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The Gospel story and the psalm this morning dwell on the same theme –
Specifically, God’s forgiveness of our sins – and our need for God’s forgiveness.
The Gospel story contrasts two main characters in their relationship to Jesus.
The first is a Pharisee named Simon, who has invited Jesus for dinner.
Simon knows that he follows the law and is righteous before God.
It seems that has invited Jesus,
not because he acknowledges who Jesus is or his need for Jesus,
but to share his status.
It is a favor to this young, popular rabbi to invite him to dinner -  
           and perhaps the Pharisee will share in some of the celebrity status of his guest.
While at dinner, a woman enters.
She comes to Jesus in complete humility and acknowledgement of her need,
and his power to meet her need.
Notice I do not say “humiliation.”
Humiliation is what others – including Simon – try to do to her,
saying “she is a sinner,” so that her whole person is defined by that sin.
But this woman won’t be humiliated.
She won’t be pushed aside, kept out of polite company,
held captive by shame.
Like the bleeding woman who believes she will be healed just by touching Jesus’ cloak, this woman believes that Jesus can heal her woundedness.
So she comes into the Pharisee’s home, and begins to show her love for Jesus in humble and intimate ways.
She is extravagant, even embarrassing, in her public expression of love for Jesus,
and the Pharisee wants to push her away – 
but Jesus won’t have it.
Instead, he tells a parable about God’s free gift of forgiveness.
And he contrasts the Pharisee and the woman.
The Pharisee who, feeling no need for or gratitude towards Jesus,
has been polite but distant in his welcome.
The woman who, feeling both need of Jesus and gratitude for what she knows of his ministry of love and healing, seeks him out to express her love.
And then Jesus turns to the woman and proclaims,
“Your sins are forgiven.”
Is this what the woman expected?
Hoped for?
Longed for in the deepest part of her heart?
It is certainly not what Jesus’ dinner companions expected.
“Who is this,” they ask,
“who thinks he can forgive sins?”
So Luke uses this story to point to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah,
who shares God’s authority to forgive sins.
But the story ends with the focus back on the woman –
the forgiven sinner.
“Your faith has saved you.” Jesus says. “Go in peace.”
And that is all we hear of this woman.
But I can imagine that she goes from that place with the words of Psalm 32 ringing in her ears.

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,   
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,   
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.


While I kept silence, my body wasted away   
through my groaning all day long.


Then I acknowledged my sin to you,   
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,   
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.


You are a hiding-place for me;    
you preserve me from trouble;   
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.         

In the book Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament,
Ellen Davis looks at psalms such as psalm 32, which express contrition –  sorrow for our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness.

“Contrition,” she says, “means finding the courage to let your heart break over sin.
“For it is ever the nature of sin to turn us in on ourselves rather than opening us outward toward God and neighbor. God’s mercy is wide, but our sin-laden hearts are narrow. The psalmist understands that it is only broken hearts that are truly open toward God.  . . .
“we might suppose that God waits to have mercy on us until we are good and devastated by our sins, but the [psalms give] us a different picture. God’s mercy flows constantly, like the sea, yet much of the time we are simply too hard-hearted to experience it. Contrition enables us to feel God’s mercy toward us.”

She goes on to describe forgiveness:

“It is not, as we commonly think, something God does, to us or for us, taking away our spots like a sort of metaphysical dry-cleaner. Rather, forgiveness is God’s immediate presence with us in our sin. It is God’s holy Spirit rushing to the place that opens when our spirit breaks.
“The scarcely believable good news of the psalm is this: the moment of contrition is also the moment of forgiveness, when God’s Spirit – which is all generosity, all love outpoured – meets our spirit, which is all thirsting need.”

Davis picks up on the same message Jesus offers in his parable and teaching
at the Pharisee’s home.
God’s forgiveness is freely given.
It is God’s desire to forgive,
to give us love and to receive our love.
We can choose, like the Pharisee, to hold ourselves apart from that forgiveness.
To believe we have done it all on our own,
and don’t really need God’s mercy after all.
Or, like the woman with the alabaster jar,
we can acknowledge our sin and our need for Jesus.
We can lower our defenses and place ourselves, completely vulnerable,
at Jesus’ feet.
And that is when our hearts – broken open before God – can be filled with love.
We know what comes next, of course.
Each time we gather for worship –
and for many of us, each day in our daily prayers –
we pray as Jesus taught us,
“forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Jesus told another parable about a man who was released from a great debt,
then went and threw another man who owed him a minor debt into jail.
His message was that as God forgives us,
we are expected to turn around and forgive those who wrong us.
It is not easy to forgive people who have done us wrong.
But God does not ask us to do this is order to test our faithfulness,
or place a hurdle in front of us.
God asks this because it is God’s vision for human community that we would live together in mutual respect and reconciliation,
That we would receive God’s love and forgiveness in our hearts,
and share that love and forgiveness with one another.
A group has of St Michael’s folks has been reading and gathering to discuss the book by Ellen Davis which I quoted earlier.
When we gathered Tuesday evening, we talked about forgiveness
About how hard it is, especially when we feel justified in our anger.
It is not easy to lay aside our anger and resentment,
particularly when someone has genuinely wronged us,
and perhaps continues to do us harm. 
But as we shared stories of forgiving, and being forgiven, and trying to forgive,
there was a sense of holiness in the room.
The stories were of reconciliation and healing.
Of letting go of deep hurt and moving into a new future.
A divorce was final, but the couple moved forward without bitterness to raise children together.
A mother died, but a daughter was left with a great gift of knowing some bit of intimacy and healing after a lifetime of hurt and longing.
Perhaps when we forgive another person,
we need once again to let our hearts break open –
this time to release the love God has placed there.
We know there are times we cannot forgive on our own –
      when it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can move into forgiveness.
When we do forgive another person, it is often another of God’s gifts to us – 
setting us free from bitterness and resentment.
I want to be clear that forgiveness doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to continue to be hurt.
Sometimes the reconciliation and healing can only be done apart from someone
who is hurtful or violent.
But perhaps the willingness to forgive – to pray for compassion and help forgiving,  is part of respecting the dignity of every human being –
even the ones who hurt us.
It is being willing to see another person as God sees them,
and allowing God’s love to flow through us to encompass them.
In that way, we participate in the work of reconciliation and healing that is always God’s will for the world, personified in the person of Jesus.
Jesus said to the woman in the story,
“Go in peace – your faith has saved you.”
We know the salvation of God each time we open our hearts to God’s forgiveness
of our sins.
We know the salvation of God each time we are forgiven by someone we love.
We know the salvation of God each time we experience the healing of forgiving another person.
Thanks be to God, our rock and our salvation.

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