Anxiety overcome by something worth celebrating!
Lazarus, Mary’s response of extravagance
In the Gospel story for this morning Jesus returns to Lazarus’ home for a meal. This is where Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Together with the disciples they share a meal.
Mary ‘wastes’ costly oil washing Jesus’ feet. For a blessing the oil would have been poured on his head. This, though, is just a foot washing, a practical kindness offered to guests.
Foot washing sandaled feet
People wore sandals. They walked the hot and dusty paths and road ways. On arrival for a meal, where everyone reclined around the table, feet washing refreshed the guest and removed the awful smell from the elite people’s animal waste that lay along the way.
Mary’s perfume was way too costly for the task – probably worth in excess of $50,000 in today’s funds. It was an extravagance which no common person could afford.
It was an extravagance Mary offered for the man who brought her brother back to life, for the teacher who carried the Kingdom of God around him, palpable to all who encountered him, for the man who, Mary believed from her pondering, was the Saviour, the Christ, God’s Son sent to fulfill God’s promises of old.
However one of the disciples objects to the extravagance, because he would have liked to have the proceeds from its sale put in the purse that he stole from. He wanted the extravagance for himself. Who knows what this disciple really wanted, or if anything would have been enough for him.
Real Fear of poverty
Given all the goodness of life and the luxuries we take for granted, there is always a part of each one of us that objects to such extravagances. For we have our hands in the cookie jar, and we want more. Poor people be … well … ignored, … and condemned to live lives we are so afraid our lives may become. We justify all kinds of deceit trying in vain to secure our place far from the poor.
We have real cause, every day, to get lost in this and all sorts of anxiety. Our past is full of sins that should land us not just in the poor house, but out of the Kingdom of God. Instead Jesus comes to us, each day, starting by saying, do not be afraid!
What does Jesus have in store for us?
What does Jesus have in store for us?
OT God’s up to something again: something new
In the OT lesson for today Isaiah writes to the people in exile in Babylon that God is up to something again. Like they, we too often give up and stop looking for Christ’s light.
To the exiles and to us Isaiah repeats God’s words: Do not remember the things of our past. Yet remember that God is the one who brought us out of slavery, through the wilderness into the Promised Land. Free from the anxiety of our past that grips us at the roots, we can now look to the new work that God is about to begin.
God’s new thing: living water in the deserts
For the Creator and Re-creator is acting again: A new thing is about to become: water will flow in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
In Canada we have lots of fresh water. Of course there are plenty of small communities who have not had clean, fresh water for many decades. And a survey a few years ago estimated that between one-third and one-half of North Americans are mildly, chronically dehydrated. (Published by Dr. Susan Kleiner, dietician in Seattle-area, reported in Chatelaine April 2000.) Early signs of dehydration are fatigue and headaches. We need water. Yet when we turn on the taps and enjoy clean water, it is difficult to appreciate that we are not getting enough water or what it means not to have water.
Salt water, fresh water, living water
Imagine the drought driven dry desperation of thirst caught in an endless desert. It is worse for people who survive in life rafts after being shipwrecked at sea, who spend days on the ocean waters without fresh water. On the sea water is everywhere, but it cannot quench one’s thirst, it only makes it worse.
We are surrounded by so much fresh water, and yet we thirst for the living water that gives life. We are surrounded by luxuries the people of history could hardly imagine, powered by oil, technology, and seemingly magical realities. Yet we often deeply thirst for the meaning of life, for our place in it, for something to be and do that will fulfill what we were created to be. Our past is riddled with failures we hardly comprehend.
If it is as if our tongues were parched so dry that we could barely swallow because it hurts so much, and we know we deserve even worse.
Paul, Our Efforts = Nothing
Like Paul we try diligently to be the people that we think God wants and needs us to be. We may not be as successful as Paul. He was quite an accomplished man of God. But all that effort Paul counts as nothing, in order that, still striving to be the man of Grace that Christ called him to be, he might receive, not earn, but receive without merit, the Grace of God, the righteousness which is Christ’s. This righteousness is only Paul’s or ours as a gift through faith by Grace.
Christ’s Gifts = everything
Paul cannot own his righteousness, it is only a gift. He must leave behind all his struggle, straining, and striving to fulfill the law. Instead he strains forward to whatever Christ has in store for him. God has a whole lot in store for Paul. Most of it is challenging.
God’s Gift, flowing, living water
And when God acts with a shockingly new thing, then water flows, not just out of our taps in small trickles, not just clean, fresh water. The water of life flows in broad rivers, assuring us that the drought is done.
Praise for the water from all
How astounding it is to undeservedly receive water, flowing fresh water, the living water from God.
Does it really take so much to move our hearts, to make things different in our minds, hearts, and souls … so that we will forget the past failures and recognize the wonder of God’s gifts, the gifts so basic to life as even breath itself? All this just so that we might give God praise!
Drenched in the new largess of God, we should be barely able to contain ourselves. No matter what we need, God provides, so that we can and will live in praise of our Creator and Re-creator.
What does God have in store for us?
What has Christ in store for each of us? For all of us as a community of faith?
This Lent Jesus has in mind for us a fast named in Isaiah 58 (from Ash Wednesday’s lessons), a sacrifice of all that is given us, so that those suffering from injustice will receive justice, so that the oppressed will be set free, so that those who hunger will have food, and those who have no homes will find homes in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, in our families of faith.
Celebration of Easter Coming
At the end of our fast, Jesus has in store for us a celebration that is so great nothing is too extravagant to be shared with those suffering injustice, those oppressed, those hungry, those homeless, who now are with us. This is the celebration of new life given to each of us.
Baptismal water promises
Just as Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, we receive the promise and assurance in the waters of our baptisms that we will be raised from the dead as well. We too, sinners though we be, will be brought into the New Jerusalem with all the saints of all times.
All will praise God
Even the despised jackals and hyenas will sing God’s praise. No matter how despised the animal, or the person, all will sing God’s praise. Even the reality denying ostriches, or similarly the people who stick their heads in the sand at the signs of danger … Even those who deny reality will be unable to deny Christ’s reality. When God does God’s new thing among us, the anxieties about our past will be gone and no one will be able to stop from singing God’s praise.
For this we were created, redeemed, made God’s children, and promised eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Smell the perfume of extravagant celebration, and sing as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength.
As at Daybreak celebrate [extravagantly]
When God does this new thing, as at daybreak, the darkness will succumb to the rising dawn. Then the sol of creation begins anew to give purpose and hope for the hours to come. The Light will reach everywhere. The New Light will catch even the spider’s string [in the sermon photo.]
So … leaving behind all our anxieties, we can close our eyes having kept the watch,
For the Christ’s Light now keeps the darkness and danger at bay.
The hyenas of home are driven back into hiding. We will have challenges ahead, even more darkness to face, but Christ expects us to trust his promises, as we will then again wait for the dawn to return.
But for now…
Let the waltz begin.
Let the celebrations and our praise begin.