Canterbury Downtown

Brokenness and healing: What Stanford and Orlando reveal


The following is the text version of a sermon preached on Sunday, June 12th at Grace Church Manhattan at the 6 p.m. worship service.

The Rev. Mary Cat Young is the Episcopal Chaplain to students in the city connected through Canterbury Downtown campus ministry.

The lectionary texts for this sermon can be found here.

I am aware that we come to church for a many different reasons.  Some sentimental – hearkening back to our childhood memories of sitting in a pew with parents, grandparents, friends.  Some because we seek a means of giving thanks for blessings and joys in our lives that we cannot explain or understand but as a blessing, a grace given from God. Some are entering a new season of life, or a new community and trying to find people to build relationships with – to deepen our sense of place in a chosen home.  And sometimes we arrive in a space like this seeking solace – not knowing what or how to pray to God, but knowing that we hope that God will show up, that love will provide an insight into to pain and hurt that wants to win the day around us.

Today, I came here prepared to preach a sermon about a myriad of things that have been a burden to me and to many – speaking to an injustice that took place in a courtroom almost 3000 miles from here.  Prepared to speak to the Gospel story that we just heard, where Jesus feet are washed with the tears of a woman whose painful story has been transformed into one of forgiveness and healing – a story that teaches a lesson to the haughty Pharisee who sees her only for the sins he recognizes.  And I will get to that.

But instead, I received a phone call early this morning from a lifelong friend who now lives on the other side of the world.  His emotion and tears were apparent.  He informed me of the scene that we all now know was an attack on our common humanity – yet another mass shooting, yet another city, yet another bashing of the LGBTQ community during Pride month, yet another web of lives that will be devastated one after another as the identities of those who have died will be revealed, yet another cause for all of us to weep – that any one person, or two or three or however many persons – took it upon themselves to see a separation of us and them and to decide to do harm to those they deemed as other.  To do harm out of anger, out of confusion, out of I don’t even know what kind of mindset to attribute it to.

What I do know is that each time this event takes place – all of our humanity is harmed.  No one is celebrating in the streets.  No one is left untouched by such violence.  Whether they know it or not, persons who hold this up as an example of God’s wrath – hurt themselves and everyone that hears them.  Persons who hold this up as holy retribution, have not met or been transformed by Jesus. Have not in fact heard TODAY’S Gospel!

So my friends, I stand before you, in my call to preach to you as persons who come into this place for a myriad of reasons, as a person who preaches from this place of sadness and disappointment, and holding up a candle in the face of such darkness, that the Jesus I know, the grace we speak of when we speak of God’s love, it belongs to us all.  It is our comfort, even when we don’t know how or what to pray – it is ours.  We do not weep alone.  Jesus weeps with us in the face of yet another example of our brokenness, yet another example of our need for him, and his message in our lives.

If you have not yet heard the phrase, I’m going to offer a “content warning” before I begin to preach tonight. Persons who have been affected, either directly or indirectly by sexual assault, please do what you need to do to take care of yourself as this topic, this reality will be mentioned in the context of this sermon.

A Pharisee – which was a Jewish high priest known for their strict adherence to the Jewish law, and a woman – known and recognized as a woman of the street, a sex worker, an unclean woman whose presence threatened to, and whose touch crossed the boundary of defilement for a ritually clean Jewish household.   And Jesus.

These three are in the same room, the house of the Pharisee.

The Pharisee was the host.  This story takes place in his realm, his household.  He held all the power, all the authority – he was the master of ceremonies, he was the instructor to the servants who would bring the food to the guests, he would direct the hospitality shown to those at the head of the table and at the foot – the varying degrees that those seating arrangements indicated as to who was the most important guest and who was the least, who would be first and who would be last.

The Pharisee believed that he was the most important person in the room, believed that he was entitled to all the respect and attention that his role in the religious community afforded him. And he was the host, he was the purveyor of the fine meal that would be shared, the purchaser of the wine that people would drink.  He expected deference and ownership of the night.

Jesus should have known better.  He should have known that having dinner with this man would lead to an incident, an insult.  He should have known that this man, a Pharisee would not see Jesus as someone to build a relationship with, but as a competitor.  The Pharisee would see Jesus as someone to challenge, someone to knock off of his tower, someone to humiliate, put in his place, someone to Mansplain.

But Jesus was an invited guest, and he accepted the invitation.  And this guest was someone that was playing with power, tinkering with those in authority, or at least those who believed they were the authority on God and the ways of the world.  What we hear in the Gospel tonight, what we hear in this story about Jesus, a story that is told in all four of the canonical Gospels what we hear is that indeed that authority of man, and meal and hospitality did not in fact lie in the hands of the Pharisee.

There was an uninvited guest at the gathering as well.  The Pharisee’s home, even though there were seated guests, would have been accessible to some of the local peasants too.  And so, the woman who enters this story would not have been noticed, much less barred from being in the room.  She may have even blended in with the servants moving around the guests who were comfortably lounging as their meal was served to them.

She approached Jesus directly.  Seemingly with intention, as she carried with her a container filled with a perfumed ointment.  She knelt near enough to Jesus’ feet that her own tears wet, not only her cheeks, but his feet, washing away the dust of the outside world.  Surely this was not the first time meeting him, for she went directly to Jesus, and without a word began to serve him in this way, to care for him, to give thanks to him for the grace that she had already received, for the forgiveness that she had already accepted of the sins that would have been a barrier between an unclean woman and a Jewish man.

The boundary had already been crossed – no longer were they separated by status and gender, but rather they were bound together in a transformative moment of love incarnate.  She had already accepted and believed that absolution, forgiveness of sins belonged to Jesus’, was HIS gift to give and he had. And so she chose to respond, perhaps in the only way she knew how, by caring, tenderly for the feet that would carry him forward on his journey.  Her tears and her hair, somehow would leave her mark on him as indelible as the mark of freedom, wholeness he had left on her.

The Pharisee seems to know who she was and what she was, and to have judged her outright, knowing instinctively the difference between “us and them” who was acceptable and who was not, who was clean and who was unclean, who was forgivable and who was abominable.  Perhaps he was interested in testing Jesus, lying in wait to see what would happen next, how far this interaction would go.  Her approach to Jesus was not that of begging or enticement but a self-offering.  We can see this image and see a beautiful moment of kindness and response to one who saw this woman for her whole self, her whole potential, not for the sins and brokenness that everyone else in the room defined her by.

The Pharisee’s objection to her actions is met with a shocking chastisement of his judgmental stance.

Jesus said, “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

The one who recognizes and receives God’s grace is the one who acts out of thankfulness, and seeks to participate in the healing of others, to be a bearer of God’s grace beyond the act of having received it, thus what they receive from God is an even greater gift, abundant beyond imaginable in comparison to the burden they once bore.

The one who judges another’s actions, or senses little or no need for God’s forgiveness, what they receive will be limited by what they expect or demand or deem acceptable based on their sense self aggrandizement.

The Pharisee sees only a woman marked for the transgressions of her past, and therefore knows nothing of the beauty before him, the act of thanksgiving and praise to the one who whose love saved her life, transformed how she was able to see herself and be in the world.  The Pharisee, unable to let go of his sense of the way the world works, where his authority, his self-righteousness, his interpretation of the laws of who is clean and unclean, who is worthy and who is not, his way is the only way, thus limiting him from ever being able to experience the depth of God’s grace inclusion, wholeness as Jesus presence sets those transformations in progress.

This Gospel story has been the backdrop of a challenging week that I have experienced on social media. Perhaps you too have been so affected.

It began by reading a victim’s statement – words addressed to the perpetrator of a violent crime against an unconscious woman.  An act that was thwarted, an act in which the perpetrator was caught, tried and convicted of his crime – a rarity as it turns out in our criminal justice system.  The words of this woman struck me, over and over again, as she spoke truth to the person who had taken advantage of her, who had disrespected her humanity, her personhood, her body.  An act that took possession of someone – which no one has the right to do.

The week continued with words of outrage toward the judge, and the father and the friends of the perpetrator of this criminal act, as his debt to society, to this woman, seemed utterly lacking in comparison to the physical and mental anguish, not only of the jarring experience in the moment, but of the constant re-visitation to that devastating act of being taken, of being owned, of being treated not as a human being of intrinsic value, but as a vessel for entertainment.  The punishment, did not fit the crime, in fact did not even equal the amount of time it took to go through the investigation and trial process, again of a person who was caught in the act, guilty of this violation.


The finger pointing continued, toward the media reporting of this case, the words used to describe the perpetrator, the images shown, especially in comparison with others who have stood trial for the same crime, comparing the images of mug shots of disheveled black men to a clean cut year book photo of a white elite athlete.  Comparing the words and phrases, some soft and oblique others direct and gut-wrenching used to describe the same crime.

There is much brokenness revealed to us in the national conversations that are taking place right now.  Sexism, racism, power, authority, ownership, who owes what debt, who is taken seriously and believed and who deserved it, who is dangerous and who is safe, Who is us, and who is them

Are there any safe havens from such brokenness? Two weeks before this firestorm on social media I spent a week with clergy colleagues, men and women from across the country.  In the context of our time together there were things said, and stories told of boundaries being crossed by male bishops and priests – boundaries that did not look or sound like the love of God, but rather abuse of power and authority, women judged unfairly, men not judged or investigated at all for their treatment of colleagues as well as those with less authority to fight against the bias, discrimination and injustices they experienced.

Friends, these ills, these sins, these ways of being that separate us from one another, and from the love that God has for us because of our own egos, words, actions, they are all around us.  If you haven’t noticed, perhaps you need to take a deep look at the place of privilege where you sit not to have been on the receiving end of such injustice.  If you have been a witness, but have said nothing, perhaps it is time to look what power and authority you have to step in as an ally, as an agent of change.  If you have been a victim, or if you are a survivor of sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, you are not alone – you deserve to be heard, you have the right to know that you are loved and lovable and worthy, that others do not have the right to own you, to use you, to harm you.  And if you believe that you are not affected by this crime, this societal ill, this harm, then you are just plain wrong my friends.  Because we are all harmed by it.

We are all victims and we all have a part to play in healing. We all have a part to play in healing ourselves and one another and our world.

Believe me when I tell you that I did not begin this week with the idea that I would address sexual violence and all the other ills I just mentioned when it was time for me to preach today.  I would have like to preach a nice, safe, happy, “Jesus loves the little children, Amen” sermon today.  But the truth is, all of this – is a Gospel story – it is in fact tonight’s GOSPEL story!!!

Over and over again, Jesus speaks to the host and speaks to the uninvited guest.  Jesus tells us that there is no us and them. There is only us.  We are part of the same family. We can create all the barriers, and categories and separateness that we want, but again and again Jesus will point to me and to you and say you belong to the same family.  You belong in relationship to one another.  You are the victim and the perpetrator.  The one who causes harm, has not yet learned that he or she has only harmed themselves. The one who speaks the truth to her perpetrator, is my sister. The family member who mourns the loss of their beloved, is my brother and I weep with them.

We are all the Pharisee, who is capable of becoming the woman who received God’s grace and let go of all that he believed he was entitled to and weep for joy at Jesus feet in thanksgiving for being forgiven.  I am here today, to preach the Gospel. You are here today, to hear it.  And when we depart this place, may we all live it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


One Comment to "Brokenness and healing: What Stanford and Orlando reveal"

  1. sbhedstrom says:

    Very well said. Amen

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