Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sermon: What Makes This Night Different? Monday of Holy Week

Sermon for Monday in Holy Week, Year C
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, March 25, 2013
For Readings, click here ~ John 12: 1-11
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”[1]
Are you familiar with that phrase?
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
is the question that Jewish children ask
every year during the celebration of Passover. 
What makes this night different from all other nights, for us,
is that tonight we gather to mark the beginning of Holy Week.
Holy Week:
an important devotional and liturgical occasion
for Episcopalians. 
Not only for our desire to
“…reach as many people as possible
with the proclamation of the death and
resurrection of Christ,”
but also (and sometimes more importantly)
to deepen our own sense of meaning and theological understanding through these rememorative services.
Tonight, we weave the annual conversation
of many sacred voices journeying to Jerusalem.
Tonight we re-member the paschal mystery –
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. 
Tonight we mark the beginning of fresh perspectives. 
Tonight’s Gospel brings us to the time
just prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem.  
That prior moment was when
·        Jesus had been on his way to Jerusalem,
·        he had raised Lazarus from the dead, so many of the Jews believed in him and
·        he had learned that the chief priests and Pharisees planned to put him to death. 
That moment swirled with movement, tension, fear, and
… a pause.  They held a dinner party
for Jesus and his disciples. 
What happened at the dinner party?
It is such a familiar story;
nearly as familiar as the story of
Lazarus being raised from the dead.
At that dinner party,
Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet
and wiped them with her hair. 
Judas exclaimed in the midst of that action
why the perfume instead of giving to the poor? 
Why indeed, is the question for tonight.
It is theologically significant for us
in terms of gaining a fresh perspective of God’s abundant love. 
Why is this question important?
Because many people have used
“the poor will always be with you”
as a suggestion – no, stronger, as endorsement,
that the status quo is okay. 
Is that what Jesus was saying?
That status quo vis-à-vis the poor was okay?
Well, no. 
Jesus rebuked Judas, for one thing,
because Mary was preparing Jesus for his burial. 
Jesus knew that his death was near and
Mary’s gesture prepared for and pointed to the gravity
of what lie ahead. 
Judas, however, did not get the social cues or even
the explicitly stated (by Jesus) message. 
Judas shook his head – rubbed his eyes –
and could not acknowledge the reality that was
unfolding before him. 
All Judas could see was his narrow perspective
of Mary’s apparent waste. 
Mary’s gesture of abundance and extravagance
showed an expansive reality according to the
“economy of God.”[2]
In that economy, disciples like Mary give as God gives,
fresh with love and without shame or hint of fear. 
In the economy of the world, that Judas knew,
in his narrow and self-centered greed,  he could only see waste.
When Jesus’ rebuked Judas, at
“you always have the poor with you”
Jesus pointed out Judas’s “this-worldly” economy.
In that social system
Judas knew only scarcity, thievery, and death. 
Jesus did not and does not approve of poverty, no.
Rather he points to fresh perspective:
a different “economy” –
that emerges out of death, into
extravagant, self-giving love,
with unbounding grace. 
In 2009, I came face to face with how this works.
That summer, Leah and I traveled to El Paso,
where for a week we lived with two Dominican Sisters. 
These nuns founded and ran Centro Santa Catalina,
a ministry based in Ciudad Juarez.
The ministry empowers, educates and spiritually nourishes
the poor women and children of the Colonia
located on what was once the city garbage dump. 
During the day, we hung out with the women of the Center.
We talked, shared, tried to teach each other our language
and played with the children. 
We saw how they lived with so little
in terms of material wealth and
so much in terms of abundant joy.
Many have built their homes over time,
often starting with cardboard and wood pallets,
and eventually graduating to cinder blocks. 
Most of their homes have no water, sewer or
electrical services;
and for those who do,
the services are inadequate and unreliable. 
One day for lunch, we walked
from the Center to Irene’s house,
past rancid garbage and
decomposing carcasses of cats and dogs,
over broken glass and wind-blown plastic bags. 
Irene, a widowed mother and grandmother
who works at the Center’s sewing co-op,
offered to prepare lunch for us in her home. 
Instead of a simple meal of beans and tortillas,
she called her grandson over and handed him a couple of bills
from her now empty change purse. 
He slipped away and returned shortly
with a package of queso. 
She prepared a feast of enchiladas filled with rice, beans,
queso, tomatoes, salsa and spice.
She offered us a soda to drink. 
In my head, I cringed.
I wanted to call her back to the economy of the world –
Look, Irene, you have nothing! You don’t need to feed us! 
Irene could certainly have fed us more simply,
scrounging up something from her near-empty pantry
and saving her money to feed her family for weeks.
Yet, thankfully, she could not have understood my language.  She only spoke in the language of God’s love
and God’s economy. 
She offered me a fresh perspective.
She chose to share abundantly with us,
to offer us her extravagant hospitality,
to put this privileged, first-world women’s needs
over her own real needs.
She saw and lived in God’s economy and
shared abundantly with us.
Just as Mary poured out for Jesus her expensive perfume,
Irene embodied God’s love.
So I wonder, as we begin Holy Week,
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
Tonight we ask ourselves, in what economy do we live? 
Where are the powers and principalities
in this-worldly economy, exercising violence toward life?
How does the world engender fear and control
God invites us to notice God’s expansiveness?
Tonight we recognize the fresh, good news
of God’s economy.
God’s economy pours love onto narrow perspectives
without any effort of our own,
with abundant grace and kindness,
through the fresh lens of Mary and Judas,
both accompanying Jesus the life-giver. 
What makes this night different? 
This is the night of concentrated resentment
among the religious authorities to kill both Lazarus and Jesus.  This is the night where the irony is palpable.
This is the night when the religious authorities
commit to killing Jesus because he gives life to others.
As we enter Holy Week, we live into the mystery of
the paradox:
Jesus’ death, the gospel tells us again and again,
is what will bring new life to all.
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
God’s fresh perspective, again and again. 
May your journey to Jerusalem this week be filled with fresh perspectives of mystery and Love.

[1] David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different: Preaching Grace on Special Occasions, (Cambridge: Cowley, 1998) p.3
[2] Deanna Thompson, Feasting On The Word, “Monday of Holy Week: John 12:1-11:Theological.” Page 206

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