A sermon given at the 8am BCP Eucharist and 10.30am Choral Eucharist on Sunday 3 April, by The Rev’d Paul Devenport, Chair of the Provincial Committee of the ABM in South Australia and Parish Priest at St Saviour’s, Glen Osmond
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my salvation. It’s an honour to be able to preach this morning at the Cathedral. I thank Bishop Chris for the invitation. I hope you enjoyed your extra hour of sleep or an extra hour of activity last night as daylight saving came to an end. Of course, time matters to us, whether the services start on time, the length of the sermons – or how long they feel, being on time for appointments or being at the airport well in time to catch a plane.
The Season of Lent is a time which enables us to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ as we make that journey from Ash Wednesday towards Holy Week and Easter. It is a time where we may choose to give up something which we enjoy, by maybe not ordering and consuming some good wine. It is where we use our time to walk with Jesus, as he spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting before he began his ministry in earnest. Lent is a time where we can become closer to God through prayer, bible studies, fasting and giving something extra to help others through a giving program such as the ABM Lenten and Easter Appeal. There is no shortage of appeals at the moment with various agencies including the ABM offering assistance to the people of Ukraine, those suffering flooding in eastern Australia and in Tonga.
The timing of the events in today’s Gospel come six days before the Passover, so the night before Jesus entered Jerusalem, something we celebrate next Sunday being Palm Sunday. The Passover was seen as the biggest event in the Jewish calendar. The time was getting closer to Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus had arrived at Bethany earlier that week only to be faced by two upset sisters Mary and Martha following the loss of their brother Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus was overcome with compassion and brought Lazarus back to life. A foretaste of what was to come for Jesus in God raising Him.
Jesus returned to Bethany just a short distance from Jerusalem a few days later and Martha and Mary were hosting a dinner for Him. Lazarus is also there as an honoured guest along with Jesus’ disciples including Judas Iscariot. Mary then performs an amazing act of love and compassion for Him, by pouring expensive perfume possibly all over Jesus but certainly according to John’s Gospel over his feet and wiping them with her hair. It was an extravagant act of love and devotion to him. The cost of the perfume was valued at a year’s wages, 300 denarii.
Not everyone was happy with this act of gratitude with Judas Iscariot questioning why this perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor. You may think this could have been a reasonable suggestion. However, Judas was not really concerned about the poor. Judas who oversaw the money bag for the disciples, was found to be stealing from it. He was a thief and was not concerned about the poor at all. Judas loved money so much that he sold Jesus to the chief priests and the Pharisees a few days later for 30 silver coins. The money enabled the chief priests and the Pharisees to be told where Jesus was so he could be arrested, placed on trial and eventually put to death. Judas’ god was money. That was his treasure and where his heart was. In the end, it cost him his life.
Jesus responds to Judas by saying “leave her alone, she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Jesus’ anointing was to prepare him for death. Jesus knew what was going to happen in the coming week and so did no doubt Mary. She knew of the danger he was in when going to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.
Jesus added by saying to Judas Iscariot “you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”. It is a statement you would not normally expect from Jesus. So much of his ministry was for the benefit of the poor. But here Jesus is giving his disciples a warning. He is telling them “You will not always have me”. Jesus is simply highlighting that his life on earth is limited, but the poor will always be here. To put it another way, you can always give to the poor, because the poor will always need money, but you can only eat with me, anoint me, bury me for this short period of time. The time for spending money on Jesus was that day. He was going to depart from them, because He was going to the Cross as the Father’s plan for all eternity so that His people could be reconciled to Him. He would go to the Cross, rise again and ascend into heaven. Like Lazarus, Jesus rose again. Death would not hold Him.
Jesus not only accepted Mary’s over the top devotion in being anointed. He also defended her when she was criticised for it. Jesus knew his death was only days away and accepted this act of generosity as an anointing for burial. Not only was this act of Mary significant: the timing was significant.
As Jesus said, we always can help those in need, but we must do that with generous hearts. However, there are times when there may be other priorities for us in showing our generosity to those whom we love, in their time of need. Mary discovered that.
We need to do the same, with parents providing for their children, in relating to them and showing our love. Also, for our parents and our loved ones, as they grow older where they may need the extra support. The love displayed by Mary and Jesus should be a model for the love that each of us should practice in our relationships with others.
Mary wiped her Lord’s feet with her hair. She offered herself. It is important that we also offer ourselves to our Lord with our time and talents. Mary made the most of the opportunity she had with Jesus. Just as Mary made the most of that time, it is important that we do likewise in our ministry, in loving God and our neighbours. Our Collect today calls us to serve Jesus Christ and to rejoice in His unfailing love. Because of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Jesus can be with us all the time and in all places. We do not do the Lord’s ministry alone. The Lord is always with us through the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us at our baptism, in the Eucharist and through our prayers and intercessions.
The poor are always with us is not a statement that indicates we do nothing for helping those less fortunate than ourselves. We must reach out and stand alongside those need. There are various ways the Church and its members do this with various welfare agencies including Anglicare but also through the Anglican Board of Mission. The Cathedral has been a supporter of the ABM and I thank you for that. Meagan Schwarz, the Key Relationships Manager for the ABM will speak further about how you can continue to do this. Most importantly, we must seek to use our time wisely, balancing the different demands that are placed on us, and continuing to give attention to our personal and spiritual well-being.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is a time where Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing his own fate. Through that extravagant love for us, Jesus did this. Mary’s act of devotion for Jesus in anointing him reminds us of the coming Easter events just like the celebration of Easter each year brings a sense of hope to all the world. God is active in our world. He impresses his will on our world. God loves us so much he has sent his Son. He has not left the world in a muddle on its own but is always there for us. History is not moving along in an empty void.
Scripture tells us also that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Knowing him as the Lord of time and eternity, let us have confidence in the future hope which has been set before us in Jesus Christ. But let us live here and now day by day, growing in our understanding of God’s word, and following Jesus, who is pioneer and perfector of our faith.