Sunday, April 7, 2019
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 43:16-21 The Lord gives water in the wilderness to the chosen people
Philippians 3:4b-14 To know Christ and his resurrection, to share in his sufferings
John 12:1-8 Mary anoints Jesus for his burial
Title: From Ashes to Oil
It is an iconic image for fans of Broadway. That line stretched across the stage of auditioners, hoping to win a spot on the chorus line. The cast members of the musical we are watching are hoping to be cast in the fictitious show that is holding auditions. As they hold up their headshots they are singing: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?” Through the course of the show, they answer that question. One young dancer offers boastful claims of “I Can Do That” and then shows off fantastic moves. Another, remembers herself as a young classically trained dancer. One seeing herself as defined by her physical assets. And then of course there is Cassie whose impressive resume has everyone asking, why is she auditioning for a lowly chorus role. The show may be about the theatre and theatre artists, but, like all theatre strives to be, it tells a universal story. How often we look at our resumes, our successes, our failings, all the we have done, are doing, will never get done, and we ask, is this the sum total of who I am. Am I my resume?
Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God reminds the people living in exile of the actions that have filled God’s resume in the past. The deliverance through the sea. The defeat of the Egyptian army by those same saving waters. A spectacular resume to be sure. Perhaps those acts of salvation are one of the reasons why the folks are feeling hopeless and abandoned now as they sit in exile. Brought out of their God-given promised land and forced to live on foreign soil. Those exiles might be shaken their fists at heaven demanding that God act according to this salvation-filled resume of the past. “Be your resume, God!” They plead.
And as long as we are talking about resumes, Paul lays out his very impressive resume in the opening verses of our reading from Philippians. For those who understood what made someone righteous in the eyes of God according to the law of the Old Covenant – Paul is making sure they see he has every base covered and covered again.
The context for this display of righteous perfection is, once again, Paul is battling with those who are telling early Christians that they must follow the law as laid down in the Hebrew scripture. And most essential, these folks are telling male Gentile converts to the movement started by Jesus that they must be circumcised. In Philippians, Paul attacks these folks as mutilators of the flesh. But in the new covenant, sealed by the gift of Jesus, trusting believers like himself, put no confidence in the flesh but worship God in the spirit. He lists all the reason why, according to his opponents, he could and should have confidence in the flesh, why he could be judged as righteous in the law. He boasts in his perfection under the law. But then he goes on to say, this law-centered righteousness is nothing. Our translation uses the word rubbish. The scholars tell us that the word really should make us think of what Brooklyn leaves on the street that we are required to pick up and dispose of properly. Paul could not be more clear or impacting – when it comes to being righteous in the eyes of God, he is NOT his resume.
He goes on to tell that Philippians that he is striving to build a new resume. Well, actually not build one, adopt one is perhaps a better word. He sees not who he is through pedigree or accomplishment, but he sees whose he is through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. He is a child of God, confirmed in the person of Jesus. And so, this identity leads him forward into this new life. Living into the actions of Jesus, being an imitator of Christ. In response to what God has made him though Christ, he now lives not for vain glory, not for sake of tradition, not for building up resume of accomplishments for which he could boast. No, he lives in Christ and for Christ.
It is this Jesus the Christ who Mary has come to know through first hand encounters. She sat at his feet when he visited her home, listening to his wise words, hanging on every teaching, while Martha was busy in kitchen. And when Martha complained to Jesus that she needed Mary’s help, Jesus confirmed that Mary had chosen the better use of her time. “Martha, neither are you your menu, or your immaculately clean house.”
And Mary witnessed that day, not too long before the day we are reading of, when her beloved brother Lazarus had died because Jesus had not rushed to save his dear friend. But in the face of heartbroken mourning, Jesus brought new life to Lazarus, and to Mary and Martha.
Those are just two of the encounters that we know of. Perhaps there were more. But now Jesus is back with his friends in Bethany and Mary is still trying to thank Jesus for all that he has done. Or maybe she is offering a confession of faith, a proclamation through action. Perhaps she is saying “I do believe that you are the Christ, the anointed one of God, the Messiah.” And this is how one is treated. They are bathed in richest oil. Jesus, of course, points out that not everyone will be treating him in this way in the very near future.
We began Lent back on Ash Wednesday, a day in which we were called to admit that our resume amounts to a pile of ash, because, left to our own accomplishments, a return to dust is our end. But through this journey we have heard a new call, to follow Jesus, to conform our lives to his, to let go of that which is dead and embrace the new life that is given to us freely through Jesus.
This morning, as we prepare to complete this journey by walking the way of the cross with Christ through the events of Holy Week, we are invited to change the cross of ash that is of our making, and be anointed with a cross of oil that we minds us that we are now of Christ’s making. That, through the work of the Holy Spirit, our lives are woven into his. That we are following in his way, dying to self, so that we might rise to new life with him and in him. New life that imitates him, that forgives boldly, that serves the world mercifully, that shares the love of God radically and gracefully, without judgement. New life that is our true source of joy and peace.
(Those who wish to receive an outward sign of this joining with Christ the anointed one, are invited to come forward during the communion hymn.)
The Rev. Mark Erson,