The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r157.htm


s157g13  Fifth Sunday in Lent  17/3/2013

‘Mary .. anointed Jesus' feet’  John 12.4

Many years ago I saw the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar’ and the motive for the betrayal of Judas was portrayed as jealousy over Mary’s love for Jesus.   Other accounts of this incident have all the disciples agreeing with the sentiments of Judas.   We don’t always have to agree with the excuses perpetrators give for their actions.   So the bible tells us that those who had Jesus killed excused their actions on the grounds that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.   Pilate discerned that their real motive was jealousy.   It doesn’t take much reading to realise that Jesus’ actions implied that acceptance of others was more important than religious devotion to God and it was this that enraged the orthodox and the devout.   If we simply accept the excuses of the devout and the orthodox, we are likely to get the whole gospel wrong.

So it might have been that Judas felt scorned or it may be a long standing disagreement whether women should be allowed into the holy huddle of male disciples.   The disciples had a history of trying to protect Jesus from others, which in effect meant keeping him to themselves.  Actually this was not really any different from the scribes and the Pharisees who wanted to keep God to themselves.   Jesus had different ideas, and God has different ideas.

Clearly Mary had perceived this inclusive love of Jesus and God and responded appropriately.   And people continue to perceive the inclusive love of Jesus and God and respond appropriately - though, of course, this is not always distinctly "Anglican' or 'christian'.   They do not suddenly begin to pour over the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion - or start reading the Bible.   Most often they want simply to express their devotion as Mary did, sometimes even publicly, extravagantly, even embarrassingly emotionally.  

I have been having an interesting conversation on the topic: 'How can we worship a God of love when evolution depends on the survival of the fittest'?   I find it interesting that I am having this conversation while preparing a sermon on Mary's act of overflowing devotion to Jesus.   We have all been thoroughly imbued with the primal importance of a personal relationship with God.   But such a personal relationship is entirely alien to a Buddhist, to take one example.   But before we too quickly dismiss their (non) experience as irrelevant, we might recall the extreme reticence of the God of the Old Testament to reveal the divine name or to allow people to see the divine face, and the fact that Jesus has ascended to the Father, leaving us alone.  

And it is not just christians who decry living by the dictum: 'the survival of the fittest'.   Indeed the colonial pretensions of Europeans of past centuries in the name of Christendom is often replicated in neo-colonialism in the name of Jesus to this day.   Atheists and agnostics rightly despise every form of colonialism in the name of any 'god'.  Colonialism is the clearest turn-off for belief and devotion.   Atheists and agnostics rightly perceive that a God that is not inclusive and affirming is a demon and not worth worshipping.   They would prefer to live without such a god and be charitable, and good on them!  

I am reminded of the ancient Latin and Greek pantheons, where humanity is ever at the mercy of competing deities.  In some senses if we are intrinsically unsure whether God is really the demon of 'the survival of the fittest' or a being who calls humanity to inclusivity and affirmation, we are in no better position than them.

Is God just a divine voyeur, watching humanity struggle through life, like those who wouldn't miss an episode of 'Coronation Street' or 'Days of our Lives'?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote: 'Love is always amongst equals, otherwise it is something else masquerading as love.'   A divine voyeur doesn't seem to qualify as loving.

I cannot prove that God is love.   A while back someone gave us a book 'Christianity for Skeptics' which, after you had read it I suspect that you may well feel browbeaten into believing - and a God of love doesn't browbeat.  For if God is love, believing in the existence of God would seem irrelevant to God.   A God of love calls us to love others.

Much of the antipathy between science and faith revolves around the mistaken conceptions of an earth- and human- centred universe believed fundamental to religion, which modern astronomy has proved erroneous.  Again, this invites us to look beyond ourselves, to see the beauty of the microscopic and the galactic, and revere those whose studies bring us such knowledge.   I recall seeing on the pillars of a brick fence around a Roman Catholic church a cameo of the world set in the bricks, the prime meridian of which went through Rome rather than Greenwich!

But the anointing does point us to something other than the seemingly universal antipathy inherent in ‘the survival of the fittest’ and that is, of course, the joy of connection and intimacy.   And it surely is the joy of connection and intimacy that points us to a God and not a demon.

The universe is filled with such fecundity.   Biologists have described and classified 1.7 million plants and animals as of 2010, less than one-quarter of the total species estimated in the world.  http://www.currentresults.com/Environment-Facts/Plants-Animals/number-of-undiscovered-species-living-on-earth.php   So I suppose that in the light of such fecundity, it is inevitable that ‘survival of the fittest’ seems to rule otherwise the earth would soon be overrun.

Perhaps it is the joy of connection and intimacy that is the divine remedy for anxiety in a world where human insignificance and expendability rules.   It is not necessarily human to human either.   I recall reading recently moves to allow terminally ill people to have their pets close at hand.   http://www.katu.com/news/specialreports/88310392.html and http://www.petside.com/article/new-york-state-lifts-ban-allows-people-and-pets-be-buried-together

However there remains the conundrum of a demon of the 'survival of the fittest' and the biblical God who 'raises up the poor from the dungheap'.   Perhaps the fact that there are inevitably far more poor and they tend to be very hardy, says that the survival of the fittest doesn't always mean the biggest, strongest, richest or most aggressive.

I was amused to see recently a 'Facebook' saying where a doctor is putting a stethoscope to a young boy’s chest, saying: 'You have what we call, an irrational sense of entitlement.   It won't kill you, but it will cause you to believe that you deserve shit for doing nothing'.
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=340467069387405&set=a.208991355868311.32725.206703882763725&type=1&ref=nf

And a big part of the human condition is the feeling that we do have a unique contribution to make.   Often we help others at the expense of looking after ourselves and this is not limited to those who call themselves 'christians'.   Jesus accepted Mary's offering of connection and intimacy, and God continues to accept offerings of connection and intimacy from all sorts and conditions of people.