the one about overflowing joy...
April 8, 2019, 8:00 AM

Sermon from April 7, 2019

Text: Isaiah 43:16-21 & John 12:1-8


Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this morning we read a story that I heard a colleague state makes him about as uncomfortable as lifting one’s hands in praise during worship. He’s just not used to it – as a tradition in the church, we’re not used to it. It’s foreign to us in so many ways. I imagine that there was a deep sense of uncomfortableness that emanated from those gathered around Jesus that day in Lazarus’ home as Mary poured out this perfume upon his feet and dried it up with her hair.

That’s strange. What is she doing?

Throughout this season of Lent, we’ve been hearing about joy. The joy of observing Lent. What we learn, what we gain, how we move through that joy. The joy of God’s presence, the joy of God’s life, the joy of God’s love – for you and for all of creation. There is joy to be had here; in this season and in this life that all of creation has been gifted.

This morning we see Mary live out that joy and adoration. If you remember, this story occurs right after Mary’s brother is raised from the dead. Perhaps she has recently read from the scroll of Isaiah – the part we read this morning. Where God – speaking through the prophet – states that a new thing is about to take place. She is filled to overflowing in God’s presence and cannot think of a better way to show that joy, love, and adoration.

Perhaps here Mary realizes that this new thing is the one sitting before her. Perhaps this new thing is the one who raised her brother from the dead. Perhaps this new thing is the one who sits with those that the world pushes to the margins of life. Perhaps, this is the new thing that God is speaking about.

How do you live out this joy? How do you live out this adoration? Have you ever lived out that joy?

What has God done in your life that has made you, compelled you, perhaps pushed you, to do that joyous thing that might make others uncomfortable? Even if it is raising your hands in praise during worship and prayer? Where have you been filled to overflowing in God’s love, mercy, and acceptance that you feel compelled to show that joy and adoration?

But, what holds us back in living into that joy? I’m not always sure, because it is a bit different for everyone. But, in my conversations with others and even as I reflect on my own life – when I haven’t lived into that joy – I think more often than not it falls back onto those dreaded words that we see in all communities, especially in the church…

We’ve never done it that way before. Or, that’s not how it’s done here. That’s not really a ‘Lutheran’ thing to do in worship/practice. That’s not what we do here.

Mary breaks all sorts of social norms as she walks into the room and falls at the Lord’s feet. She doesn’t do the stereotypical thing that women were expected to do at that time. She does the unthinkable by pouring out this expensive perfume upon Jesus’ feet. She shows her adoration in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

Living out that sort of joy that we receive in Jesus can and does make others uncomfortable. Especially when it places us in positions that puts us at ‘odds’ with those around us. A couple weeks ago, I received one of the best compliments to my ministry – from someone outside the communities I’ve served – than I’ve ever received before. This person thanked me and specifically thanked this community of faith for being so intentional and adamant about inclusivity and affirmation. That it was something the community of Newberry needed to hear and needed to have lived out.

I remarked that it can be frustrating living into that call to faithful living because it can and does make people uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act in strange ways. Not always good ways either. His response to that? Well, that might just mean you’re following Jesus’ life since he made people pretty uncomfortable too.

As we strive to live into and live out the joy that we have first received, we are at times held back by those thoughts from the past – those things we took for granted, the stuff we assumed, the parts we ‘ignored’ in our everyday life. Where we didn’t question the things that leaders told us was ‘wrong.’ Even though, we had that sinking feeling that… well, perhaps, maybe there is another way.

I cannot help, but see that at play in the powerful words of Isaiah that we heard this morning. Where as the prophet begins, he shares of God’s wonder and power. Where he shares of God’s presence and ultimate guidance in the life of Israel. And yet, the very next words he speaks and shares are not what we expect – Do not remember the things of old.

Strange isn’t it? Not do not fear because God is with you because look who God is and has done. No, Isaiah states God’s power, might and presence, and then calls for the people to not remember the former things.

How do we interpret that? How are we to live into that?

I wonder if God is speaking to us to not hold so fast to those things that we feel are so near and dear to us? The way we ‘do’ stuff in the life of faith and in our lives gifted from God? The way we worship and speak?

Perhaps, God is telling us through the prophet that those things that keep us from moving forward in God’s love and joy simply because they’ve ‘not been done here’ before or don’t ‘fit into’ the agreed upon standard are what needs to be left behind? Perhaps it isn’t about living up to some idolized version of the ‘status quo,’ but living into where God is calling us to be as we live out this radical life of faith, hospitality, and welcome?

Perhaps, God is reflecting that there are some things that are not worth remembering in our lives. Those times when we haven’t – as individuals and as people – failed to live into the love and grace that God has given us. Where we’ve judged, we’ve cast aside, we’ve ignored the hurtful words of others, we’ve caused havoc all because a person or a group or a situation was ‘different’ or ‘strange’ to what we considered to be the ‘norm?’

Maybe God is stating that you know all those things that you believe and others have said keep God from being with you? Those things that others have told you separate you from the love of God? Those moments where you believe you are so far removed from God’s acceptance and grace? Perhaps that needs to be remembered no more.

And why? Why should we not remember them? Because God is up to something Isaiah says. There is something new afoot. It is something that Mary knows, and she has no other way to express it than to fall at Jesus’ feet and give him praise. She has been a witness to God’s power, grace, and love. She has been a witness to that overflowing of new life, and she cannot help, but live out that joy and adoration in a distinct way.

A way that makes others uncomfortable, a way that makes others question. A way that makes those around her think about what is going on. And before you think it, Jesus’ response isn’t a call to ‘not care’ for those in need because they will ‘always be around,’ but perhaps in this new thing that God is up to, we might be able to see God present because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the lives of each person around us – those who have and especially those who have not – so that all might actually be cared for fully.

The joy that we hear this fifth and final Sunday in Lent, is that God is indeed up to something new. God is continually up to something new. And that new thing is shown to us – again and again – in the person, the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of the one whose feet Mary bathes and dries. God has indeed gifted us so much in new and overflowing life. How do we respond? How do we show it to the world?

What joy it is that God is indeed up to something new. Live out that joy that God has shown in your life. Live out that joy of radical love and welcome with everyone. Perhaps even enough to make others a bit uncomfortable –and perhaps (though a good first step) it is a little bit more than just raising your hands up in worship and prayer. Amen.

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