Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester

Watch Here (Minute 26:10)

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

When I was a teenager, and I started to think about dating, I was told there was the right and wrong amount of cologne to wear. I was instructed that more, is not better, when it comes to cologne. It’s a bad thing for the smell of your cologne to beat you into a room. If your cologne announces your arrival into a room, then find the bathroom and wash some off – you’re wearing too much.

What we learn in the Gospel reading today, however, is that too much perfume can be a good thing!

The amount of perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus, however, freaked Judas out. Judas complained: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, a year’s wages for a laborer, and the money given to the poor?

Writing after the fact of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, the Gospel writer of John did NOT describe Judas as a thoughtful advocate for a redistribution of wealth. He was not engaging Jesus in a serious reflection on wealth equality.  John calls Judas a thief who stole money from the common purse.

So, for this reason, we should be careful NOT to read too much into Jesus’ response about the poor. Responded Jesus: “Leave her alone, you will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.”

Judas was not being genuine in his comments, nor was Jesus, in his reply, offering a thoughtful, socio-economic moral and ethical teaching about wealth and poverty and treatment of the poor.  Let’s be clear on that.

This was, instead, a teaching moment getting them ready for what was to come. In Jesus’ reply to Judas, in the hearing of the rest of the house, we might image Jesus saying: Pay Attention.  Life will go on, the triumphs and struggles of life will continue, the changes and chances of life that benefit some and harm others will persist … BUT … the time for Jesus of Nazareth on earth, this special and limited time of Word made Flesh in Jesus born of Mary, was coming to an end.

Because of what was to come, because of the betrayal, the persecution, and suffering that Jesus was about to experience, it was right for Mary to anoint his body. It was an anointing, in preparation for the pain to come.

It’s important to note what the anointing was NOT.

Jesus did not say to Judas: “Leave her alone. I raised her brother from the dead. She is right to repay me for what I did for her and her family.” Jesus did not receive the anointing as repayment for what he did out of love.

Nor, did Jesus use the anointing as an anointing of his power. Jesus did not say: “Leave her alone. I am the Son of God. It is right to anoint me with perfume, or other expensive things, like humans might anoint their human kings.” Jesus did not receive the anointing as anointing of his power and privilege.

And while we’re at it, Jesus also did not say: “Leave her alone. I am a man, and she is a woman, and it is right for women to kneel down before men and worship them.”  Jesus did not receive Mary’s anointing as an anointing of a patriarchal system.

Instead, Jesus connected the anointing to his passion and burial.

So, what do we learn from this story today?  What is the message for us? On this Fifth Sunday in Lent, now just days away from Holy Week, I think the message is this:

How are we today, anointing the body of Christ for burial?

In our personal devotion, how are we anointing the body of Christ by the attention, time, money, and gifts we bestow upon the passion of Christ?

In public acts of service, how are we anointing the suffering body of Christ, by the ways we pour ourselves out in costly service for others?

Today, we welcome the WPI Festival Chorus as our guest choir. The Chorus is here today to sing, and to rehearse, for next Sunday’s Music at Trinity presentation of the St. Luke Passion as written by James MacMillon.

In the time and energy they, and the Trinity Choir, are spending rehearsing and preparing for this presentation, I would say that they, along with Mary, are anointing the body of Christ for burial. In the music that they offer today, and next week, they are filling this house with the fragrance of their music, turning our attention to the passion of Christ.

If you read my April Trinity News article, you’ll know I was pretty clear in saying that in the life of a disciple of Jesus, there is nothing more important than clearing your schedule, and gathering with the faithful on Passion Sunday, on Maundy Thursday, on Good Friday, on Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

If you think there is someplace more important to be, people more important to spend time with, something more important to do, than gathering on these Holy Days to observe the passion of Christ, you should consider the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. 

Now I know many of you will be traveling during April School Vacation Week. But, the Christian Church around the world gathers on these three days. You don’t have to be here at Trinity, but disciples of Jesus gather with the faithful in observance of the passion of Christ.

We gather with the faithful for the liturgies of Holy Week, when we pour out our time by gathering with the faithful, we anoint the body of Christ for burial as an act of faith and discipleship.

AND, we anoint the body of Christ in public acts of service.

I believe it’s significant that Jesus connected Mary’s anointing to his impending suffering and death. We anoint the body of Christ, when we turn our time and attention, and pour our lavish abundance, upon those who are suffering around us.

Jesus receiving the anointing as an anointing on his burial, teaches us that we are not to anoint the powerful.   I’ve heard a critique on pastors, that pastors are quick to attend meetings with the mayor, or members of the legislature, or congress, and we like to get our pictures taken with these important people, but the real test of the pastor’s character, isn’t showing up for people in power, it’s showing up for people in need.

What does the pastor do, what do we all do, NOT when the mayor walks through the door, but when the homeless person walks through the door? Jesus didn’t receive Mary’s anointing as an anointing of his power, he received Mary’s anointing as an anointing of his betrayal, persecution, and death on the cross.

In public action as disciples, we anoint the body of Christ, when we anoint those who are being persecuted, those who are suffering, those who are dying.

We anointed the body of Christ two weeks ago, when as an act of discipleship, we sent our letter of support to the Worcester Islamic Center after the shootings at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That nearly 80 of you signed that letter, was a fragrant offering anointing those who were suffering, those who were persecuted, those who had died.

This week, I added my name to the petition by Worcester Interfaith responding to students and families who are crying out in pain that brown and black and disabled students are being disciplined in the Worcester Schools far out of proportion to white able-bodied students.

The body of Christ is anointed, when we like Mary, pour out our love, our attention, our best energies, on behalf of those who are victimized, and suffering, and in pain. The fragrant offering filling the house, is a community of love, kneeling at the feetof the hurting, working for full access, full honor, and full integrity for Latinos, for African-Americans, for immigrants and refugees, for Muslims and Jews, for all people.

Friends in Christ, how are you anointing the body of Christ, as you pay attention to those in your life who are suffering, who are dying, who are being wrongly accused? How are you anointing the body of Christ, in public action on behalf of the stranger, the abandoned, the outcast? How are you anointing the body of Christ, in intentional acts of love and service, for those suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from poverty?

The Good News today, is that we follow a Savior, who received Mary’s anointing as an anointing on his journey of persecution, suffering, and death on a cross.

The Good News today, is that Jesus received Mary’s anointing as a servant who came to serve the world healing, forgiveness, and peace.

Next week, on Maundy Thursday, the first third of the liturgy of the Great Three Days, we will hear the story of Jesus kneeling at the feet of his disciples, washing their feet. With his own feet anointed by Mary, he knelt before his disciples and washed their feet, instructing the disciples with their feet washed, they should go and do likewise in the world.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, and with faith in Jesus Christ, may we anoint the body of Christ, as we gather again for the observances of Passion Sunday and Holy Week.

May we anoint the body of Christ, as we lavishly, extravagantly, and perhaps what some might consider recklessly care for the homeless, the poor, the hurting, the suffering, in this community and around the world.

May we rejoice, that in his death on the cross, Jesus was the fragrant offering poured out us, and for the world. May we celebrate that this fragrant offering, the passion of Christ, is for us life, healing, and hope.

In that Good News may we rejoice!

Thanks be to God.