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Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
April 7, 2019 –Fifth Sunday in Lent
Everyone has a God. There is some core belief you are not willing to let go of …some value you will defend and advance in spite of all odds to the contrary …some conception of how the world must be…or must be made to behave… you will not abandon.
That is your God. You have probably picked that God unconsciously…at least originally …or subconsciously…and only later do we get a chance to see what we have done, with our conscious mind, the part of our minds that chews on ideas for a while before it swallows them.
That is the part of our humanity I want to talk about today…the part of us I want to talk about this morning. It is the largest part of our mind, the greater thinking part, I suspect…the part that is waiting for us to ask it a question because it wants to help us…now…and in the long run.
This is the process Paul writes to us …and to the Philippians…about this morning. He is a Hebrew. He has studied under Gamaliel…maybe something akin to a Harvard education in his day. He has been devoutly observant. He has been a zealous Pharisee.
This is a driven man…driven to be the best he can be…to make the most of the life that the Lord God Almighty has given to him. He wants to do the right thing and he is steadfast in his efforts to do it.
But then something happened to him and he realized that the path he was on was not the only path. Not only that, it was the wrong path. Now he sees that all is loss.
If he had continued on that path for the whole of his life, he would have died a respected…maybe even celebrated…leader of the people of Israel. But something happened that made him step out of his own skin and look at his life in a larger, more meaningful, truer, brighter light.
It wasn’t all about observing the laws. It wasn’t all about judging others as well as yourself. It was about loving God and loving your neighbor. It was about God intervening in human history to show us a bigger idea and a better way.
So he writes to us today, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
Paul has found his God…in Jesus Christ. He is a person who is greater than Paul had ever hoped to be. His teachings are truer than anything Paul ever hoped to say.
Paul would later write to the Galatians that when he had the flash of insight that changed his life forever he did not consult with any other human being but went to Arabia and then back to Damascus to think about it…for three years. It was not until fourteen years later that he went into Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles.
We do fast thinking and slow thinking. The fast thinking keeps us on the road when we are driving and it keeps us from hitting anything we might hurt or might hurt us.
Our slow thinking is what helps us find our true calling in life and make our way to it. It is Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings realizing on his eleventy-first birthday that he has a great quest to fulfill.
Sometimes it is a dramatic event like the risen Christ confronting Paul as he is on the road to Damascus. Sometimes the vision emerges in a quiet moment when the little voices pecking at us all day every day fall silent…or we are able to hear over the din of those voices…and we realize the truth has been staring us in the face for a long time.
Or maybe it is a combination of the two…or something else…and we can finally see clearly what was only faint or dim before. It ‘dawns’ on us.
Paul used both his fast thinking and his slow thinking to arrive at the truth that would animate his life…give his every day meaning…until the day he died.
Isaiah gives us a way to hear the dawning of a new age in our thinking this morning, too. “Forget the former things,” he calls out to us, “do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
One of the gifts of the season we are now in…the season of Lent…is that we slow down…deny ourselves something we will miss…change our pace or our rhythm…land in a new place…become more intentional in our focus…and see things anew.
We do the same thing every week with worship…taking an hour to gather and meditate on the Word, raise our voices in song, pray, turn inward and upward.
We give up an hour, but the hour of the hurly burly we give up in worship will be returned to us in the form of fresh insight or an idea that we heard during the service of from a friend before or after.
The same is always true of prayer for me. I need to stop and pay attention. Don’t just do something …sit there and let your mind catch up with your eyes and ears.
One evening, Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace and one of the wealthiest men in Russia, was toiling over plans and ledgers. It was all too much, and he yearned to be doing something more creative…more essential…more spiritual. But business is business and he had his work to do.
As he sat there, he heard music and singing and laughter and happy voices. It was the serfs who lived on his estate and did the back-breaking menial labor in exchange for nothing more than a place to sleep and something to eat.
They had nothing. He had as much as any man in the world, in terms of property and fame and understanding. They had only the moment that they had. They were reveling. He was miserable. It wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.
He resolved then and there to free himself of much of his property and to allow himself to focus on the things that were truly important to him…and to the world. He had been driven from pillar to post, busy being the Great Man he was reputed to be.
But like Paul, he came to consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing a higher calling, for whose sake he was willing to lose all things…or a substantial portion of them.
Money and land and crops and possessions had become his God. Little by little, he had been seduced by the priorities of this world and he had lost his life in pursuing the world’s passions.
The movie Citizen Kane begins with the death of a fabulously wealthy and talented man, who was as driven as Paul, but who never had that moment of insight until the hour of his death. His last word as he dies is ‘Rosebud.”
We spend the rest of the movie trying to find out who or what Rosebud was. We find out at the end that he was adopted out as a child by his poor parents to some very rich people who wanted a child and couldn’t have one…so they bought one.
No one else in the movie understands at the end, as we come to understand, that Rosebud was the sled he had when he was a child, and all the efforts he had made since he was adopted were an attempt to be loved by someone as much as he had loved that sled…as much as he had loved the family that sold him to the rich people.
So what is it that you are missing in your daily routine? What one thing is it that you would be willing to give up everything else to have? Who or what is it that is your God?
I think Paul has found it for us. There is no God anywhere in the world that loves you as much, cares for you so much, who wishes you well as earnestly or wants you to be happier or make more of your life than the God we find in the Bible, as revealed by Jesus Christ.
Everyone who meets…truly meets …this Jesus…seems to know this is true…and we have a touching expression of it in our Gospel reading today. He is at the home of Lazarus and Lazarus’ sister, Martha, is giving him a special meal.
The other sister of Lazarus, Mary, comes into a zone of spiritual understanding. None of the disciples have yet grasped what is about to happen when they enter Jerusalem. Neither does Martha… but Jesus knows, and Mary knows.
This may be the last time she will see him before his arrest and conviction and execution. What is the appropriate expression of her understanding of this man?
As clearly as Peter had proclaimed, “You are the Messiah!” Mary proclaims it now. She takes a pint of pure nard, something that will soothe his skin against all the elements that he has endured in life, something that will seal his skin, even in death, and she rubs it onto his feet…the feet of God, where God has touched the earth.
There is objection from Judas, but Jesus blesses Mary against that criticism. She has anointed him against the death that is rapidly approaching him…and them… and us.
For his sake she has given up this precious treasure. For his sake, they have all sacrificed a significant portion of their wealth. For his sake, they will one day lose all things.
But that is okay. All else is of lesser importance…of virtually no value. At least this small remnant of worldly wealth will be given as an expression of Mary’s understanding …and our debt…to this man who counted everything in this world as loss compared to the riches that God has showered down upon us all.
This God is steadfast in love for the world and the people in it. This God is more powerful, more loving, more beautiful, and wiser than all the kingdoms…and democracies… of the world.
There is no God anywhere in the world that loves you as much, cares for you so much, who wishes you well as earnestly or wants you to be happier or make more of your life than the God we find in the Bible, as revealed by Jesus Christ.
So let us let go of all else in the presence of this truth and love and kindness. Let us turn this day from the things that are perishing even as we see them, and embrace the truth and love that will keep us forever.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do through us…through me…this day? Amen.