April 3, 2022

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.

Isaiah 43:16-21

16Thus says the Lord,
  who makes a way in the sea,
  a path in the mighty waters,
17who brings out chariot and horse,
  army and warrior;
 they lie down, they cannot rise,
  they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18Do not remember the former things,
  or consider the things of old.
19I 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.
20The wild animals will honor me,
  the jackals and the ostriches;
 for I give water in the wilderness,
  rivers in the desert,
 to give drink to my chosen people,
  21the people whom I formed for myself
 so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the for- | tunes of Zion,
  then were we like | those who dream.
2Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with | shouts of joy.
  Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great | things for them.”
3The Lord has done great | things for us,
  and we are | glad indeed.
4Restore our for- | tunes, O Lord,
  like the watercourses | of the Negeb. 
5Those who | sowed with tears
  will reap with | songs of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, carry- | ing the seed,
  will come again with joy, shoulder- | ing their sheaves

Philippians 3:4b-14

[Paul writes:] 4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised 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; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More 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 9and 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. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Not 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. 13Beloved, 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, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8

1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(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.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The Season of Lent is coming to an end. Next week is Palm/Passion Sunday when Holy Week will begin. Today we are in transition. Something is about to happen. In the prophet Isaiah we read, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” In the gospel reading, Mary of Bethany anticipates Jesus’ death by anointing him for burial with costly perfume. The road that Jesus travels leads to death and then to life. This is the new thing God is doing.

We are on a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and his death. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and now, before going to Jerusalem, he stops in Bethany. In the world of our scripture passage, it is the week of the Passover, the week of the Last Supper. Judas’ greed is revealed today as it will be later. Jesus’ friend Mary washes Jesus’ feet with oil. There is a lot going on here. 

What of our world? Ash Wednesday, we began the Season of Lent, a time of repentance and remembering our baptisms. We were invited into the disciplines of Lent. We have examined ourselves and tried to clean out of our lives whatever is hindering our relationships with God and our love of neighbor. We have been trying to become more faithful disciples. We have been looking at how we respond to God’s love and mercy.

At Bethany we see two contrasting responses to the nearness of Jesus’ death. Judas’ reaction is one of self-centered disdain. Judas does not care for the poor, whatever he says. He is described as a thief, the same word used earlier in the Gospel of John to describe the hired hand who abandons the sheep. Judas covets the money.

In Mary, we are given a picture of the fullness of the life of discipleship. Her act shows forth the love that will be the hallmark of discipleship. Her actions show the recognition of Jesus’ identity that is the decisive mark of the Christian life. In the anointing she shows what it means to be one of Jesus’ own, one of his flock.  Mary’s actions model the life of love that should characterize Jesus’ sheep. She seizes the moment to respond to Jesus and she responds with love.

Mary shows us an alternative to those around her. With Jesus’ hour close at hand, she seizes the moment. In her home there is a dinner given in Jesus honor. Mary takes out a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair. At that time a slave was virtually the only one who could be expected to wash and anoint the feet of another person. In washing Jesus’ feet voluntarily, Mary shows her complete devotion to Jesus, enough devotion to act as his slave.  She recognizes the limited time Jesus had with them and responds.

This act of Mary’s foreshadows another foot-washing. Jesus will wash his disciples’ feet as an expression of his love for them. In fact, the verb “to wipe” is the same verb used to describe Jesus’ wiping of his disciples’ feet at the foot washing. It is Jesus’ way of drawing the disciples into his life with God. He will also ask them to repeat this act of service—this time for one another. He asks them to respond to one another with acts of love.

I often move back and forth and back and forth on what is central to this gospel passage. Is the point that Mary recognizes Jesus and seizes the moment? Language of faith might say Mary recognizes and celebrates a moment of transcendence and abundance. Certainly, there are enough images of abundance in Jesus’ ministry thus far to support this being the central thing of the text. 

At Cana, 180 gallons of wine are created out of water. Later, five thousand hungry people are fed by the Sea of Galilee, with twelve baskets of leftovers remaining. And, spoiler alert, after his resurrection, Jesus will meet Simon Peter, who fished all night with no results. Jesus will instruct him to cast his net o the other side of the boat. Immediately, the net is bursting it is so full of fish. So Mary, spilling her perfume with wild abandon, seems central. Her complete devotion to Jesus is important. 

But there are also these words of Jesus’ towards the end of the story, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Even as he praises Mary’s action, there seems to be a mandate here, at least when we consider the entire gospel narrative. The mandate is to care for the poor when Jesus has ascended, to extend the service of foot washing beyond the followers of Jesus to all the poor.

Every generation gets to interpret who the poor are in their midst. The Idaho Press had an insert this week telling the history of the Interfaith Sanctuary in Boise, a group of faith leaders who joined together in 2004-2006 to serve the homeless. In the Old Testament, the people are commanded to remember the trio of the “orphan, the widow and the foreigner.” Who are they today? We are rightfully mindful now of the refugees fleeing Ukraine. But let us also remember the Syrians and the Afghans. Closer to home, El Salvador just declared a state of emergency amid a wave of gang-related killings last weekend that took 76 people’s lives. It is no wonder people continue to flee Central America’s northern triangle. People fleeing violence across the globe are also the ones Jesus says are with us always, the ones we are called to love and serve. Is that what is central to today’s text?

Which is it? Are we being told to take a moment and stand in awe and wonder and God’s love, manifested in Jesus—to abundantly praise God in response to God’s abundant mercy? Or are we being called to pull up a chair and, literally or metaphorically, wipe our neighbors’ feet? The resounding answer is, Yes.

One scholar wrote, “Jesus establishes a parallel between himself and the poor. Now he is present, and Mary rightly feels the need to be extravagant. When he is no longer present in the flesh, the poor will still be there–to be served with the same extravagance.” Lent is the perfect time to rub our eyes, get new focus, see the poor, the refugees, those pushed to the edges of society, with a new perspective.

Returning to the waters of baptism and the promises made at the font is also instructive as we read this text and blend Mary’s devotion with Jesus’ words about poor. There are five promises made in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: to live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth. 

We profess that this is how we live in the covenant God made with us in holy baptism. Now, is one of those promises paramount? Is serving all people more important than living among God’s faithful people? Is sharing in the Lord’s Supper more important than striving for justice and peace? Of course not. If there is one part of the covenant that is most important, it is that God acts first, claiming us, adopting us in the waters, sealing us with the Holy Spirit. Everything we might muster is the result of God first loving and claiming us.

Mary of Bethany gave us a beautiful example of discipleship because she did not simply understand with her head who Jesus was. She actually took in and experienced the abundant love of God in Jesus. She received God’s love.

We are fed and nourished by hearing God’s Word and feasting at the Lord’s Supper. We leave this place ready to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed. Living among God’s people was something we missed and grieved during waves of the pandemic. Now we are finding our way back to this promise and its gifts. Living among God’s people reminds us who and whose we are. It strengthens us to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

But our interactions outside this community and outside these physical walls also inform our life together, even the way we worship. Whenever we encounter Jesus in the stranger, the neighbor, the check-out line, the cafeteria, the border, the long-lost relative, there is an opportunity for us to be transformed. We should always be ready to be surprised by how God chooses to love us, to forgive us, to reveal Godself to us through others.

Today is about newness and abundance. Each day, we the baptized boldly face death, trusting that God has made a new way, a wet way, to travel from death to life. God in Christ has honored our human vulnerability by becoming flesh and by laying down his own life. He is the new way through a dry, barren, and death-filled place. One author wrote, “Because Christ Jesus has made us his own, the baptized walk wet through the desert places of this life, pouring out the whole of their lives, down to the very last hair, in extravagant love for God and for the people God has formed.” Amen.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

Do a new thing in the church. Free us from paradigms that no longer serve the gospel and bring forward leaders who imagine fresh ways of doing ministry. Give us courage in the face of change. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Do a new thing for creation. Reverse the trajectory of climate change and environmental catastrophe. Revive habitats already impaired by human disregard. Amplify the voices of climate scientists and researchers working to chart a new course. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Do a new thing in our world. Break barriers that prevent political enemies from working together for the well-being of all. Make a way for peace and collaboration among the nations. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Do a new thing for those who suffer. Reveal a path for any who are unemployed or underemployed, for those experiencing homelessness, and for all who struggle with money. Comfort those who grieve and restore those who are sick (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Do a new thing within us. Direct us into encounters that broaden our understanding of the human experience. Amplify voices that are ignored or devalued (especially). Deliver us especially from the scourge of racism. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Do a new thing in our death. Fill us with the knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection as we give thanks for (names and) all the saints who have attained the prize of their heavenly call. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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