Sunday, 13 March 2016

Can't make it church - 13 March 2016

Here we are at the Fifth Sunday of Lent: at the beginning of the last two weeks before Easter. Been a long journey that's gone in a flash!

Today is a day when we think of an expensive gift poured out onto the feet of Jesus, an angry Judas, an (as ever) working Martha and an doting Mary as Jesus visits the home of Lazarus – a good friend.

I wonder how we regard the act of pouring all that expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Even more, how do you feel about Mary wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair?

Now Mary had good reason to be a bit OTT, after all it wasn’t long before this story that Jesus had raised her brother *Lazarus) from the dead. Jesus was in a familiar home and was enjoying a meal with people he probably knew – this was an intimate rather than formal meal – this was a return to a place in which Jesus fame, and opposition, had grown rapidly. There was, I’m sure, no one without an opinion for or against the man. He was becoming popular with the masses and this would have frightened, and solidified opposition, from the priests and those in power.

Today is the beginning of ‘Passiontide’ – the final two weeks of the Lent observation that ends with the cross and Good Friday. Today we think about Jesus being anointed, something that is done as a preparation for death: Did Lazarus’ home and Jesus’ followers have an inkling of what was to come? If so, this could explain the reaction to his presence in that place?

We have the benefit of hindsight – how do we respond to Jesus today?

Here we are – feast and famine, joy and despair, support and opposition are all before us today. The opposition are plotting to kill Jesus – His followers worship and give extravagantly.

Which position do you occupy? All for Jesus or the bare minimum?

Mary, kneels at Jesus’ feet with her pound of expensive perfumed oil and gives. I am always told that action speak louder than words – some bless and some curse in ways that mere words never can.

Are you someone who, through your actions, blesses people or curses them?

Judas was upset, but learning that he was dodgy he was probably more upset at the loss of an opportunity to flog the stuff on – can’t do that when it’s over Jesus’ feet and the floor, can he?

How often do we take what should have been God’s – not money, like Judas, perhaps but praise, worship, honour, time and love?

In the Isiah reading Israel is in a bit of a fix. All is lost and everything is broken beyond repair for they’ve been conquered by Babylon and are in exile. The temple is destroyed and their king is in captivity. It has all gone wrong: But God turns their attention to the things that have gone before – the things He has done for them. A reminder that no matter how dark, He is still with them. All they have to do is remember and respond:

"Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, 'I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King?.'"

Have we perhaps forgotten this in the way that Mary didn’t?

So we end with Paul not talking about, but living in the reality of perseverance and persistence. He walks the talks and puts aside the sham and appearance and tells us how it is. How do we measure up? How are we running the race? Many tell me that I should cut the older Christians some slack and say, “Stop running. Stop witnessing to others and come into your well earned rest. Stop doing the stuff and relax!”

The answer to this is simple:
As long as the Lord gives me breath – our call in to witness to Christ and to love those around us as he loved – with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind: All our being/
simple innit?

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Isaiah 43.16-21
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 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. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,  the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

 Philippians 3.4b-14
Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12.1-8
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.’

The Collect
Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever. Amen.

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