Jesus’ Hosting, Serving and Cleansing Presence.

A sermon for Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:14, (5-10), 11-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Psalm 116:1, 10-17

 

We are a people who generally like traditions; really old traditions. Like 4th-century traditions. Well most of the time, tonight I’m glad we have the traditions we have. In the 4th century, we would have begun at two this afternoon, with Eucharist in a church at the site of the true cross. At 4 pm we would move to the courtyard, the site of the crucifixion for a second celebration, and then prayers at Jesus’ tomb. Then we scoot home for a quick dinner before heading off to a meeting on the Mount of Olives, for hymn singing, reading, prayers and Gospel readings until 11 pm; then we would listen to Gospel passages of what Jesus said to his disciples in the very cave we were in. At midnight we would go to Imbomon, the site of the Ascension, for another service until cock-crow; then process down the mountain to Gethsemane for prayers, hymns, lections at the various stations. At daybreak, we would return to the site of the crucifixion to hear the Gospel account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Then we would go home until it is time to go to the first Good Friday service  (Hatchett 228).

I’m glad we’ve less to do; maybe we will have some energy to direct toward gleaning what the readings have to share with us this evening. By the time I actually got to writing, I’d come to think that the gleanings are not so such from the words, as they are from the context. The reading from Exodus is the detailed instructions about the Passover sacrifice before the angel of death passes through Egypt taking the life of all the first born. The homes whose door post is properly marked will be spared. The final verse tells us this will be a remembrance for Israel, forever. This story may be about the first ritual established for Israel. It emphasizes God’s desire for Israel to remember what happened, indicating the divine desire for an eternal relationship.

The first verse Psalm 116 refers to one or more times that God has done something for the Psalmist. The Psalmist wants to repay God’s devotion and comes to the decision the way to go is to live the way God is calling the Psalmist to live. The decision honors and respects their relationship. The division is effecting how they gather for The Lord’s Supper. It may be helpful to understand that the word Paul uses for ‘Eucharist’ means thanksgiving. Its cultural context comes for a patronage social system in which you gave thanks to your benefactor. There was also a religious tradition of giving thanks to your local god. (Sakenfeld). At least some of the Corinthians are not remembering the relationship Jesus calls all followers to have with each other. Some, mostly wealthy families arrive early, eat their dinner meaning the late arrivals, seemingly the poorer, without sufficient food, go hungry. This dining habit is adding to the division in the community. Paul will not stand for this behavior. In describing the origins of the Lord’s Supper, he quotes Jesus “do this in remembrance of me.” He also notes Jesus’ gift is for “you” ~ all Jesus’ followers. Again we can see Paul’s and Jesus’ concern for relationships, between Jesus and the Corinthian Church, but also between the members of the church. If their relationship with each other is corrupt, so is their divine relationship (Gaventa and Petersen).

John’s account of the last supper is about foot washing, which has a long history. It is an act of hospitality for a host to provide water and a servant for guests to wash their feet (Gaventa and Petersen). We see it in Genesis. There is a cultic sacrificial discipline for priests to wash their feet before approaching the altar as an act of spiritual purification, that implies the importance of the relationship between God and the priest making the sacrifice, and I suspect between God and the person offering the sacrifice (Sakenfeld).

Jesus combines all three. He is the host, by washing the disciples’ feet he acts as the servant, and in his role as the priest, he is tending to the disciples’ spiritual life (Harrelson). Jesus’ use of the term ‘hour’ indicates his imminent return to The Father. The next sentence tells of Jesus love for his disciples, which his motivation for all his actions. Jesus has modeled how the disciples are to treat each other, and how they are to treat everyone else. He has also cleared the way for them to be at one with him and God, as he and God are one (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ desire is for all disciples, including us, to be in the fullest relationship with God.

In tonight’s gathering, I invite us to listen to Paul’s cry for a community that lives in divine relationship with each other. I invite us to open ourselves to Jesus’ hospitality by allowing him to serve us and to cleanse the way to the fullest relationship with our creator God. Finally, I hope we see how it’s all about relationships. There are only a few days left in this Lenten season of penitential fasting. May we delve into how Jesus accepts us as we are and offers us a way to be who we are called to be. May we delve into our own duplicity in the tomorrow’s tragedy so that it may be cleansed. May we delve into our own behaviors towards people in, around and beyond the church. How do we relate to them? How do we offer them hospitality? How do we serve them? How do we invite them into Jesus’ hosting, serving, and cleansing presence?

 


 

References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayerbook. HarperSanFrancisco, 1980.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

Anointing, Love and the Poor

 

A sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent; Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8, Psalm 126

You know the story of Jesus’ feet being anointed. In one form or another, it is in all four Gospels. In John, the background is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Grateful, Martha and Mary have Jesus over for dinner. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a full jar of expensive spikenard, a fragrant lard, and wipes them with her hair. ‘Wipes’ is the same verb John uses to describe Jesus wiping off his disciples’ feet at the foot washing (Harrelson). Mary acts from the same true love; that Jesus will act from (Hoezee). Her anointing Jesus is her version of Martha’s confession “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27, Gaventa and Petersen). Judas objects, he wonders out loud why the money spent to buy the spikenard wasn’t used to feed the poor. If we can hear that, without prejudice, because we’ve heard the story before, we might think his has a point; it is a realistic, practical, sensible question (Rice). Bruce Epperly writes that he was struck by

how simply unexpected most of the actions of this scene were. It was unexpected that someone would use such a costly amount of perfume to clean someone’s feet (Epperly).

 So, I wondered what else in this story is unexpected.

On Monday, a colleague of mine blogged how his parish had acquired some spikenard essential oil so that we could smell what that dining room smelled like the evening that Mary anointed Jesus.

[They]bought a small bottle of nard oil, and poured it into a small dish, and I swear to you, I can still smell that … awful stink to this day (Pankey).

I was surprised by the difference between their experience and the biblical account. So I texted my colleague who chalked it up to a cultural difference; possibly connected with the once a month bathing routine. Then I looked up ‘fragrance.’ Webster’s simple definition is: “having a pleasant and usually sweet smell.” However, lengthy the synonym discussion uses terms like aromatic, odorous, has a strong, distinctive smell whether pleasant or unpleasant (Webster’s). Well, that explains that, but something was still nagging at me, so I read the story one more time.

On this reading the last verse jumped off the page: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8).

After Judas’ criticism of Mary’s action, John tells us Juda’s character is shady, that he is a thief. Judas is feigning concern for the poor. Jesus’ response commends Mary’s act, and seems to speak directly to Judas, quoting Deuteronomy “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Deut. 15:11).

All the cross-reference verses refer to the advantages of giving to the poor. Isaiah wrote:

Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? …. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house (Isaiah 58:5).

Jesus’ quote comes from the definition of Sabbath. Deuteronomy connects keeping Sabbath to the celebration of Israel’s God, who frees slaves, and a wide range of circumstances, including economic debt, which could drive someone into slavery. It notes the release from debit every seven years. It pays special attention to the lenders’

cold calculation and hard-hearted stinginess [that] are the polar opposites of the joy and freedom celebrated in the Sabbath. The proper Israelite response … emulates God’s response. …. any others risk becoming an oppressor, … against whom the oppressed … “cry out” as the Israelites … did against the Egyptians (Gaventa and Petersen).

 Judas is not speaking from his concern for poor; he is using the poor to level criticism at Mary with disingenuousness moral indignation (Rice).

This is one of the places where we should be very clear what Jesus is saying to whom. Jesus is not justifying poverty. Poverty is not God’s will. Jesus is on the side of the impoverished and oppressed. Jesus is not validating poverty Jesus is eradicating poverty (PérezÁlvarez).  A collage of verses around Jesus’ quote that goes:

Do not entertain a mean thought. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so. Open your hand to the poor and needy. Remember that you were a slave.

 reveals what it means to think of your community as “brothers and sisters” (Harrelson).

I want to touch on the valid point, Judas disingenuously makes, about using the money that bought the spikenard to feed the poor. It gets presented as an either or duality. Actually, we need both the practical, feeding the hungry and the extravagant, anointing Jesus; we need the sensible and the mystic (Epperly). As Paul argues, we need all the vast variety of gifts we have been given (1 Corinthians 12). They enable us to complement each other in our singular work in continuing Christ’s ministry. We never need faux righteousness and justice derived from a sham concern for the poor; or the propagation of a contrived sense of fear of immigrants, or another faith tradition, or trade treaties, or the impoverished, or whoever the sinister ‘they’ may be.

As this prescribed time of introspection moves into its last weeks, as we continue our self-examination, reading and meditating on God’s word may we find the will to reject the temptation to act with meagre care born out of false pretenses and find the grace to give what simple gifts we have from love that reflects the love between Jesus and God.


 

References

n.d. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. 13 3 2016+. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fifth Sunday in Lent –. 13 3 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 12:1-8. 13 3 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Simultaneous Smells. 13 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 5 C: The Unexpected God. 13 3 2016.

Pankey, Steve. The power of nard. 7 3 2016.

PérezÁlvarez, Eliseo. Commentary on John 12:1-8. 13 3 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Rice, Whitney. “Gestures Made of Love, Lent 5(C) – 2016.” 13 3 2016. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Jesus you have given us everything we need. We have seen the signs and wonders, you have done. We are amazed at your quick wit, and by your subtle grasp of Moses’ law. Jesus, we are continually astonished by how you reach back to retrieve a long buried meaning of God’s word. Sometimes we are more than a little frightened by your confrontational style especially when you take on the Pharisees and Sadducees.

And Jesus, you know we are a bit confused by some of your teachings; especially when you speak of your relationship with God; or when you mention being lifted up; and all this glorifying God’s name stuff; not to mention your ranting on about rebuilding the Temple in three days. All these teachings are complex, they are hard to grasp.

Nonetheless, Jesus, we are exuberant. Remember the thunderous acceptance you received as you entered Jerusalem? You looked so much like a triumphant Legatus entering Rome.

We are so hugely hopeful that you really are the Messiah, descended from David’s royal line even if you have never really acted like it.

And now Jesus, at the celebration of the Passover Supper, the memorial of God’s mighty act to free us from Egyptian oppressions, now is the perfect time. Act now Jesus, free us from Roman oppression. Act now Jesus, and everything will be restored to its proper place. Israel will be the center of God on earth, you will sit on David’s throne, and we -well – we will be your top advisors and ministers. Act now Jesus, and all will be as it is supposed to be, as it has been written by the prophets.

What is this Jesus? You are washing our feet? Yes, we know Peter is over reacting, but Peter always over reacts. But still, we don’t get this Jesus, help us out here. Please!!

What? You will only be here a little longer? Where are you going? we didn’t quite get that. Besides, you can’t go now! All is ready, you all but said so. What? what do you mean we can’t come with you? Where haven’t we been you? We’ve been all over the place with you Jesus! even through Galilee. 

A new commandment?  All right, we knew it finally marching orders. Give us your commandment Jesus!

What?? love? love each other? like what? like you? like you love us? just now, by washing our feet. This really is how you want everyone to think of us!!

Oh my!! You really do expect us to wash each other’s feet. You really do expect us to love each other. You really do expect us to love the others. Oh my!!