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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Lent 5C RCL April 7, 2019

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

Our opening reading is from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. The exiles have been in captivity in Babylon for five decades, and God is calling Isaiah to proclaim the amazing good news that the exiles will be coming home. They will be free.

This wonderful news is placed in the framework of another earlier time when God freed God’s people. The people had been enslaved in Egypt, but God moved the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people, who had only the clothes on their backs, to run over the sodden and mucky ground and get to the other side. The chariots and horses of the Egyptians sank into the mud. Now, many years later, God is going to do a new thing, It is springing forth like water in the desert. God is going to make a path in the wilderness so that the people can follow it and return home from Babylon after all these years.

Our psalm today is a song of praise to God from the exiles who are returning to rebuild Jerusalem. We can hear the joyous laughter of the people who sowed with tears and are now reaping with joy.

Our epistle for today is one of the most eloquent and moving passages in the Bible. Paul is addressing his beloved Philippians. The sentences preceding this text reveal that there are some people in the congregation who still believe that all new converts must be circumcised.

Jesus has come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. As Paul says,
“The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Yet some people are clinging to old beliefs and traditions. Paul brings his entire life to bear on this issue. He himself was circumcised on the eighth day. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee, an expert in the law. Few people on the planet have more knowledge of the law than he does. His credentials are impressive.

Then he comes to the part that fills him with shame, the kind of shame we feel when we face something we wish we had never done. He persecuted the followers of Jesus. He watched from the sidelines as an angry mob stoned Stephen to death. He was on the way to Damascus to continue this mission when he met Jesus.

Yes, he was blameless under the law, but he had persecuted the followers of the One who was able to lead him into new life.

He lost his entire way of life. He realized that the cause which had dominated his every moment was not a noble cause after all. And yet, even though he lost that former life, he sees everything as gain.

Saul met our Lord on the road to Damascus. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” No, he had not been with Jesus for several years the way the others had, but, in that brief meeting when he was blinded by the light, Saul began a lifelong relationship with the risen Christ. Like us, Paul never followed our Lord during Jesus’ earthly life, but his faith was just as deeply rooted as if he had spent every day of his life with Jesus. I believe that he did spend every day of his life with the risen Lord, just as we do, and that he grew very close to our Lord.

Paul has lost all the things he thought were so valuable, and he has gained a relationship with the risen Christ, and Paul wants to continue to grow closer to Jesus. Paul knows that by sharing in the suffering of Christ we experience the power of the resurrection. Our Lord takes all of our times of struggle and shame and defeat and transforms them into new life.

Paul admits that he isn’t there yet. He hasn’t arrived. He is still on the journey, just as we are. But he presses on to make the new life entirely his own, because Jesus has made Paul his own. Paul calls us to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” Paul clearly has great faith. Although he persecuted the followers of Jesus, he has come to know our Lord so deeply that he can encourage us on our journey of growing closer and closer to Christ.

In our gospel, it is only six days before the Passover. Jesus is going to die. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who are among his closest friends, give a dinner for him. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead, and there he is at the supper table. The previous verses tell us that folks have gone to inform the authorities, and the raising of Lazarus has propelled them to find a way to kill Jesus. For the powers that be who are squashing life at every turn, the power to give newness of life is a huge threat.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with very expensive nard to show her love and respect for him and to assure him that she will be there every step of the way. Judas raises an issue about the expense, which is entirely bogus. Apparently, he wanted Mary to put that money in the common purse, but not because he cared about the poor. The text tells us that he stole money from the common funds. In effect, he wanted more money for himself. Scholars tell us that Jesus’ comment about the poor is simply to point out that his earthly life is about to end. Obviously, he cared about the poor, and in his kingdom everyone has enough to live a healthy and meaningful life.

What are these readings saying to us? There are some themes here about traveling light and letting go of things that do not lead to life.  The heavy chariots and horses sank. Traveling light, God’s people made it to freedom. Paul devoted the first part of his life to the law and to his faith. Yet it had led him to kill people. His shame was almost more than he could bear. His transformation was profound. What is God calling us to let go of? What things in our lives lead to death? What in our lives leads to life?

Mary pours out a treasure of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus. She is going to follow him through death and beyond to new life. Mary and Paul are sterling examples for us to follow. In our Collect for today, we pray that, “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” May it be so. Amen.

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