St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-07-2018

St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-07-2018

Tension in a Tangled Mess

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 11:55-12:11

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I can’t be the only one in the room who has ever wrestled in frustration with untying a knot or unraveling a tangled string can I. You know, when you go to untie your shoelace and instead of the bow dropping loose like it’s supposed to, it somehow draws down into knot that requires being plucked apart with use of your fingernails. Or when you go to use an extension cord or a piece of rope and as you draw one end out you find tangles everywhere. Or how about that string of Christmas lights that was carelessly shoved in a box at the end of the last season. Ugh! It can be so frustrating; turning a split-second job into a minute or two, or a ten minute job into an hour or more!

Anyone who has been through this more than once, however, soon learns that pulling harder isn’t going to help, in fact, it just makes things worse.

Life can be like that sometimes too.  We have to be responsible adults; earning a living, raising children, planning for our future and so on. That’s the basics. To that we can add our responsibility to our community; caring for the sick and injured, feeding the hungry; participating in the work and the celebrating, both of which need to be done. But we also want to have time for ourselves; relaxing by the pool, taking a walk in the forest, reading a good book, spending time with friends and family; all those things we can claim as our own pleasure in our own time.

As we juggle all the different things we have to do and try to weave-in the things we want to do we can soon become frustrated, even overwhelmed by the tangled mess and, if we haven’t learned from previous experience, the tension begins to draw the knots even tighter resulting in hopelessness and despair that can take a lifetime to straighten out again.


We can also see just this kind of thing in Christ’s life of ministry, especially as he nears his betrayal and death that we reflect on in this Lenten season. It shows up most clearly in the part of John’s Gospel that I just read for you.

Putting today’s story into the context of timing: Just a few paragraphs earlier is the remarkable story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death; I’m sure we all remember that one. But what we might not have paid as much attention to is what happens right afterward. When the Pharisees and the chief Priests heard of this amazing miracle and about the multitude of people who began to follow Jesus as a result of it, they called a meeting of the council and all agreed that they must put Jesus to death and issued a warrant for his arrest. Things are getting tangled.

After hearing about this, and knowing the timing required for his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went into hiding for a while near the edge of the wilderness. There’s a little time for untangling.

But soon, as he goes to Bethany and into the home of Lazarus (returning to the scene of the crime, so-to-speak) Jesus is on the move once again, back to working the final stage of his God-appointed mission.

Now, as we hear in today’s reading, there’s a dinner party held in his honor; it should be a peaceful, joyful occasion with good friends reuniting over a meal but we soon see that the tension not only enters the gathering with them, it begins to increase.

On the surface, we see the intertwining of lives in a peculiar way as Lazarus, the man who was dead a few days ago, is sitting with Jesus, the man who will be dead in a few days from now. But the real tension is between Mary and Judas as their personalities begin to twist together.

Mary lets her hair down, (literally and metaphorically). For her, no expense is too great for showing her devotion to her beloved Jesus, not even the cost of the perfume that would equal about a year’s wages for a worker. In contrast, Judas, as John tells us, would like to have that money in his own hands, not wasted on Jesus’ feet.

Mary doesn’t care about social appearances, in her devotion she gets very intimate with Jesus, making a spectacle of herself right in front of her sister, her brother, and other guests. Her only concern, her only focus in that moment, is serving her Lord without reservation or restriction.

Judas, on the other hand, makes a spectacle of himself, not with his actions but with his speech, trying to raise his objection while, at the same time, trying to hide his true motive behind the smoke of pious concern for the poor.

The tension builds until Jesus gets drawn in to the mess; the kind of mess that he’s spent much of his ministry trying to prevent. “Leave her alone!”

Then, as we heard in the verses I added to the end of the reading, the crowds return to be threaded through the story once again. And, with them, Lazarus is dragged into the tension. He, at Jesus’ side has also become a spectacle by no will or action of his own; he only received the blessing of being returned to life after dying of natural causes. But, because the crowds want to see this living miracle first-hand, he is added to the Pharisees list of those that must go.


We all know where the story goes from here; things don’t get any better but continue to get worse. Even after Christ’s resurrection the Apostles continued in it, Rome got involved, factions of the Church got tangled in and we are still dealing with it today.

We all struggle to untangle the mess made when we weave our physical life and our spiritual life together. Do we need to fight with all our might to prevent change? Can we step back to the edge of the wilderness to take a break and wait for the right time to move on? Can we sit comfortably with awareness of our mortality? Can we honor our Lord with our bodies? Can we spend some of our money on extravagance?  Do we fear making a spectacle of ourselves for the right reasons while doing so boldly for the wrong reasons? Where is the line between the right and wrong reasons? Who do we drag into the tension and who do we leave out?

These are all a part of the tangled mess known as life and there are no easy, absolute answers. If there were, Jesus would have given all those answers directly and clearly; which he does not do. But by his example, reiterated by Paul in our reading from Philippians, we know how to deal, not by pulling harder in frustration, but by thoughtfully, patiently, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God.



Isaiah 43:16-21
43:16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
43:17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
43:18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
43:19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
43:20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
43:21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126
126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14
3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

For context I have added 3 verses before and 3 verses after today’s assigned reading

John 11:55-12:11

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves.

56 They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?”

57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus b was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
12:3 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.
12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
12:6 (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.)
12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.