Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Places of the Passion, Week 1 Bethany

 Places of the Passion

Week 1: Bethany

Matthew 26:6-13


We continue our sermon series called Places of the Passion. Today we walk with Jesus to Bethany. In Bethany we meet Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Matthew’s Gospel does not give this woman a name, but John says it was Mary of Bethany.

Bethany is just a mile east of Jerusalem, on the Mt. of Olives. The Jewish Passover is about to begin. It seems Jesus often sees his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus when he is in Bethany.




Simon the Leper (who has been healed by Jesus) also lives in Bethany, and his home is where these events take place. He throws a dinner party and invites Jesus and some of the disciples.

Normally women didn’t join men in public events like this, but Mary is there, too. Mary is there ready to teach us about one of the greatest words in the world. Give!

As everyone in the room watches, Mary does two remarkable things.

·       First, she pours out very expensive perfume with total abandon. It’s the most valuable thing Mary has, but she will not keep it. She opens it and empties it out to the very last drop.

·       Second, Mary pours it on Jesus’ head. The only people in the Old Testament whose heads were regularly anointed were kings!

Do you get the connection? Jesus is a king. Actually, Jesus is the King! That’s the main message of Matthew’s Gospel: that Jesus is the King. Because Jesus is the King, Mary gives this gift to him. 

Remember, this happens in Bethany during Passover Week. Mary is extravagant. Mary is excessive. Mary goes way over the top. The perfume was worth a year’s wages! And the disciples? “When the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’”

Mary is generous. The disciples are greedy. Mary gives with abandon. The disciples are miserly. Mary loves the word give. But all the disciples can do is get. Get more. Get ahead. And get out on top.

Mary gives Jesus everything she has and she prepares Jesus to give everything he has. Mary’s strong perfume lingers with Jesus throughout Holy Week—as he makes his way to the cross, marking him with one word—give.

We remember this woman and her generosity because the kingdom/reign of God isn’t about hoarding and stockpiling. The reign of God isn’t about being chintzy and cheap. The reign of God isn’t about get. Get will kill us. 

Always and forevermore God’s reign is about one word—give. Give!

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, shows us that the reign of God is about giving lavishly, giving generously, giving joyfully and giving completely. “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus never says this about anyone else!

Thanks to Mary, we can boil life down to one simple word; one word with one syllable; one powerful and life-changing word. Try it out. It will change everything. It will create so much joy. The word? You know. It’s the most powerful word on the planet. G-I-V-E. Give. Amen. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Repent and believe in the good news


Mark 1:9-15

We have been reading short pieces of Mark’s Gospel. Do you remember how Mark begins telling the story of Jesus? “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

 Each story since the beginning tells how Jesus will go about bringing to us the good news. Today’s reading is a collection of three very short episodes in Jesus’ life. He is baptized; he is forcibly sent into the wilderness; and he begins to share the good news. What is the good news? The reign of God has come near.


Jesus begins his ministry by being baptized. As Mark tells it, the voice speaks only to Jesus. This voice comes from the heavens, which are torn apart. Not simply parted, as we would open the curtains to let in the daylight. They are violently torn apart so the voice can be heard. “You are my son, the Beloved One. I am pleased with you.”


Next, he is driven into the wilderness. As with the use of the word “torn”, the text is strong word here, too. Jesus did not choose to go into the wilderness, he was forcibly sent. One writer suggested, it is as if Alfred Hitchcock wrote this scene. The Holy Spirit bird drops down and flies at Jesus until he escapes into the desert.  

Mark’s version of this time is simple. Jesus was in the wilderness, he dwelt with angels and demons, and with wild beasts. Mark doesn’t describe the kinds of testing and temptation Jesus faced.

 I have always imagined that Jesus had to come to terms with how his life would go. He had to wrestle with the temptation to take over, assume the authority of being God’s Son. It would be much easier to wave magic wands and heal people. Much easier to pull rank and make people obey him. But that is not God’s way. Jesus had to trust in God to do this part of his time on earth God’s way.

 Throughout the rest of his life, the demons, the evil spirits, would tempt him, tease him, challenge him. It was just a couple weeks ago that I talked about these evil spirits, so let’s talk about something else.


The third episode in today’s Gospel reading is Jesus beginning his ministry. “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” Here the phrase “kingdom of God” has been replaced by “dominion of God.” This word dominion helps us remember that what Jesus brings is not a place but a condition.

 You may remember that I usually substitute the word reign (R-E-I-G-N) because for me, the kingdom or dominion of God is more like a verb. (Technically, reign is also a noun, but it implies action.) When God is allowed to reign, all sorts of good things are possible. The words kingdom and dominion imply a location where the reign of God takes place.

 But God’s reign is not limited to a particular place or a particular group of people. God’s reign is limitless, beyond any human boundaries on land, beyond any human rules of acceptable people. The reign of God provides enough for all of everything we need. When God reigns, there is justice for all. When God reigns there is abundant mercy and forgiveness.

The message of the gospels is that the reign of God has come near. Repent of your old ways of believing and behaving, and believe in the good news of God’s reign. Every year in Lent, we get this reminder that we have old ways of believing and behaving. Every year we are reminded that we are mortal, dusty beings. Every year, we are reminded that we need to repent, to change our ways.

 We examine ourselves to discover ways in which we are not living like God’s reign matters to us. We all have some habits and thought patterns we want to change. Lent gives us an opportunity to recognize them so we repent and change our ways.

 We may find we don’t put God first very often. We may discern we don’t love our neighbors – all our neighbors – as ourselves. Lent is a time to consider how to repent, how to make changes in our lives.

 These discoveries may lead us to think poorly of ourselves. We remember that we are sinful and maybe God doesn’t love us as much. Maybe we will never be able to change and we wonder what that does to our relationship with God.


But, here is where we need to hear the good news. Here is where we need to hear that our behavior is not a problem for God. Here is where we need to remember that we are baptized and beloved children of God. Here is where we need to remember the good news is that God gives us grace.

 Grace doesn’t stop our call to self-examination and repentance. Grace is the reminder that God loves us anyway. Grace is the promise that our relationship with God is more important than our specific behaviors. Grace is the invitation to work on ourselves to become more like Jesus, more grace-ful. Amen