Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon for March 13, 2016 by The Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Year C Lent 5 (RCL) Sermon
John 12: 1-8

 Our scripture today speaks of joy and extravagance.
          There is joy as the Israelites are returned to their beloved city after years of exile. And there is extravagance expressed in Mary’s prophetic gesture. And as I prepared for this morning, I could not help but think of the hymn we learn as children, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
          Our scripture for today sets the tone for what is to follow … Holy Week.    
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And in the narrative according to John, he stops in the suburb of Bethany for perhaps one last visit with his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The opposition is rising … plans are in place to do away with Jesus as he threatens the religious establishment and their attitudes and behavior. And, yet another shocking event takes place, turning the Jewish world on its ear.
So what is happening here?  There are several things to consider. Let us begin with Mary.                                                                                                       
Mary’s anointing points to the anointing that will be done by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who will use one hundred liters of myrrh and aloes – an anointing of a king … in this case the Messiah.
Mary’s anointing of his feet is considered a humble gesture – a task reserved for the lowliest of servants. Yet, her anointing with expensive nard, would have been enough to help the poor a hundred times over.
The preparation of and at the feet is normally where the preparation of a corpse for burial would begin.
This is also the narrative in John that precedes Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and instructing them to do the same – teaching servant leadership.
In the Jewish society of that time, it was a shocking gesture in a culture where women do not let their hair down in the presence of any male figure other than their own husbands. To this, William Barclay says that she is a spontaneous person acting out gratitude that cannot be expressed more simply. He goes on to suggest that we could all be a little more spontaneous in our response to Jesus. Yet, others saw this as an act of prophecy.
Earlier, Martha tried to prevent Jesus from opening and entering the tomb of her brother Lazarus. It is also considered that through this generous act of Mary, the stench of death following Lazarus being brought back to life has been replaced by the scent of love and devotion and gratitude. And, it is said that this scent has reached out through the entire world by the telling of this story for generations to come.#
And then we have Judas Iscariot.
Judas is limited. Judas is known for dipping into the treasury for his own purposes. Judas does not either appreciate nor does he understand a theology of abundance.
The concern about the poor that Judas expresses at this point in the story is not sincere.
His actions foretell his behavior in the days to come. #
Both Mary and Judas are in roles that they do not yet comprehend. When hearts are overflowing with love, it is a natural outpouring of gratitude that is a proper response.
Mary gives us a wonderful example of spontaneous gratitude.
It is said that Mary responded to Jesus in behalf of the hundreds upon hundreds whose lives he touched in his three-year ministry on earth.
Mary became a model disciple and Judas is represented in contrast. His response leads to the destruction of the flock, while Mary’s devotion acts out the life of love that should represent the sheep Jesus came to save.
While the question of the poor will nag at us forever, there are times in the church that we must focus on the main thing … that Jesus came to reveal to us the kingdom of heaven and that we in turn must place Jesus first and foremost in our hearts. And this, in turn, gives us the joy, the gratitude and the grace to outpour our own love to others, to forgive others, to let go of grudges so that we can get on with the work of Christ in the world.
We are provided once again with another way to look at our own lives … and given an opportunity to seize the moment, as Mary did. We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world of those known and unknown to us as we share that generous love.
          Where are we on your journey of transformation with Jesus to Easter?
Are we able to share the abundance of our being and actions … or do we feel like pulling back?
          Are we ready for the Holy Week that is to begin next Sunday?
          No matter where we are in our journey … know that as we attempt to walk with Jesus … Jesus walks with us.
          Hear the words of The Rev John Bell in a meditation entitled He will Walk
          He will walk a little in front of us towards Jerusalem.
          He will not be scared though we are apprehensive.
          If we try to discourage him, He will recognize the Devil in our voice, and he will tell us as much In no uncertain terms.
Then he will go on again, in faith towards Jerusalem.

He will walk A little in front of us into controversy.
He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.
He will argue with the intelligent, stop in their tracks the self-assured, touch the diseased, upset bank balances by his outlandish behavior in the sanctuary and weep in public.
Then he will go on again, in faith, Towards Jerusalem.

He will walk a little in front of us into Gethsemane.
He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.
He will sweat blood and ask God if there is another way.
And when God says no, He will take the traitor’s kiss,
The soldiers’ spit, the bile and venom from the princes of religion.
Then he will go on again, in faith, towards the cross.

He will walk A little in front of us Towards Calvary.
He will not be scared, No, He will not be scared.
He will feel the pain of wood and nails; But more than this
He will feel the weight of all the evil, all the malice, all the pettiness, all the sin of the world Heaped upon his shoulders.
He will not throw off that weight, though he could.
He will not give back evil for evil, Return malice for malice,
Take revenge on the petty-minded, or spew out hate on all who have despised or rejected him. He will not give back the sin of the world, He will take it away into death, into hell, So that he can lead us into heaven.
Then he will go on again, In faith towards the resurrection.
He will walk a little behind us through the graveyard.
He will wait until we realize that he has died And admit our complicity in his life’s ending. Then he will come up behind us, and say our name, So that we can say his, Forever.[1]

As we approach Easter, we confront again the incomprehensible, unmeasurable, abundance of Christ’s love – love that doesn’t count the cost – love that gives until the vessel is empty – love that has only one object in mind, and that is our well-being – our salvation.
As we approach Easter, let us look to Christ – the author of our salvation. Let us seek what extravagance he is asking of us, and let us give him our all. #
Jesus loves us this we know. For the Bible tells us so.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

[1] Bell, John, Stages on the Way, Wild Goose Publishing Group, Iona Community, Glasgow, published in USA by GIA Publications, Chicago IL, 2000, pp 64-66.

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