Sermon for April 3, 2022 Fifth of Lent “Leaps of Faith”
Have you ever spontaneously received a wonderful gift? Have you ever given one equally spontaneously? Each are met with the paradox of; I love it, you should not have or I saw this and thought of you.
In the Gospel teaching from John today we hear the story of Jesus visiting his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. There is good food and lively conversation as is common when friends meet. Scholars are not sure why Mary took the expensive Nard perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, maybe it was just a feeling, women’s intuition, a gift for her friend, but she did. She took the time to anoint his feet, to rub the expensive oil on his well-worn feet and she knew in her heart that she was doing a good thing.
For Mary, it was a leap of faith, a following of the inner voice, that spirit voice that moved her to act. Her logical brain knew this act would be frowned upon, she was supposed to be in the kitchen, she was supposed to be serving, she was supposed to be doing so many other tasks… but the one she chose was to anoint the feet of her friend. A public display of affection that would result in stares, ridicule and most likely punishment.
As we look at the context from a wider angle perspective we discover that the gift was also an expression of gratitude, deep gratitude. In john 11 we read the story of Lazarus’ death and Jesus raising him from death. So the question might be ‘how do you adequately or ever thank someone for that?’.
Biblical scholar William Carter writes; “Curiously, Jesus does not take issue with the temporary nature of the gift. He declares it is appropriate in that moment, particularly in light of his impending death. He is gracious enough to receive it with gratitude. Lots of extravagant gifts are put into the air, where they soon evaporate. A church choir labours to prepare an intricate anthem, and three minutes later it is gone. The teacher prepares the lesson, stands to deliver, and then class is adjourned. Mourners provide large arrangements of flowers to honour those whom they grieve. Saints donate large sums of money for their congregations to spend. Why do they do this? Love has its reasons. To reflect on the miracle of generosity will lead us to reflect on Jesus…Jesus is the one through whom everything was made. There is abundance wherever he is present.”
The how, why and when we respond to Jesus is for each of us to determine. Let us remember that for us, as for Jesus faith is a journey. If we only hop from miracle to miracle, healing to healing we develop an incomplete view of Jesus. For we miss that hard parts in-between. We miss the pointed fingers and disgust of others when Jesus spoke to a widow, touched a leper, ate with sinners, lost his temper in the courtyard of the temple or walked dusty miles to be with a friend.
What we do know is that Jesus came to the world, no one invited him and few understood him and yet he changed the world one heart at a time. We may not always want Jesus in our lives because he calls us to a higher standard of care for others, self and creation. And that often places us at odds with most everyone else. But Jesus is here, waiting for that gentle invitation or the scream of agony to enter. And he does. It may not be as we envisioned or even hoped but Jesus is here and we are different because of him.
How do we know Jesus is here? The answer is broad and wide and as diverse as people. It is the simple wonder and acceptance when a child asks; does God love me? And the parent answers yes, and the child smiles and says OK and returns to play. It may be the careful testing, measuring, double blind test and the accumulation of empirical data. It may be that God just became a common house guest and part of the family. It may be the agonizing cries from the rock-bottom place. That Jesus is here… is always, in some regard a leap of faith. A completely explainable/unexplainable presence.
The teaching of Mary’s anointing Jesus feet, provide a wide look at responses to Jesus presence. Mary’s public anointing, the raised eyebrows of the disciples and the scorn of Judas. For the disciples this was a turning point on the journey to Jerusalem. For us it is a gentle teaching that when it comes to Jesus, extravagance and going against the accepted norms is acceptable, even preferred. And here is a note to self and to you: it is always dangerous.
We live our lives in the shadow of the cross, but we also live in the presence of the risen Christ. So here is an invitation to daily companionship with Jesus in extravagant acts of compassion and generosity, in worship and in life. All this in a world which lives by a mind-set of scarcity, rather than a mind-set of abundance, and so temps us to close in and give little. And we wonder why leaps of faith are scarce and the world is becoming crueler and more violent. As we journey toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we are heading into one of the most violent weeks in the life of Jesus…and still faith and love rule the day.