Worship for Sunday, April 3, 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I 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.
The 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,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then 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.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negeb. 

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14

[Paul writes:] If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

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. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and 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. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not 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. Beloved, 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 12:1-8

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

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Moderation verses extravagance. What is your approach to life? Your philosophy?

I am firmly and resolutely a member of “camp moderation.” I tend to be pretty frugal. Okay – well honestly – I am a complete and utter cheapskate.

I drove my last car for 16 years and 240,000 miles.

I kept my last cell phone for almost a decade.

I buy store brand everything from salsa to soap to socks. I just can’t bring myself to pay for Nike swooshes and Adidas stripes. Those logos never help me hike further or burn more calories. I don’t look taller or younger or thinner while wearing them . . . Just poorer . . . lots poorer . . .

During Covid – Jack initiated me into the awesome world of thrifting and Goodwill. I have fallen hard for thrifting. Thrifting rocks!

Yep – I am just plain cheap – except for the yarn.   With yarn – I go for the good stuff.   Actually – with yarn – I go for the REALLY good stuff. I have been known to import my favorite cotton yarn from the UK and I’m not talking about getting it from Lexington . . .

The debate between moderation and extravagance is at the heart of our Gospel reading.

This morning we heard that Jesus and the disciples have been hanging out with their friends Mary – Martha – and Lazarus.   These friends do what most of us do when we hang out with our best friends. They ate – talked – and relaxed. They delighted in the blessings of companionship.

Until Mary does something totally unexpected.   Mary kneels in front of Jesus and pours an entire jar of incredibly expensive perfume onto his feet. Then Mary wipes up the leftover oil with her own hair.

Sure – in a dry – dusty climate where everyone went barefoot or wore sandals – a gracious host usually offered her guests a way to wash their feet. But this was different. This was extravagant. This was totally over the top.

Judas demands an explanation! He wants to know why Mary wasted all of that money.   Judas wants to know why Mary didn’t sell the perfume and give the money to the poor.

Judas has a point. The perfume Mary poured onto Jesus’ feet was worth A LOT of money – about 300 days’ wages. The puddle at Jesus’ feet was worth about $17,000 today.

$17,000 is a ton of money! This is serious money. That would have fed a lot of hungry people! It would have cared for lots of widows and orphans.

Is it any wonder Judas was shocked?

How would you react if our Worship and Music Committee spent $17,000 on perfumed oil? What if the only explanation we gave was we wanted to show our love for Jesus in an extravagant way? I am guessing – we would have a new Worship and Music Committee around here pretty quickly! (Don’t get any crazy ideas – ladies!)

We are practical people. Most of us even follow Jesus in a level-headed – sensible way.   Yes – we are Christians – but we are not all wild and wacky about it. We don’t go too far. We praise moderation in all things – even in our faith in God.

The problem with moderation in all things is – it can keep us from really knowing and understanding our Lord. Because Jesus wasn’t very practical or moderate.   Jesus was extravagant and excessive and totally over the top. Jesus is generosity incarnate!

In fact – I think Judas’ practical approach kept him from knowing and understanding Jesus. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus started long before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. It began with an approach to faith that rejected Jesus’ wild generosity.

Just like Judas – we miss the point of Jesus’ life – ministry – and death – when we insist on living out a sensible and practical faith when Jesus calls us to live extravagantly and generously and graciously.

We can see from the Bible that the saints of our faith are at their very best when they are living out their faith excessively – generously – wildly – and abundantly. When they are being totally over the top. When they are ignoring moderation.

Think of Noah building an ark when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It wasn’t raining when Noah built that huge boat and gathered together all of those animals!

Think of Abraham and Sarah clinging to hope that they would become first-time parents when their peers were great-great grandparents!

Or Moses – a man with a speech impediment and a fear of public speaking – leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

Or Mary saying yes to being the mother of the Savior of the world – even though she was just a poor – teenage girl. And Joseph agreeing to marry – her even though she was pregnant with a child who was not his.

These men and women were not being practical or logical. There was nothing moderate about their actions.

Saint Paul summarized this approach to faith and life – when he declared – “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” – 1 Corinthians 4:10

There have been other fools for Christ. So – so many. So many role models for us!

Saint Francis giving up all of his worldly possessions to serve the poor.

Martin Luther was facing a death sentence but still he declared – “God help me. Here I stand – I can do no other.”

Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer returning to Germany during WW II to suffer and die with his people.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew he was risking his life when he became a Civil Rights leader.

Fools for Christ are not practical. They do not live moderate – reasonable lives. Rather they live generous – extravagant lives.

And God calls all of us to be like them. To be less sensible – less moderate – less practical.

To love generously. To give freely. To be gracious and merciful and kind. To boldly and bravely share the Good News of God’s grace – love and mercy.

In the Gospel reading – Jesus defends Mary.   Jesus understands Mary’s impractical – wildly generous love – because Jesus was not practical or moderate.

Jesus certainly wasn’t moderate when he died on the cross for you. Jesus’ gift to you is truly extravagant and totally over the top.

So maybe – just maybe – we can be more like Jesus and choose to live lives of extravagant love for our God and for others.   After all – since our Lord is so extravagant with us – we can respond with some extravagance of our own.   AMEN.

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