A gallery of mirrors

13 March 2016 – Lent 5 – Year C Isaiah 43:16-21 – Psalm 126 – Philippians 3:4-14 – John 12:1-11

Somewhere I read of an art show that featured a unique introduction. The entry area of the gallery featured what appeared at first to be four paintings. Actually the paintings were on mirrors and as you looked at each of them; it was your mirrored image that became dominant. It was an imaginative statement about the nature of art. It was an invitation to enter the paintings —— not to remain aloof to an indifferent viewer, but to identify.

I want us to look at our scripture lesson today as a gallery of mirrors. It is the nature of scripture that we are to put ourselves into it. We are not to be spectators to the drama, but participants.

Today, let’s seek the power not to see ourselves as others see us, but to see ourselves in others.

Four characters are here other than Jesus: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Judas. Let’s sanctify our imagination and look at these persons as mirrors in which we might see ourselves reflected.

I

Look first at Martha. Now I don’t want to be too hard on Martha. After all, somebody has to cook the dinner, serve it, and wash the dishes. So, let me speak a positive word about her. She was always true to character. She was a practical woman.

It is to Martha’s eternal credit that she always gave what she could. She has been kicked around a lot in many a sermon, but where would the ministry of Jesus be if we didn’t have Marthas serving in the soup kitchens, staffing our Day Care Centers, loving with their hands in the exhausting daily rounds of Nursing Homes? We need to see in Martha a call — a call to ministry in the ordinary. And that’s the only place that many of us will ever have to minister.

Now here is the question, not just to Martha’s in the kitchen, but to all of us: Are we allowing the daily demands of our lives to rob us of fellowship with Christ? Put in more earthy language, what are the essential involvements of your life that is keeping you from fellowship with the Lord?

How many of us refuse the call to service for Christ, excusing themselves by our business and by our work? So the question: are we allowing our daily work, our job, our everyday involvements to rob us of fellowship with Christ?

II

Look now at Mary. Lazarus and Judas and Mary are visiting with Jesus. Then it happens. Mary leaves the room and returns with the most precious she possesses: expensive nard, an ointment that had the sweet fragrance of elegant perfume. She surprises the household by anointing the feet of Jesus then loosens her hair and wipes his feet with it. Imagine how Martha felt in the kitchen when the aroma of that precious ointment drifted in to mix with the aroma of the roasted lamb.

This is a shining picture of love. Look at it. Love is extravagant. Mary used the most expensive thing she had to show her love. When Judas complained about it, he said it was worth 300 days’ work for a laborer. By today’s standard, that would amount to over twenty thousand Euro. It was a year’s earning. Yet, Mary spent it all on Jesus.

Love never calculates the cost. Love gives it all, and love’s only regret is that it doesn’t have more to give.

O’Henry, the master of the short story, has a moving story called The Gift of the Magi. (Do you remember that story?) There was a young couple, Della and Jim, who were a very poor couple, but very much in love. Each had one unique possession. Della’s hair was her glory. When she let it down it almost served her as a robe. Jim had a gold watch which had come to him from his father and which was his pride, It was the day before Christmas, and Della had exactly $1.87 to buy Jim a present. She did the only thing she could do; she went out and sold her hair for $20, and with the proceeds she bought a platinum fob for Jim’s precious watch. Jim came home at night. When he saw Della’s shorn head, he stopped as if stupefied. It was not that he did not like it nor love her any less. She was lovelier than ever. Slowly he handed her his gift; his gift was a set of expensive tortoise shell combs with jeweled edges for her lovely hair — and he had sold his gold watch to buy them for her. Each had given the other all he or she had to give. Real love cannot think of any other way to give. Love is extravagant.

Have you ever spent any money you regretted? Now let me ask you a second question: Have you ever given anything that you regretted. Listen, I could spend all day cataloguing money spent which I regretted. But I’ve never given money to the church or a gift to any person in need that I regretted. That ought to say something to us. Giving makes us feel so good, while spending money in a lot of ways we spend it, makes us feel so bad. We were made to give.

Love, genuine love, the kind of love we should have for Jesus as Christians, is extravagant. But, it is also unself-conscious and humble.

Focus on the picture of Mary again. She anointed Jesus’ feet. It was a sign of honor to anoint a person’s head. You remember Psalm 23: “Thou anointest my head with oil.” (verse 5). Mary was not trying to confer honor. She would not have dreamed that she was worthy of that. Hers was an act of humble devotion. And when she had anointed his feet, she wiped them with her hair. This may have been the most dramatic movement in the entire drama. In Palestine, no respectable woman would have appeared in public with her hair unbound.

But Mary never thought of that. She acted spontaneously, unselfconsciously, and love is like that. It never calculates, never tries to figure out what is proper.

III

And that brings us to the next character: Judas.

The entire sermon could be about Judas, but time doesn’t allow that. A hurried look at him reveals some aspects of his character that are warnings to us. Note first, that our gift may become our God. What do I mean by that? Think for a moment. Isn’t it true that temptation comes through our talents, that for which we are naturally fitted.

Judas had a gift for handling money – that’s why Jesus gave him that job. Yet, “Judas became so fond of money that he became a thief and then a traitor for the sake of money.”

How often do we see it happen? A person has a particular gift, people recognize it, affirm it, then too often it becomes a source of pride, even conceit. Also, it becomes the avenue through which the devil gets us. Temptation strikes us at our most vulnerable point.

A man consulted a psychiatrist and confessed “Doctor, I have been living a double life and my conscience is troubling me.” The doctor asked, “So you want to strengthen your will power?” “Not really,” the fellow replied. “I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.” Most of us don’t need that kind of help. We use our gift for our glory, for our own selfish ends, rather than in the service of Christ. Our gift becomes our God.

Then there’s a second thing to note about Judas. It’s a common pit into which we all are apt to fall. Duty can make us dull to live and distort our perspective.

I don’t want to debate the question of Judas’ sincerity when he protested Mary’s act — claiming the ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. He was right. But John said he didn’t care for the poor that he was a thief and wanted the money for himself. But give Judas the benefit of the doubt. Jesus’ word is not to thieves it is to all of us who allow duty to dull us to spontaneous acts of love and destroy our perspective or — on devotion and worship. It’s sometimes doing what others consider silly, things you wouldn’t do if you sat down and tried to rationalize them. You do them because love moves you to do them, and what you do seems the only possible way to express what you feel.

So, learn from Judas. Duty can make us dull and destroys perspective.

IV

Now there’s one other character in our gallery at whom we need to look: Lazarus. Listen to verse 9 again: “WHEN THE GREAT CROWD OF THE JEWS LEARNED THAT HE WAS THERE, THEY CAME, NOT ONLY ON ACCOUNT OF JESUS, BUT ALSO TO SEE LAZARUS, WHOM HE HAD RAISED FROM THE DEAD.”

One clear lesson leaps out. Lazarus was living proof of Jesus’ power, and people wanted to see it. Is there anything in our lives that proves the power of Christ? Does anyone seek us out to see what Christ has done for us?

I believe I better stop – because that’s the question I want you to live with this week. Is there anything in our lives that proves the power of Christ?

Brigitte +

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