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Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed, Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2013 at ORLC

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St. Patrick’s Day

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2013

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

     For me it would be an honor to preach all about St. Patrick today, but because it is the fifth Sunday in Lent and Mary’s anointing of Jesus at Bethany, that to me seems the better way to go.

Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed

     True to Jesus’ words that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the woman’s anointing of Jesus would also be told as well, the story comes up in all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But there are several versions of the story or perhaps there were several incidents, where the feet of Jesus are anointed and where an unnamed woman breaks a beautiful alabaster jar with expensive nard pouring it over Jesus’ head. In the seventh chapter of Luke it is about a sinful woman who approaches Jesus, who was invited to dinner in a Pharisee’s house and she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. (This is prodigal love!) Jesus notes how little love he was shown by the Pharisee, who is so full of rejection, and how lavish the love of this woman is, and he forgives her, a known sinner. He is not at all embarrassed by her touching, washing, and wiping his feet, even with her hair – and evidently in those days for a woman to undo her long hair was scandalous.

Now the first time I came to California was in 1969 to do clinical training in Los Angeles. The supervisor of our group of seminarians blew our minds, as we used to say, in all kinds of ways. We did hydro-psychotherapy where we were analyzed in a swimming pool, there was the James Joyce Liquid Memorial Theater, where you were supposed to get high without alcohol and drugs, and then at the end of a marathon therapy session, going from Friday night, all through Saturday and ending on time for worship, we gave each other a foot massage with oil that made our good feelings overflow. Now we Nordic types, myself included, avoid feeling that good, especially when our feeling go over the top and we lose control. But when we are in a safe place and a safe relationship, allowing such good feelings to overflow is simply wonderful. So much for foot a massage.

In most of the stories the woman with the alabaster jar pours wonderfully fragrant perfume over Jesus’ head. In John Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and in another account, also in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, it’s in the house of Simon the Leper. (Mark 14:3-9) (Mat 26:6-13)

The most poignant account is in the seventh chapter of Luke (36-50). She is kissing Jesus’ feet, bathing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with the expensive perfume called nard. The Pharisee, who had invited Jesus to his house for dinner says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (7:39) He would never let her touch him.

We serve a Lord who is very courageous in affirming love and then holding that such love covers a multitude of sins. The commentaries in the account we heard this morning from John emphasize Mary’s perfect act of devotion and argue that she anoints Jesus’ feet because she is so thankful that he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. (As an aside, some scholars argue that Lazarus was Jesus’ favorite disciple, while I still think it was John. As Jesus’ favorite disciple, it was John and not Lazarus who was at the last supper.)

In those days of course all writing and all stories were always about kings and queens and gods and goddesses. What is different about Jesus and his gospel is that it is all about ordinary people like you and me. Martha serves dinner, meaning that they were not rich, otherwise a slave would have served them. Mary lets down her hair, which probably took everyone’s breath away, and uses a perfume that costs almost a full year’s wages. (That reminds of the movie Babette’s Feast.) Remember that in those days they did not sit at a table the way we do. They laid down to eat, stretched out along a low table called a triclinium. Those are three tables in a square, leaving out the fourth table, so the servants can come in and serve the food. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper has them it at a European table, but that is not how they ate. They lay beside each other, holding themselves up by their elbows while they ate. Now it would be the job of a slave to go around and wash the guests’ feet before dinner. Walking in sandals made their feet become covered by soot and dirt and this washing made the guests feel more comfortable.

So Mary washed Jesus’ feet to show her loving and devoted discipleship to Jesus and then Jesus taking her example washes the feet of all the disciples in the last supper. You remember the scene that Peter made, not wanting Jesus to act like his slave.

The reference to the poor does not at all remove our responsibility to help them, but merely that she was doing it for Jesus’ burial.

There was a saying at the time: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other.”[1] So when the fragrance of Mary’s perfume filled the whole house, it symbolized the words of Jesus that what she had done would be told in remembrance of her wherever the Good News would be proclaimed in the whole world, (Mark 14:9) despite the way her lavish love was rejected and in the other account, Jesus was rejected for letting that sinful woman, most likely more sinned against than sinful, touch him.

Now nowhere do I find the obvious. Many of the best hiding places are those in plain sight. Stop and consider who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, which means the anointed one. “Christ is merely the Greek word for the same thing. In Hebrew it is “Mashiach” and it is related to the word “massage.” In a few weeks our bishop will do a chrism service, where oil for anointing will be used and then pastors will take some of the oil back to their congregations.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was just anointed before he became Pope Francis and once I watched the grandeur of a majestic liturgical service in which the Archbishop of Canterbury was anointed.

And here is our wonderful Lord Jesus being anointed by ordinary women in this wonderfully loving and relational way. It stands to reason that what Mary and perhaps another woman did, will be told all over the world, because they made Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ – and you will not find another place in the Gospels where Jesus is anointed by anyone. It does say in Acts, that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, (10:38). But that is different.

Jesus anointing fits right in with his birth in the food trough of a stable, homeless throughout his ministry, wearing a crown of thorns, and being lifted up on his throne, which was the cross. Even his anointing was protested and begrudged him when it occurred by Simon the Leper, who may have been the Pharisee as well and by Judas in the account from John.

Again, Christ is the Lord of us ordinary folks and he called ordinary people like you and me to follow him. What a wonderful Lord!

To turn to the other lessons: these acts of kindness, lavish love, extraordinary compassion, and service are the new thing that God is doing for us. Isaiah proclaims a new exodus, now not from Egypt through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land; but from the Babylonian captivity over the desert back to Jerusalem. Now what about another exodus from the old Redeemer to the new congregation with a new pastor?

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” Make a way through the wilderness where there is no way!

So this kind of love born out of our faith and learned from Jesus, Mary, the sinful woman, and from the “prodigal” Father can lead this congregation from its doldrums into a renewal. Blessed be the one who comes and brings this kind of loving service. Blessed be the new pastor whom you call and the gracious and loving service he or she can also provide. Now the coming congregation cannot be like the old one. It has to become much more diverse and the community meal is right on the way and the community garden being planned by the social action committee points in the new direction as well.

This new way of being will make you vulnerable. Jesus says he is sending us like sheep into the midst of wolves – somewhat like the women who have joined our military forces. There they have entered into an incredibly male sexist culture that abuses women. Under the complete command of men they estimate that there have been 19,000 rapes only 2,000 of which have been reported and only about 200 some odd convictions. The women have been like sheep among the male wolves, casualties of their own fellow soldiers, let alone suffering casualties from the enemy in battle.

But Jesus calls us to loving acts of service and they make us very vulnerable so Jesus says, I am sending you like sheep among the wolves. That wonderful Christ of ours, however, shows us the way.

Do not remember the former things of this congregation or consider the things of old, say in the fifties or sixties. We could read the whole Philippians passage again and it would surely speak to us. Because of Christ we consider all the previous history and glory of this church as “loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. For his sake we can suffer the loss of all things and regard them as rubbish, in order that we might gain Christ and be found in him…So we forget what lies behind and strain forward for what lies ahead. We press forward to the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (This comes from our Philippians passage.)

Following these kinds of acts of love and service, God will make a way where there is no way, because Christ is the way and Christ shows us the way.

And turning to Isaiah again: the God says, “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth – can’t you see it? I will make a way through the wilderness bringing rivers into the desert and even the wild animals will honor me, because God quenches their thirst with water in the desert. God lets flow a river whose streams make glad the city of our God, to give drink to the followers of Christ, the anointed, who also anoints us, as we too are being formed by God’s hand to become Christs, a people called to enthrone God on their praises.

Mary had the same prodigal and lavish love, the same extravagant compassion we heard about last Sunday. Jesus did not have the money to buy pure nard, but he did wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.

And that is the new thing. That is the way forward. Our faith is expressed in that kind of love and service, and a hunger and thirst for justice as well.

When at home in my family of origin we were served these rich chocolate covered cream puffs with all those calories, we would say, “That will kill me; but what a way to go!” When we follow Jesus, it will kill us as well – but what a way to go! We have to find a similar way to follow Mary and the sinful woman’s example of kissing each other’s feet, washing with our tears, drying them with our hair, and anointing them. If we have short hair, how can we let our hair down? And what to do if we happen to be bald! That’s the problem with imitation. It’s the spirit that matters!

For example, in the seminary we polished everyone’s shoes instead of washing feet one time. When the homeless and outcast are served at Our Redeemer’s tables, decked out like for a wedding banquet, with the members of our church serving them; we have another example in the same spirit. One time in a big snow storm in Coney Island, I just went around helping cars that had gotten stuck in the ice and snow. In one case, a VW van was stuck right in front of my apartment building. The poor people were freezing, so I invited them into my apartment, let them use the telephone and made hot chocolate for them to warm up. That did not only bring us new members, the couple that I had helped connected me to my love and I got a wife. It’s paradoxical, you see. Those who would lose their life will save it. Those who try to save their life will lose it.

God will show us the loving actions we can perform and you will see all kinds of people gather together around the Word and sacraments finding a way to praise our wonderful Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, whose fragrance will fill the whole church. Amen.       pastor peter krey


[1] CrossMarks, Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john12x1.htm

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Written by peterkrey

March 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

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  1. […] Also See the recent sermon Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One […]

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