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Lent 5C RCL March 17, 2013

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

If we were to choose a theme for today’s readings, it might be that our lessons today focus on three victories that were won at great cost. Isaiah is writing to the exiles in Babylon to tell them that God is about to set them free. He compresses some of their earlier history into just a few words. but these well-chosen words create a clear picture of what is happening. The people of God are escaping their slavery in Egypt. They are running as fast as they can, traveling light. They have left everything. The Egyptian horses and chariots try to follow them but they are too heavy. They bog down in the waters of the Red Sea. They cannot rise and the waters flow over them.

God is doing a new thing. God is making a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. Over and over again, God brings us out of slavery into freedom. God brings us home from exile. God builds God’s shalom. But at a great cost.

Paul is writing to his beloved community at Philippi. Some of the people want to continue to observe the law, and they want to make circumcision a requirement for being a Christian.

Paul is trying to get across to them what Isaiah said, that God is doing a new thing. the fulfillment of the law in Christ, the freeing of God’s people. Paul lists his qualifications to speak about the law and freedom in Christ. He was circumcised on the eighth day, he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, he is a Hebrew, he is a Pharisee, but then he painfully and honestly states that he persecuted the Church. Under the law, he was blameless.

He met the risen Christ on the road ro Damascus, and, when Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me,” the whole landscape of his life changed.  Everything that had mattered so much before became as rubbish. He let go of all of it because he wanted to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

He wants the righteousness, that is, the right relationship with God, that moves through faith in Christ. He wants to know Christ and the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the sharing of Christ’s sufferings, and he knows that he must share in Christ’s death if he is going to share in the new life. We all have things we need to die to in order to live anew in Christ.

And Paul says that he has not yet reached the goal, but he presses on to make it his own as Jesus has made Paul his own. In baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever, and then we make the eternal journey of living into that resurrection life.

But then Paul says something that is so honest, so humble, so refreshing to us who are on the journey and may be wondering if we can hang in there. He says, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” From time to time, we all have questions.  We all have some things, some decisions we regret.

It is important to reflect on the past in order to learn from it. But then it is necessary to let go of the past and put it into God’s hands. We need to let go and let God. We need to press on toward the light of Christ. Paul gave up all his former power and privilege. He also gave up being part of a system that was based on power and privilege in order to follow Jesus.

In our gospel,  it is six days before the Passover. Jesus and the disciples go to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. These three people were close friends of Jesus, and their home was a sanctuary for him. I think Jesus visited there whenever he could and these four people loved each other very deeply.

Martha serves. After supper, Mary, Jesus’ first women disciple, anoints his feet with perfume made from nard, which comes from the Himalayas and is extremely expensive. This story is told in the other gospels.  In Matthew and Mark, the woman is not named. In Luke, she is called a “sinner,” and she has been associated with Mary Magdalene. When we have more time, we will look at that issue, but there is nothing in Luke’s gospel that would link this woman with Mary Magdalene and nothing in the scriptures that would imply that Mary Magdalene, another of Jesus’ disciples, was a sinner.

Here in John’s gospel, this woman is clearly Mary, whom Martha chided because she was sitting at Jesus’ feet in the classic posture of a formal disciple. She is honoring Jesus. She is also showing forth the love which we as Jesus’ followers are called to show, the love which Jesus will give us as an example when he washes the disciples’ feet.

Judas makes his comment. John gives his opinion of that. But then Jesus says that Mary has bought the perfume to anoint his body. Amid the devotion of Mary and the duplicity of Judas, we are now headed for the cross.

Think of the courage Jesus has. He knows where he is going and he is going to see it through. There is no greater victory than this and no greater cost. To follow Christ, each of us has to let go of certain things. Each of us with God’s help, has to fight certain battles unique to each person. Each of us has to take on certain disciplines. These pale in comparison to what our Lord has done for us. Nonetheless, we struggle with these things. We struggle to live into the wholeness and health of life in Christ’s kingdom.

Our models for today are God’s people traveling light and running to freedom; Paul, giving up his status and a system based on status in order to spread the good news and press on toward the goal of new life in Christ; and, most of all, Jesus himself, who will now set his face toward Jerusalem, have his own struggle in the garden, undergo a mock trial and a criminal’s agonizing death, and come back to us even more alive than before.

When we let go of things that get in the way of our journey toward Christ, we fall into the abyss of God’s love and we are transformed. And when we come back from that experience, we are even more alive than before.

May we follow him every step of the way, in faith, hope, and love.

Amen.

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