|Lent 3||March 19, 2017||Third Sunday in Lent, Year A||Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42|
|Lent 2||March 12, 2017||Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17|
|Lent 1||March 5, 2017||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2017||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:March 13, 2016
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8, Psalm 126
Liturgy Calendar: The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C
"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" – Vermeer (1655)
What’s ahead for you in your life?
One thing is for sure. We’ll all have to let go of things.
“The swift and varied changes of the world” as today’s collect says, will require letting go on our parts.
Change is inevitable. Letting go is inevitable.
I was struck by the fact that all of the people we meet in the pages of scripture today are letting go of lots of things.
And I want to spend a little time with them, because what we find out is that as they let go of things, God does new things.
God is always up to new things—the writer of second Isaiah quotes God who says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Sometimes it’s really hard to perceive, discern, figure out, or see what God is up to in the moment.
Imagine being really, really hungry.
What if this handful of seed was all that stood between you and starvation?
What would you do with it?
Grind it up and make one last loaf of bread with it?
Cook it and make soup or porridge?
Or as hungry as you are, would you have the audacity to take that seed and let it go, by going out and planting it in the ground? Farmers and gardeners know that for the longest time, the only thing that can be seen after seeds get planted is barren ground. The only thing to do is to wait and hope for the new growth.
For years, Paul clutched his identity as a righteous and blameless Jew around him like a heavy cloak. Anyone who knew him could see that he was indeed a Hebrew born of Hebrews, that he was a Pharisee who kept all laws, a zealous protector of the Jewish faith.
We know that Paul had this cloak, his identity that he treasured, ripped from him that day on the road to Damascus, when he was blinded by brilliant light and he heard God’s voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul lost his old identity that day. Saul couldn’t even see the barren ground that the farmer so hopefully watches. He couldn’t see anything, because he was blind.
Saul eventually got his sight back. God even gave him a new name—Paul. Paul let go of his old life and took up his new life as a follower of Jesus.
Paul experienced beatings, imprisonments, hatred, distrust, and betrayals as his new life in God unfolded. His new life must have seemed like barren ground at times—he could only wait on God with faith and hope as he endured all the suffering that he experienced because he had let go of the old and put on the new.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is in Bethany, just over the hill from Jerusalem, visiting his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus had recently restored Lazarus to life after he had been dead and buried for several days. Now, Mary is holding in her hands a whole pound of costly perfume made with pure nard, an exotic plant that grew far away in the Himalayas. Scripture doesn’t tell us where Mary got this perfume, or when she bought it, but we can probably be sure that she has used it sparingly because it is a luxury. She has saved it like a wine connoisseur would save a rare fine wine by hiding it away in a wine cellar to share on some momentous occasion.
Imagine this scene. See Mary hold the bottle, hear Mary open the bottle, and observe her deliberately pour every last drop of this valuable substance onto the feet of Jesus. Smell the fragrance filling the room. Watch in disbelief as this valuable, fragrant liquid runs off Jesus’ feet. What doesn’t end up in Mary’s hair as she wipes his feet runs in rivulets across the stone floor and puddles in the cracks and crevices in the stone. The fragrance must have lingered in the house for months afterward, an olfactory reminder of Mary’s extravagant wastefulness.
So what new things is God up to in each of these stories?
God took the last seeds that the Israelites planted in the barren ground, and as they waited in hope, God turned those seeds into an abundant harvest—sheaves of wheat that the Israelites brought in from the fields at harvest time with rejoicing.
Paul can’t see what his new life will bring. But Paul waits with faith and hope for God to grow a new thing in him, and God has given him the grace to have only one desire left—as Paul puts it, “to gain Christ and to be found in him…to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”
Paul waits faithfully for that new thing that God will do in him, the transformation of who he is into the person he will become, a person who forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead—the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul could never have forseen what an abundant harvest God would bring out of his difficult ministry to the Gentiles. An abundant harvest of believers grew up into new communities of faithful Christians spread far and wide. We are part of that harvest—we are descendants of these early Christians.
The new thing that God was about to do through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross was not something that Mary could see as she anointed Jesus with her costly gift. She could only act in faith and in hope that God must be up to something new, even in the death of Jesus.
Mary lavishly anoints the feet of Jesus because she knows that her friend is about to suffer and to die. Jesus confirms this knowledge on Mary’s part. “Leave her alone,” he says to Judas. “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” Mary must have suffered as she anticipated the death of her friend, not knowing that God would raise Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion, death, and burial. Not knowing what was ahead, Mary poured out her gratitude and love on Jesus as she anointed his feet. She didn’t know what new thing God was up to, but she did know that her sacrificial love for Jesus would last beyond the grave, into eternity.
Later that week, on the night before he suffered and died for us, Jesus did something new and surprising. He washed the feet of his disciples, and told them that they were to wash one another’s feet—to have that same sacrificial love for one another that Mary had given him when she anointed his feet with the perfume made from nard.
So often, we look around and all we can see in what is going on in our lives seems to be like lifeless earth. The swift and varied changes of the world do bring us into places of suffering and death and barrenness.
When we struggle to carry our own crosses through the lonesome valleys of suffering and loss, when we can’t imagine or believe that God is up to a new thing, today’s scriptures remind us that we are travelling in a great company of faithful people who have gone before us, hopefully, faithfully, and with extravagant love.
The people that we’ve spent time with today remind us that what we can do even in the midst of suffering and death in the barren times of our lives is simply to let go.
Like them, we can plant our seeds with hope.
We can faithfully let go of our own plans and wait on God.
We can let go of what holds us back from sharing our love, and extravagantly pour out our love for God by loving one another with sacrificial love.
Even when all seems lost, our ancestors in the faith remind us to believe that God is really is up to something new and extravagant and beyond our imaginations.
So God, we pray that you will “grant to us, your people, the grace to let go of all that holds us back so that we are free to love what you command, and to desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”