Christ Church Eureka California Fifth Sunday of Lent Luke 19:28-40, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 The Liturgy of the Word Isaiah
43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8 March 21, 2010 The Rev. Ron W. Griffin “Miracle of Generosity”
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had
raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "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."
Good Morning Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. Next week is Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday the Great Vigil and then the Season of Easter. These are important discerning times in our life together and I hope you are planning on attending as many of the services as you can.
In our gospel today Jesus is headed for Jerusalem for the last time. Before he gets to Jerusalem he stops off at the home of some friends for a meal. We know at least one of Jesus traveling disciples are with him at the meal, and from his disciples response it is clear the disciple isn’t aware that this is Jesus last trip to the Holy city. Not that Jesus hasn’t been trying to inform the disciples for some time that time is short it is finite, and a time of completion is close. But they don’t seem to be getting the connection. Gathered around the table at this evening’s dinner are friends, Martha, her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus. Martha the activist and busy one; Mary the quiet and reflective one; and Lazarus who was probably recuperating from his tangle with death, John’s gospel says Jesus loved these folks. Just a little earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus had been with this family. He had been across the river at first when Martha and Mary had sent an urgent message. Lord," it read, "he whom you love is ill." So he got to them when he was able. The sisters had waited and waited and waited; hoping that Jesus would get there in time. But Jesus hadn’t got there in time, and their brother had died. Jesus had stood in front of his tomb and wept. Then Jesus had shouted at the tomb and their brother came stumbling out, probably wondering what all the commotion was all about. Now Jesus was back in Bethany, maybe to check on his friends, maybe just to check in one last time, the scripture doesn’t tell us, but what it does tell us at this last supper in Bethany is that big heartedness and small mindedness often sit at the same table. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are close friends, but so is Judas who has also been following listening, watching as a disciple ever since the beginning. They all have a lot at stake in the future of Jesus. As the meal is finishing up, Mary leaves the table and then returns. She has a gift for Jesus, her friend and Lord; and as she breaks open the container, the space is filled with the smell of spice, pungent; like mint mixed with ginseng only its, own strong smell. As everyone in the room breathes in the spice and watches her, she does four amazing things in a row. First she loosens her hair in a room full of men, which an honorable woman never would. Then she pours the perfume on Jesus' feet, which is also not done. You might offer it to be placed in their hair, like a king, but not the feet. Everyone knew that was a burial procedure, preparing a body for the grave. It’s a lot to, a pound 16 ounces. Then she touches him, his feet none the less, which is not done, not even among friends. And then she wipes the perfume off with her hair. This is very odd behavior. There are other accounts of women in the gospels using perfume, one from Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew and Mark, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus' head at the house of Simon the Leper during the last week of his life. In Luke’s version the scene happens at Simon the Pharisee's house, much earlier in Jesus' ministry. Jesus is eating supper when a woman slips into the room and stands weeping over his feet, she is only identified as a notorious sinner. She covers his feet with kisses before rubbing them with oil of myrrh. In Luke’s version this woman is never identified, never named.
Over the centuries the church has tried to harmonize these different gospel stories, to compress and compare and force them to be the same person; especially the Luke and John scriptures, even incorrectly deciding it was Mary Magdalene. I guess conspiracy theories have been around for quite a while? Lazarus and Martha’s sister Mary are friends, not unnamed strangers, which makes Mary’s actions all the more peculiar. As Mary extends amazing generosity, beyond commonplace, (John makes a point to tell us, the cost of the spice) the disciple Judas takes exception with how the gift is going to be used. But this is not a story ultimately about money. It is about how extending generosity opens up to a life of miracles, and then opens up a circle of blessing, from God to us, from us to others. This is also the story of two followers of Jesus, Mary and Judas one who is finding her way with the miracle of generosity the other losing his way counting the cost. Mary has a sense of the next week, the final week and the ultimate miracle of generosity in Jesus, and for Judas it’s just another week to get through. Jesus had lived begun by example to show them the miracle of generosity. Remember the dinner party three years before; at a wedding and the 180 gallons of wine at the end, then later loaves and fish enough to feed thousands, and in-between healing and restoring people, inside and out, blessing with Miracles of generosity. Both had experienced wherever Jesus went, wherever Jesus was present, abundance, and abundant love was possible, probable, and present. Mary just knew, she felt it, time was in short supply, but generosity should never be. Much of our modern religious practice focuses on what is useful, what is cost effective and what is practical. We are consumers and consumerism is very much a part of the religious landscape these days. What will we get, today not what we can give. Just think of the term, church shopping. We have been reminded these past two years as resources have tightened that anxiety blossoms, and in anxious times there is always a call for more pragmatism, and practicality so I’m sure some would see Judas today as just being practical, but this is not a scripture primarily about money; it is about a motivation of life, as experienced through the miracle of generosity in Christ. It is about how we have been blessed and how we are to bless others. What should we call it when we stop short of asking our neighbors and non church going friends, those reaching out to us, to join us here on Sunday, pragmatism, being practical, selfish, hoarders of a most generous miracle of a gift? Should we live spendthrift lives? No Should we justify wasting God’s gifts? Not really. But the disciple that was trying mange the miracle of generosity exposed his faith as starved and diminished. How might our lives become miraculous, if we, like Mary, were looking for ways in which God is acting in the world and then blessing and supporting God's action with our generosity? Amen