Abundance & Generosity

Fifth Sunday in Lent – 17 March 2013

What a wonderful God we serve.  What a joy it is to be reminded on this fifth Sunday in Lent about the Abundance and Generosity, which flows from God our heavenly Father.  As we share in the Baptism of Janet Eyres today, let’s be reminded of God’s abundant love for all God’s children upon the earth.  In our worship service, I hope that the fragrance of God’s love emanates from each of us like a beautiful perfume.

I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event 2013 “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon.  Here are John’s reflections on today’s Gospel reading from John 12:1-11

Jesus comes to Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives some three kilometres east
 of Jerusalem. This is the home of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. Mary is Lazarus’ sister and here she demonstrates a lavish outpouring of gratitude towards Jesus as she anoints his feet with expensive perfume.

The perfume is “pure nard”, an expensive scent made from a rare flowering plant found high in the Himalayan Mountains. This substance gives out a fragrance that permeates the entire house.

Many have asked about the significance of what Mary did. The aroma of the perfume stands in stark contrast to the stench of Lazarus’ decaying body (as described in John 11:39). Meanwhile Mary’s act is also described in terms of “anointing” and this is associated with kingship, as monarchs were anointed on the head during their coronation. Others suggest Mary’s anointing of Jesus may be a prelude to his imminent death and burial.

Whatever the meaning of Mary’s act, it is clear her actions are extravagant. A pound of the perfume is equal to the yearly income of a local labourer. Meanwhile, the extravagant nature of Mary’s actions can be further seen in her gestures as she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. These gestures could be described as tactile, intimate or even erotic. Indeed, a respectable Jewish woman would not appear in public with her hair unbound. Neither would she touch a man except for her husband and children.

Judas breaks in here. While the intimate nature of Mary’s actions may be disturbing, Judas’ protests focus on economic and charitable issues. His logic seems perfectly reasonable

– “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” There is haunting familiarity here to Judas’ protest as many of us resonate with the call to “live simply so that all may simply live”!

Jesus’ response raises eyebrows. “Leave her alone. She brought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

What is Jesus on about here? Is Jesus siding with those who promote lavish ritualism or excessive consumption at the cost of those who are pleading for the poor?

There are a lot of things going on here. Could it be that real worth is not located in consumable items – rather, real worth is grounded in being a follower of Jesus? Moreover, does Jesus deserve our greatest treasure – whatever that may be? Is Mary’s action a model for the kind of devotion Jesus may seek from us?

Another perspective places a focus on Judas and his real motives. Is Judas guilty of being
too cautious, too pragmatic and too frugal? Does Judas’ obsession for budgets lead him to neglect the fundamental value of persons? Does Jesus’ comment “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke12:34) come into play here?

Indeed, Judas Iscariot is the one who goes on to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and
it does appear that Judas completely misses the point about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ mission involves.

The significant point here is that in this passage, Mary’s lavish, extravagant actions open our awareness to a world of abundance. The overriding theme in John 12:1-11 concerns a reference to the generosity of God and life in all its fullness. Here our values and priorities
are challenged, for what value can one put on Christ? What price can we place on this? Is there anything more important than the fullness of life Jesus Christ offers?

Furthermore, with the gift of abundant life, there comes a real awareness of the generosity of God. God is generous towards us in the most abundant way. And this evokes something in return. It evokes a deep sense of gratitude as God challenges us to give as Christ gives.

In this last week before Holy Week…..be the Abundant and Generous fragrance of Christ to all you meet on the purple path to the cross.

Rev. Brad Foote   

God’s Scandal

Fourth Sunday in Lent – 10 March 2013

As we gather for worship today, have you ever thought that you might be participating in some kind of “religious scandal” or a subversive plot to change the world?  Well as we look at the Gospel readings from Luke 15:1-32 you might be surprised by the underlying meaning of some pretty innocuous and familiar stories of Jesus.  In this fourth Sunday in Lent, let’s be prepared to be ‘unprepared’ so that God can be God and we can be found in a way that’s refreshing and new whilst we travel this ‘purple pathway towards the cross’.

I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon.  Here are John’s reflections on the Luke 15:1-32 passage.

There is a common theme about being “lost”. But things do not stop here. The passage moves on to detail a period of waiting and/or searching – and it then goes on to deal with a process of recovery. This is followed by a significant time of celebration.

Here, the lost are as significant as the found.
In his reference to the lost sheep, Jesus makes
it clear – there are no “ifs” or “buts”. God is not concerned about finding faults, harping on or exploiting our deficiencies. Moreover, God’s love and concern is offered without cost. It’s a love and a concern that is unconditional and generous.

The story of the Lost Coin reinforces these matters. Here, the response could even be described as obsessive.

In the story of the Lost Son, the younger son claims his inheritance and spends it lavishly and carelessly on himself. Note that, while
the younger son had the right to claim his inheritance; he had no right to dispose of it while his father was alive. Here, the younger son operates as though his father were already dead. This is an act of great disrespect. The younger son fails to honour his father. For him, life is about manipulating and bargaining.

The older son, by contrast, is the consummate insider who keeps the rules. It’s hard not to sympathise with him. But Jesus is quick to highlight the older son’s predicament. For, he also makes mistakes in a demonstration of acute self-righteousness as the older son harbours resentment and grudges.

This story is about the subversive, extravagant nature of God’s grace. It’s “subversive” because God’s grace is not about who is in the right and who is in the wrong. God’s grace is not about what we deserve and it’s not about entitlement. Both sons are welcomed home. Both sons have a place. Both are claimed by the father and are drawn into relationship with him.

Some commentators refer to the “scandal”, even the “foolishness” of God’s grace here because the focus is not on who is in the right and who is in wrong. The focus is also not on what a person deserves. Neither is the focus on their rights. Rather, the focus in on the sheer joy of being found and of being brought back into relationships with others.

The focus is on the sheer joy of being restored to life. Here the father’s response to the younger son is a dynamic, joyous one as “he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him!”

It’s not too late, for you to experience the ‘sheer joy of restoration’ today and then be a participant in God’s Scandal of Grace…this week.

Rev. Brad Foote   

Change Direction – Fruitful Lives

Third Sunday in Lent – 3rd March  2013

As we gather for worship this Sunday, we are at the halfway point of our journey through Lent.  How has that journey been for you so far?  What has been your experience of God during these past three weeks?  What spiritual practices have deepened your faith?  If you haven’t engaged with God on the journey, it’s not too late!!  That’s what today’s message is all about from Luke 13:1-9.  It’s about A Change of direction, repentance and becoming fruitful.

I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon.

Today Jesus presents us with the parable of the fig tree. In the Hebrew scriptures the fig tree is often used as a metaphor for Israel. Fig trees are common in the Middle East.  A unique feature of this plant is that fruit appears before the leaves appear and in this passage Jesus speaks about a fig tree whose branches were well endowed with foliage but it has no fruit. The point is that we encounter a well-developed, mature tree that fails on its most fundamental account – it bears no fruit!

Such a scenario prompts a curse…. “Cut it down!  Why should it be wasting the soil?”  But the gardener makes a plea and the fig tree is granted a stay of execution. The fig tree is given another year of life, a stay of execution to produce the necessary goods.

Here the fig tree’s great sin is one of omission…… it is simply doing nothing!  It’s most likely a healthy, vibrant plant but it is serving no purpose.  It just doesn’t produce the goods…….it’s all show and no substance!

The passage opens with a report to Jesus about Pilate’s brutal slaughter of Galileans and then Jesus mentions the accidental death of eighteen inhabitants of Jerusalem when the Tower of Siloam falls on them.  Here the discussion doesn’t make any conclusions about why such tragedies take place.  Rather, the focus is on our vulnerability as human beings and our need for repentance.  The overriding concern here is for a change of heart. The big issue concerns the renewal of one’s understanding and approach to life – because we never know when life will end.

Together with the story of the fig tree, this passage is a real wake-up call. After all, life can end at any time. Meanwhile the fig tree in this story is truly living on borrowed time!

In the case of the fig tree, something amazing happens. God’s grace and mercy comes into play. The gardener pleads for more time. The gardener pleads for a stay of execution. More time is sought for the fig tree to bear fruit. In the broader sense, more time is sought for God’s people to have a change of heart, to repent and get on with the business of being God’s faithful, fruitful people.

Here the fig tree reminds one of a reasonably prosperous church in the suburbs or a pious Christian who looks pretty good but actually doesn’t do much. Here it’s a case, not so much of bad people doing bad things, as it is of good people failing to do particularly good things!

The key to such a scenario is the need for repentance (“metanoia” in the New Testament Greek). Repentance involves a change of mind, a reorientation, a looking beyond the present that involves real transformation. In this passage “metanoia” is used in the present tense implying continual action. Here Jesus calls for an active change of mind, for an act of transformation that is continuous and is, therefore, integral to our ongoing lifestyles and commitment.

Here is a call for a continuous change in direction.

It’s not too late, you’ve been given some more time ….come on…meet Jesus….this week… on that journey to Jerusalem.

Rev. Brad Foote