Sermon: Lent 5 RCL C – “Worship”

The podcast is available here.



I’ve shared with you in the past that many a redneck’s last words were, “Here, hold my beer.” It’s true, and I think most of us have attended parties where someone was at the point of doing something equally as stupid. Well, in today’s Gospel reading, alcohol was not involved, but that didn’t stop Mary from getting way out of control.

We aren’t sure how long prior to today’s episode that Lazarus was raised from the dead, but between the raising of Lazarus and today’s events, we are told that the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, had come together and decided to find a reason to put Jesus to death. They were afraid that since he was gaining such popularity, especially following the raising of Lazarus, that the Romans would come and persecute them all. It is here that we have that prophetic passage from Caiaphas, the Chief Priest: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Because of this, Jesus was no longer able to go around in public. However many days later, we come to today’s episode. A party or gathering at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ house. As before, Martha busied herself making and serving supper, and Mary took her place near Jesus. Following the meal, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Now, there is a litany of purity laws, customs, manners, and everything else that tell us what Mary did was a big ‘no no.’ Women don’t touch men, especially a rabbi. Women don’t let down their hair or run around with it uncovered, even in their own home. And oh, by the way, where did a woman come up with a year’s wages to buy such an expensive gift? Even today, what Mary did, wouldn’t go over real well at most parties (although I’m sure there are a few fellas who wouldn’t mind giving it a go). In the reading, Judas was the only one who protested, but it is reasonable to believe that, at the time, everyone else probably agreed with him. Woman, what are you doing? A whole litany of charges we could bring against Mary. It was definitely a “Here, hold my beer” moment.

I sat down this week to write this sermon, and that is exactly the sermon I was going to write, but as I read, what I discovered was that most of the early church Fathers and Mothers, and the commentators that I respect today, they could care less about that. If they mention the litany of charges against Mary at all, it is only in passing. Why? Because they can’t get past how much Mary must have loved Jesus, adored Jesus, how she gave everything she possibly could to Jesus. They can’t stop talking about her humility in anointing the Lord’s feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair. They speak about how Mary glorified God and she truly worshipped Jesus, and how the fragrance of that worship filled the house. I have to wonder if I have ever worshipped in such a manner, that the fragrance of my praise was noticeable to others.

I think this is where we can go wrong in our life with God. I’m even beginning to think it is one of the ways that I have not led you correctly. This God business is a very serious business. It is truly a matter of life and death, so I’m always pushing myself and others to pray more, learn more, read more… dig in and go to work that you may enter into a deeper relationship with God, but here’s the thing: our relationship with God is supposed to be more about loving God as Mary did. Adoring God as Mary did. Filling the air with the fragrance of our worship as Mary did. If all we do is read, study, and work harder attempting to be holy as he is holy, then we miss out. We miss out on purely and simply enjoying our God. Of sitting at his feet and just being with him for the sheer pleasure of it all.

I want to say, “God, help me to more fully understand grace. Teach me about the mystery of the Eucharist. Show me how I might serve you and your Church more fully.” There is nothing wrong with desiring these things, but every now and then, I think when I come to Jesus with these request, he says to me, “Hey, John, come here, I want to show you something.” And I’m think it is going to be the unveiling of some great revelation, but instead, when he has my full attention, he points and says, “Isn’t that a beautiful flower.” “Yes,” I say a bit taken aback. And then Jesus says the most remarkable thing. “How about we just sit and enjoy it together. After all, I made it for you.” That is worship. That is praise. Simply being with God and taking joy in his presence.

In The Joyful Christian, C.S. Lewis wrote: “To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression…. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Today, I’m not imploring you to study Holy Scripture more, to go to confession, to pray more earnestly, to give to the church in support of ministry… I’m not asking you to do any of these things. In fact, today, I’m not asking you to do anything. Instead, I’m giving you an opportunity and it is this: enjoy God. Love God. Like a child tells a parent or a man or woman tells their spouse, tell God of your love for Him. Let down your hair and worship the Lord your God. Enjoy the flowers. And let the fragrance of your love for the Savior fill the air in joyful praise and worship.

Let us pray (this is Canticle 13 from morning prayer, A Song of Praise or Song of the Three Young Men / Benedictus es, Domine)

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Amen.

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