June 16, 2013 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost – Carl Rabbe

C. P. Rabbe
Circle of Faith Parish

Luke 7:36-8:3

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

People of God, as we gather to hear God’s Word and sing God’s praise, grace to you and peace from the One who said, “Your faith has saved you: go in peace.”

Her name was Mrs. Bucket. Or, at least it was spelled that way, but God have mercy on your soul if you addressed her with that pronunciation. She would instantly correct you and insist that it was pronounced Bouquet. Whenever you called her at home, she would answer the phone with the words, “The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!” Right before she answered the phone, she would have announced to everyone within a hundred feet that the caller must be someone very important. If you haven’t guessed by now, Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket was a character on the 1990s BBC show Keeping Up Appearances, and yes, she thought quite a lot of herself. Her deepest wish was to be far higher up the British social ladder than she actually was, or ever would be. Her desire for greatness got her into so many ridiculous situations, none more so than what happened during the second season of the show.

In this particular episode, Mr. and Mrs. Bouquet somehow find themselves in the gardens of a very lavish estate. Mrs. Bouquet starts parading around as if she owns the place, pointing out exquisite foreign plants, wondering how much it cost to import them, and sharply criticizing the landscaping, bragging about how she would have ordered her servants to do it. Noticing one gateway marked Do Not Enter, she brazenly storms right through it. Inside, among the spectacular beds of tropical flowers, is a scruffy-looking man dressed in worn clothing. This man informs her that she is in a restricted area and must leave at once. Mrs. Bouquet, automatically assuming him to be the gardener, begins lecturing him on his terrible job of displaying the flowers, all the while saying that she is a close friend of the lord and lady of the manor, and he has no right to tell off such distinguished guests as she. The “gardener” draws himself up to his full height and says, “Madam, I’m not sure who you are, but I am very certain that you are no friend of the lord of this manor.” “What would you know of such things?” Mrs. Bouquet demands. “I know it, madam, because I am the lord of the manor!”


Her name was Mrs. Bouquet no longer. Her name was, once again, plain, ordinary Mrs. Bucket. Her expansive ego had been punctured by her encounter with someone who told it like it was. It might even be fair to call that nobleman a prophet, even if the prophet didn’t appear in the guise that we might expect. Then again, prophets never do. Sometimes they even show up kneeling at your feet, even in tears.


Who is this woman, this sinful woman, in Luke’s Gospel, who shows up and anoints Jesus’ feet, bathes them with her tears, and dries them with her hair? What had she done that was so awful that Luke called her nothing but a sinner, the only name by which we have to remember her? The tradition of the church tells us that she was a prostitute, but there is no evidence of that here. Whatever her name was, the evangelist made the decision to not write it down, if ever he learned it. Who she was is lost to history. Or is it?


Christ doesn’t seem to think so. He does not do what a true prophet or rabbi of that era should have done, and have her thrown from the house. No, on the contrary, he celebrates her gifts in anointing him. He declares publicly that her sins, whatever they were, are forgiven. He gives her, in doing this, a new name, a name that Luke even recorded without realizing what he had done. Whoever she was, Christ gave her a name we can remember.


Jesus named her a prophet. He named her a person who has tasted the love of God and longs to share that goodness with others. He called her a forgiven sinner, one whose past has been wiped away and remembered no more. He branded her the messenger who proclaims that her sin has been forgiven, and that there is plenty more forgiveness to go around. Who is this woman, this holy woman, this forgiven and forgiving woman, this great prophet? Her name is Child of God, a name given by Christ, a name that nothing can take away, even though she was the last person on earth anyone would expect to be granted that name.


Whatever happened to Mr. and Mrs. Bucket? Well, Hyacinth and her husband left the manor as the lord had requested. All the way home, Mrs. Bucket was grousing that the lord had no right to dress that way, or do his own gardening, simply because it didn’t fit into her mental box of what nobility do. He should have stayed in his house and let servants wait on him and do his yard work while he sat around and sipped tea. People have said the same thing about churches, too, you know. When the people in the pews start to run kind of low in number, when our young people don’t regularly return to church, it’s expected that those churches will stay inside their comfortable walls, drink coffee, and wait to die.


But then prophets pop up, and declare that that isn’t going to happen. We seem to have a lot of prophets around here. Have you ever noticed that? They’ve been here all the time. They were sitting around tables at Legend’s Bar and Grill in Ceylon. They met up on the shores of Fox Lake and in church basements and fellowship halls all over Martin County, dreaming about what some ambitious new area parish might look like. They were sitting in the pews of three small churches along the Welcome Road, voting unanimously to call a new, young pastor, who starts tomorrow. They were standing in the parking lot, asking whether certain folks who have attended for a while had any desire to join the church, and assuring them that they were welcome here. They were in this very room, for a huge wedding last weekend. They were out back of the church last fall, grilling pork chops on a stick, making big pans of bars and huge bowls of salads to feed a group of city families visiting a little country church, and rallying a whole bunch of baby farm animals to entertain the kids. They were all here this morning, hearing the news that their sins are forgiven.


Prophets, we call them, one and all, for they are the ones who celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ in a world that expects it the least and needs it the most. They are the ones declaring that there is still more that God can do, and is doing, here. They are the ones pointing the way to the One who has forgiven our sins and given us but a taste of grace, a grace that has far more than enough to go around. They are the ones who have been grabbed hold of in the water, and named children of the Most High. They are the ones whose sins have been pardoned, and who go out to share the peace of Christ with others.


Who are these prophets? Unlike this prophetic woman in the Gospel, we do know their names. They’re called messengers of good news, saved by grace, gathered in faith and called to serve. They’re called bearers of God’s grace, then and now. They’re called Waverly Lutheran Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, and Circle of Faith Parish. For these prophets, and for all prophets named forever by Christ, thanks be to God.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.