Sunday 13th

SERMON 1

 

9.45 Holy Communion                               Lent  5                         Preacher:-  Rev Lynn McKeon

 

Philipians 3: 4b-14

John 12:1-8            

 

Bethany means ‘place of the poor.’ In our gospel passage this morning, Jesus is anointed with really expensive perfume an action which might be considered totally unsuitable in a place of poor people!                                                                          

Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. This house should have been a house filled with mourning and sorrow, instead it is the centre of attention as the dead man and his saviour gather to eat. The people around would clearly want to see this Lazarus who had been raised after four days. Bethany is a small village only a couple of miles from Jerusalem and it would also have been crowded with pilgrims who had come to observe Passover in Jerusalem at this time. People would also have wanted to come closer to Jesus who had this extraordinary power over death, they would have wondered what he could do for them also?                                                       

Jesus is with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, who he raised from the dead. Mary, the same Mary who had sat at the feet of Jesus as her sister Martha had been 'distracted with much serving, is once again centre stage. Once again Martha is serving, and once again Mary is rapt with love and devotion, sitting at his feet. But now Mary springs into action. In one spontaneous, reckless and, some would say wasteful gesture of extravagance, she anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume and wipes them with her hair! It's a very sensual, a very intimate, and a very shocking scene. For a woman to let her hair down in public in this way and behave towards Jesus with such physical intimacy must have aroused considerable attention and scorn. To let down her hair and massage the feet of Jesus with perfume is quite a highly charged act in any culture, but at the time it was positively outrageous. We can all imagine how the disciples must have wanted to have a go at Mary for being such a tramp and behaving in this shameless fashion.                                                                            

Remember, this was no ordinary bottle of perfume but rather one costing a years salary. Can you imagine what you would have said had you witnessed this scene of such lavish adoration? Judas beat us all to it when he complained about apparent waste, claiming that the money could instead have been given to the poor.                                                                                                        

The biblical account tells us that Judas was not really concerned about the poor, we are told that he was a thief and helped himself to the money that the disciples shared with Jesus. This explanation discredits Judas but perhaps it also serves to demonstrate that the other disciples too, felt that it was a waste of money which would legitimately have helped ‘the poor.’                                                             

Judas challenged Mary on the grounds of extravagance, but we know from Matthew's Gospel that all of the disciples disliked the waste of perfume being used on Jesus. Matthew in his Gospel says - When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. (Matthew 26:8) In Mark’s Gospel too he records that it was "some who were there" who protested. (Mark 14:4), not just Judas! Truthfully all of us would be appalled when we heard about this lewd behaviour and flagrant waste. Everybody except Jesus. Jesus defends Mary: "Leave her alone," he says. "She is anointing me, making  preparations for my death. "Jesus knows how much Mary loves him, and he recognises the goodness in her devotional act of extravagant love. She loved Jesus, and she poured out her love like priceless perfume, like there was no tomorrow, without ever counting the cost. The perfume Mary poured out was worth a year's wages, would we be prepared to pour out that kind of money on somebody we love? Would we be prepared to pour it out on Jesus?                            

Mary had much to be thankful to Jesus for, he had raised her dead brother Lazarus from his stinking tomb, how could she deny Jesus her best perfume? What Mary did was highly provocative, but she was highly motivated and her spontaneous act of loving gratitude could not be inhibited by social etiquette. Mary responds to the love and acceptance she found in Jesus. Her affection for Jesus is an example to us all. It is not the time to talk budgets, but to show love. What Mary did was outstanding. She gave Jesus not just words or promises about her love. She put those words into direct action. She did not consider the cost because her love was greater than financial considerations. We need so very much to learn the lesson which Jesus understood about generosity when he publicly approved of what she did. The woman’s response stands in contrast to that of the Chief Priests and Judas who will serve them in their wicked murder of Jesus. It is also a contrast to the behaviour of Peter and the disciples. In the Gospels Jesus is pictured as abandoned by his inner circle of disciples. In the end it will be a few women who are left standing near Golgotha and who will venture to the tomb. The unlikely ones in Mark and John’s world, the women, become the models.                                                                                                        

This is a deliberately subversive passage, and reflects so much of the experience of Jesus’ ministry. Others were so good, so devout, and so busy trying to be holy that they missed the point. This action made by the woman when she breaks the perfume container open and spreads the contents over Jesus’ feet, speaks louder than a thousand words. Mark even suggests that Jesus predicted how memorable her act would be.                                                                                                          

Jesus was surrounded by many of noble lives, high religious prestige and good moral deeds. It was none of these which attracted him, nor those who like Peter spoke strongly of their unswerving loyalty. Mary had faith in Jesus and she put that faith into an act of extravagant loving devotion. In so washing his feet her actions spoke louder than words, she showed that love which is beyond that which words can express.

All of this provoked the Jewish chief priests and we are given a glimpse of why they want to have Jesus and Lazarus put to death. Simply they are envious and greedy and do not want Jesus to take over their religious authority. Jesus was just too popular and this would have implications for them and their status in the community. There was no answer, Jesus had to go. In a short time this greed will end in the cross for Jesus.

Amen.

 

 

SERMON 2

6.30pm  Evening Prayer             5th Sunday in Lent                  Preacher – Fran Powis                              

 

Psalm 35 verses 1-9                     

Luke 22 verses 1—13

 

To-day, Passiontide begins. For some Passiontide is the solemn week from Palm Sunday to Easter, but, according to the Church of England Common Worship Lectionary, Passiontide begins to-day. So we see a change of direction in the season of Lent, we are moving from the time of repentance and reflection to beginning to look towards Holy Week and the cross. These days, passion can be an expression of strong feeling for many things, but passion comes from the Latin word for suffering.

As we approach Easter and think about the story we know so well, we have to give ourselves time to consider the impact of that story in to-day’s context. One of the readings for this evening, from 2 Chronicles 35: 1-6 and 10-16, tells us that God wanted a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, this has now physically disappeared from history, but this does not concern us to-day, it does not impact on us, because we have something better, we have Jesus Christ as the focus for our worship.

However the words and laws of God are still relevant, so that when we sin and fall short of God’s perfect standards, then, if we repent and apologise and prepare to mend our ways, with a truly humble sincerity, then God will, hear and forgive us. As God spoke to Solomon, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will  I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

To-day there are still battles between good and evil, we only have to look at a newspaper or turn on our TV to confirm this. As we look back at our Gospel reading from Luke 22: 1-13 we see how Satan entered Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve. Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus, and they offered him money in return. Contrast their delight in this evil plan with the genuine delight shown by the crowds as Jesus helped them and miraculously healed their sick.

The religious leaders were afraid of the crowds and eventually handed Jesus over to Pilate, as Judas had handed Jesus to them, however the truth is that God handed Jesus over to us and for us, see Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

‘Satan entered Judas’. How many of us have ever felt as though the devil had entered our thoughts or hearts? We have to resist this, being aware that it can occur, we have to fight the urge and suppress it, calling upon the strength of the Holy Spirit to come to our aid.

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss, in a garden which Jesus used to visit regularly, a peaceful garden where Jesus could find some peace and tranquillity in order to spend time with God. Could Judas have chosen a more sacred place than that haven of peace in which to betray his friend.

Do we feel hatred towards those who wish us harm?  Then we should turn to our perfect example and learn from Jesus seeing how he dealt with those who hated and feared him. They put him on trial, on trumped up charges, and finally they crucified him, an innocent man.

Jesus hung on the cross, between two criminals and so he was still associating with sinners, even in death, and he forgave those who persecuted him out of fear and ignorance of what they were doing.

We see here a connection with our Psalm reading, Psalm 35, a prayer to God for help against those who try to inflict injury for no reason. When our enemies are unjust and lie about us even when we do good to them, we can appeal to God who is always just. A recent example of this unjust condemnation was shown in the criticism directed at those who prayed for Richard Dawkins in his illness. Sometimes Followers of Jesus can do no right in the eyes of the world, and yet we are challenged to show our love for those who accuse us unjustly.

In chapter 22 Luke, to emphasise the importance of the Passover Celebration uses the word 6 times within 15 verses. All Jewish males over the age of twelve were required to go to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, followed by the seven day  Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover remains to this day a special celebration for all Jews,

Jesus was in control of events as they approached Jerusalem he gave the disciples detailed instructions of where and how the Passover was to be celebrated. So that there could be no mistake, they would see a man carrying a water jar, in itself unusual for this was women’s work; the man was to be followed to the room and the owner of the house was to be approached. Jesus knew the room would be ready for them to use.

And so we can see history being repeated. The Israelites were led to freedom from Egypt by Moses. God told Moses to give detailed instructions to his people, to kill a sacrificial lamb and use the blood to mark the door frames so that the angel of death would pass over the homes of the Israelites  Those whose doors were not so marked would lose their first born male child , and so it came to pass, and Pharaoh let the Israelites leave Egypt and travel through the desert to the promised land. Years later and we are seeing the build up towards the Easter story of Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, being killed to ensure  our freedom

In the upper room, at the Last Supper, Jesus shared with his disciples the Passover celebration, creating a new celebration, that of the Eucharistic supper, taking bread and wine from Jesus to share in an act of remembrance. That moment of receiving the Holy Sacrament remains the most intimate meeting point between God and us. There is nothing God will not forgive if we hold out our hands to him, ready to receive his gift of grace.

Jesus showed us how to deal with adversity. The more we feel oppressed or downtrodden, the greater is our need of Jesus to show us the way of righteousness. As we acknowledge that need and turn to him, holding out our hands and placing them in his, in trust, so our way will become clearer.

So, if the path seems hard for you now, take heart. The best is yet to be, and faithfulness will certainly be rewarded, as we shall see in the Resurrection on Easter Day.

Amen.