|Day of Pentecost, Year C||May 19, 2013||The Day of Pentecost, Year C||Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17, John 14:8-17, (25-27))|
|Seventh Sunday after Easter, Year C||May 12, 2013||Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C||Luke 24:44-53; John 17:20-26, Acts 16:16-34|
|Six Sunday after Easter, Year C||May 5, 2013||Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C||Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 5:1-9|
|Fifth Sunday after Easter, Year C||April 28, 2013||Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C||Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35|
|Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year C||April 21, 2013||Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C||Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30|
|Third Sunday after Easter, Year C||April 14, 2013||Third Sunday of Easter, Year C||John 21: 1-19|
|Second Sunday after Easter, Year C||April 7, 2013||Second Sunday after Easter, Year C||Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, Luke 24:13-35|
|Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013||March 31, 2013||Easter Day, Year C||Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24I Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12|
|Good Friday, March 29, 2013||March 29, 2013||Good Friday, Year C||John 18:1-19:42|
|Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013||March 28, 2013||Maundy Thursday, Year C||Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1,10-17, I Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35|
|➤Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 17, 2013||Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8|
|Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 10, 2013||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Joshua 5:9-12, Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32|
|Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 3, 2013||Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||Exodus 3:1-15, Luke 13:1-9|
|Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 24, 2013||Philippians 3:17-4:1||Sermon, Second Sunday in Lent, Year C|
|First Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 17, 2013||First Sunday in Lent, Year C||Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Luke 4:1-13|
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:March 17, 2013
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Liturgy Calendar: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Have you ever thought about the fact that God longs for our freedom?
In fact, the Bible is the sweeping and ongoing saga of God’s extravagant love and longing to set us free from all that holds us captive.
This fact is good news, because let’s face the truth—we are all captives to one thing or another—each one of us is enslaved to a particular thing, unique to us.
Take a moment to think about what holds you captive. Is it your job, or a need for money? Maybe it’s your desire for approval, or perhaps a need to accomplish something. Maybe you are a slave to fear—or to anger. Some of the things that enslave us are subtle, others obvious.
But the point is that we are enslaved people in one way or another.
You could say that even though God has given us what we need to be free, we keep finding ourselves back in slavery and exile.
Each one of us has our own Babylon or place of exile—the place that holds us captive, and this place can be so comfortable that we might not even realize that we are trapped.
But God knows that we are enslaved—and God longs mightily for our freedom, even when we fail to realize that we are trapped and enslaved, and God never does anything halfway.
In fact, as we hear over and over in scripture, God is wildly extravagant and generous in devising ways to set us free. We see some examples of that extravagant generosity in our Old Testament readings today.
Second Isaiah is writing to the people who are suffering under Babylonian rule—many of them are in exile in Babylon.
And the writer reminds the people that their almighty God freed them from Egypt with a strong arm and an almighty hand.
You can almost hear the writer saying to these hopeless Israelites—“Remember? God longed for your freedom and led you out of slavery into a life of freedom in the Promised Land!”
And God also longs for our freedom.
God is about to do a new thing for us, something extravagant and generous.
Every time we get lost again—God is going to make a way for us through the wilderness.
When we’re dried up and depressed, and thirsty and tired and restless—listen—God is about to do a new thing!
I remember the summer of 1977, the first summer of our marriage, and Ben and I were in North Carolina house sitting for one of my college professors. That summer was incredibly dry—a drought set in, and we watched as lawns withered, the ground dried up and tree leaves started turning brown and crispy on the edges. The city rationed water. Everything was covered with a fine layer of dust. The heat was oppressive. Day after cloudless day passed. At last, after weeks had passed, we got those days that seemed to promise rain, but the rain never came.
And then finally, late one afternoon, in the distance we heard a crack of thunder. Thunderheads loomed high in the sky. Hours passed, the sky grew darker and darker, and at last the first large drops fell, kicking up dust, and then a deluge of water—pouring in extravagant abundance from the dark lightening filled sky—for hours pouring down, pounding out an insistent drumbeat on the roof, washing away the dust, running down driveways, flooding the streets and sidewalks, and finally sinking into the parched ground.
Second Isaiah would probably have run outside and danced around in this downpour shouting, “Water in the wilderness! Rivers in the desert! Praise to our almighty God!”
That’s God, alright, longing to rain down abundant life into the dried up dusty wildernesses of our lives.
The Psalmist would have been out dancing in that downpour along with Second Isaiah! And the Psalmist would have been singing—“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed!”
Or maybe, the Psalmist would be singing, “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves—come on, everybody sing! Bringing in the sheaves…..”
Now we come to the New Testament readings.
In the letter of Paul to the Philippians. Paul tells about how he didn’t even realize that he was enslaved by his way of life. He was an upright Pharisee, someone diligent about keeping the law, someone so certain of the correctness of his beliefs that he persecuted others who did not see the world the way he saw it.
And so God, who wanted Paul to be free of all this self-righteous goodness, knocked him down with a blinding flash of light and sent rivers into the desert wilderness of Paul’s life with this one question—“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
And for once, this man stopped thinking about himself and his rightness and had the sense to ask, “Who are you, Lord?”
And the answer came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Paul’s conversion, be sure to go home and read or reread Acts, Chapter 9.
For now, the important thing to know about this story is that the river of extravagant and abundant love and grace that God rained down on Saul changed him completely, washed away the self-righteous persecutor of the church, and changed Paul into a powerful witness to the fact that God longs for our freedom.
This is the man who said of his past, “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.”
In today’s gospel according to John, Chapter 12, we find Jesus having dinner with his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
We need the background story here about God’s extravagant and abundant love for this family –so I’m going to back up to John, Chapter 11, which is the story of the death of Lazarus.
If you don’t remember the details, go back and read Chapter 11 of John’s gospel this week.
For now, the important thing to know about this story is that this friend of Jesus, Lazarus, died. Jesus finally shows up after having received a message from Martha and Mary. Martha is aggravated with Jesus and tells him that if he had only gotten there sooner, Lazarus would not have died.
Jesus is already in trouble with the authorities in Jerusalem, and they’ve tried to arrest him, but he’s escaped. The disciples warn him that if he goes back to Judea, he will be in danger—but Jesus ignores their advice and goes to his grieving friends in Bethany, which is only two miles from Jerusalem.
Now when he talks to Martha and Mary and enters into the grief of all the people who are mourning for his friend Lazarus, John tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved—and greatly disturbed, he goes to the tomb of Lazarus, who has at this point been dead for four days and as the practical Martha points out, there is going to be a terrible stench from the dead man.
Now here’s the thing—in John’s gospel, Jesus knows things—and Jesus knows here that if he raises Lazarus from the dead, he is sealing his own doom. If he brings Lazarus out of the grave, he will just as surely be placed in his own grave sooner rather than later.
But Jesus, being God, longs for our freedom, even our freedom from death, from rotting away into nothingness, so he goes to the tomb and has the stone rolled away from the tomb, and then he shouts in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way to Jerusalem,
“Lazarus, come out!”
And when Lazarus comes out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped with a cloth, Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
Not long afterward, Mary, Martha and Lazarus invite Jesus to dinner.
Mary is so full of love and thanksgiving that Jesus has been with her family in their grief and that he has shared their sorrows and has put his own life at risk to restore the life of Lazarus, that she passionately pours out an entire pound of expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus—an act of extravagance on her part that mirrors the extravagant love that God has already poured out and rained down on her.
The fragrance of the perfume fills the whole house and wipes out the stench of death forever—the fragrance of God’s love returned by Mary’s gift of perfume fills the nostrils and makes those who breathe in that scent giddy with love and gladness. God has unbound them from the fear of death, and brought them into freedom.
Now I’m getting to the most important part of this sermon—how does any of what we’ve just heard apply here and now to our lives?
If we truly believe that God is about to do something new for us, then on the days when we’re feeling lost in a dry and barren wilderness, we can make an effort to pour out our praise to God, even if our praise on that day is only a trickle of praise in the drought of our lives.
Even during our most sorrowful days, we can practice the art of joy, remembering God’s promise that even as we sow with tears, we will also reap with songs of joy—that even the seeds of sorrow that we plant, watered by God’s extravagant rivers of love, will grow up into sheaves of joyful and abundant life for us.
When we feel that we can’t take another step forward, Paul reminds us to press onward—to forget those awful tragedies and sorrows that continue to bind us even though they are in the past—instead of staying bound, Paul reminds us to strain forward to what lies ahead, as we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Especially when we feel that we have nothing left to give anyone, not even to God, Mary reminds us to be extravagant and to pour out all we have, even if it isn’t much, in thanksgiving.
Knowing that God longs for our freedom, we can pray in the words of today’s collect that “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found”—and live as if we really have run out and danced in joyful abandon and truly have been set free by the extravagant love that God continually pours out on us.