It’s all about grace, by Pastor Noel

April 6 & 7, 2019    5 Lent, C


      It’s all about grace. Grace is God’s wonderful gift to us of love and forgiveness and peace and joy. We have this grace when we ask for God’s help to be beloved children.

      Our readings as we near the end of Lent remind us that God’s grace is a gift to be accepted and lived, not a set of rules we have to keep to earn the gift.

      In our Collect today we prayed, “Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found…”

      As I’ve been thinking about this prayer, some words jumped out for me: “unruly wills and affections,” “grace,” and “true joys.”

      I think that God is always about giving us grace to change our “unruly wills and affections” and helping us find the “true joys” as beloved children.

      Many of you know that I enjoy getting out for a walk with my camera and finding whatever joys nature offers. Seeing birds or turtles or even mushrooms gives me joy. 

      But nothing like the joy I have when I have somehow helped someone draw closer to God.

      My unruly will would have me walking all day with my camera, looking and hoping for a perfect shot.

      I guess you could say that I’m a bit like Martha in that.

      The Mary side of me, boosted by God’s grace, gives me a heart for God’s people.

      If you’ve been following Lent Madness, you know that Martha beat Mary in the first round of voting. Now here toward the end of Lent, we encounter them again.

      The best known story of the two sisters is probably the account in Luke. Jesus came to their house and Mary sat and listened to him while Martha rushed around with much busyness. 

      Jesus said that Mary had the better choice.

      We hear about choices in the gospel this week, too.

      Mary and Martha are giving a dinner. This time it is in honor of Jesus who has brought their brother, Lazarus, back from death. Who wouldn’t give a party and celebrate that the dead was alive!

      Like the party the father gave in the gospel last week. His younger son had been thought dead and now was home and alive. Celebrate!

      There was one person who didn’t want to celebrate. The older brother. He couldn’t accept the grace that allowed his father to welcome the wayward and rejoice. His “unruly will and affections” kept him angry and apart.

      There was someone like that at Mary and Martha’s party, too. Judas.

      This anointing story is in three gospels, and Judas is mentioned as being there in the others.

      Only John has him comment about the cost of the nard. Only John has the comments about Judas being a thief. Please remember John’s antagonism toward those he calls “Jews” when we read the Passion Gospel next Sunday.

      Judas is like the older brother in the story about the two sons. He can’t accept the love and thanks that Mary is giving Jesus for her brother’s life. Judas can’t join in the joy of the wonderful moment.

      Judas cannot accept the gift of grace.

      I want us to envision that evening. The joy of Lazarus being alive again! Jesus, his friend, his savior, coming to share dinner. The disciples, friends and neighbors—the house must have been full of people and of talk and laughter. Rejoicing.

      Then Mary comes in. Someone has said that in the Bible the women always “come in” because they haven’t been included. The custom was for men and women to socialize separately.

      Martha may have served the meal, but then she went back to the kitchen.      

      Mary comes in.

      The men are reclining around the tables. Left elbows supporting their heads, right hands free to take the food. Feet on the bench out behind them.

      Mary comes in.

      She kneels to reach Jesus’ feet.

      She does a shocking thing—she takes off the veil from around her hair. She unpins her long hair.

      While she is doing this the talk ceases. The men look on in stunned silence.

      A woman lets only her husband see her hair.

      Mary opens the jar of nard and anoints Jesus’ feet. Her anointing and wiping with her hair is like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with his towel. 

      The disciples may not have understood why Jesus did this, acting as a slave to them.

      Mary understood, and is a perfect disciple, acting as a slave to Jesus.

      Gail O’Day says that Jesus was fully revealed in raising Lazarus, and how to be a disciple is fully revealed in Mary’s anointing of Jesus.

      Like the older brother we heard about last week, Judas is filled with anger and jealousy. His unruly wills and affections shut him off from the joy Mary is showing us.

      At the last supper, John tells us that Judas went out, “and it was night.”

      When we close ourselves off from God’s grace, we are living in night. We block the light of Christ, the light of God’s love for us. We can’t see Mary’s generous act of gratitude.

      Our unruly wills and affections keep us from just saying thank you, and accepting God’s generous gift of grace. All we have to do is ask and be ready to be filled with God’s amazing gift.

      May we be grateful like Mary. May we say thank you with our whole lives for God’s gift of grace.       May we know that God’s grace saves us  – from ourselves, sometimes! – gives us new life, and helps us be the beloved children we are.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details