Sermon
March 24, 2002
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Gospel Proclaimation: Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of
Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead
of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her;
untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say
this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately."
This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
"Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and
mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;  they brought the
donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A
very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches
from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of
him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed
is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest
heaven!"
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is
this?"  The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in
Galilee."

Gospel Lesson : Matthew 26:6-13

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,  a woman
came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it
on his head as he sat at the table.
But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, "Why this waste?
For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given
to the poor."
But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? She
has performed a good service for me.  For you always have the poor with you,
but you will not always have me.  By pouring this ointment on my body she
has prepared me for burial.
Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world,
what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

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Sermon: A Simple Kindness


In our adult education for Lent we have been studying the life of Christ,
and as part of that we've seen selections from Hollywood movies that tell
the Gospel story.  One of the early scenes from the Gospel of Luke seemed
especially well written for dramatic impact - it's the first scene of Jesus
public ministry, right after he emerges from his 40 days in the wilderness
where he has been tempted by the devil.

In Luke's Gospel the ministry opens in this way:
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an
opportune time. Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to
Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.
He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he
came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on
the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of
the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the
place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good
news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim
the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.
The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to
them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

In the movie, when Jesus says those words "Today this scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing." he lifts his blue Presbyterian eyes up from the
scroll to gaze into heaven as the camera pans to the assemble congregation
who are filled with shock and wonder at this boldness, this arrogance, this
blasphemy.  Hollywood has brought the scene to its dramatic climax.  Jesus
can only observe: "No prophet is accepted in his own country."

Today in this sermon I want to make the same claim that Jesus made, to point
to the truth of Bible promises, to have the privilege of saying to you:
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

Of course, I'm not claiming to fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah about the
Messiah, nor am I expecting you to rise up in shock and shout "Blasphemer!"
The prophecy I'm taking about is the one that we read in the second lesson
from the Gospel of Matthew, after the woman pours the costly ointment on
Jesus' head as he sits at table in the house of Simon the leper.
When the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, "Why this waste?"
But Jesus said "Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good
service for me. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in
the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

I don't know how often we get the chance to fulfill a biblical prophecy, but
today this prophecy is fulfilled as we retell the story of this simple
kindness, in remembrance of her.

In recalling the stories of the New Testament, I believe this is a unique
prophecy in the teaching of Christ.  Can you think of another example where
Jesus tells us that an act is so significant that it will become forever a
part of the Gospel story?  Why would this simple anonymous act of kindness
deserve this status?  Is this accidental, or does this fit into a series of
teachings that Jesus was especially concerned to communicate clearly as the
shadow of the cross loomed near?  Does this story somehow embody the central
core of his message, a critical point he was trying to make to his disciples
at that moment and to all who have heard the story down through the
generations?

Towards the end, Jesus seems to have spent most of his time trying to get
his disciples to understand the idea that the Son of God came to be a
servant of humanity - and not just a servant for the sake of good people,
but a servant for the sake of sinners, of the unjust, of the outlaw and the
outcast.  Yes, he rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a King, but the true
meaning of his mission would only be revealed in the suffering and
humiliation of the cross.

When the disciples wanted to see the power of God present in the world, it
would not be found in the grandeur that was Rome or the statues of the
mighty warriors, emperors, or heroes - it would be in the innocent one who
was nailed to the cross.

The story tells that when they started out on their trip to Jerusalem two of
his disciples sidled up to him to seek a promotion when they arrive in the
Kingdom - that one might sit at his right hand and one at his left.  Jesus
explained that it was not his business to decide such things, and when the
other disciples heard about this they began to quarrel about it.

So Jesus called them together and said: said, "You know that the rulers of
the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must
be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your
slave;  just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to
give his life a ransom for many."

As it turns out, the people who end up one at his right hand and one at his
left are the two criminals who are crucified with him.

And just before his arrest, when they were in the upper room, he took off
his outer garment,

and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began
to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel.  After he had
washed their feet, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
You call me Teacher and Lord -- and you are right, for that is what I am.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to
wash one another's feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also
should do as I have done to you.  If you know these things, you are blessed
if you do them.

So what character, what kindness, would be more appropriate for us to
remember today than this woman whose name we don't even know, but who in the
good thing that she did for Jesus embodied the entire ethic and spirit of
what he was trying to teach and accomplish.  There was no gain for her, no
fame attached to her name, just her simple act of kindness to stand forever
as a testament to God's will for his children.

Let me give you one more example of how this story cuts to the heart of the
Gospel message.  You recall that when Jesus was describing the great
judgment day, he said it would be like a shepherd dividing the sheep and the
goats:

  and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are
blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was
thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you
welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took
care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you
hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And
when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave
you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited
you?'  And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it
to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to
me.'

Today we welcome new members into our church.  What is our hope for them and
for ourselves as a church?  Do we hope to accomplish some great thing, to
move mountains with our faith, to undo the injustice in the world, to change
the course of history?  Well, yes and no.  There is a certain illogic to the
works of the Kingdom of God which is well expressed in a famous saying of
Mother Theresa: We can do no great things; only small things with great
love.   Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things
is a great thing.

The act of kindness done for no gain, no fame, no reason other than the
kindness itself is the fullest expression of faith we can imagine.  That is
why after the woman anointed him with oil, Jesus prophesied that wherever
this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be
told in remembrance of her.

That is why we say with thanks; today this prophecy is fulfilled in your
hearing. Amen.

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