Carolyn’s Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent – 3/17/13

Sermon Lent 5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s scripture readings have a message for us about the past, the future, and the present.

  1. Remember the past because the Lord has done great things for us.
  2. Look toward the future because God is doing a new thing.
  3. Don’t wish for what might have been. Christ is with you now.

Remember the good old days?  I am especially talking about the good old days for the church.  Not just St. Mark’s, but all the churches.

The good old days were great.  There were lots of people in worship every week.  Just about everyone you knew belonged to a congregation and attended regularly. The Sunday School was full to over-flowing.  The youth group was active.

There was enough money to build and expand as we needed.  You almost never heard someone list their religious preference as “none.”

It seemed we didn’t have to worry about our children growing up in the faith.  The church was a more dominant force in the culture.

I recently saw a clip from an episode of the Art Linkletter show from the sixties.  He asked a group of first and second grade children to tell him their favorite Bible story.  It was funny to hear them mix the stories up, but they were all familiar with lots of Bible stories.  You wouldn’t find that with a random group of elementary school children now.

God was faithful to us.  Those were the good old days.  The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad indeed.

The prophet Isaiah was talking to people who felt the same way.  The people of Israel were remembering their “good old days.”

Their “good old days” went back to the time God rescued them from Egypt.  God sent them a great leader and Moses parted the Red Sea.

Pulpit Parament at St. Mark's.

Pulpit Parament at St. Mark’s.

The “good old days” were great.  We knew God was with us.  God rescued Israel.  God filled our churches and Sunday Schools.  Nearly everyone claimed to be a Christian.

We knew God was faithful to us back then.  The Lord has done great things for us. But, God does not call us to look backward.  God is always doing new things. God calls us to look forward to the future.

Paul remembered that the Lord had done great things for him.   He talks about his past accomplishments and credentials.  After all, he has been blessed.  He was born into the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that always remained faithful to God.  He was raised by parents who followed the law and made sure that he grew up in the faith.

He was well educated in the scriptures and able to debate the law with the best of the Pharisees.  He was a strong protector of the faith and followed God’s law to the letter, even to the point of rounding up and arresting anyone he saw who was preaching new things – things that changed God’s law.

Paul tells us all that.  Then he says it is all worthless rubbish.  He says none of it matters.  The past is the past.  God is doing a new thing.  Paul tells us to look forward to the future.  Stop looking backward. Stop looking behind you for the past to reappear.

Paul says that the new thing that God does is Christ’s victory over death.  That victory means everything is changed.  Everything is always being made new.  Everything moves forward.

Look toward the future, don’t wish for the past.  Don’t try to recreate the past.  God is doing a new thing.

The message of our Gospel lesson today is also about time.  Don’t wish for what might have been.  Don’t look back with regret.  Pay attention to Jesus.  He is with you now.

Jesus is at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  He has already raised Lazarus from the dead.  That is in the past.  The Lord has done great things for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and they are glad indeed.

Martha shows her gratitude by preparing a dinner party for Jesus.  Lazarus joins him at the table, showing everyone that Jesus is the honored guest.  Mary shows her gratitude by giving an extravagant gift.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume.  That pound of perfume would have cost about $50,000 today.  The fragrance filled the whole house.  This was the type of perfume that was used to anoint the dead, to cover the smell of decaying bodies.

One legend has it that this perfume would have been Mary’s dowry.  It would have ensured her future.  She gave it all away to express her gratitude for what Jesus had done.  She gave it all away to express her faith in who he was.

John tells us that Judas was upset at Mary’s show of love for Jesus.  Judas tries to tell everyone that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Here is where Jesus gives us an often misinterpreted quote.  “You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Throughout the centuries, people have quoted this verse as an excuse to ignore the needs of the poor and blame Jesus.  Jesus is definitely not saying we should ignore the poor because there will always be poor people.  He is not saying that it is God’s will that there are poor people.

Jesus is paraphrasing part of a Bible verse.  He doesn’t quote the whole thing because he doesn’t have to.  The disciples all know it by heart.  It would be like me saying, “God so loved the world…”  You could finish the verse.  I don’t have to say the whole thing.

The verse Jesus refers to is Deuteronomy 15:11: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

It was customary for the Jews to take up a special collection for the poor at the Passover and this story happens six days before the Passover.  Jesus may have been trying to tell them that they should help the poor all the time, not just at the holidays.

One of my favorite interpretations of this passage compares helping the poor to housecleaning.  We need to clean our homes on a regular basis.  But we don’t start shampooing the carpets while the important guests are with us.  We buy the best food and wine to serve to our honored guests.  We clean before the guests arrive and after they leave, not while they are with us.

Jesus tells Judas that Mary is anointing him for his death.  He knows that his death is a far better gift for the poor and for everyone else in the world than the food that money could have bought.

Jesus tells Judas not to be concerned about what might have been done with the perfume and the money it was worth.  This is a good reminder for us not to focus on the things that, “might have been.”

We need to focus on the present. Christ is with us now.  He comes to us in bread and wine.  He loves us and forgives us today, in the present, at this moment.

  1. Remember the past because the Lord has done great things for us.
  2. Look toward the future because God is doing a new thing.
  3. Don’t wish for what might have been. Christ is with you now.



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