Sermon 3-29-1998

John 12:1-8

Growing in Grace

It is awesome to watch the church receive new members. Think of it - for nearly 2 centuries - people have gathered together to live as Christians in the world. They have made promises to themselves and to their Christian community - much as we made here today. We promised in our covenant to walk together as Christians - to be obedient to the teachings of the scripture and to participate in all aspects of this church. Why do we make these promises? It is our hope that we may grow in grace and in faith - serving the Lord - in everything that we do. The foundation of that hope is our basic belief in God.

And every time we take in new members we are challenged to look at those fundamental beliefs - and - we are called by God to consider whether or not we are fulfilling our promises. We are encouraged to renew our efforts to live as Jesus commanded - which means in community with others. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all of your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

All of those who joined the church today - you are a gift - from God to us. (and not because you might pledge or join a committee or even the choir) You are a gift because you embody Jesus' commandments

to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.

Indeed - that is what Mary was doing - embodying Jesus' commandment to love God and her neighbor. What a scene that must have been - everyone gathered to celebrate Lazarus' resurrection from the dead and to thank Jesus - all of the disciples and Mary's whole family - when Mary falls to her knees in front of Jesus and pours a whole pound of perfume on Jesus' feet - and wipes it off with her hair. Her intimacy must have embarrassed her family and the guests and her extravagance - That pound of nard would have cost her family a whole years wages - her extravagant act must have had them asking why Mary? Why? Was this just deep gratitude for the new life her brother had been given? Was this her confirmation to Jesus that she knew he would die and as God's son, also be raised from the dead? Or was this all that and so much more.

How can we imagine ourselves willing to offer a whole years wages to God? How can we see ourselves as a "fool for Christ?"

I love the last line from Augustine's prayer that we read this morning - "O God, You made me for yourself and my heart is restless until it rests in you." RESTS IN YOU! Augustine wrote that in his Confessions from 354-387 A.D. It is his personal diary - his conversations with God - Augustine had struggled with his own frustrations about life and faith. He wrestled with his part in creation - he longed desperately to know God - yet he kept his distance at all cost. One part of him yearned for what he saw in others - a peace, a confidence, a true faith which grounded their lives. The other side of him raised up doubts - refused to believe that such a love existed - this side of him caused him great topersonal distress.

We all live with both of these sides - one side of us is sure that God offers something real and life changing - peace and happiness are gifts. We believe in the mystery and we yearn for a deep and intimate relationship with God - We are like Mary.

The other side of is us taunting and skeptical - ready to take the world at face value - where happiness and peace are commodities that can be purchased... This side of us shows us something much more like Judas...

What did Mary have that drew her to her knees in front of Jesus willing to offer her most extravagant gift? What did Augustine find that drew him into the monastic life? What was Judas missing?

The pearl of great price! Profound peace - faith in the ways of God - a knowledge that our journey takes us from our confession of sin to a confession of faith - Mary and Augustine finally found the home that they didn't expect to find. A place in God's heart that welcomed all of them - both the believing and the unbelieveing parts.

Our hearts desire a life with God - our desire is to be reunited with the one who desires us - When our confessions acknowledge that hunger, we begin our growth in grace - We give out of that desire - our every move is motivated by our hunger for that intimacy that Mary knew - Our lives become a living testament to our confession of faith - "You made me for yourself O God - and my heart is restless until it rests in you."

In the next two weeks we will travel with Jesus into Jerusalem - we will hear the crowds cheer as palms are waved and we will cry out with the crowds - crucify him, crucify him. Surely our hearts will break as the curtain is torn when Jesus dies on the cross. And our lives will be resurrected once again when we meet the risen Christ on our journey together, with other disciples.

And through the grace of God and the desires of our own hearts - we, all of us, new members and not so new members, will live out Jesus' commandments to love one another. We will nurture each other in our faith - we will be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and we will continue to discover our desire to be at home with our God.