Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 17, 2022

YEAR C 2022 easter

Easter, 2022
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This Easter, I wanted us to focus on hope.  So, you’ll see it on your bulletin cover, and on the stationery we used for the Easter letter.  And yes, on the offering envelopes you’ll see in your pew.  Hope is the point of all of this.  

Hope is what keeps people alive, when it comes down to it.  It’s what keeps people going.  The belief that tomorrow will be better than today.  Or that next week will be.  Or that next year will be.  Keeping hope alive is what keeps us alive.

In the reading we just heard, from the 24th chapter of Luke, the opening sentence is, On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  But if you back up from there, to the end of chapter 23, you would see that it ends with this: The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.  Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

They have watched Jesus be killed in a horrific way.  They have followed Joseph of Arimithea to the tomb.  They have seen the dead body lying there, and they have gone home to prepare the spices for burial.  Resting on the sabbath as required before returning on Sunday.

They are not coming to visit Jesus.  They are coming to bury him.  They have no hope that he is alive.  They have no hope at all.  They go to the tomb to do the thing that must be done by people without hope.  They are carrying the burial spices—hopeless.  Just doing what needs to be done.

And that leads me to thinking about us.  Do we have reason to hope?  I mean, just look around.  Americans have never been less trusting of each other, nor more divided from each other in our lifetimes.  We’ve now moved on to the next variant of COVID spreading through the northeast.  We finally got out of one war, just in time to be shipping arms to eastern Europe for another.  Our state legislators can’t even seem to draw a map.  Evictions are up, and inflation just keeps rising.  It’s kind of hard to find hope, right here in the richest country in the world.  But keeping hope alive is what keeps us alive.

And what about what we see happening on the other side of the world right now?  Women and children—leaving behind husbands and fathers— fleeing devastation and horrors brought on by immoral attacks on their homeland.  Like the women at the tomb, they take what they can carry, and they do what must be done.  None of them thinks by crossing  border they are heading to a brighter future.  

As many of you know, I am flying to Romania tomorrow with some friends to help where we can, to do what we can do, but—I have to say—my main goal is to try to bring hope.  To remind them that they are not alone.  And that tomorrow, or next week, or next month might be better than today.  Sure, people need food and water and medicine, but they also need hope.  Keeping hope alive is what keeps us alive.

But let’s go back to that reading from Luke, and the women at the tomb.  As I said, they have arrived without hope, to do what needs to be done.  When they get there, the stone has been rolled away, and there is no body, where just two days before there was a body.  They saw it; that’s why they went home without hope to prepare the spices.  And then, two men in dazzling clothes are standing beside them, and the women are terrified.  And these men ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  And then here’s the thing.

The messengers say, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  It’s not a question, asking if they remember.  It is a statement, or even an encouragement:  “Remember how he told you.”

The body of Jesus missing from the tomb is not good news.  Far from it!  The presence of two men in dazzling clothes is no cause for hope.  Far from it!  So I ask you . . . Can you see where God is acting in this story?  Jesus is not there, so where is God?  Where is God making a difference?

In the remembering.  The men—these angels—the ones in dazzling white are messengers from God.  And what have they done?  They have told the women to remember.  It’s not a new teaching.  Not a new insight.  Not a grand announcement.  It is remembering.  They already knew these words; they had already heard what would happen.  They just needed to remember.  And in remembering, they are given hope.  Keeping hope alive is what keeps us alive.

And speaking of remembering, remembering is woven through our prayers, especially our Eucharistic Prayers.  They all begin with the priest reminding both us and God of what God has done in the past.  It is an ancient way of praying, and all the Abrahamic faiths follow this tradition.  Remind God and ourselves of how God has saved in the past, and ask God to save us now.  The whole first half of the Easter Vigil is exactly this.  To hear the stories of God’s action in history, and to remember.  Remembering is powerful stuff!  Remembering keeps hope alive, and hope keeps us alive.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”  You know that phrase well.  You hear it every time the bread and chalice are raised at these Altars.  It is not a new teaching; it is not a new concept: it is remembering.  We are reminded of what Jesus has done; we are reminded that he said on the third day he would rise again; we are reminded that he said, “This is my body,” and “this is my blood.”  We are reminded that God has saved in the past, is saving now, and will save in the future.  As our bishop is fond of saying, “God has not let us down yet.”

We do not hope because we can see the future.  We have hope because we can remember the past.  Not knowing what will happen, but remembering what God has already done.  Remembering brings hope, and hope keeps us alive.

We do not know what the future holds.  But we have hope because we remember.  And God has not let us down yet.

As those visitors said to the women at the tomb:  Remember how he told you  he would rise again.  And they remembered his words, and they went and told the others.  Today, let us also remember, and go and tell the others.  There is always hope, because we remember, and hope keeps us alive.  Happy Easter!


Thursday, April 14, 2022

YEAR C 2022 maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday, 2022
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, tonight we’ve got a classic moment where Peter has completely lost his mind.  It’s like the absolute pinnacle of Peter being Peter.  There is no middle ground with him.  Never a middle path.  It’s either every possible thing or absolutely nothing.  Jesus tells him he is going to wash everyone’s feet, and Peter says, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus says, unless I do, you will have no share with me.”  And Peter immediately goes to the other extreme and says, “Not only my hands and feet but also my head!”

It’s like Jesus says, "Peter, let me make you a sandwich.”  And Peter declines, until he hears that it’s necessary for Jesus to serve him, so then Peter says, “Lord, not just a sandwich.  But cook my dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast as well.”  Like I said, no middle ground with Peter.  He’s like a little kid sometimes.  But, it’s interesting, that what gets Peter to that place is focusing on himself.  It’s not about Jesus serving him; it’s about what Peter gets out of it, right?  Not what Jesus is doing, but what Peter receives.

In the first case, where he refused to let Jesus serve him, Peter is trying to set himself apart from the other disciples.  Like, “I’m too humble to let Jesus serve me.”  And then later, he’s acting like he’s got to get the absolute most of what Jesus is offering to do.  And the message from Jesus is, “You are beloved, not better than.”  Beloved, not better.

And then here’s a thing about this story that I never noticed until this year.  Can you guess who else is beloved, not better?  Who is welcome, not worse?  Judas Iscariot, that’s who.  Jesus washes all the disciples feet.  Judas has not yet left to do quickly what he must do.  He’s still there.  And, as Jesus says to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  This means all twelve disciples have “a share with” Jesus—whatever that phrase may mean.  All 12 having a share includes Judas.  Beloved, not better.  Welcome, not worse.  Whatever Jesus is doing in this washing of his disciples’ feet, he is doing it both to Peter and to Judas, along with all the others.  Beloved, not better.  Welcome, not worse.

We call today Maundy Thursday.  Maundy comes from the latin word, maundatum, which in English becomes “commandment.”  Think of our word “mandatory.”  In many churches tonight, people will wash one another’s feet, as a sign of humility and service.  Some Christians, like those in the Church of God, view foot washing as something like another sacrament.  But here’s at St. Timothy’s, this has never really been part of our tradition.  And to be honest, I’m glad for that.

Because foot washing—for us—does not mean what it meant for Jesus and his disciples.  In our own society, more than anything, foot washing is awkward and uncomfortable for the person whose feet are being washed, which is definitely not the point Jesus was making.  To wash someone’s feet in Jesus’ day was a sign of service and humility—most likely taking on the role of an indentured servant girl, as a matter of fact.  In our day and time, it’s like the roles are reversed: you have to humble yourself to let someone do the washing, rather than be the washer.  It all gets reversed, when you think about it.

But Jesus does indeed give us a commandment tonight.  And if you look at the story, the commandment—this maundatum—is not a commandment to wash one another’s feet.  We know this, because Jesus comes right and tells us what the commandment is.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”  That’s the commandment: to love one another.  And the foot washing is an example of how you might have done that in Jesus’ day.  But how do we follow this commandment to love one another in our own time.

Well, I suspect it will be different for each of us.  But by giving us the example of taking on the role of a servant, Jesus points the way.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

May God give us the inspiration and the courage to love as Jesus loves.  And in doing so, others will know that we are disciples of Jesus.  Beloved, not better.  Welcome, not worse.  Just disciples of Jesus, following his commandment to live in love, as he loves us.  To walk in love, as Christ loves us, and gave himself, an offering and a sacrifice to God. 


Sunday, April 10, 2022

YEAR C 2022 palm sunday

Palm Sunday, 2022
Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 23:1-49
Psalm 31:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Palm Sunday is a bifurcated sort of day.  We start with what seems like a happy celebration, which then turns into the horrible description of the death of Jesus.  Because of the order of the service, it seems as though the Passion gets added on to the palms.  But it’s really the other way around.  This has always been the Sunday when the Church hears the story of Jesus’ death on the cross; the palms and the parade and all that came to prominence later.  And that’s important, because—as you’ll see in your prayer book—today is properly called, the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.  Some churches want to get rid of the Passion, and just do the palms.  And I get the urge, believe me.  But that is a mistake . . . and here’s why . . .

This would all be a lot more comfortable for us if we could just yell out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”  We could wave our palms in the air, or make little crosses out of them.  Take Communion together, share a cup of coffee after the service, and that would be that.  And in doing so, we would miss a key component of having these two stories together.  And that key component is “The Crowd.”

It’s helpful to see the crowds in these two stories as being the same crowd, acting in dramatically different ways.  Because that gets us a little bit closer to looking at ourselves more honestly.  In one moment The Crowd is  yelling “Blessed is the King” and throwing their cloaks down in front of the colt he’s riding.  And in the next reading, they’re yelling “Crucify him!” and casting lots to decide who gets to take his cloak home with them.  Same crowd, different day.

This is not a story about different people.  This is a story about us, and how we are.  Actually, the overall story of this day is really about us forgetting who we are, and who others are.  It is a story about losing sight of our shared humanity as beloved children of God, all made in the image of our Creator.

On this day, we rightly ask ourselves, “How does a crowd praising Jesus as King turn to condemning him to death on a cross?”  And turning to the headlines of the day, we might also ask ourselves, “How does an army, convinced they are coming to de-Nazify a nation, end up committing hundreds if not thousands of unspeakable war crimes?”  Or even this: “How does any murder, or deliberate cruelty, or genocide ever happen?”

The answer is in the othering.  The separation.  The calling someone something other than a beloved child of God.  And we do it all the time.  We do it in subtle ways by just putting the definite article before a group of people.  The Jews.  The Blacks.  The Mexicans.  The gays.  Just a little grammatical sleight of hand that says, “These ones are not like us.  They are ‘The Others’.”  And then it just gets ratcheted up, when needed.

Before and during the genocide in Rwanda, official government radio stations referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches.”  The Nazis routinely called the Jews “rats.”  I mean, our own Constitution still says that enslaved people are 3/5 of a person.  And this all goes way, way back to the beginning of time.  Any person who looks or acts differently might be considered less than human, or lacking a soul, or even just an animal, enabling us to make them The Other.  Not like us.  Different.

But, as Paul says in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We are all beloved children of God.  Each one just as human and valuable and loved by God as all the rest.  There is no us and them.  No human and sub-human.

And here’s the insidious thing about this particular day in the church year.  Right there in the reading, we get references to The Crowd, The Soldiers, The People.  They conveniently get “othered” right there in our hearing.  And we can smugly say to ourselves, well, I’m not like those people.  I’m not one of The Crowd.  I’m different.  I would never turn on a beloved child of God like those people did.  I’m different.  We end up wanting to other them, make them less than human, to assure ourselves that we are not like them.  But we are like them.  Because we are them.  We cannot get out of this by thinking we would have acted differently, because we still do this ourselves.  Any time we make someone different, or other, or less than, we are walking right into acting the exact same way.

There is no cure for this.  It is levels deep within us.  We are the ones who carry palms and shout praises, and we are the ones who say “away with him, crucify him.”  

But we are also the ones who say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And—like the thief on the cross—we are the ones who hear Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Listen again to Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God 
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, 
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself 
and became obedient to the point of death-- 
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name 
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.

Lord Jesus, remember us in your kingdom.  Remember all of us in your kingdom, for we do not know what we are doing.  We still do not know what we are doing.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Ecumenical Lenten Service

MACCA Lenten Service
John 21:15-17

Preached at Christ Lutheran Church, Massillon OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, when the pastors got together to plan out these Lenten services, they decided we should all preach about one of our favorite stories about Jesus.  I wasn’t able to attend that meeting, which is how I ended up both hosting and preaching this year.  But I do love love this idea of identifying stories we love about Jesus.  Just sort of not tied to anything, apropos of nothing, tell me a story you love about Jesus.

And this one we just heard—with Peter and Jesus standing on the shore after the resurrection—this is one of my all-time favorites.  Sure, it’s out of order to be talking about what happened after the resurrection when we’re still in Lent.  But I’m an out of order kind of priest.  But no matter the order, this is still one of my favorite stories about Jesus.  Because it’s the story I need—every day.

Okay.  So, as I said, this story comes after the resurrection.  Jesus has just met the disciples on the beach, and he cooked breakfast for them.  Which, to me, is just a fascinating detail!  And then after he feeds them, Jesus has a conversation with Simon, aka Peter.  Jesus asks him, “Do you love me more than these?”  Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”

Again, Jesus says to Peter, “Do you love me?”  Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.”

And again, Jesus says to him, “Do you love me?”  Peter feels hurt because Jesus has now asked him the same question three times.  And Peter says, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”

Three times Jesus prompts the profession of love from Peter.  And three times Peter answers that he loves Jesus.  Notice, that three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus.  And what is the opposite of affirming something?  Denying, right?  Just next week, while Jesus is on trial before Pilate, Peter will stand in the courtyard outside.  And three times someone will ask Peter if he is one of Jesus’ disciples.  And all three times, Peter will deny knowing him.  Three times Peter denies Jesus; then the rooster crows.

And in this reading we just heard—which happens after all of that—Jesus comes to Peter, and redeems this triple denial.  Here, Jesus seeks out Peter, and leads him to redemption.  Jesus comes to Peter and brings him back to life.  Why do I say that?  Brings him back to life?

Well, take a moment to put yourself in Peter’s place.  Imagine how devastated he is by now.  Think back to Peter’s bold claim that all the others might fall away, but  “I will lay down my life for you.”  And Jesus tells Peter, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.  And, then, he does.  There in that courtyard, on the night Jesus is on trial, after insisting he would lay down his life for Jesus, Peter is outside the building, lying to escape laying down his life for Jesus.  Not once.  Not twice.  But three times.

Any of us who did what Peter had done would feel we were beyond redemption.  We would think there is no chance to be forgiven for that kind of denial, at that most important moment.  Even hearing Jesus himself say “you’re forgiven” is not enough.  But three times?  Is that enough?  Jesus sends Peter a strong message with the three questions.  He doesn’t yell at him.  Doesn’t embarrass him in front of the others.  Doesn’t make him feel bad.  Doesn’t even ask him if he is sorry for what he has done.  

Jesus asks Peter if he loves him; then tells Peter to feed and tend his sheep.  Three times he asks him the same question, and Peter gets it right all three times.  

Except, not really . . . Jesus does not ask Peter the same question all three times.

As you have probably heard, the Greek language has more than one word for love.  Eight, in fact.  But in English, love is love, and the context is the only thing that can give us more information.  In Greek, the three main kinds of love are eros, philios, and agape.  You can get a sense of their meaning by how we bring them into English.  Eros gives us erotic love, maybe we could say romantic love.  Philios gives us brotherly love, love for our neighbor—as in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  And then agape is usually thought of as the perfect selfless love, the kind of love God has for us.  Agape love is what we see in John 3:16, where God so loved the world—unconditionally—the kind of love that would give God’s only son.

So, here’s the big thing:  the first two times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape love me?  Do you love me perfectly with a selfless love?  Would you lay down your life for me?”  But Peter responds with, “Lord, you know that I philos love you.  I love you like a brother.  I love you as my friend.”  The first two questions and responses are the same.  “Do you love me selflessly, like God loves?”  “Lord,  I love you as my brother.”  That’s the first two times.

But the third time Jesus asks the question, the third time he changes it.  This time, Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he loves him with that perfect love, that agape love, the love that would lay down one’s life, would never deny or abandon him.  No, the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you philios love me?  Do you love me as a brother, a companion, a friend?”  And Peter’s response is the same as the first two times.  Peter says, “Lord, I love you as my brother.” 

Jesus, in this third question, comes to meet Peter where he is.  He does not ask Peter to become perfect.  And, he does not keep asking until Peter makes a promise Peter knows he cannot keep.  It’s not as though, after the resurrection, Peter suddenly becomes able to live up to his promise to lay down his life for Jesus.  Amazingly, what seems to have changed in Peter is his ability to see himself as he really is.  He no longer claims to love perfectly.  He no longer claims to love as God loves.  What Peter tells Jesus is that he is able to love Jesus as a brother, a friend, a neighbor.  And that’s where Jesus meets him:  where Peter is.  Where Peter lives.  Where Peter knows himself to be.

And that is why I so very much love this particular story about Jesus.  Because he meets Peter where he is.  And rather than demanding that Peter change, Jesus changes.  Finally, Peter knows he cannot come to meet Jesus where Jesus is.  So instead, Jesus comes to meet Peter where he is.
We all make lofty promises to God about how selfless we will be.  About how we’re willing to change our ways, and lay down our lives, and love God perfectly.  And, of course, it’s only a matter of time until the rooster crows for you and for me.  And what is God’s response to us?

Does Jesus cast us aside?  Throw us out?  Insist on a perfection we can never achieve?  No.  Never.  God is always turning toward us.  Jesus is always walking beside us, exactly as we are.  Jesus did not give up on Peter, and Jesus will not give up on you.  Jesus always meets us where we are.  Thanks be to God.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

YEAR C 2022 lent 5

Lent 5, 2022
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Phil 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So the first thing you’re probably wondering is, “what on earth is nard?”  And the second thing you’re wondering is, “how much is 300 denarii?”  And you’re probably also wondering, “what does Jesus have against feeding poor people?”

Let’s go through these, one at a time.  Nard is an oil that comes from the plant called “spikenard,” which grows in India.  You can take the root of this plant and mash it up and get oil from it.  It’s expensive stuff, and always has been, partly because it is difficult to make, and partly because it has such a wonderful smell.  (But you’d think the name “nard” would make it just a little less valuable.)

I’ve talked about denarii before, but let’s review.  In the Roman Empire, there was a coin called an “as.”  It was minted out of bronze, weighing 1/6th of a pound.  One denarius was worth ten asses.  (Hey, I’m just reporting the facts here.)  And one denarius would be equal to a day’s wages for a farm laborer.  So, 300 denarii would be about a year’s salary.  That means, if the jar of nard could really be sold for 300 denarii, it would be worth about, say, $40,000 in Ohio today.  You could buy a lot of meals for people with $40,000, rather than pouring it over someone’s feet and wiping it with your hair, am I right?

Now we will have to come back to Jesus’ seeming disregard for poor people, and we will in just a minute.  First, I want to mention a few things about this particular story.  There are not many times when something appears in all four gospels.  For example, the birth story of Jesus only shows up in two of the four gospel books, and it is radically different in those two cases.  Even the resurrection of Jesus from the grave is not in all four gospels.  (The original version of the gospel of Mark doesn’t have a resurrection . . . someone decided they had to add one later . . . I guess it is kind of an important part of the story.)  But the point is, very few stories make it into all four gospels.  And this one, with the nard, and the denarii, and the woman, and the poor people, this story is in all four gospels.

So, why does that matter?  Why is it so important that this story gets recorded each time?  Well, I guess it’s obvious:  all four gospel writers thought this was an important thing to tell us.  But it’s also worth noting that the story is different in the different gospels.  In Matthew and Mark, the scene is set in Simon’s house, and an unknown woman pours the nard onto his head.  In Luke, they are gathered in the home of a Pharisee, and a woman (who is a “known sinner”) pours the oil on his feet while crying, and uses her hair to wipe off the oil.  In today’s version from John, the event takes place in the home of Lazarus—who has just been raised from the dead—and Mary, his sister, pours the oil on Jesus’ feet, wiping the oil with her hair.  (Incidentally, mixing these four stories together is what led Pope Gregory in 591 to bizarrely declare that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute—a mistake from which she has never fully recovered.)

So, given that there are differences in the four versions of what happened, it is useful to look at the differences, to help us see what John wants us to see.  

First off, the setting.  In the previous chapter, Lazarus has just been raised from the dead, by Jesus.  And now, six days before Passover, Jesus is back at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.  It is clear that John wants us to connect this scene to the raising of Lazarus.  Plus, by having Mary pour the oil on his feet, and dry them with her hair, John is also connecting us to the Passover meal that’s about to happen, when Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples at the last supper.  For John, this scene acts as a hinge, or a pivot point, moving us from the raising of Lazarus to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so why does that matter to us?

Well, John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus.  Do you remember what Jesus does before he raises Lazarus from the tomb?  It’s the shortest verse in the bible: John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”  Jesus loved Lazarus, and he raised him from the dead.  Today’s story connects the raising of Lazarus with the resurrection of Jesus.  Can you see what that means for you?  I’ll give you a hint:    Jesus loves you too.

Okay, so what about the poor?  “You will always have the poor with you.”  Some version of that line is in all four gospels here.  And it is often misused to get out of helping the poor.  Politicians do it all the time.  “No point in trying to help everyone, since Jesus himself says, ‘you will always have the poor with you’.”  And the response to that is to go look at Deuteronomy 15:11, where God says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’.”

Now, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is “the disciples” who suggest the money could’ve been given to the poor.  Only in John do we get this specific mention of Judas.  And, John adds this bit about Judas’ being a thief who would have stolen the money anyway.  So John makes the scene into something where it’s actually better that the money never went to the poor, since Judas would have just taken it anyway.  But something gets lost in Judas’ being portrayed as a thief here.  And that something is:  us.

What I mean is this:  you and I probably think of ourselves as the kind of people who would never steal from the collection plate.  We’re not like this Judas, who would use his pretend concern for the poor as a way to pocket money from the offering.  And for that reason, we just might miss an important thing that’s going on in this story.  

Judas raises a legitimate concern for the poor, which I know you share.  $40,000 could buy a lot of blankets and food for people living in our community.  Mary’s crazy oil pouring is a huge waste!  That is just bad stewardship!  Times are tough; we need to watch every penny.  And $40,000 is a LOT of pennies!  What could possibly be helped by pouring all that liquid gold on Jesus’ feet?

I’ll answer that in a minute.  But first we have to deal with the angels in the room.  One of my favorite authors, an Episcopal priest named Robert Capon talks about angels in one of his books.  He’s not talking about little cherubs like on Hallmark cards.  No, when Robert Capon talks about angels, he’s talking about the principles that we elevate above actual persons, and to which we sacrifice them.  The kinds of things like romance, or family, or even religion.  A good example is Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Two star-crossed lovers end their lives for the angel called Romance.  Or religious zealots killing innocent people all over the world in the name of the angel Religion.  These angels, like Religion and Romance, are not bad in an of themselves, mind you.  In fact, for the most part we consider them good things.

But these angels are things you can’t argue with.  Mere people are no match for the forces of Patriotism, or Love, or Religion, or Partisan Politics.  You cannot reason with the angels.  They want people’s blood, and all too often, they get that blood.  We invoke lesser angels all the time; we call them principles, or common sense, or doing the right thing.  We all appeal to these angels, and we all get sacrificed to them as well.  You experience this in your daily life:  the angels of Job Performance, Good Grades, and a Clean House, the angels of Expectations, Community, and Good Behavior.  If you don’t measure up, or if you’re suspected of not measuring up, you are crushed and cast aside.  Better to just be rid of you in the name of some angel.  On paper, the angels are good, lofty, and—well—angelic.

A desire to feed the poor, is a good thing.  It can spur us to action.  Concern for the poor can help us adjust how we spend our money.  Caring about the poor is the kind of thing that could make a person say, “What are you, nuts?  $40,000 worth of nard could do a lot of good!”  Can’t argue with that.  Right?  The angel Compassion has come to town.  And Judas has handed out her calling card.

So . . . back to the question:  What could possibly be helped by pouring all that liquid gold on Jesus’ feet?
I’ll give you the answer from John’s words:
“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
The house was filled.

Jesus is worth everything to Mary.  Jesus is the one who has brought her brother back to life.  Jesus is the one who loves her, and who will bring her back to life.  A jar of expensive perfume, poured over the feet of Jesus, that is a mere token of what she owes to him, what we each owe him.  She does this as an expression of love, and from that love, the house is filled with the fragrance.  These feet—which will soon feel the nails of crucifixion—these same feet fill the house with the fragrance of perfume.

So, two questions . . . Why did Judas object to Mary’s extravagance?  Maybe his concern for the poor, or maybe because he was a thief.
Why did Mary anoint the feet of Jesus?  Because the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

We can think of Judas as business as usual, the tired, old penny-pinching, selfishness masquerading as concern for the poor.  Appealing to common sense, and morality, but based in self-preservation and greed.  Turning inward.

We can think of Mary as a new way of being.  A way that throws everything at the feet of Jesus, knowing that he will turn it into a fragrance that will fill the world.  Pouring out our most treasured possessions for the one who redeems them—and us—and brings all things to fullness.

Those soon-to-be nail-scared feet give off the sweetest scent imaginable.  The overflowing abundance of God fills the room.  And we sense it when we come forward this morning.  When you hear the words, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” then you will know.  The fragrance of Jesus fills the room; the extravagant abundance of God overwhelms us.  The bread of heaven and the cup of salvation are here to offer us life and forgiveness.  God is doing a new thing, and the fragrance fills the room.