Fifth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Our grandson, Noah, will be entering the 9th grade this fall and has just selected his courses.  For electives, he has chosen Consumer Finance and Business Networking.  Interesting choices.  I said to him that I hope they were courses he would enjoy.  He thought that they would be interesting.

Our proper collect for today gives similar advice — “…among the swift and varied changes of the world [like the last couple of years] our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found”.  Where do we find our true joy?  Hold that question.

There is a commercial on TV that always makes me smile.  It’s a pickup game of basketball with all the choices standing in a line waiting to be chosen.  One choice particularly stands out.  All look like 10-year-olds except one who is 6’ plus and over 250 lbs., Charles Barkley, a former player and now commentator.  Of course, he is the first pick.  He gets all excited about being chosen. 

God has picked you.  We have been chosen by God.  Every one of us here today, we have been picked, we have been chosen by God. 

Listen to the prophet Isaiah reminding the people of his own day of the Exodus event when God picked them.                                                                                                                      

The Lord … makes a way in the sea,                                                                                            a path in the mighty waters…                                                                                                     I am about to do a new thing…                                                                                                  to give drink to my chosen people,                                                                                           the people who I formed for myself                                                                                         so that they might declare my praise.

God selected the slaves fleeing Egypt to be the People of God.

The Psalmist of 126 followed the same pattern.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,                                                                  then were we like those who dream.                                                                                              Then was our mouth filled with laughter,                                                                                    and our tongue with shouts of joy…                                                                                        The Lord has done great things for us,                                                                                 and we are glad indeed…                                                                                                             Those who sowed with tears…                                                                                                   will come again with joy,                                                                                                                 shouldering their sheaves. 

The Psalmist acknowledged that it is not a one-and-done selection, God selects and restores time after time after time.  And the People of God respond with joy while carrying the sheaves, carrying the harvest of their labor into their barns.  Service and joy are part of God’s will for us, for those whom God selects.

In his letter to the congregation in Philippi, St. Paul writes of how God picked him to serve, and that all else he might claim for himself is worthless, is rubbish.  His joy is to “press on” with loving service. 

Now to our reading from the Gospel according to St. John.  Jesus was again visiting the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany.  This was a day before the palm-waving entrance into Jerusalem.  Just as God picked Lazarus to be raised from the dead, showing God’s power of Life over death, so God now picked Mary and Martha and their twin joys of service and praise, service, and adoration.  Martha is featured as the one who served, yet surely Mary assisted with the preparation for the dinner.  Then Mary took the costly perfume that Jesus said was for “the day of my burial”, and anointed Jesus.  You have to wonder why she had purchased it for his burial, perhaps she knew the culmination of his ministry was near.  In effect, she jumped the gun.  She could not wait or hold back her adoration, and her sorrow, at the approaching moment.  She praised him with all her heart, with all her mind, with all her soul, and with all her strength.  She was not to be embarrassed by her love of Jesus, or how it appeared to others. 

Mary and Martha were chosen by God to demonstrate for all of us the twin values of loving service and loving praise.  As sisters they were inseparable.  In their love for Jesus, they were inseparable, too.  At this dinner party, we have encapsulated a life of faith.  Lazarus shows us God’s power of life over death.  Mary and Martha show us how to find our joy, in loving service and in loving praise.  Loving service and loving praise are the roots of faithful living as the People of God.

In our current day, many are chosen, God picks many to serve and they do.  In our current day, many are chosen, and God picks many to praise, yet it seems fewer act on this invitation.  Both need to be valued and acted upon for a balanced life of faithfulness.  Both need to be valued for our hearts to be surely “fixed where true joys are to be found”. 

As we approach our observance of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and the reading of the Passion Narrative, may remember that we have been chosen, we have been picked, to be the People of God in our time.

May we lovingly serve with Martha, and may we lovingly praise with Mary so that we may be compete in our witness to the love of God which is forever triumphant. 


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