Sermon: God’s Not Done with Me

April 7, 2019
Fifth Sunday in Lent

Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

by Eric Anderson

Preacher’s Note: The recording includes brief comment on a verse I essentially ignored in preparing the sermon: John 12:8, which reads, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

We had just sung the first three verses of “Said Judas to Mary,” which focuses on this verse, and it was our Bread for the World Sunday. As those appeared to contradict each other, I observed that Jesus had been quoting Deuteronomy 15:11 – “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in the land.'”

There was less contradiction than first appeared.

They are two of the great figures of Christianity.

Paul the great traveling apostle, bearer of the good news to a wider world, with an expansive view of the reach of the Church. In addition to taking lengthy journeys, he extended his voice by writing letters to churches he knew and churches he planned to visit. He wrote this letter to the church in Philippi from a prison somewhere, and in it he carried on with his arguments and challenges as vigorously as he did while free.

The other great figure of Christianity I have in mind is Jesus – and yes, Mary is also a great figure, but there’s something that connects Jesus and Paul in these two passages. Jesus, of course, is the central figure of the movement that sprung up around him and the religion that adopted his title, Christ, as its name.

What links Jesus and Paul in these two passages is incompletion. For each of them, something lay ahead. There was more to be done. There was more to learn. There was more to accomplish.

Paul, as he noted, didn’t have to think that way. He had abundant reason to be confident in his faith and in his place as a leader within that faith. Because he was arguing for a Church friendlier to Gentiles against those who favored a Church that maintained the traditional standards of Judaism, he wrote here about those things that gave him status as a teacher of Judaism. It’s a solid resume:

His family observed the proper rituals after his birth and in his education.

He gave his own passion and energy to his religion. He engaged in the closest kind of study of the Scriptures. He strove for the best understanding of his faith, including attempting to prevent the spread of the Jesus movement.

He lived with a relentless personal integrity that others could see and appreciate.

He could have continued from there. Paul had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus. He had authority from the early leaders of the Church to be an apostle. He was one of the most successful founders of new congregations among his peers.

“Yet whatever gains I had,” he wrote, “these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”

Holly Hearon writes, “From the perspective of the present, Paul views his past differently. Paul recognizes that things which he valued in the past, which gave him status, are no longer important to him. Not that Paul has left the past completely behind. He still argues from scripture like a Pharisee (that is, as someone who is skilled in the study and use of scripture), he is still a member of the people Israel; he is still zealous in his behavior. What has changed for Paul is the standard by which he evaluates his life. For Paul, that standard is now his understanding of the life pattern established by Christ.”

I think that Paul also knew there was more ahead.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

God wasn’t done with Paul. It had probably been twenty years and more since his conversion by the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians, but God wasn’t done with Paul.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

God isn’t done with me yet.

God wasn’t done with Jesus, either. John tells the story of Jesus’ dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus just a few verses after describing Lazarus’ return to life at Jesus’ call. This should have been a festive occasion – how often do you celebrate your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your brother’s recovery from the grave?

But to this merry meal Mary brought the perfume of burial.

That may not have been what she had in mind. There’s another reference to the perfume called nard in the Bible: it’s in the Song of Songs, and there clearly it serves a romantic intent.

Perfume of this kind would have been used in the first century for a couple of purposes, including romance. Another was the anointing of a king. When a king was crowned, some fragrant oil was applied to the head – this is what the prophet Samuel did to David.

When Matthew and Mark told the story of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, in fact, they described the perfume poured over Jesus’ head. A royal anointing.

Nard was also used, by those with the money to buy it, to anoint a body for burial. This household had already used some, when they buried Lazarus. At those times, the perfume was applied to the feet.

As Mary did to Jesus.

Because God wasn’t done with Jesus yet.

His arrest, trial, conviction, crucifixion, and burial lay ahead.

Matt Skinner writes: “The fragrance of the perfume strikes a contrast to Jesus’ death and burial. Our interpretation of the scene cannot ignore the gloom. Mary does not anoint Jesus as king or Messiah; she anoints a corpse. If the beautiful scent and ugly crucifixion seem incongruent, then we are onto John’s strange logic whereby Jesus is lifted up onto a cross so that he might attract all to himself (12:32).”

No, God wasn’t done with Jesus yet. Jesus himself wasn’t done yet. He went on to emulate Mary’s tenderness with his feet with his own closest followers, when he washed their feet just a few days later.

As Karoline Lewis writes, “Mary’s extravagant love for Jesus makes it possible for Jesus to show extravagant love in what follows — washing the feet of his disciples, handing himself over to be arrested in the garden, carrying his own cross, dying, rising, and ascending. Mary loves Jesus into his future as the fulfillment of, ‘for God so loved the world.’”

I am no Jesus. I am no Mary. I am no apostle Paul.

I struggle each day with the questions of the disciples about the proper use of money, and how to show affection for someone, or what to say when people disappoint me. I wonder how to help people when the vast resources of this nation get directed to serve the interests of the powerful. I wonder how to avoid disappointing others.

So I take deep comfort, deep comfort, from these passages of Scripture, that remind me that our forebears didn’t have it all together all at once. I delight in the apostle Paul’s odd mixture of jealous pride in his heritage and accomplishments, mixed with his relentless self-examination that walks him toward humility. I wonder at Mary’s devotion, which I imagine must have come with a certain horrified grief as Jesus interpreted what she’d done: “She kept it for my burial.” Can you imagine how you’d feel if your friend told you that?

And I take deep comfort in knowing that Jesus lived through the world until the time and place were right. He didn’t wave a magic wand and change the world with a bolt of lightning. He raised a dead man. He came to have dinner. He praised a woman for an act of love. He stepped on toward torture and the grave, with his feet now suitably perfumed.

God wasn’t done with any of them yet.

God’s not done with me.

God wasn’t done with any of them.

God’s not done with me.

God’s not done with you.

God’s not done with anyone.

God’s not done.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

God’s Not Done with Me

Pastor Eric isn’t done with his sermon after he prepares the text. It’s not done until it’s spoken, and the recorder is shut off.

The image is a mosaic by Firs Sergeyevich Zhuravlev in the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on April 7, 2019

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