John 12:1-8 • April 7, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you are visiting Good Shepherd this weekend, please know that not all of our pastors can rock the color-wheel of hair like this. And be assured that this is only a temporary adjustment to what is normal. For three years now, I’ve changed my hair color dramatically in the spring which quickly follows with the shedding of this colorful masterpiece at an event called Brave the Shave. Come back next week to see what I’m talking about!
And to everyone who has supported my efforts and hundreds of other people’s efforts for this year’s Brave the Shave, I say thank you! This event, and other events like it this month in our community such as the Great American Bike Race, are a gift to our community.
They are ways in which we live out the extravagant love God has for us by loving others in our community with similar extravagance.
I’d like to highlight a few things about today’s extravagant gospel reading on this last Sunday in Lent.
It’s important to notice that this story of Mary washing Jesus is offered in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ from John’s version – the head, not the feet; an unnamed woman rather than a woman named Mary who has a deep and loving relationship with Jesus.
In Mark’s version, Jesus praises the anointing as a “beautiful thing.”
I’ve always liked that image for this story.
Even though Mark is the only gospel that says that directly, I think they all share in the beauty of Mary’s expression of love toward Jesus. And so, Jesus might not be saying this directly in John’s gospel, but we can’t help read the text in any other way. When he says “Leave her alone.” he’s lifting up the beauty of what Mary has done for him.
This is a beautiful thing that she has done for Jesus.
And so, yes, the story might be a little different in each gospel, but I think the message is the same. And it is a beautiful thing.
In the gospel of Saint John, Mary’s act of discipleship in the 12th chapter sets the stage for Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in the 13th chapter.
Both events of washing and anointing take place in a private home, not a large public space. As far as we know, there were no pictures of these events posted to Instagram and Twitter.
Both events of washing and anointing involve a meal. A meal served by Martha in today’s gospel and a meal the disciples will celebrate on a day in Holy Week that we now know as Maundy Thursday. A meal we remember as the Last Supper. A meal that is one of the reasons why the sacrament of Holy Communion is central to our faith.
Both events have people who don’t like all of this washing and anointing going on. Judas complaining about the wasteful use of expensive perfume in today’s story. Peter insists that he be the one to wash feet, not Jesus as the story is told in chapter 13.
Both events, point us to future events that will soon unfold. Events that will change the world forever.
One theologian reminded me this week that “God loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people.” [Rev. Dr. David Lose, www.davidlose.net/2016/03/lent-5-c-the-unexpected-god/]
It’s a statement that can serve to ground us in our gospel reading this week. God loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people.
Mary, maybe even without knowing that she was doing it, was preparing Jesus for the events soon to come. Namely his journey to Jerusalem. A journey that will begin with a triumphant entry on a day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday and end a few short days later with a cross of death on a Friday that we dare call good.
God was doing something unexpected and beautiful through a woman named Mary just six days before the Passover. She was demonstrating extravagant love for God, love for the disciples, and love for us.
How do we receive this call to be a disciple of Jesus in the extravagant, loving ways Mary shows us?
I believe with everything that I am as a child of God that God is doing something unexpected, still today, through all of us un-expecting people.
Because our relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus always grounds us in the present moment and at the same time pulls us extravagantly into the future. God is not standing behind us, hoping we won’t mess things up again. God is standing with us, doing extravagant and beautiful things in, with and through us along every step of this journey called faith. A journey of faith that is anointed and holy.
We began our Lenten journey a few weeks ago in much the same way followers of Jesus have done every spring for centuries. On Ash Wednesday, we celebrated a meal together and received the mark of a cross on our foreheads with ashes. It is a dramatic and ancient ritual of faith that reminds us of our mortality, but that’s not all.
You see, by honestly facing the reality of our earthly death, we are more fully able to live honoring our own vulnerability and the humanity of others. Our lives are to be lived with extravagant gratefulness for all that God has done and is doing for us through Jesus.
Lent, then, isn’t just a season of the church that we hope we will be able to endure again this year because we gave up chocolate.
Lent invites us into a journey with the savior of the world who shows us, again and again, the extravagant love God has for you, for me, and for all of God’s good creation.
Ash Wednesday doesn’t just highlight our mortality in a morbid depressing way. And Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet is not just preparing Jesus for the gruesome death he would soon subject himself to.
Ash Wednesday and Mary’s anointing help remind us whose we are. What a beautiful thing it is that this year they are the bookends that hold our Lenten journey together.
Whose we are, as we’re claimed as God’s children in the sacred and holy waters and promises made in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. A sacrament in which we are anointed and marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.
In an awesome little book called Baptized We Live, Pastor Dan Erlander wrote, “Following Jesus in his death and resurrection means our baptism becomes the overpowering event in our lives, the event which tells us who we are and how we are to live.”
Just like Mary, Judas, Jesus, Martha, Lazarus and the others in our gospel reading today, you and I will share a meal together. And during that meal, we’re also going to have an opportunity to be anointed. Anointed as we were in our baptism. Anointed in order for us to not only remember our baptism in these remaining days of our Lenten journey, but also to renew our lives as disciples of Jesus today, knowing whose we are and the ways we are called to live each new day out the extravagant love God has for us.
So brothers and sisters in Christ, as you and I share in the sacramental meal of Holy Communion, our foreheads will be anointed with oil today and we will once again hear the words “You have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever.” May that truth walk with us in all that we say and do – not just during Lent, but in every day of our life of faith.
In every crazy day with dyed hair.
In every community event like Brave the Shave and the Great American Bike Race.
In every way that an ancient story about expensive perfume poured over dirty feet still speaks to us, and still calls us deeper into a life of discipleship.
May we join Jesus in seeing just how beautiful all of this truly is. Amen.