Year C, LENT 5

 

John 12: 1-8                                        (Sermon 1: “Expensive Love”)

Philippians 3: 4b-14                 (Sermon 2: “ Doing God’s Thing”)

Isaiah 43 16-21

Psalm 126

 

PREPARATION

 

The costly mercy of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

Nothing we can ever say will do justice to the God who cherishes and nurtures us.

Nothing we can ever do will be sufficient thanks for the God who redeems us.

 

Therefore when you come to worship,  praise and exult as much as you can.

Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Is the God of earth and heaven!

 

OR -

 

Restore our fortunes, loving God,

like rivers flowing in the Outback.

Restore our fortunes, loving God.

 

My friends, please don’t tire of the discipline of Lent.

Restore our fortunes, loving God.

 

God says: Look, I am now doing a new thing,

As it springs to life, do you even notice it?

We press on towards the goal,

our prize is the uplifting call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Let everyone praise the grace of the Lord.

The lord’s name be praised!

 

PRAYER OR APPROACH

 

You God, only you! You who are the holy Source of our lives, the Friend on the journey, the Saviour when we fall, and in the hour of success the Joy that makes our joy complete. We your much-loved children gather to worship and adore you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us bow in penitence before the God of truth  and grace. Let us pray.

 

Look on us, merciful God, as we really are. Please penetrate beyond our outward show into our true selves, that we may find the courage of self-honesty and repentance, and receive the blessing of forgiveness.

 

On the sins which we confess and those that we have not yet recognised;

Lord have mercy.

 

On the sins that we loathe and those of which we have been too tolerant;

Christ have mercy.

 

On the basis of our profound needs, not on our preferences and conditions;

Lord have mercy.

                                                            *    Silent Prayer

 

Merciful God, saving Friend, by the costly grace of your crucified Son save us from the evil which has corrupted our lives. Forgive our sins and set us free from their hold on our days. Renew the well-springs of our faith and love, and prepare us to surmount the pressures and temptations that are yet to come. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

At morning, noon and sunset,  God is available to those who sincerely desire the healing grace of Christ Jesus.

Only those who hide away cannot not share the goodness of God’s mercy which falls freely like sunshine and rain.

So stand in the open, look up and be blessed.

 

There is Divine renewal in every breath we draw,

and in every Bible promise we take to heart.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Thanks For All Creatures

 

For brumbies* prancing

            and brolgas* dancing.

For seals looping

            and swallows swooping.

For kangas leaping

            and lizards creeping.

 

For children playing

            and grown-ups praying.

Thank you, God, for living things,

            for all that flies, swims and sings.

Amen!

                                    * brumbies = wild horses

                                    * brolga = a large crane

            From “Prayers For Aussie Kids”

                        Ó  B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

PSALM 126

            * The verses in italics are an alternative version.

 

When God restored our fortunes,

at first we thought we were dreaming.

But then our mouths filled with laughter,

and our tongues sang with rampant joy.

 

            When God put us back on our feet

            we thought it too good to be true.

            Then reality hit and we began to laugh,

            whooping and cheered like winners.

           

We spread the word among the nations

“The Lord has done great things for them,

The Lord has done great things for us

and we are filled with delight.

 

            We wanted to tell the whole world

            the great stuff God had done for them,

            Just look what God has done for us,

            see, our happiness tells its own story!

 

Restore the fortunes of all, O Lord,

like flooded creek beds in the Outback.

May those who sow with tears,

reap with shouts of happiness.

           

            We want more and more of God’s grace,

            flooding like Outback creeks after the rains.

            Let all who struggled on through tears

            reap a faith that makes them shout with joy.

 

May those who went out weeping,

bearing the load of seed for sowing,

return home singing for sheer joy,

carrying the harvest of the sheaves with them.

           

            We want those who fought on through sorrow,

            sharing their hope like seed for sowing,

            to come back home singing like crazy,

            celebrating the harvest that God has given.

                                                                                                Ó B. D. Prewer 2006

 

AROMA THERAPY

 

            John 12:1-8

 

Blokes need fragrance too,

the scent of flower or leaf;

or the feel of tears on cheeks

in rifts of joy or grief.

 

Blokes too need lovely things,

with colour, shape or song,

and flutes to knit the threads

when the dark nights are long.

 

Blokes need the feel of touch,

the love of soft fingers,

like Christ readied for death

with scent that still lingers.

                                    John 12: 1-8

 

COLLECT

 

Giver of the most expensive gift of all, help us to learn from you.

May we who are so adept at catering for our own wants,

            make ourselves more vulnerable to the needs of others.

Let us live unselfishly and more sensitively, that we may spread love’s fragrance

            wherever the odour cynicism and despair hangs in the air.

Through Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: EXPENSIVE LOVE

 

John 12: 3

 

Mary took half a kilogram of expensive, perfumed oil, massaged it into the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.  Then the whole house was filled with the fragrance.       John 12: 3

 

Each Sunday in Lent is carrying us closer to the horror and glory of Good Friday. Today the Gospel reading shows us Jesus having some respite, in a kindly home at Bethany, not far from the Holy City, not long before his betrayal.

 

The awareness of his impending suffering is constantly with him. In a sense his final passion is already upon him.

 

In this setting, one deeply sensitive woman, massages his feet with expensive oil, and in a wonderful outpouring of love, wipes his feet with her hair.

 

It seems to me that in any other situation, this would be seen as an act of sexual intimacy. The expensive oil, the massage, the unbound hair of Mary, would point to something erotic. But not here. This is the expression of profound agape; an outpouring of other-centred love.

 

At this point I wish to draw a distinction between the acute understanding of this woman and the ongoing confusion in the minds of the men who followed Jesus..

 

MEN IN DENIAL

 

Men first. It seems to me that the male disciples where in stubborn denial of the coming arrest and death of Jesus. 

 

With a mind-set which is unfortunately common among men, they did not want to think about disaster. They refused to face the probable demise of their leader. It as if by denying it, the unpleasant truth would go away.

 

It reminds me of a man (I’ll call him Peter) who built up from the ground his own business. Because of recession and the increasing tendering by overseas companies, his business was facing collapse. But Peter could not face this, he flayed around looking for more bank loans, and when that failed, he put the hard word on friends. His wife could see what was happening, she knew that what he saw as his life’s work was irrevocably crumbling. She tried to gently but firmly help Peter face the facts. But he would not. To accept defeat was, in Peter’s eyes, the attitude of a weakling. Real men did not admit to the possibility.  Right to the end , Peter stayed in denial. His wife saw it, he did not.

 

The male disciples were like that. From the time when at Philippi Peter made his statement that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus had tried to make the men see that his rejection by the religious leaders was inevitable. From that time he began talking about his cross.  But they stayed in denial. They did not want to know.

 

The only trace of acceptance among the men (that I note in the Gospel accounts) comes from my favourite disciple, Thomas. On the road, Thomas openly expresses his belief that the journey to Jerusalem will end in death. “Come on,” he says to the others, “let us go and die with him”.

 

Here I underline a grave consequence of this denial by most of the men:

 

Hiding from their own deep fears about the possible death of their Master, meant that they could not give Jesus the emotional support he needed in those last weeks and days. They would not allow themselves to be in tune with his soul. When he needed them most to understand and to support him in his resolve to keep the faith in the face of death, the men were not emotionally there for him. Jesus must have been an extremely lonely man at that time.

 

A WOMAN’S UNDERSTANDING

 

Thank goodness for the women. We read about them also being followers of Jesus. Some of these were financially well off, and provided for Christ’s travelling mission out of their own pockets.

 

I wish more information had survived about his aspect of our Lord’s support group. I reckon there was a lot more going on than the scant references that survive in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  However, I rejoice that this record of incident (that is, our Gospel focus for today) has survived. We cherish the record of that evening meal at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus

 

Mary was unpretentiously empathetic, she was prepared to bear the pain of admitting to herself the tragedy that lay ahead. Jesus, the loveliest person she had ever known, was going to fall into the hands of cruel men and be butchered .

 

This understanding must have been breaking her heart. But she faced it.  No denial here. Some social commentators claim that women are genuinely the stronger sex. Mary certainly was. She was ready to show some expensive love.

 

Because he was not in denial, she was able to comfort Jesus as he rested in their house at Bethany. She did not care what the other men thought, she did not care whether Martha understood or not, she just did what her intuition told her to do.  She knelt at his feet and with the most expensive of oils, she anointed and massaged them, then unbound her hair and wiped his feet with her long dark tresses. Jesus knew himself understood and remarkably comforted by a woman who dared to be true to what her heart was telling her.

 

I reckon there was stunned silence. Silence until Judas, embarrassed about it all, blurted out that pious blabber about selling the ointment and helping the poor.

 

Jesus would have none of that. He and Mary knew that death was for real. “Leave her alone! Let her keep this for the day of my burial”.

 

TAKE THE RISK; LET MARY BE YOUR TUTOR

 

It would be stupid of me to use this story to superficially categorise all men as not able to deal with the sensitive emotional issues. Likewise all women cannot be put into the category of the sensitive nurturers. We find some of both genders in both camps. However, it is no secret that social pressures tend towards shaping men to hide their emotional side, while allowing women more room to express theirs.

 

My main conclusion, therefore, does not lie in putting a finger on only men. I put it to you, both female and male, that we cannot truly support one another unless we stop the denial game; unless we take the risk and make ourselves sensitive to the feelings of others and to our own feelings in response to theirs. We must deal in emotions not just ideas, profound listening; not speaking platitudes to quickly cover our own discomfort.

 

I remind you  of the penance I offered on the first Sunday of Lent: get to know yourself better.

 

Here we are again with the same theme, plus a consequence: Know yourself and you will be better able to know others and stand with them at the point of their need. It is expensive love, agape love, other-centred love. It is high risk love that allows both highest joy and deepest grief.

 

Allow lovely Mary to be your tutor:  while others were in denial, she was willing to identify with Jesus and give some of the comfort he desperately needed.

 

Mary took half a kilogram of expensive, perfumed oil, massaged it into the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.  Then the whole house was filled with the fragrance.

 

 

SERMON 2: DOING GOD’S THING

 

John 12:3

 

Mary took some expensive perfume, about 450 grams of it, and made from pure nard, and  poured it over the feet of Jesus, and then wiped his feet with her hair The whole house was filled with the fragrance. John 12: 3

 

How do you feel about such extravagance?

 

And how do you feel about such indulgence receiving a high commendation

by Jesus, the beneficiary of the extravagance?

 

Some of us, maybe a majority,

have been brought up in the tradition of “waste not want not.” Moderation, prudence, being reasonable in how we use our money and possessions is a sign of good stewardship.

 

RIGHT BRAIN / LEFT BRAIN?

 

Extravagance goes against the grain of many good Christians.

It offends our sense of responsible stewardship of money and possessions. If it had been any one else but Judas, who criticised Mary for her extravagance, I suspect that some of us might have agreed with him.

 

Even allowing for some gross exaggeration on Judas’ part

as to the true value of the perfume (Aus. $30,000, in Judas’ claim) the extravagance may well seem excessive to us. “ Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 silver pieces and given to the poor?”

 

The use of possessions in our religious tradition has been “left brain” dominated;

that area of our brain which is the logical, careful, planning, astute hemisphere. Role models tend to be of that type.

 

Take the example of those of us who admire aspects of the Methodist tradition.

John Wesley wanted us to share his “right brain” experience of evangelical enthusiasm, but in our conduct it was over to the left brain. It was not for nothing that his followers were called “method-ists”. In his view, Christian conduct had to be controlled and always carefully measured and evaluated. There is one delightful story of the small 4 year old John W. being offered an apple. He responded : “I will consider it, Mother.” How is that for left brain control?

 

We need to be careful about left brain dominance.

With role models like Wesley, or others like the earlier austere John Calvin, or those of the  Roman Catholic Orders with their spartan “rule,” it is no wonder that we have trouble with Mary and her extravagant  behaviour. She used (wantonly??) almost a half a kilogram of extremely expensive ointment, equivalent to the value of 300 days work by a labourer, in a few seconds. The cost, plus her unseemly gesture of wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair, is sheer right brain stuff! Nothing reasonable or controlled about it!

 

THE CHARACTER OF GOD?

 

Isn’t Mary’s extravagance a reflection of the God we worship? It this God’s thing?

 

The Gospel readings from Luke and John,

which we have been following this year, have insistently brought us up against the glorious extravagance of God.

 

Back in January we enjoyed the story of Jesus at a wedding feast

turning water into wine: 600 litres of it! Through Jesus, the early Christians celebrated a God who overflowed with generosity. This God did not know when to stop! To use our human terms, God is certainly a Deity who is remarkable in touch with the right brain!

 

Then last week we delighted in the story of the “Prodigal Son”,

Maybe it would be better called the “EXTRAVAGANT DAD .” That Father goes overboard in his generosity, both at the beginning and at the end of the parable.

 

Right brain stuff! God is like that. The Creative Drive behind all things is revealed as flamboyant of this world with its multitudinous colours, shapes, diversity  and abundance of good things! The Redeemer is extravagant in the matter of priceless forgiveness, poured out without calculation, in Christ Jesus crucified.

 

MARY IS DOING GOD’S “THING”

 

We hear a lot about people wanting “to do my own thing.” A mantra of the “me generation.”

 

Through her relationship with Jesus, Mary has learnt to do God’s “thing”.

 

She was becoming a reflection of the God of her Rabbi, Jesus..

Her action at that subdued dinner party, shortly before Jesus comes to the end of the road, is truly godly. Her deed is unexpected and extravagantly beautiful; sheer God-likeness. Like the grace of Jesus. We can only guess at how much this right brain outpouring of love, brought consolation to Jesus’ soul. A healing to go with him through the last days of his life on earth.

 

Isn’t it like that in our own experience?

Some of the most healing, encouraging times in our lives occur when some dear person has acted with spontaneous generosity toward us: Grace. Unexpected kindness. Unearned blessing. Like a fragrance, the action of another has perfumed our whole being with the special sense of beauty and wonder. In such moments something of God’s “thing” that has reached us through a neighbour, or maybe even through a stranger.

 

CLOSE TO HOME?

 

How close to home are we prepared to go ?

With such uncalculated generosity? To our family; parent, child, sister, brother, wife, husband?

 

Or even closer. 

What about ourselves?  Yep. Ourselves. Are we prepared to deal graciously and generously with our own souls?

 

Some Christians are reluctant to love themselves.

For sure, there is rampant self indulgence in our society, Yet there remains among austere Christians a reluctance to be generous to oneself. We may see it as a good thing to show grace to others, to spread some unexpected perfume around, but we feel uncomfortable about being kind to ourselves.

 

Sometimes the most unloved, uncherished person is the earnest Christian.

Our own soul is the neighbour whom we rarely love, the guest on whom we do not pour out the perfume of love. We may rarely express true appreciation to our own spirit. We go unthanked and unsurprised by grace offered to ourselves. Some Christians can be miserly when it comes to anointing themselves.

 

Even as I say this, some of you are inwardly protesting against my words.

You are thinking it is dangerous to talk this way. Too many are already over-indulgent. We need to set a more sober example of self discipline. We need to limit pleasures, not extend them.

 

To this I say: Maybe. Maybe in some/many cases.

But my experience within the church says there is always a few in any congregation who urgently need to begin loving themselves, as well as loving God and their neighbours. Some of you need to relax, and learn to pour out extravagant grace-ointment upon yourselves.

 

Here I mention a preacher’s frustration: hitting the wrong target.

One difficulty I face, in speaking as I have, is that the wrong people may take the message to heart: The folk who are already over self-indulgent may take my words as a justification of their selfishness. Yet the folk who are too hard on themselves may be afraid to hear my message and take it to heart.

 

Therefore, to the chronically self-indulgent person I say:

“Don’t take false comfort from my words, buster!”

 

To the chronically self-depreciating, I say :

“ Give yourself a break! Indulge yourself with some loving self-affirmation. Share some perfume with yourself to the glory of God. Do God’s thing!”

 

DELIGHT IN THE PERFUME

 

Mary took some expensive perfume, about 450 grams of it and made from pure nard, and  poured it over the feet of Jesus, and then wiped his feet with her hair The whole house was filled with the fragrance. John 12: 3

 

Mary’s action, so sensitive and so prodigally generous,

fills this house of prayer this day, just as it filled the whole house at  Bethany. Her Christ is our Christ. Her God is our God.

 

Let us delight in the over-generous ways of God and share them with one another.

 

And even dare to sometimes pour it out on own feet?

 

Please God.

 

A CREED

 

 

We believe in the debonaire God

who clothes the wild flowers

dressing them so superbly

that they outdo Solomon in all his glory;

who is the true Friend

of all creatures great and small

who feeds magpies and laughing kookaburras,

and even doleful ravens and drongos.

 

We believe in the God of Christ Jesus

the Source of abundance,

full of grace and truth.

 

We believe in the extravagant God

who turns the other cheek,

goes the second mile,

turns water into the best wine,

brings healing with his every touch,

and who welcomes a woman’s of love

as she fills the house with unforgettable fragrance.

 

We believe in the faith-full God of Jesus Christ,

who sweated blood in an Olive Grove,

and kept the faith to the very end.

 

We believe in the redeeming God

who spared no cost,

forgave even his brutal crucifiers,

had time for a dying thief at his side,

and who on the third day

did a thing so prodigious

that even his friends were dismayed with joy.

 

We believe in the God of Jesus Christ,

the Source of abundance

wherever we turn

and no matter what we do.

Amen

 

THANKSGIVING

 

We are most grateful, God our true love,

            that humanity is your project:

that our brokenness is mended

            by your almighty tenderness,

our foolish moves are countered

            by your long-sighted strategies,

our little faith is tended

            by your faithful encouragement,

our wounds are dressed

            by your firm fingers’

and in our dark wanderings

            your shepherd-soul finds us.

We are most grateful

            that we are your project

            which cannot fail.

 

Through Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Please let your the perfume of your love flow through us, gracious God, and save the people of this world from the sometimes rampant, sometimes subtle, forces of corruption and death.

 

Whenever church councils are in denial about the true health of congregations and the opportunities for outreach: come Saviour Christ and deal with us.

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

           

Whenever ministers and counsellors are in denial about their own wants, and push for outcomes that suit them rather than the needs of their clients: come Saviour Christ and deal with us.

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

 

Whenever politicians are in denial about their own compromises and bad errors, and become strident and irrelevant to the major needs of a nation: come Saviour Christ and deal with us.

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

 

Whenever ordinary citizens are in denial about the true reasons why indigenous Australians are beset by numerous social and health issues: come Saviour Christ and deal with us:

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

 

Whenever the members of  the United Nations Assembly are in denial about their lack of costly commitment to the weak, poor and oppressed: come Saviour Christ and deal with us.

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

 

Whenever folk associated with critical illness and dying, are in denial and therefore  are unable to give that sensitive love that can relieve loneliness and fear: come Saviour Christ and deal with us.

Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.

 

For yours is the commonwealth of love, the power that works through the meek, and the glory that from a cross embraces the world.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Know yourself and you shall be able to know others.

 

Let that the fragrance surrounding  that person Jesus,

enhance your environment.

 

Attempt to love others, and should Christ call you, then even dare

to go tenderly but firmly where angels fear to tread.

 

Try loving yourself more,

even as God has loved you.

 

By the grace of God, you are much more than you think you are.

Amen!

 

Grace, mercy and peace, and the abundant blessings of God, will be yours today and always.

Amen!