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5th Sunday in Lent Faith Lutheran Church April 3, 2022.
Lectionary Texts: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8.
Prayer of the Day:
Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Gospel – John 12:1-8:
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
6 (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). 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She ought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
In the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My sermon text is today’s Gospel, John, Chapter 12, verses 1-8, the anointing of Jesus by Mary. As an event in the life of Jesus, it has the feel of Jesus being on the way. This is just a brief stop on his journey to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. The reference to Mary’s anointing of Jesus is brief; it is only one sentence in the whole story. The real dynamics take place between Mary (who anoints Jesus), Jesus himself, and Judas Iscariot (who will betray Jesus). Each of these three people has a part to play in Jesus’ anointing.
As a way to enter the text I want to provide some background and context to the events surrounding today’s story. Our text begins with the words, “Six days before the Passover.” This is the Passover that Jesus would celebrate his last meal with his disciples. In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Here the events of Jesus’ Passion, his suffering and death are only a few days away. Lazarus is the one who Jesus raised from the dead. That miracle occurred in the previous chapter. In terms of the impact of that miraculous event, there were religious authorities who were plotting to kill Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus was a threat to their authority and to their credibility among the people. So, the easiest thing to do was to get rid of Jesus and Lazarus. As a matter of the flow of John’s gospel, the plot to kill Lazarus immediately follows today’s story. As we consider the context of today’s story, Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead which has created enemies for Lazarus and Jesus anticipates his own suffering and death which will come at the festival of Passover.
The tension in the story occurs between Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Judas Iscariot. Each of these has a different response to Jesus. It is Mary who takes a pound of nard and anoints Jesus’ feet. Judas estimated the cost of this perfume as three hundred denarii, the cost of a year’s salary. Nard apparently came from India. I don’t know if Mary really bought this expensive perfume, or if the gospel writer John wanted to make a point of Mary’s generosity and love for Jesus. I take John’s intention in telling the story in this way. John wanted to show how much Mary loved Jesus and how far she was willing to go to express her love for Jesus.
Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, was greedy and a thief! He “new the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” Whatever Judas said about giving the money to the poor was an excuse. He was insincere in what he said, and it was a ruse for his real intention, to take the money for his own benefit. What we have here is a comparison and contrast between Mary who loved Jesus, and Judas Iscariot who was a greedy opportunist. That’s what I think John was doing when he told this story. For Mary, no cost was too great to express her love for Jesus.
I think that the anointing of Jesus was important because it fulfilled a sacramental and theological purpose. It prepared Jesus for his own imminent death. In terms of John’s gospel, Jesus is always in control of events. Even his suffering and death are not an accident, but they are all within the plan of God. Mary’s anointing of Jesus is completely within God’s plan. As we consider the flow of John’s gospel, the anointing of Jesus takes place shortly before Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem, which the church observes as Palm Sunday. We can see that the season of Lent is coming to a close, and Holy Week is just around the corner.
I want to turn to Jesus’ concluding words in verse 8 when he said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” I have struggled with the meaning of Jesus’ words. At its worst, it sounds as if Jesus was discounting the worth of poor people, as if they had no value at all. I don’t think that that is what Jesus meant. I really think that Jesus wanted to put his life and ministry in perspective. First of all, I want to cite from the Old Testament God’s attitude toward those who were poor and vulnerable.
Psalm 41:1 Happy are those who consider the poor, the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
Psalm 113:7 (God) raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap.
Proverbs 17:5 Those who mock the poor insult their maker.
Proverbs 28:6 Better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich.
Proverbs 28:27 Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.
Isaiah 25:4 For you, (O God) have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress.
I share these scriptures to make the point that God is not insensitive to the needs of those who are poor. God cares for the poor and expects his people to act in ways that are consistent with the nature of God.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says that we will always have the poor with us? I think that it is a matter of perspective. Jesus was talking about his own unique, divine place in history. There is only one Jesus and there are many who are poor. I think that Jesus was calling Judas to realize who Jesus really was, the Son of God. That is why it was important for Jesus to be anointed prior to his suffering and death. It was in the plan of God.
So, what does today’s story have to do with us? What does it mean for our own life of faith? I think that it has to do with the spirit of generosity and gratitude. We give to Jesus not to earn God’s favor, but to express our love and appreciation for what God has done for us in Jesus the Christ. It might be easy to misinterpret this story strictly in terms of money. While money is certainly a part of the story, it is not the whole story. Mary was acting out of her deep affection and love for Jesus. So to speak, no expense was too great for Mary. Where this leads me is to ask the question, where is our source of gratitude toward God and Jesus? I ask this question not to create shame or guilt, but it is this; Are there events and times in our lives when we have experienced a sense of true gratitude in our life for what God has done for us? Was it an unexpected gift, a kind word, being saved from illness, a sudden opportunity, a fresh start in life, being forgiven for a human failure? In all of these ways, God has blessed us and given us an underserved gift. That’s what I think Mary was responding too. I want to close with lines from a hymn in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
We praise you O God our redeemer, creator; in grateful devotion our tribute we bring.
We lay it before you; we kneel and adore you; we bless your Holy Name; glad praises we sing.
We worship you, God of our fathers and mothers; through trial and tempest our guide you have been. When perils o’er take us, you will not forsake us, and with your help, O Lord, our struggles we win.1
Daily Devotions for the week of February 27 th Transfiguration of Our Lord.
Monday, February 28 th :
Readings: Psalm 35:11-28; Exodus 35:1-19; Acts 10:9-23a.
The psalms have a great breadth of emotion and content, from great joy to great sadness
and great pain. This psalm is the plea of one of God’s children for Deliverance from one’s enemy
or from someone who has betrayed the writer. The subject of this psalm touches on a familiar
human experience. You may want to make a note about this psalm if you come upon such a
Prayer: O Lord God, protect us and deliver us from those who would seek to do us harm.
Tuesday, March 1 st :
Readings: Psalm 35:11-28; Ezekiel 1:1 – 2:1; Acts 10:23b-33.
Ezekiel was a priest whose ministry to his Babylonian exiles extended from 593 to 563
B.C. as a prophet to the exiles, Ezekiel assured his hearers of the abiding presence of God among
them. He emphasized the Lord’s role in the events of the day so that Israel and the nations will
know “that I am the Lord.” Chapter 1:1 - 2:1 is part of the call of Ezekiel.
Prayer: Holy God by your Spirit, help us to hear you calling us to be your servants and
may your light shine through us. Amen.
Ash Wednesday, March 2 nd :
Readings: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b –
6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
The reading from Psalm 51 is a psalm of confession and it is read on Ash Wednesday in
keeping with the focus of the day. There is a profound sense of guilt and shame in the psalm. At
the same time there is a plea for forgiveness and restoration to God’s graciousness. This psalm is
appropriate not only for Ash Wednesday worship but also for personal devotions.
Prayer: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; in your great
compassion, blot out my offenses. Amen.
Thursday, March 3 rd :
Readings: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Exodus 5:10-23; Acts 7:30-34.
As with previous psalms, I encourage the reader to read through all of Psalm 91. The
word ‘refuge’ comes up three times in reference to God. The psalm provides different images to
illustrate what it means for God to be one’s refuge. In verse 14-16 we hear the voice of God
offering his protection to God’s people. It is more important to listen to the images and let God’s
Spirit touch us in whatever way it speaks to us in our lives.
Prayer: O Lord God, most high, you are our refuge and our stronghold, in whom we put
our trust. Amen.
Friday, March 4 th :
Readings: Psalm 91; Exodus 6:1-13; Acts 7:35-42.
The reading from Exodus is part of the call of Moses and God’s promise to deliver his
people from slavery in Egypt. Here is a brief summary:
Exodus 1:8-22 The Israelites are oppressed.
2:1-10 Birth and youth of Moses.
2:11-25 Moses flees to Midian.
3:1-12 Moses at the Burning Bush.
3:13-22 The Divine name revealed.
4:1-17 Moses’ Miraculous Power.
4:18-31 Moses Returns to Egypt.
5:1-23 Bricks without Straw.
6:1-13 Israel’s deliverance assured. In this last section God promises to deliver
his people from bondage in Egypt.
Prayer: Holy God, we remember how you delivered your people from slavery in Egypt by
your nightly deeds. We pray that you would continue to be our Deliverer and redeemer even
today. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Saturday, March 5 th :
Readings: Psalm 91; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 12:27-36.
Today’s reading from John’s gospel takes place after Jesus’ triumphal entry into
Jerusalem. Here Jesus talks about his imminent death. There is a sense of certainty about Jesus’
words, but also that God’s power, as glory, is revealed in this death. This is a different tone than
when Jesus speaks about his death in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Jesus of
John’s Gospel is different from the Jesus of the first three Gospels. It is a different point of view.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world. Let your light shine among us and may
your light illumine our path through this world. Amen.
Transfiguration of Our Lord Faith Lutheran Church February 27, 2022.
Lectionary Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2; Luke 9:28-36.
Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in
the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity
so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Gospel – Luke 9:28-36:
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and
James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of
his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses
and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which
he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down
with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with
him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here;
let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—not knowing what
he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were
terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my
Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they
kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
In the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My preaching text is today’s Gospel from Luke, Chapter 9, verses 28-36. It is the
transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. This story is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark,
and Luke. The significance of this story is two-fold. First, through the vision of Jesus in divine
splendor, we see who Jesus really is as the Son of God. Secondly, it signals a change in direction
for Jesus’ ministry. Now he will head to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die, and on the third
day be raised from the dead. We see this series of events in how Luke tells his story and in
particular in how he arranges his material. Beginning at verse 18 of Chapter 9 we have Peter’s
declaration about Jesus. Luke said that Jesus was praying when he asked the disciples, “who do
the crowds say that I am?” Some said John the Baptist; others said Elijah and others said one of
the ancient prophets. Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Peter who
said, “You are the Messiah.” Peter got the right answer, but did he really understand what it
meant for Jesus to be the Messiah?
Then in verses 21-27 Jesus talked about his death and resurrection. Jesus said, “The Son
of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes,
and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Most likely this is not what Peter expected to hear
when he said that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, in Matthew and Mark’s version of the story,
Peter rejected Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Most likely Peter’s
image of a Messiah was more like a military or political leader who asserted power over the
crowds of people. Jesus went on to talk about taking up one’s cross and following him and losing
one’s life for Jesus’ sake.
Today’s Gospel begins with the words, “Now about eight days after these sayings,…”
So, today’s story of the transfiguration is related to the previous conversation between Jesus and
Peter. They serve as a foundation for today’s Gospel. They answer the questions, “Who is
Jesus?” He is the Messiah. “What does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah?” He must suffer,
die, and be raised from the dead. Then we come to the transfiguration.
It is as if the transfiguration is a movie version. It is a visual image of what Jesus has just
told Peter and the disciples. As we approach this text, I would like us to hold this event in our
heads, all in one piece. We should look at it like a picture in an art gallery or a movie poster
outside a movie theater. Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James, his inner circle of disciples.
Did Jesus know what was going to happen? Did Jesus plan this experience? We don’t know, but
whatever happened, Jesus was the focus. Luke said that this happened while Jesus was praying.
It seems that when Jesus was praying something special happened. It was as if God pulled back
the curtain of the Kingdom of God and let his disciples see reality itself. Earlier, it was Peter who
said that Jesus was the Messiah when Jesus was praying alone. Here Jesus was praying when
“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Two men
appeared, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory, were all touched by the glory of God. They
were glowing. More than this, that Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah means that Jesus
related to Moses as the lawgiver and to Elijah as one of the greatest prophets. There was and is a
connection between the Old and the New Testaments in Jesus. Luke said that Moses and Elijah
appeared in glory and talked with Jesus about his departure, that is, his death and resurrection at
Jerusalem. That completes the picture of Jesus and his mission on earth. In terms of the church’s
calendar and its lectionary, the stage is set for the next half of Jesus’ ministry as he turns his face
Then we come to Peter’s response to having seen this holy vision, ‘let us make three
dwellings.” It may have been Peter’s desire to extend this holy experience, or it could have been
a literary allusion to the Jewish festival of Booths, when the people of Israel remembered their
wandering in the wilderness. Regardless of the reason for what he said, let us not be too critical
of Peter. How many of us would have a timely and appropriate response after having seen what
Then we come to the voice from heaven. “While he was saying this, a cloud came and
overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came
a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!’” First of all this is the voice of God.
The indirect reference assumes that it is the voice of God. Specifically, the voice identifies Jesus
as “My Son,” that is God’s Son, and by inference the second member of the trinity. Here God
acknowledges Jesus’ divine nature and his holy mission on earth. Also, there is a direct
relationship to Jesus’ baptism when the voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
It never occurred to me before, but there is a connection between Peter’s identification of
Jesus as Messiah, and God’s confirmation of Jesus as “My Son, my chosen.” Peter’s
identification of Jesus as the Messiah indicates Jesus’ human side. It is how the crowds might
perceive Jesus. When God referred to Jesus as “My Son, my chosen,” we hear Jesus’ divine,
heavenly identity. Both sets of terms are correct, each from their own perspective. Also, God’s
reference to Jesus as “My Son, my chosen” confirms Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death,
and resurrection. I wonder, if when God said, “listen to him,” that God was pointing specifically
to Jesus’ announcement of his imminent suffering, death, and resurrection? Or that God meant
that the disciples should listen to all of what was said. Both interpretations could be correct.
Maybe the transfiguration was intended to give the disciples courage and hope as Jesus
would face rejection and inevitably face his own death. As Jesus’ path of ministry moved toward
Jerusalem, God verified Jesus’ divine identity so that as Jesus’ faced the hostility of the Jewish
religious officials and the power of the Roman authorities who could put him to death, the
disciples might recall this experience and draw some comfort from it.
One thing that can be said about the transfiguration as well as other mystical experiences
is that they are brief encounters with the Holy. Rarely do we get extensive explanations of what
these holy encounters mean. Rather they are intended to get our attention to the numinous, to
give us a glimpse of the world beyond, and then to invite us to ponder the meaning of this divine
mystery. In these holy encounters we realize the greatness, the grandeur, the wonder, and the
mystery of God, and on the other hand we are humbled by our human inability, to intellectually
and spiritually grasp what we have experienced. Sophy Burnham in her experience of the
presence of God at Machu Picchu wrote, “I had the impression of knowing beyond knowledge
and being given glimpses into ALL. I capitalize because of the feebleness of words. It was
knowledge untranslatable into verbs and nouns and it filled me with joy.” 1
I have one other thought. When we read these stories in the Bible, it is easy to ask the
question, “Did this really happen?” Sometimes we can attribute these stories to literary freedom
of the writer. Then the writer had a different intention when using these literary images. As for
the transfiguration, I want to hold up a near-death experience so that we can see these two
experiences side-by-side and ponder the wonder and the mystery of the Holy. The following
story comes from George Ritchie who died in 1943 and miraculously returned to life.
“I stared in astonishment as the brightness increased, coming from nowhere, seeming to
shine everywhere at once. All the light bulbs in the world couldn’t give off that much light… It
was impossibly bright: it was like a million welders’ lamps all blazing at once. And right in the
middle of my amazement came a prosaic thought born of some biology lecture back at the
university: ‘I’m glad I don’t have physical eyes at this moment,’ I thought. ‘This light would
destroy the retina in a tenth of a second.’ No, I corrected myself, not the light. He would be too
bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a man who had entered the room, or
1 Sophy Burnham, The Ecstatic Journey: The Transforming Power of Mystical Experience, Ballantine Books, 1997.
rather, a Man made out of light, thought this seemed no more possible to my mind than the
incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.
The instant I perceived Him, a command formed itself in my mind. ‘Stand up!’ The words
came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet,
and as I did came the stupendous certainty: ‘You are in the presence of the Son of God.’ …. I
knew other facts about Him too. One, that this was the most totally male Being I had ever met. If
this was the Son of God, then his name was Jesus… This person was power itself, older than time
and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far
more even than Power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love… A love
beyond my wildest imaginings. This love knew every unlovable thing about me – and accepted
and loved me just the same.” 2
I share this story to hold it up against the transfiguration of Jesus, to invite you to ponder
these two stories, and to consider the points at which they are similar. May God’s Holy Spirit
teach us and help us to grow in our faith and trust in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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