Sermon Title: Along the Way Gifts
Rev. Carol Prochaska
A little girl is smiling with delight as she skips down the steps and out of her yard. She begins to run. Her feet fly over the ground. She is running very fast. The sun shines and the world is a wonderful place. And then it happens: the stumble and the fall. Along with tears and a bruised ego, there is a skinned knee that really hurts. At this moment the world isn’t such a great place after all. But then! Someone comes along with a Band-Aid (a big, bright blue Band-Aid) A few words and a kiss and she’s up and running just as fast as before. Once again the world is a wonderful place.
A Band-Aid is a kind of anointing. Anointing is the act of touching someone in a Christ-like way. Loving words and or caring actions declare that God is and we are not alone. Anointing is a gift that lifts us up and enables us to continue on. You and I have been anointed. And you and I have been like Mary – we have made God’s presence known. Chances are we may never know what lives are influenced and what differences are made through the anointing we do.
Mary anoints Jesus with a pound of expensive pure nard – pure – not mixed with a lesser oil.
Mary gives so lavishly that thehouse is filled with the perfume’s vibrant fragrance. It probably clung to everyone’s clothes for days to come. Perhaps it wafted out of the house to drift into the neighbourhood to become a telltale sign of Jesus presence and those honouring him. One biblical scholar points out that Mary anticipated the love commandment Jesus will give to the disciples after he washes their feet. Mary becomes the first person in the Gospel to live out Jesus’ love commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. And this is what we do. We speak lovingly. We act lovingly to help another in difficult circumstances. We anoint them so that they can continue on.
It is a wintery Saturday morning in February. My sermon preparation is completed and I’m ready to fill in the next day for David. And then it happens. My left eye fills with what seem to be very large, string-like floaters. Not to worry I tell myself. Floaters in the eye disappear because that’s what floaters in the eye do. Three hours later our optometrist tells us to leave immediately for Vancouver. The “floaters” are not floaters but a partially detached retina, a tear in the retina and hemorrhaging. The next morning (Sunday) you will remember that Robin presided. Robin anointed me by taking over. She was a gift to me and she was a gift to you.
In the meantime, John and I are making our way toward Vancouver. We stop at Greenwood for coffee. Then we reach Osoyoos and we are now half-way to Vancouver where an on-call eye surgeon is waiting for us. As I get out of the car I reach for my purse. It’s not in its usual place.
So where did I put it? Horrified, disbelieving I am sobbing as I tell John my purse is gone.
He puts his arms around me. We review possibilities and options. We walk back into the service station. And there we are anointed. A compassionate clerk finds a Greenwood phone number for us. On the phone another anointing – another gift – another compassionate voice. We hear the words: “I know what you’re looking for – I have your purse.” We get back in the car for the return to Greenwood. Turns out that the Greenwood employee heard a phone ringing. She followed the sound to find my cell phone in my purse. When I check my phone I discover it was the wrong number – not once but twice! Words of thanks tumble out of our mouths.
Anointed we continue the journey towards my eventual healing. It could be said that our car was filled with the sweetest fragrance, the vibrant fragrance of immense relief and gratitude beyond words.
Into the fragrance of Mary’s anointing comes the intruding voice of protest. Judas not only attempts to diminish Mary’s actions but his protesting becomes an invitation to take our eyes off Jesus – Jesus the guest of honour, Jesus God’s Incarnate Presence. The gospel writer is very clear that Judas is a thief and that he is not really concerned about poor people. But we can still be drawn into his logic. He asks: “Why wasn’t this ointment sold? It could have brought nearly a year’s wages and the money given to poor people?” This sounds reasonable. Even a thief can come up with a good idea. How does Jesus reply to this question?
It’s in two parts. First Jesus says, “You have poor people with you always …” This response has always surprised me. Lately, as I’ve pondered Jesus’ words, I’ve wondered if there is within Jesus’ statement an unspoken question: “And what are you going to do about the poor who are with you?” Perhaps this is a question not just for Judas but for all disciples in all times and places. What anointing do we have in mind for those who are with us and are poor? With some certainty we can say that when it comes to Jesus and the poor it’s not an either or – it is both. We honour Jesus and we honour those who are named in Isaiah as being in a wasteland or in a dry desert.
The second part of Jesus’ reply is a reminder that he will leave them. The time will come when they will not see him or know him in this flesh and blood human form. Mary anoints Jesus for his journey to burial and the tomb and ultimately resurrection. Mary seizes a moment that will not come again.
Sometimes when those moments come our way we hold back. We calculate the cost. We debate alternatives. We may not even think of it as cooperating with God in doing a new thing – as in creating a way through a wilderness. And so time runs out and it’s too late. We regret that we didn’t seize that moment. However, this life we know and this life we live is such that opportunities continue to come our way. Someone will fall. Someone will need a Band-Aid.
Whatever our age and whatever our limitations there are those who need us and the gift we have to offer. In these days we are the ones who can seize the moment and make it fragrant.
A fragrance that can fill a house – a car – and linger – sometimes linger for as long as a lifetime.