and a sinful woman. There they are, both with Jesus at a dinner party. Both are curious about Jesus, and want to know more. But one is seeking the truth, and one is not. One is distracted, and the other is looking on the inside.
The woman washes Jesus’ feet with a costly ointment, and dries them with her own hair, and kisses his feet tenderly. See, she is a sinner. We do not know exactly what she did or did not do, but she is a sinner nevertheless. But this woman knows, she knows that Jesus has forgiven her. She looked on the inside and saw the truth – that she was a sinner. So she repays her Lord with gratitude, by washing and kissing his feet.
Simon the Pharisee sits there self-righteously, and criticizes Jesus for letting the woman touch him. He thinks it is improper to let a sinful woman touch a man of Jesus’ renown. See, what is happening is that Simon the Pharisee won’t look inside. Simon the Pharisee can only criticize others. He’s sitting on the sofa, desensitized to what is going on inside of him, because he is way too distracted by what is going on in front of him. Simon the Pharisee does not see the truth – that he too is a sinner. So he can only mock and ridicule.
Seek the truth. Come whence it may. Cost what it will. The woman in this story believed those words. She knew the truth, that she was a sinner, so she sought forgiveness. It cost her much. She made a fool of yourself by bowing down before Jesus and using her own hair to dry his feet. It cost much, because she used only the finest perfume, and she admitted her guilt.
Simon the Pharisee, well, he did not seek the truth. So he was not forgiven, he was not changed. And it did not cost him anything. He remained the grump that he had always been.
What this sermon is about it, is taking the risk of looking at yourself. I mean truly looking at yourself. I’m sure you have mirrors in your house, but notice how you never look at yourself in the mirror. You check your hair. You make sure you didn’t miss any spots shaving. You touch-up your makeup. But you don’t really look into your soul, and seek the truth of what’s going on in here.
Perhaps you are scared about what you might find. Looking into yourself, you might find all sorts of gremlins and boogey men you don’t want to know. You might see addiction, or greed, or shame. You might see your own repeated failures, and that scares you. So you shut out God, and turn away from the mirror on your soul.
Perhaps you are too lazy to look inside and seek the truth. Looking inside requires hard work. Sitting down with Jesus, and peeling back the layers of your soul is an exhausting process. Actually writing in that journal, saying that prayer, opening that Bible and reflecting on it – takes effort. Mountains of effort actually. And it’s much easier to scroll through your Facebook feed than it is to discover yourself. So you turn away from the mirror on your soul, and sit smugly with Simon the Pharisee.
Seek the truth. Come whence it may. Cost what it will. What this requires, and what the woman shows to Jesus, is vulnerability. And that’s a tough one. We tell ourselves that vulnerability is a weakness. We say that if we stand in front of somebody else – or even ourselves – and seek the truth, then we will look like losers. We are afraid that if we open our souls and really find out what’s going on inside, then we might actually have to face the issues and change our lives. And that would be showing weakness because you are saying to yourself that what you were before was wrong.
But here’s the kicker. The people that we admire the most are actually the people who risked vulnerability. I am amazed by people – brave men and women – who stand up in a packed room and say, “Hello, I am an alcoholic.” We applaud criminals for looking inside, and changing their lives around and making amends. We are thankful for the people in our own lives that have hurt us, and then come to us, showing their vulnerability, and asking for forgiveness. And Jesus himself – the fullness of vulnerability – hanging naked on a cross.
Seek the truth. Come whence it may. Cost what it will. I am challenging you to nothing less than following Jesus, with your whole heart, mind, and soul. But to get there, you are going to have to put away the distractions – turn off the television and get off Facebook. You are going to have to reflect on your life, the good times and the bad. You will have to be vulnerable, even if it costs you greatly. You will have to ask for forgiveness, even if you think you will look weak.
I am challenging you to risk much for Jesus, because he is the truth. Come whence it may? You may not necessarily like what you find inside. Cost what it will? You just might have to change your whole life for our Lord.
But just as the risk is great, so is the reward. For the reward is nothing less than the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. At the end of the story, Jesus sends this woman on with his blessing. Jesus sends this woman on with her reward for the great risk she took. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Those are the words that we crave, the peace in our souls from God that sustains us to the end.
Seek the truth. Come whence it may. Cost what it will.