Fifth Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who has made us his own. Amen
What is most important in life?
Times of transition
bring this question forward,
those times in life when we’re saying goodbye to the way things were
and hello to new possibilities
we are often forced to consider
what to leave behind and what to bring forward with us.
Lent is coming to an end
and as we look forward to Holy Week
and the beginnings and endings that lie ahead
our readings for today ask us to consider,
what is most important?
Paul is doing this reflecting in his letter to the Philippians,
he is in prison, probably in Rome,
which even as he hopes to be released
still puts things in perspective.
As he looks back
and considers his life
he concludes that very little matters
except for Christ.
Paul in his characteristic humble brag
lists all the things that he could consider important,
being part of the chosen people of Israel,
strictly following the law,
all these things that conventional wisdom says
are important especially for a relationship with God
but then he says: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ...For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
that whoever he is
and whatever he’s done,
none of that will surpass what Christ has already done on the cross,
and because of that amazing fact
Paul goes on “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on the make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Paul wants to know Christ
, both the good- the resurrection-
and the bad- the suffering
and he feels secure in seeking this knowledge
because he knows that Christ Jesus
has made him his own.
And that is really the crux of the matter,
whether Paul came from the right family
and did the right things,
or whether he persecuted the church
or is in prison,
none of that matters in the end
because Christ claimed him.
And having been claimed by Christ,
Paul presses forward
seeking to know Christ even better,
seeking to share this with all he encounters
even if it means that by the standards of the world
he does some pretty odd things,
like letting go of status,
obeying God rather than Rome,
willingly suffering for the sake of love.
In our gospel for today
Mary wants to know Christ
and it leads her to do some odd things
by the standards of the world.
Once again Jesus has come to dinner,
he’s been hiding out a bit
but now he is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time
and on his way he’s stopped to have dinner with his friends.
Jesus is close with this family,
he’s had dinner here before,
that dinner where Martha asked Jesus to scold her sister Mary
for not helping her and instead sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus came here when Lazarus died
and Jesus wept over his friend
then raised him from the dead
and now he’s here one last time
together this group is facing the end.
And Mary takes a jar of perfume
that costs about a year’s wages
and pours it out on Jesus’ feet, anointing them,
then wipes them with her hair.
The use of that much perfume is extravagant,
as Judas will soon point out,
and she breaks the social dress code and norms
by letting her hair down and touching a man
who is not her husband.
it’s following Jesus in a nutshell
and Mary does this
because facing the coming ending
Jesus is what is important to Mary.
Of all the people present at the party
Mary is the one who has been most intentional
about spending time with Jesus,
sitting at his feet listening to him,
she has seen him raise her brother from the dead
she more than anyone
is likely to believe Jesus
when he tells his followers
that he is the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.
So her abundance of ointment
mirroring the abundance of Jesus’ love,
she anoints Jesus for his burial,
she lovingly sends him out to do
what he says he needs to do.
She wants to know Christ,
she wants to join in his story
and when compared with all of that,
what is some money?
And social norms?
They are rubbish.
Mary and Paul are exceptional in their abandonment
of all things that are not Jesus
but they are not exceptional in their desire to know Christ.
At one point or another
all of us have longed to know Christ,
even if we haven’t had the words
to understand that longing
and true sometimes we are like Mary
making extravagant displays of devotion
but other times we are Martha
who longs to know Jesus
and acts on that longing by serving,
continually moving around Jesus.
Sometimes we’re Lazarus,
we long to know Jesus
and we’re just grateful to be at the table
because even getting to the table with Jesus
is a miracle.
And sometimes we are even Judas,
we follow Jesus because there’s something that catches us
but we are so preoccupied with our own gain
that we miss the point of Jesus and those around him.
There is space for all of these characters in the story
and yet, whoever we are,
Christ has first claimed us as his own
and nothing we do will change that,
joined to Christ in his death and resurrection
God promises to treat us as if we were Christ.
And so whatever questions are challenging us,
whatever beginnings or endings we face,
we press on
claimed and loved by the most important one. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.