Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14 & John 12:1-8
Passion Sunday – 13th March 2016
I don’t know whether anyone has ever told you to just “Go with the flow!” To sit back, accept that you’re not in control of circumstances and see what happens. The idea of doing this is for many of us quite scarey. Like being on the big-dipper or the Pepsi-Max (The Big One) at Blackpool. Or like those who this next weekend on Sport Relief have agreed to be part of a sketch, or part of a choir.
On ‘The Big One’, riders are trapped. In for the ride … no escape. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that I don’t like going on rides like ‘The Big One’ – I’m not in control and, partly because of that, I’m scared stiff.
Those celebrities who agree to take part on Sport Relief must feel in a very similar situation. They just have to ‘go with the flow’.
The bible readings set for Passion Sunday this year seem suggest that we should see the Christian life this way. ….
Listen to Isaiah speaking on God’s behalf: “God is doing a New Thing. Don’t remember the former things, or consider the things of old – the way it has always been. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
“I’m setting aside all your normal terms of reference,” says God. “I am going to do something completely new, completely different. It will be scarey, but I want you to trust me! It’ll be just as though the desert has become a fertile river valley – you won’t know what to make of it.”
Can you imagine the response of Isaiah’s listeners – looking sideways at each other. “Phew, what are we letting ourselves in for?”
Now listen to Paul speaking in Philippians: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. … 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.”
If Isaiah was talking about a New Thing, Paul is talking about an Overwhelming Thing. He has been so bowled over by his encounter with Jesus that he is prepared for anything to happen to him, willing to do anything for the sake of the Gospel. He has been overwhelmed by the love of God and that is now at the centre of who he is. Nothing else matters compared to knowing Christ. And how do we respond when we hear Paul talking like this? How do you respond?
“Well, if that is what being a Christian is all about it’s not for me!”
“Don’t get too enthusiastic about this Roger, just remember that we are British, we don’t go overboard about anything.”
And hey, you’re right we are not all like St. Paul! We must be ourselves.
But Paul isn’t asking us to be like him. … He is, though, suggesting that we should be ‘overwhelmed’ by the Gospel. Paul longs that God’s love will overwhelm us to the point that we place relationship with God first in our lives – not because nothing else matters, but because we will only have a right perspective, on the other things that matter so much to us, if we engage with them knowing that we are fully loved and accepted by God.
A New Thing. An Overwhelming Thing. And then we come to look at out Gospel reading.
Mary does something so completely over the top. An Extravagant Thing. She blows ten months wages’ worth of perfume in one extravagant act of worship. In a poignant act of love which reflects on Jesus suffering and death. Not only does she blow her wealth on Jesus, but she’s just not worried what others will think of her actions. She did something a prostitute might do (we know that this because of the way the story is reported in other Gospels). An extravagant, overwhelming response to the love of God shown to Mary in Jesus.
Our readings call on us to “Go with the Flow” – to abandon ourselves to God’s love – to let him do a new thing in us and with us. To be overwhelmed by his love and then to respond extravagantly in love to God – just like Mary did.
What might this mean for us now?
These are challenging passages – just three reflections.
Firstly, Church of England churches (perhaps other denominations too) are approaching the time of Annual Meetings. A time when we think both about the past and what the future might hold. Perhaps we need at this time to commit ourselves to watch out for what God is doing. To expect that it will be different from the past. Something completely new – just like the passage in Isaiah suggested. Perhaps we need to agree at our Annual General Meetings that we won’t just insist on things being the way that they always have been. That we will welcome whatever the new thing is that God is doing.
Secondly: perhaps we need to give time to our faith, to listening to what God says in his Word. To hearing and feeling the depth of his love for us. To allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by his love. There is an opportunity to do this in Holy Week and Easter Services. But perhaps this needs to be something that is on-going in our lives.
And finally, Mary’s extravagant response, gives us real cause for reflection. How generous are we as churches or as individuals. Could the way we give to God ever be described as extravagant, risky or overwhelming? …. If the answer is, ‘No!’ Then we have to allow Mary’s extravagant actions to challenge us.
How much does God’s love for us mean to us? What might we risk for it? Our reputations? Our savings? People’s approval? Mary seems to risk everything. Might we consider giving a little more of ourselves, our time, our energy, our resources. Might we do a little more than we think we can, might we slip just outside our comfort zone, might we give only just a little more than we can afford?
It might feel as though we are out of control. We may be afraid that it will be like The Big One (Pepsi-max), or it might feel like we have just committed ourselves to do something outrageous for Sport Relief.
What we actually discover is that, as we release ourselves to follow Jesus, we are swept up in the arms of God. For as we give of ourselves to God, God gives so much more of himself to us.