Rev. James Kjorlaug
March 13, 2016
Words come with baggage. This seems a simple enough statement, but it can be a reality that breathes life into our lives when words like love are associated with the presence of God and the Holy Spirit. However, it can be a space of incredible difficulty. Certain words can create for us such discomfort that we cease to listen. Before we turn towards the Scripture for today, before we turn towards prayer, it seems worth recognizing that the word “greed” carries a great deal of baggage. It may bring up feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, freedom, anger, or any number of feelings for us. Admittedly for the two weeks I have looked at this passage and this theme, all of these have been present at one time or another. It has been and continues to be difficult, so there is an understanding that this morning it will be difficult as well. So before we dive too deeply into this moment of proclamation let us take a few moments in silence. The word “greed” will be on the screen and I only ask that you reflect on the feelings evoked by having that word before you in this space of worship.
[moment of silence]
John 12:1-8 “Six days before the passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
You who formed us with incredible care
who weaved together our being and breathe life into our lives.
Surround us in this moment with your peace
as we reflect on something that can be so painful or frustrating for us.
Be present with us O God,
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Really ponder the level of discomfort that comes with reflecting on that word, “greed.” The word alone can make our blood begin to boil or chill. To add the dimension of reflecting on it in relation to our spiritual lives and our calling by God to be disciples only makes the discomfort even greater. Think about the depth to which greed pervades daily life, about how much stuff we are encouraged to have and about how much we culturally emphasize buying bigger and better things. Ponder the number of storage buildings where extra room can be rented for more stuff. Now, with all that in mind, consider the call Jesus offers to the rich young man in Matthew who asked what he should do for eternal life. Jesus ultimately responds saying, “go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Don’t forget the young man leaves grieving because of how much he has. Anyone uncomfortable yet? I must confess I am. The reality is that Jesus spoke frequently about wealth as did John Wesley. Yet we fail to speak of wealth and its power unless it is in idolization of it rather than its hold over us. Even now I am sweating far more than I should admit to.
To reflect on the influence of greed in our lives is to confront the realities of fear and selfishness within ourselves. It is deeply uncomfortable because we are consistently conditioned to consider life in terms of what is best for ourselves and those we love before anyone else. It is uncomfortable because it is to question ourselves. We seek control and we are aware that wealth is one way to find power and control. Through greed, we can find the means to secure a particular future that we deem as preferable. Our ability to reflect on the influence of greed is only made more complicated because culturally we are steeped in competition that forces so much of life to appear as though there are only two outcomes. Someone must win and someone must lose. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. This line of thinking can reveal itself in a number of ways. Societally we are inundated with the message that we should be self-sufficient that the image of the American dream still pervasive throughout is that persons should pull themselves up by their boot straps. Just a little bit of significant information, that phrase initially was used to describe an impossible or ludicrous task.
In reality, we are amidst a culture that would have us cultivate hearts of stone that thrive out of a sense of self-sufficiency and self-established security all while God calls us to have vulnerable hearts of flesh. Hearts of stone are protected. There are many ways that our hearts can be fossilized into stone but greed certainly is one. Greed provides the means for us to become isolated. It removes from us the need for others and in doing so with the amassing of more creates the powerful temptation to protect what we deem as ours as strongly as we possibly can. Judas shows us this doesn’t he? He sees an opportunity to amass more, to collect as much as he can from the sale of a valuable perfume. Therefore, he questions Mary’s act, not out of genuine concern for the use of something valuable that could offer much to those in need, rather he asks because he knows that selling would mean he could amass more for himself. It would mean he would need the other disciples less, the kindness of others less, he would be more secure. It is a moment of beauty that Jesus puts an end to Judas’s question, recognizing instead the gentle act of love offered by Mary.
Ultimately it is through acting in spite of our fears and our concern for ourselves we will find our hearts of stone begin to fracture and give way to a vulnerable heart of flesh. If that perfume had been sold how long might it have sustained Mary? It was incredibly valuable, plain and simple. And yet, she breaks open the jar, pours it on the feet of Jesus anointing them, and then wipes his feet with her hair. Not only is it an act of love, not only is it an act of service, but it is an extravagant act of love and service offered to Jesus. To fracture a heart of stone that has been fossilized to be so through greed is to open ourselves to the love of God that causes us to express such extravagant gifts of love and service to others. It is to remove ourselves with the help of God from the control of our desire for self-established security and instead recognizing our deep and profound need for God and others. To fracture the heart of stone and to have it transformed by the Holy Spirit into a heart of flesh means that we willingly expose ourselves to being hurt on a daily basis, to participate in loving as God loves, a broken world filled to the brim with broken people.
Perhaps a great deal of this is idealism. Perhaps it is bound in the hope that God can indeed help transform a heart that has been cultivated into stone back into one of flesh. The painful reality is that in a world that would continually offer us easily justifiable reasons to solidify our heart into stone God calls us to react in a much more difficult way. That rather than acting in the epitomized self-interest of greed we are to act in the profound generosity of love. What more could be said in relation to our need to reflect on greed than these words from Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” And so we must ask, how will our hearts be transformed? Will we endeavor to offer acts of extravagant love to God by offering them to our neighbor? Will we willingly give up the security of a heart of stone solidified by greed for a heart of flesh that will indeed make us vulnerable?
You have called us to lives of extravagant generosity and love,
By the Spirit break apart our hearts of stone
Shatter them and replace them with hearts of flesh.
It is in Jesus, your son who is for us a gift of extravagant love, we pray,