Isaiah 43:16-21: The God who has saved Israel in the past invites God’s people to believe that a new salvation is coming for them in their exile.
Psalm 126: A psalm celebrating the return of exiles to Jerusalem, and asking for God’s grace as they seek to rebuild their lives and their homeland.
Philippians 3:4b-14: Paul, who has every reason to trust in his goodness under the law, explains why he chooses rather to trust in Christ for his righteousness, and how he commits to continually striving to reach the reward that is promised in Christ.
THE DINNER PARTY (John 12:1-8)
Anointing with nard
filled the house with its fragrance:
love, surprise and shock.
Mary’s costly act
and yet foreboding.
(Source: Jeff Shrowder, The Billabong, 2016)
Call to Worship
We come to this place
because we want to know God,
who helps us set aside the past,
to walk the path to new life.
We come in these moments
because we want to know Jesus,
who anoints us with the resurrection,
who shares our lives with us.
We come with these people
because we want to know the Spirit,
who shapes us for life with God,
so we may praise God forever!
Giver of all good things,
let your grace flow through us;
a generous stream,
unstoppable, refreshing, abundant.
We release these gifts into your river of love,
flowing out to all the world. Amen. (Carol Penner)
Prayer of Dedication/Offering
If we want to know you, Generous God, we must see you in those all around us. If we want to serve you, we must give up that which is most important to us, even our material resources, so that blessings of hope and life might be offered to the needy, the lonely, the hungry all around us. Receive our gifts, we pray, so that others might be transformed even as we are. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
It’s good news, this Gospel,
the message of God’s reign among us;
the reality of God’s presence with us;
the challenge of God’s justice calling us.
It’s good news – a call to celebration,
a reason to bring out our best,
and offer it to God in extravagant thanksgiving
and reckless devotion. Whatever we may face,
whatever evil we might fight,
whatever injustice we might resist,
we refuse to forget the life, the celebration
that this Good News offers;
because it is truly good and liberating news
when cynicism and hatred
are incapable of stealing our joy. (John van de Laar)
And now, God sends us out into our communities,
not to cling to a faded past,
but to share all the new things God is doing.
And now, Jesus calls us to notice those around us,
to shower them with hope,
to feed them from our deep pantries,
to welcome them as family.
And now, the Spirit anoints us with grace,
to make a way through the injustices around us
so we might walk with our sisters and brothers
into the kingdom springing forth in our midst.
© 2016 Thom M. Shuman
“Whatever Mary thought about what she did, and whatever anyone else in the room thought about it, Jesus took it as a message from God – not the hysteric ministrations of an old maid gone sweetly mad but the carefully performed act of a prophet. Everything around Mary smacked of significance – Judas, the betrayer, challenging her act; the flask of nard–wasn’t it left over from Lazarus’ funeral? And out in the yard, a freshly vacated tomb that still smelled of burial spices, waiting for a new occupant. The air was dense with death, and while there may at first have been some doubt about whose death it was, Mary’s prophetic act revealed the truth…. So Mary rubbed his feet with perfume so precious that its sale might have fed a poor family for a year, an act so lavish that it suggests another layer to her prophecy. There will be nothing economical about this man’s death, just as there has been nothing economical about his life. In him, the extravagance of God’s love is made flesh. In him, the excessiveness of God’s mercy is made manifest.” (Source: Barbara Brown Taylor, The Prophet Mary)
Thom Shuman’s communion liturgy: Lent 5C
Prayer of the Day
You have done great things
for us, God of great love.
You make a way through our brokenness,
so hope might be restored;
you loosen our grip on fear,
so we might take hold of the One
who cradles us in the palms of grace.
You are doing great things
through us, Brother of the poor.
You make a way through our doubt,
so we may have the faith to follow,
as well as to serve by your side;
you gather up our tears,
turning them into fountains of joy.
You will do great things
In us, Anointer of our hearts.
You make a way through
our hardened hearts, melting them
into rivers of wonder for all;
you touch our tongues so
they tingle with delights, and
laughter tumbles out of our mouths.
Continue to make a way through us,
God in Community, Holy in One,
as we pray together, saying: (The Lord’s Prayer)
Call to Reconciliation
As we offer our prayers of confession, remember that God chooses to forget about our past, forgiving us so we may embrace the new life and new hope offered to us in grace. I invite you to join me, as we pray together,
Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
Like Judas, God of new things, we like to complain about your generous ways, rather than living in your grace. The poor are always with us, we believe, which justifies our ignoring them. In our memories, we see a perceived golden past, and so close our eyes to the new things you do in our midst. We are so enamored with our achievements that we are not willing to throw them away in order to follow Jesus.
Forgive us, Restoring God, and help us to notice the kingdom springing forth in our midst. By your grace, may our fears turn to faith, our seeds of grief produce a bumper crop of joy, and our tears turn into torrents of tenderness as we journey with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to Jerusalem. Silence is kept
Assurance of Pardon
Making a way through all the foolishness and mistakes of our lives, God leads us into new life, where we are restored to grace, to hope, and to peace.
Do we notice what God has done for us, what God is doing in us? This is good news for everyone. Thanks be to God, we are forgiven! Amen.
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the God of all new things be with you.
And also with you.
Let us offer our hearts to the One who restores us to new life.
May we empty them of all that holds us back,
so God may fill the emptiness with grace.
May our hearts overflow with praise to God.
May joy and laughter resound in our words and lives.
You made a path through the emptiness
of chaos, God of every imagination,
sending creation to spring forth as
grass carpeted empty fields,
trees stretched their branches to the sun,
animals curled up by cool pools of water.
You even shaped us for life with you,
so we might share in this beauty and goodness,
but we threw aside all these gifts
in order to know sin and death.
You sent prophets to us,
who encouraged us to let go of the past
and to return to your side,
but we didn’t care about their words,
thinking such a life to be too costly.
So you sent Jesus to us,
setting aside your grieving heart
so we might be restored to you.
So with those who long to know you,
with those who run to be with you,
we offer our songs of thanksgiving:
Holy, holy, holy are you, God of new things.
All creation honors you with praise and joy.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes to take hold of us.
Hosanna in the highest!
Though you are holy, God of restoration,
you were willing to set aside all we had done,
so that Jesus might anoint us with new life.
He could have clung to his glory,
but set it aside to become one of us;
he could have maintained all power,
but became weak and foolish for us;
he could have been surrounded by your love,
but walked into the forest of our fears,
to make a way out for us;
he could have avoided pain and suffering,
but went into sin’s cold embrace,
to bring back death’s captives,
his tears sowing the seeds of hope
which brought forth a bouquet of grace.
As we long to want to know Jesus more,
as we seek to be restored to life by you,
we speak of that mystery we call faith:
Christ lost his life so we might find ours;
Christ was raised, his resurrection life springing forth in us;
Christ will come, that we might gain eternity with God.
We pray that you would anoint
this Table and its gifts of the bread and cup
with your Spirit of life and love,
which are offered to the people you love.
When we take the bread
which has been broken and eat of it,
we forget about our past
and embrace your kingdom
where we share in the sufferings
of our sisters and brothers everywhere.
When we drink from the cup,
the fragrance of your grace fills us
to go and serve your people:
the poor who do not always need to be,
the lonely who can be offered a family,
the grieving who can be cradled in love.
And when the past is finally behind us
and we are gathered in the new Jerusalem
with our sisters and brothers of every time and place,
we will join our hands around your feast,
and sing your praises from the depths of our hearts,
God in Community, Holy in One. Amen.
A Reflection on John 12:1-8, by Rick Strelan
(posted on ELCA Facebook, April 2019)
We’re fairly used to men criticizing women or putting them down. There are a number of cases where they behave like that in the Gospels too, and in today’s Gospel we have one: Judas, one of the twelve men specially chosen to be in Jesus’ inner circle with the ‘very important position’ of being treasurer for the group, criticizes Mary for her ‘typically female’ impossible waste of money. Why waste money on Jesus? He does alright for himself. Get your causes right. Why not give it to the poor (whom I’ve never met; and whom we didn’t invite to this meal – even though Bethany means ‘the place of the poor’). Mary just has no financial nous; no sense of how to manage and use money. But Judas knows. He’s a man – responsible, disciplined, controlled, organised. He makes sure nothing is spent that hasn’t been budgeted for. Just what you need in a church and in a congregation.
It’s appropriate that we have this Gospel now, as we get close to the end of Lent. After all, Lent is about denial, giving up things, being austere and ascetic and frugal, isn’t it?. Surely Lent can’t be about exorbitant generosity, ill-disciplined splashing around of money, can it? It has struck me that a number of times in Lent we have heard in the Gospels stories of over-the-top generosity. Remember last Sunday and the abundant compassion of a father for his son that led to a lavish party of celebration – a celebration that the older, more disciplined, more careful, more prudent son simply could not understand. And after all, isn’t Lent meant to get us ready for the greatest gift of compassionate generosity? Isn’t it preparing us for the celebration of the life of the very Son of G-d given up and taken up again to free us from all powers and authorities that bind and dehumanize and belittle us (and stingy-fy)?
But today, it’s Mary who is our model. And to a degree her sister, Martha. Martha often is constructed in typical male fashion. She’s in the kitchen where women ought to be (even though Jesus clearly says that is not the preferred place). With all very due respect for anyone who works in the kitchen and makes the scones and tea, the biblical Martha, and especially the Martha of John’s Gospel, does not perform that role. In the chapter preceding this story today, Martha is clearly the bold confessor of faith, challenging Jesus, meeting Jesus outside of the house, believing Jesus even in the face of the death of her brother that reduces her sister Mary to rather hope-less, house-bound weeping. Martha is the dragon-slayer. She is the rock on which the Lord builds the church. In today’s story too she is not the one providing the food; she serves it. She serves her community reclining at table – just like Jesus serves. She distributes the food, manages the food, controls the finances of such a meal – that’s what a ‘deacon’ (server) did. It’s why deacons were part of the trio of church leadership along with bishops and elders in early Christian congregations. Deacons also distributed the Eucharistic food. (And there is the alluring perfume of the Eucharist, in this story). Martha is the one who serves – just like Jesus who came to serve. Not by chance does Jesus say just a few verses later in this chapter: ‘Where I am, my servant/deacon will be; and if anyone serves/deacons me, the Father will honor her’ (12:26). The Father gives honour to Martha.
And now her sister, Mary. Mary – who so annoyed Judas, the treasurer. By the way, I suspect there is more than a financial issue going on here; I think there’s a leadership style conflict: the one dogmatic, controlled (and controlling), cold and tight – represented by Judas (one of the twelve and a ‘betrayer’ of Jesus and his way of doing things); the other, represented by Mary, generous, loving, beautiful, warm, compassionate. The true disciple of Jesus. Mary, like Jesus, goes over-the-top with her generosity; she is the prodigal lover. She touches, intimately: Perfume, hair, feet – how intimate can you get? She is not humble; she is not grovelling; she is not submissive. On the contrary, she anoints Jesus’ feet – massages them, strengthens them for the walk that lies ahead of him in the coming week. She transfers the energy and life-force that comes from her hair (remember the ‘strength’ in Samson’s hair?) into the feet of Jesus. She is offering Jesus not just love and support but her energy and strength: in a sense, she offers him her life-force. She’s a Jesus. And in part that explains the amount of money she’s prepared to spend; it represents her livelihood – she gives everything. A good model for Lent! The odor of her perfume fills the house and the people in it. The smell of death, of stinginess, of power and authority and of control is simply overpowered by the beautiful fragrance of compassion and love and sharing of energy. Pray G-d that it will fill our ‘house’ too.
So ‘shut up, Judas’ (Jesus is a little more circumspect in his language, but his point is the same), Shut up all those like him, male or female. Shut up, all controllers, all those wanting to use their power and authority to keep others in their place. Shut up, the stingy ones. Shut up, and learn from Mary and from Martha how to be like me.
It’s no surprise that in the weeks ahead it is the women at the cross and the women at the empty grave who are held up as the models of faithful discipleship and as the prime proclaimers of the living One. Martha and Mary have prepared us for that.
Now, this morning, we all, female and male, come together at this table to be served by Jesus, our common deacon. He anoints our heads with oil and fills our cups to overflowing. He encourages us to imitate him, to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. And, as he also said: ‘Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mark 14:9). Thank you, Mary; thank you, Martha. We remember you, sister.
Calculations on extravagant love
For those preaching this Sunday following the lectionary, a bit of information: the value today of the nard perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus is about $US54,000.
This number is based on John 12:5, which says the perfume was worth “300 denarii”. The denarius was a roughly quarter-ounce silver coin widely used as a day’s wage. It’s the coin we find in the parable of the vineyard, where the people hired at the end of the day get the same amount as those who worked all day.
Working six days a week, 300 denarii comes to a year’s wages, which makes it easier to compare to today. Using a journeyman carpenter as our representative worker, the median annual earnings in the US today is $US54,000.
Music: When the Lord restored our Fortunes
(paraphrase of Psalm 126, celebrating that, after a difficult time of exile and wilderness, God has given the people a new start. )
When the Lord restored our fortunes,
We were like the ones who dream.
Then our mouths were filled with laughter;
Joy eternal, flowing stream.
It was said among the nations,
“God has blessed them with new life.”
We rejoiced for God’s salvation
Brought us home and saved from strife.
By the waters of your mercy,
Save us, Lord, from all our fears.
May the ones who walk in sorrow
Reap with joy what’s sown in tears.
Bring us home with glee and laughter;
Send us out with gifts to share.
God has done great things among us;
Held us always in his care.”
(Words: Stephen M. Fearing, 2016; Tune: Nettleton)
Song: Like a Healing Stream
Like a healing stream in a barren desert,
Spirit water bringing life to dusty earth,
God is trickling through our lives as in a dream unfolding,
Promising revival and rebirth…
Like a healing stream.
Like a gentle rain on a thirsty garden,
Spirit water come to nourish tiny seed,
God is bubbling through the soil to coax a new creation,
Yearning for an end to want and need…
Like a gentle rain.
Like a river strong with a restless current,
Spirit water rushing on to distant shore,
God is carving out a channel in a new direction,
Calling for an end to hate and war…
Like a river strong.
Like a mighty sea reaching far horizons,
Spirit water with a love both deep and wide,
God is working in our hearts to shape a new tomorrow;
God will always challenge and provide!
Like a mighty sea,
Like a river strong,
Like a gentle rain,
Like a healing stream. (Words: Bruce Harding, 2003)
Each of the 4 verses compare God to a different form of water, and picture the movement of God bringing a newness to life in the form of healing, fullness, peace and love. If you were to consider God as water, which verse would best explain either the role of God’s presence in your life or God’s presence in the world today?