The Fifth Sunday in Lent (3/17/2013)

Lessons:Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 (5) Philippians 3:4b-14 St. John 12:1-8

Prayer of the Day: Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert.  Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

12.1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


St. John 12:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Extravagant!

This week 115 Roman Catholic Cardinals are gathered in the Sistine Chapel, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as they elect the Catholic church’s next Pope. As their brothers and sisters in faith, we pray that they will find a wise and faithful servant of Christ, who will guide the Catholic church in ways that honor God and proclaim the good news.

My family and I had an opportunity to visit the Sistine chapel, exactly seven years ago. It is a spectacular place! The work of Michelangelo, adorning the ceiling and one of the chapel walls, is deeply inspiring, even 500 years after he put his brushes down. As you stand in the middle of the chapel, surrounded by the work of Masters like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Raphael, the extravagant nature of their work is almost overwhelming. One imagines the faith and awe that must have stirred church leaders to make such an extravagant investment in this space.

One also imagines how much it cost the church to commission those works — and what it would cost to complete a similar project today. Extravagance has not always been enthusiastically embraced in the church’s history. In fact, for those of us who trace our ancestry to Scandinavian or Germanic Lutherans, the opposite may have been true. “Why spend the church’s resources on fancy decorations, when the money could have been so much better used in serving our neighbors?”

Yet, there is something to say about an extravagant response to the Gospel.

Mary and Martha are familiar characters to those of us who have wandered around the Gospels a bit. It is clear that Mary has a deep love for Jesus; and some suggest that he may have been instrumental in transforming her from a social outsider living a miserable life, to a woman who was loved and respected as a member of the early Christian faith community. She owes him everything, and during a dinner party when Jesus is the honored guest, Mary shocks her dinner companions by falling to her knees, anointing Jesus’ feet with a very expensive perfume, and drying his feet with her hair. The aroma of this extravagant offering fills the house.

There are those present who suggest that the money it took to purchase the perfume could have been used in a better way. Jesus isn’t persuaded by this argument. He commends Mary for what she has done. She has anointed him for his burial, honoring him in a remarkably extravagant way. She has given him her very best. And the house is filled with the sweet fragrance of her offering.

May we likewise honor God, with the sweet fragrance of our offerings.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been concerned that the church is spending too extravagantly?
  2. When have I been moved by someone’s extravagant response to God?
  3. What has their extravagance taught me about their heart, and their relationship with God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I put into words what my faith means to me?
  2. In what ways might I respond to God’s grace, that might seem extravagant?
  3. How might my response inspire someone else?