March 17, 2013; Lent 5
Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-12; John 12:1-11
This week as I began preparing for my sermon, I read through the lectionary scriptures for this Sunday, writing down the things that stood out to me. And as I did, I found myself drawn to three out of the four scriptures, and I figured I would choose one or two of them to focus my sermon around.
The next day as I came into the office, I turned my computer on and decided to start my day by going through an online devotional called Soul Space. It’s offered by Eastern Mennonite University and includes prayers, and scriptures which come from the lectionary. The scripture for that day was the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. Now this is the one scripture passage that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to use this Sunday. I’ve preached a sermon on it before and I didn’t feel like I had anything new to say about the passage.
I continued reading the devotional which took you through Mary’s story and then you were invited to put yourself in the story and think about what the experience might have been like. So I took some time to do that, and felt a connection to Mary and this story of hers. I finished up my reflection time and began working on something around this scripture. And what came to me was a sermonologue.
Now for those of you who aren’t unfamiliar with this term, it’s a word I made up that combines the words “sermon” and “monologue.” 🙂 I’ve never written or presented a monologue before, but this is what God brought to me, so I decided to go for it! God is stretching me and asking me to go where I haven’t ventured before.
In any sermon, there is both interpretation and inspiration, as those of us who preach research the scripture text as well as open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This sermonologue includes both, although I want to be clear that in order to write this, I’ve imagined what Mary might have been thinking and feeling. We’re not told much about her experience, nor does she say much (actually nothing in this particular story). But I’ve found that through my research on this and other scriptures about Mary of Bethany, and in entering her story in these scriptures, I have found her experience to connect with mine and her story to speak into my life, and I hope it does the same for you.
Nobody knows me like you, Jesus.
You’re the only one who gets that I bought this perfume specifically for your burial. I know it’s coming—the day of your death. I don’t like to think about it really. All the time I’ve spent with you over the past few years, it’s transformed the way I see things.
I love sitting and listening to you teach. Your message is different somehow. It stirs something in me and it challenges me and gives me hope. I wish this could just go on forever; there’s so much I learn when I’m with you. I want to just keep soaking up everything you say. Now granted, sometimes I don’t like what you say. Some of your words are hard to hear, but even so I find myself drawn to them.
And there was the whole ordeal with my brother Lazarus. I’m not sure I still totally get that. It was so painful to watch him get sick and not be able to do anything to help him. And you…you didn’t come. You knew Lazarus was on his deathbed, yet you stayed away. That I will never understand.
But what you did for him when you finally came, that was incredible. You gave our brother back to us. Never had we seen anything like it! And I know Lazarus had never experienced anything like it either!
But it was what happened even before all that. It was seeing you weep, for your friend, for us—Martha and me. By the time you came, I was grieving deeply. How would Martha and I carry on without our brother? And how could he be really gone? Everything had been fine, and then in a few fleeting moments, our world was turned upside down. And we were heartbroken. And you were nowhere to be found.
But when I got the news that you were finally on your way, I ran to you, weeping. “Why Jesus, why weren’t you here? I know if you would have been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” I was so full of grief and sadness and I was so angry and so…I was feeling so many things.
And then I heard you ask where Lazarus was and the others gathered began to take you there. I felt so alone, so betrayed…by you.
Until I heard it. Someone else was sobbing. Someone else’s tears were joining mine, someone else’s cries were being sent to heaven. And I looked up and turned my head…and it was you, Jesus. You were weeping. You saw my pain and you let yourself feel it too. Nobody has ever done that before. No one has ever wept with me. But you, even in front of all those other people, you broke down and wept for this friend of yours, and for me—for the grief I was carrying. You didn’t rush to the happy ending. You entered my experience. You let me feel what I was feeling. You didn’t just say it was going to be okay. You let my tears fall without passing judgment. You weren’t uncomfortable with the pain.
But of course, why would you be? You know what’s ahead for you. And yet I never feel like you compare my grief, or my pain, to what you’re experiencing. It’s not like, “Yes, that is a hard situation Mary, but that’s small compared to what I’m going through.” Other people do that all the time. As if it were a competition. “I know someone who’s going through that too, but they have this other added difficulty which makes it even harder.” “You should just be thankful that you don’t have it as bad as so and so.” Do they think that’s somehow helpful? That it somehow eases your own pain?
The few days after Lazarus’ death were so dark. I wondered if I would ever experience joy and laughter again. I felt like the Hebrews who were taken away from their homeland, to a place that was unfamiliar, stripped of everything they knew. They probably wondered if life would ever get better for them. But the God of our fathers did restore them. He turned their tears into joy and filled their mouths with laughter once again.
That’s how I felt the day you brought Lazarus back to life. Back to life! I can’t believe I’m saying that. I was so full of joy, and even more so when I found out about all the Jews who began believing in you because of it. But you know, I am convinced that the depth of joy I felt would not have been so great had I not let myself experience fully the pain of Lazarus’ death and your absence.
It’s so easy to minimize our pain, but you don’t do that. You let it be what it is. Perhaps it’s because you’ve delved into your own pain. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with the constant awareness that your life will be drawing to a close any day now. What a heavy burden to carry and what an excruciating journey you are on.
A journey that hasn’t gained you a whole lot of popularity. People definitely have certain expectations of you. The Jews expect you to overtake the Roman government, to free us from our oppressors. The teachers of the law expect you to follow the law of Moses to the letter. And when you don’t, they become suspicious of you. “Who is this man who is twisting God’s words? Who does he think he is?”
It’s funny really. People have these preconceived ideas about who you really are. I feel like I get that a lot. “Oh, that’s Martha’s sister. She’s the one that never helps around the house.” “Oh yeah, I heard about her. She’s lazy, is what I hear. Just sits around listening to Jesus. Which really, she has no place doing anyway. That’s the men’s place—to sit and learn and be educated by the rabbis.” “Yeah, what she needs to learn is to stay where she belongs.”
That’s something to ponder…Where is it that I belong? But yet that one time I sat at your feet and listened to what you were saying, you affirmed me for doing that. Martha was all upset because I wasn’t helping her. She has such a heart for serving others…but I feel like she assumes I should be right there with her, helping, filling some role everyone expects me to fill. But I can’t ignore this pull in me that keeps drawing me to where you are—to listen to you and learn from you. I wasn’t trying to upset her, I was just doing what I felt prompted to do, but then she said something to you about it, and you told her that she was worried and distracted by many things, but that only one thing was needed, and I had chosen the better thing.
Boy did that feel good! I mean, not only the fact that I got a pat on the back and Martha didn’t, but that you were saying I belonged there, with you. Most of the time I feel like I don’t belong…anywhere. Like in there, tonight, when I poured the perfume on your feet, and all I got was criticized.
They just don’t get it. Either that, or they’re just choosing to completely ignore everything you’ve been telling us. I’d like to ignore it. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen to you, or how we’re going to continue on without you. But I can’t ignore it. It’s happening. I can sense it. I feel it.
The Pharisees, the chief priests—you’re pushing them to their breaking point. They feel threatened. It’s like they just can’t see you—their fear and their adherence to tradition is standing in the way.
And I feel like your other followers are ignoring all this. I feel like they’re avoiding the reality of this painful journey that you’re on. Or, maybe they just can’t come to terms with it.
I didn’t mean to make a scene in there. It’s just that as I began to think about all the things you’ve done for us—my family, me, and so many others—and the ways you’ve accepted me yet changed me, and spoke up for me when others put me down, and then thinking about what might happen to you and that you might be taken from us, this great love and agony welled up inside me.
So there I was, pouring out this perfume, this expensive perfume on your feet. For me it was a gesture of overwhelming gratitude. I had no idea how to express the depth of what I felt for the love you had poured out on me, but I had to try.
In that moment, nothing else in the world mattered to me. It all seemed meaningless.
I know it made the others uncomfortable. And then I felt the sting of Judas’ comment. And I started to doubt myself. Maybe he was right—he did have a good point. Think about all the people who could have been helped if we would have sold the perfume instead. Was I being completely wasteful? A years worth of wages. A years worth. What was I thinking?
But your voice stepped into my doubt and I heard you giving value to my gesture of love, giving value to me. “Leave her alone. The hour of my death is drawing near, and what Mary is offering to me is beautiful. She bought this perfume so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You will have other opportunities to give to those in need, but I will not always be with you.”
That day is coming sooner than we think, isn’t it? I feel so helpless thinking about what you will face. With you I’ve found a place where I’m accepted, known and loved for who I truly am. And it makes me want to give my life to you, to follow you wherever you go. What is this new thing you’ve done in my life? And where will it lead?