Hi friends! I can’t believe May begins this week! I am not really sure where the week went.
Even though it was the week after Easter and most of my friends were preaching Doubting Thomas, we were back in the Year of Mark this morning, actually beginning the Passion Narrative (which, yes, felt like 5 giant steps backwards considering we celebrated the resurrection last week, but also I am looking at it as a great way to get a resurrection do-over – ha!).
This sermon reflects on The Year of Mark and then talks about the stories we are telling and reinforcing in our lives. I think sometimes we are inclined to focus on the negative, but if we look there are really amazing and grace-filled things happening in our lives!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 28, 2019
Telling Stories Of Love
I have two things that I want to mention that are related to the Year of Mark and not specifically to this morning’s scripture reading before we get into this story about the woman anointing Jesus at Bethany.
The first is an observation about Holy Week – something that happened to me that I was not expecting.
I took it more personally this year.
Hearing the Passion Narrative – the story of the trial and the death and the burial of Jesus – was harder for me this year than it ever has been before.
I have been reflecting on this a lot over the past week or so and the conclusion I have drawn is that my feelings of discomfort have a lot to do with the Year of Mark – and not in a bad way, either! But for the past almost ten months, with the exception of a few weeks here or there, I have done nothing but preach about Jesus.
And I realize how ridiculous that sounds, because I am a Christian pastor and, after all, isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing? But up until last July, I primarily followed the Revised Common Lectionary, which meant that every Sunday I had the option of preaching something out of the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, the letters in the New Testament or the Gospels. And this meant that while sometimes I was preaching specifically about Jesus, other times I was talking more broadly about our faith and how it relates to other parts of the bible.
But we have been in the Gospel of Mark for almost ten months. For ten months we have looked deeply at every piece of the Jesus story. We have walked through his baptism, his healings and his teachings. We have confused ourselves with his parables and bore witness to his miracles. We have tackled some of the more challenging stories, ones that – truth be told – I would have likely avoided if they had come up in the lectionary (Jesus’ teaching on divorce and the demonic pigs comes to mind).
For almost a year, the Gospel has not been just been a passive fragment of my job, but an intimate part of my weekly routine – of our weekly worship services here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
And so it was hard to hear the story of Jesus’ death.
Because it felt very personal.
But here’s the thing – it should feel personal. As Christians seeking to live out the Gospel in our lives today, we should take that story personally. It is, after all, the whole reason that we gather in the first place; the reason that we needed Jesus to walk on this earth in human form.
Which leads me to the second thing I want to mention before we get to the anointing of Jesus. As strange as this seems – because we just celebrated Easter and proclaimed the good news of Christ’s resurrection – this week we are beginning the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of Mark. From now until July 14th, we will hear the story of Jesus’ last moments on earth – the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ trial, Jesus crucifixion and the resurrection.
For many of you – if you have never attended our Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae – these may be stories you have never heard before. And I won’t sugar coat it – some of them may be hard to hear.
But it is so important that we read them, that we talk about them and that we sit with the discomfort or the sadness that they may make us feel. Because it is such a powerful reflection of the human condition, of the imperfections of who we are, as human beings; of the struggles we face and the burdens we bear.
After all, we cannot walk away from the hard stuff in our lives.
It is important to read these stories because, as human beings living in this world, we know that life is not always going to be perfect. We know that we will face trials and adversity. We know that we will feel pain and sorrow. We know that there will be moments in our lives when will have to carry burdens that feel too heavy for us to bear.
But it is in this safe space that we create here in worship that we not only hear these hard stories, but also are reminded of the hope that grounds our faith – that resurrection is real, that love wins and that God is always with us.
Our spring all-church-read is called, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. She talks about the complicated nature of the bible and why we should lean into its complexities, rather than disregard it all together.
The Bible reflects the complexity and the diversity of the human experience, with all its joys and sorrows.
While we may wish for a clear, perspicuous text, that’s not what God gave us. Instead, God gave us a cacophony of voices and perspectives, all in conversation with one another, representing the breadth and depth of the human experience in all its complexities and contradictions.
The Passion Narrative is complicated; but it is also such a richly defining moment of our faith.
At the beginning of Lent, I preached about my unfortunate affection for The Bachelor and how I love to read spoilers so I know what is going to happen before it actually happens. I related this to Lent and to the Passion Narrative because, even though we know how the story is going to end, we still should allow ourselves to get caught up in the drama of it all. And so this morning, as we prepare to finish the Year of Mark and preach through the Passion Narrative, I once again invite you to get caught up in the drama of this story. Allow yourself to feel the complicated feelings that go along with hearing about people denying, betraying and killing Jesus. Know that you are not alone and that, at the end of this experience, we will be reminded once that resurrection is real, that love wins and that God is always with us.
And here is my promise to you – I am going to keep it as light as possible for the next 11 weeks. As we read this heavy story in worship over, we will sing our favorite hymns (hymns that will likely have little to do with the scriptures, themselves but that make us smile so if you have any requests, send them my way!), our prayers will be uplifting and our children’s sermons will focus on how we shine God’s light and share God’s love in the world.
So it won’t all be hard – I promise.
Let’s talk about this morning’s text.
Jesus is in Jerusalem. In the 11thchapter of Mark, Jesus triumphantly arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of, “Hosanna!” as crowds enthusiastically laid down a path of palm branches and cloaks for him. He cleansed the temple – this was the story where he walked into the temple, which had turned into a marketplace, and he turned over tables and drove people out who were selling things.
In the 12thchapter of Mark, Jesus was immediately questioned about things like paying taxes, the resurrection and what the greatest commandment was (which was, of course, to love God and then love people). Jesus denounced the scribes and then lifted up a poor widow, who did not have much to give, but donated all she had to the offering at the temple.
Then came the mini apocalypse in the 13th chapter, where we saw a different side of Jesus and he foretold the destruction of the temple.
And so now here we are. The chief priests are the scribes are unhappy with Jesus, although, when we recap what brought us to this point, we kind of understand why they are so unhappy with Jesus. He is not only challenging their authority, but also has a growing crowd of followers who are bearing witness to these challenges and to the message and ministry of Jesus, which has the potential to threaten their authority and their power.
Two days before the Passover, Jesus is in a place called Bethany in the house of a leper named Simon. While he is there, a woman comes in with a jar of expensive ointment, which she pours on Jesus’ head as an anointing. The other people who are in the house become very angry, because of how expensive the ointment is; they feel that the woman should have sold the ointment and given the money to the poor instead of wasting it on Jesus.
And Jesus responds:
Leave her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
Here is the ironic thing about what Jesus says here. “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. Jesus says, “In remembrance of her,” and yet, we know very little about this woman. We do not know her name. We do not know why she is at Simon’s house – if she came alone or if she came with a husband or if she even has a husband. We do not know how she afforded such an expensive bottle of ointment in the first place. We do not even know why she anointed Jesus.
And here is how scripture, like Rachel Held Evans says in her book, Inspired, reflects the complexity and the diversity of the human experience. Because in this story, what is the focus? The fact that the chief priests and the scribes are plotting to kill Jesus and the fact that people are angry that the woman is wasting this expensive perfume. That takes up eight verses of this nine-verse passage.
There is only one verse talking about the fact that this unnamed woman is honorably and lovingly anointing Jesus.
But how often does that happen in our world today? We never hear about the good stuff – that hardly makes headlines.
We hear about the conflicts. The drama. The news that elicits feelings of fear and anger.
The stories that are the most compelling and inspiring and have the ability to really make people believe that a better world is possible often are not the stories that are told.
And yet, they are there. Here in scripture, in the middle of angry people and powerful authorities plotting to kill Jesus, is a woman giving of herself, laying hands on Jesus and blessing him for the journey ahead.
We need to find these stories in our lives today. These are the stories that we need to tell.
I want to tell you about this year’s Easter Egg Hunt.
It was raining, so we had to move the event indoors, which was not ideal. Parking was an issue, as always. We hired a face painter, who was incredibly talented, but took 5-10 minutes with each child and ended up having to stay almost two hours longer than we originally anticipated.
There were so many children, parents and grandparents that I am fairly certain we broke several fire codes in Fellowship Hall. And, even though we tried to control the initial burst of people as much as possible, we still had a rush of kids in the front collect most of the eggs and some of the kids in the back did not get any eggs.
Allison got yelled at by some angry parents of children who did not get eggs. And Bruce, who had tried to block off the handicap-accessible pew to contain our toddlers, got pushed to the side by a mom who let her kid run in and take the eggs.
It would be easy for me to end the story there – to leave you with that dramatic image and perhaps even elicit some sympathy for Allison and me.
And yet, embedded into the chaos of this morning is another story. It is the story of our RCC kids – kids who come to this church and, week after week, are taught lessons from the bible and encouraged to live these lessons out through service to others – who saw that some kids did not get any eggs and gave some of theirs back so that everyone could go home with something.
These are the stories that we need to tell. Like the woman who gently blessed Jesus with ointment amidst threats and anger, embedded into the chaos of our world, there are stories; stories where God’s love is shared and hope is found.
When we read this story it is tempting to focus on the negative things – emphasizing the plots to kill Jesus or nitpicking what this woman should have done with her expensive oil.
But if we did that, we would be reinforcing the narrative of negativity and that is not what the Gospel is all about! The Gospel is about love; it is about sharing God’s love with the world. It is about shining light into this world and remembering that we are people of the resurrection. It is about finding and telling the stories that give us hope, not the ones that elicit drama, create conflict and cause us to question the goodness of human kind.
And so I invite you all to spend the week finding these stories. Find the stories, even if they seem insignificant, that put a smile on your face, that strengthen your faith and that make you think the world is going to be okay. Find the stories where people bless Jesus and share God’s love with others. Find the stories of compassion, of hope and of kindness. Find the stories that shine light onto the complexities and the diversities of the human experience
And then tell those stories.
Because when we do this love will win – over and over and over again.
Thanks be to God!
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again © 2018 by Rachel Held Evans. Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Nelson Book and Thomas Nelson are registered trademarks of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. Pgs. 99 &103.
Mark 14:6-9, NRSV