Apr. 7, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 7, 2019 in Lent, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 7, 2019

Our gospel text is brief today, what happens isn’t much about the words at all; it was about feeling, about love. Imagine that moment; the satisfying warmth of a meal with friends, then the scent of costly perfumed ointment filling the air, Mary kneeling, the firm touch of her hands massaging his tired, dusty, calloused feet, then the feel of her hair as she wiped them afterwards. Was she embarrassed at taking this bold action? I’ll bet she was yet did it because it expressed what words could not. I can see her self-consciousness fall away as she felt his body sigh and relax, still wordless. The message was in the aroma, the ointment penetrating rough skin and dirty toes, the quiet awareness of a powerful moment, the pleasure of how good it feels to have one’s feet massaged, and how good it felt to give him that gift. The loving care is surely reciprocal, ‘agape’ love between these two who call themselves ‘sister,’ ‘brother,’ ‘family.’ Yet perhaps its greatest impact is how love seeks a future, love wants to take hold and go on, keep spreading!

Don’t we find that receiving love gives us courage? Think of how the best of a parent or mentor or partner’s love inspires in us belief that we are capable, that we can live into a new future as we grow. It is like a mirror reflecting onto us that love from God, which was always there, even if we didn’t know it. Those who let us pass this gift onto them will carry it as Jesus did, giving it as wholly and unreservedly as he did. What is born of faith and given out of love will always point forward. You do it in all the ways St. Michael’s gives to each other and to our wider community. How many children have been baptized here, remember loving welcome and deep learning at Sunday school, and now including the children of the cooperative preschool we host? They grow into acolytes, mission trip teens, labyrinth-planters, mentors, teachers, worship leaders, vestry leaders, and so on.

On Wednesday night some of those children excitedly bake the bread for our intimate and reflective service. In it we offer anointing and healing prayers for those who wish to come quietly aside for laying on of hands. We light candles to pray for those on our hearts, near and far. Those actions of faith might seem purely personal, and like Mary’s action, beyond words, —yet the action itself is a continuation of the love of God poured out for us, and then by us, now through us. That river of healing continues forward in another new way soon; because we finally have space —and enough for parking, that we get host the first area “Mental Health First Aid” – a two day education program to equip anyone who works with young people recognize risks and warning signs of mental health problems like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia, learning to help them build appropriate support, offer initial aide in a mental health crisis, and connect people to the appropriate help. Loving is a gift in the present and also always about the future in some way.

After Easter you’re going to hear about fulfilling our work on the parking lot by closing the gap between funds committed and being given, and what it has in the end cost to build this (surprisingly powerful) part of our sacred campus. Yes, we have a financial gap to fill, and that’s doable, because what we are doing is finishing, fulfilling, our part in the great and vision that built this first worship space, then faithfully added classrooms, nursery, music rooms, and space for holy hospitality. Bishop Greg challenged us to fill it up and use it wholly! (Wholly and Holy!) You have brought it to fruition and God is working through you and through this family of faith to heal, teach, love, and transform those who come seeking such miraculous gifts. Did any one of us realize the self-giving love that welcomed each of us when we came here? We step into a stream of it flowing from God’s gift in creation, through God’s words spoken in Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” It flows through the faithful ‘yes’ of Jesus’ mother Mary and his father Joseph, to disciples who loved and followed him, as with Mary’s hands anointing Jesus’ feet. He receives that wordless self-giving love and pours it out to his disciples that last night, washing their feet. See how what he received is given out and points to the future, as he tells them “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” What feet have brought someone here to be washed for the first time? It is easy to forget what we each experience on Maundy Thursday may have begun with the inspiration of Mary’s silent and powerful act that night.

It feels like the moment is shattered by Judas’ harsh criticism—why was this expensive anointing oil not sold and the money given to the poor? (Notice that Judas completely ignores the person of Mary and what her actions do for Jesus?) Then Jesus answers, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” For someone to witness so sacred and rich a moment and turn it into a calculation of cost makes me wonder; who was “the poor” Jesus referred to? Does he mean those without food, work, and shelter, who are considered ‘poor,’ or those like Judas, choosing to be emotionally barricaded or turning away from love? The word here also means poor in spirit, which Jesus also spoke of. The message changes if so; There will always be those like you, Judas, who are poor in spirit—this one however, understands the time with me is now short. Both Jesus and Mary of Bethany were looking ahead to his impending death even while fully in the present. She anoints him that night, giving while there is still had time to do so, and he receives it in that moment, knowing it also points to his future, to entering Jerusalem, and to his crucifixion and death. Her wordless touch is lavish love poured out, no justification or reason is necessary. He carries it forward in his heart long after the perfume fades.

In those days they would anoint for the coronation of a king or for death. Jesus has now been anointed to do what is before him as the Son of God, Mary’s act helping him to give his extravagant love for us, by continuing this path which will be the way of the cross and the time of his death. It doesn’t end there because gifts of such immense love do not stop there. Love given is love seeking future expression, and in the end, it will burst even the confines of a tomb of stone.

Think about who has helped love you into your future. Whom have you done this for yourself, even knowing that future will be filled with challenges and disappointments, even suffering and loss, as well as joy and love? It means being with someone right where there are and bringing just who you are. How did you change by being recipient? By being the giver? Who has been a harsh critic like Judas, dismissing such riches as indulgent or unearned? Is the goodness to love others into their future ever enhanced or expanded by launching that ‘poor in spirit’ attitude? What great advances in our world have come from love, and what has grown from turning away or building defenses up? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beautifully reshaped words from John (1:5) saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” Yes, we will always have the poor in spirit, and just as Jesus did not give up on Judas, nor should we give up on them. Judas was among the disciples whose feet Jesus washed; he was at the table with him that last night. Even knowing Judas would betray him, Jesus would not stop offering his love. The poor we will always have with us, and maybe along the way they might receive an act of love that changes them, heals them in some way. Perhaps they never let themselves receive it before, or worse yet, never knew the opportunity. Here’s the future Jesus gave the disciples and they gave to others; God sends you to anoint the poor in spirit and the poor in tangible need, to welcome them into Christ’s body, to wash their feet, to share his holy gospel through your faith, words or no words. Because in the end, death was no end. In Christ and through us, love finds eternal future in resurrection. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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