Freaks and Geeks

You can read the sermon below or watch it here:

One of my favorite tv shows is Freaks and Geeks. It’s part of the 3-year rotation for confirmation because the show absolutely messes with our ideas about stereotypes and reputations and what they actually say about who we are and what we do. Plus it’s the best theme song for a tv show there is, thank you Joan Jett.

We played with reputations a bit during the reading today. Simon the Pharisee we characterized as the moral police, the guy there to keep things orderly and proper; neat and clean. For the woman we shook our heads and covered our eyes. And for Jesus, well, 2 thumbs up.

Let’s lay out these reputations of the people from today’s story.

The reputations of the Pharisees isn’t so hot. Starting in chapter 5, the Pharisees have been dogging Jesus, whining and complaining and nit picking. They question his authority to forgive sins and to heal. They complain about the company he keeps – tax collectors and sinners – and they nit pick that he doesn’t follow scripture the same way that they do. He plays a little too fast and loose with God. By the 6th chapter, they are furious with Jesus and begin to talk about what they might do to him. They’re kind of the bad guys aren’t they? They seem to be living up to the reputation we gave them as the perfection police.

The woman’s reputation is spelled out right there in scripture: And a woman in the city, who was a sinner… What was her sin? We don’t know. It’s not actually spelled out. But what do we often think her sin was? Go ahead – you can say it. Sex, prostitution. That’s the reputation we’ve given her. She was a sinner with a capital S. What we do know about her is that she was not an invited guest to this dinner. And everyone seemed to know she was a sinner.

And let’s just imagine what Jesus’s reputation was according to the Pharisees and the sinner woman: the Pharisees were experiencing Jesus as a rule breaker and a guy who ate with all the wrong people – but at the same time they wondered if he was a prophet. There was a tension in their understanding. That tension wasn’t there for the woman. She must have heard about Jesus teaching and healing and associating with all kinds of sinners like her. She experienced him as someone to be thanked. Someone to be honored. What does she think of him? Her breaking into tears when she comes into his presence gives us something of an answer.

Both the Pharisees and the sinful woman were drawn to Jesus. Like moths to flames.

We know how dangerous it is to judge another by what you’ve heard. And you know how dangerous it is to then want to keep a person in that category, no matter the passage of time or any actions on their part that would prove the reputation false. Did you notice that each of the players in today’s story don’t live up to their bad reputations?

After all, if the Pharisees were already plotting against Jesus, why on earth did Simon invite Jesus to dinner? Was it part of the plot or was he actually curious enough to hear him out, see what the fuss was all about? Or was Simon trying to do Jesus a favor, improve his reputation by surrounding him with respectable types?  People he thought prophets would rub shoulders with. Who knows. Maybe.

And the sinner woman, she doesn’t act like a sinner at all. In fact, she’s the one who treats the honored guest the way he was supposed to be treated. She’s the one who gets who Jesus is without a test run at a dinner party. She knows he’s the real deal. And her response to him is one of love.

We have talked a lot about stereotypes and reputations. I want you to contemplate what stereotype, what false labels do you think others give you. Or what labels do you give yourself that, deep down, you simply know aren’t true. You got another name tag today when you came into worship. I want you to pull it out and look at it and imagine that name on the name tag… Don’t write anything on it just imagine.

Because now I want to get at what this story is really about. Yes it is a story that highlights reputations and stereotypes, but ultimately this story isn’t about that. It is a story of extravagant love and what happens when we are confronted with it. Simon rejects it, scoffs at it, judges it. The sinner woman embraces it, lives it. Jesus returns her love with the greatest show of love there is: forgiveness and a sending to continue to live into this peace she already seems to know. Only in the abstract does Simon seem to understand even the basic concepts of love, through the story of debts forgiven. He can’t see it when it is in his very own home, being lived out by someone he would never expect was capable of showing love. The stereotypes he had about Jesus, about the sinful woman, about his own role in all of this shut down his imagination. All he could see were rules being broken, lines being crossed. His mind swirling with judgment about both of them.

But here is the thing: Jesus is not limited by our stereotypes of him. Jesus is not limited by the Pharisees suspicion of him. Jesus is not even limited by even our own faithful images and expectations of him. Jesus does the very thing we cannot imagine. While we might avert our eyes, in the eyes of Jesus, the sinful woman is showing the room how to welcome a guest, how to react when Jesus is in the room – with overwhelming gratitude and love. To Jesus, this woman is beloved. To him, this woman is precious. This woman is faithful. In fact when we look back at the story Jesus shares, he notes that both debts are forgiven, which means that Simon is forgiven as well. Jesus loves Simon in spite of himself.

And this is how Jesus loves each one of you here. With an extravagant, party-stopping show of love. Love that is embarrassing. Love that makes you look around like, “really? this can’t be for me?” Because it is. For each of you. Even when you’ve got a Simon-worthy, snarky inner-monologue going. Even when your heart has gone cold and you’re content with stereotypes of other people. And even when your lifestyle is pulling you away from relationship with God. Even then, Jesus calls you beloved.  Jesus calls you Child of God. And that is the name I want you to write that on your name tag. and then stick it over the one you’re already wearing. Jesus is not stumped by your behavior to throw him off your trail. Jesus will not turn away from you when you’re acting like a self righteous fool.

All those assumptions and labels get blown out of the water when Jesus enters the room. He’ll use the most unlikely people to show you his love. And that includes freaks and geeks like us.