You know, we Episcopalians tend to be a fairly ordered group of people. For example, how many of you sit in, approximately, the same spot week in and week out? I know that I always had “my pew” that I sat in every single Sunday unless I was serving at the altar. It was my place in the congregation, and I expected to sit in that place. I left little to chance when I was going to church. I always got to church early enough to secure my spot and to settle into my pew before worship began. And like many of you, I appreciate being able to go to just about any Episcopal Church in the nation and immediately recognize the form of worship and the prayers being used. I like having the comfort of the prayer book and being able to turn to the well-worn pages towards the center.
Yes, we Episcopalians are ordered people, and we tend to like things in measured ways. We are less likely to shout out an “Amen!” in the middle of a sermon being preached or while a prayer is being offered. Obviously, we will wait for the appropriate time – that is – until the end of the prayer or sermon to utter our “Amens” just barely above a whisper but enough to be heard. It is our way, and if I am being honest, it is something that I absolutely love about our church. It brings me a great sense of comfort to know that I will be able to easily recognize worship no matter what parish I attend – although there are some exceptions to that rule EVEN in The Episcopal Church.
Order. It does help us to feel comfortable, to know where we are, who we are, and what we believe. It provides us with boundaries to guide our actions and to help us listen for God’s call, but it can also get in the way sometimes. The reality is that everything cannot be as ordered as, say, The Book of Common Prayer. Instead, life is fraught with change and chance. Curves appear in the path with no warning, and we have to adapt to what we are experiencing in a given moment. Life pushes us outside of the comfort of our boundaries, and if we are willing, we can grow from that experience in a way that we are able to see the experience as a gift instead of as a moment that creates a deep sense of discomfort.
Tonight’s gospel reading is so full of rich material for so many different sermons. It is one of my favorite passages in the Gospel according to John because of the rich scene the author has painted for us. Yet, I wonder if we cannot learn something from, perhaps, the least expected character. The character that I think has something to teach us this evening is not the main characters of story but is a character that plays a supporting role in the text. Of course, I am speaking of Judas – the one who betrays Jesus.
In tonight’s reading, Judas does not know how to cope with the extravagance of Mary’s actions in the narrative. He is totally corrupted by, what seems to him, the waste of a very costly perfume. As the action takes place and the fragrance fills the room, he responds with, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” You can almost hear his eyes rolling back in his head as his frustration builds until he can no longer hold back his thoughts. Surely it would be better to sell this perfume – a perfume that costs nearly a year’s wages – and to use the money to help the poor!
It seems that nothing is going the way that Judas really thought it would go. Time and again, Judas has encountered these sharp curves in the road, and no matter how hard he tried, he just didn’t have the ability to follow that curve – to adapt to the changing surroundings and environment. Instead of wasting something costly like the perfume, Judas sees a much more practical thing that could be done with the perfume, and of course, he wastes no time in expressing his feelings on the matter.
The sadness of Judas’ story within the gospel narratives is that Judas simply didn’t know what to do when someone randomly called out “AMEN!” at the top of their lungs as they travelled with Jesus. Judas could only squirm at this sudden burst of emotion onto the scene instead of embracing it as a call to the superabundance of God’s grace in the here and now. Judas serves to help us learn about the superabundance of God’s grace because he simply does not get it.
The lesson for us is to watch for those moments in which God’s grace is so palpable in our lives that it begins to make us squirm a bit. It begins pushing us outside the boundaries of our comfort zone and urges us to flow with the new curve appearing, quite suddenly, in the path ahead.
The lesson is for us to lean into that discomfort and to see if we can’t learn what it means to become more like Mary – the one person in this narrative that practices abundance of love as a response to Jesus.
Can we find the same courage that Mary had in this narrative? Can we find the courage to enter into the cycle of abundant giving that God shares with us? Sure, the moments will push us beyond our comfort zone and will make us squirm in discomfort because be we are doing something out of the ordinary – because we are doing something that expresses the abundance of grace that we receive from God in a way that people are not able to ignore it.
As we enter into the last weeks of Lent, I wonder if we can’t enter into this practice by listening deeply for where God is urging us to take unreasonable actions that reflect the nature of God’s love for us. It might even mean that you find yourself shouting “AMEN!” in the middle of a sermon or a prayer.
No matter what form it takes, I am certain that it will make us feel uncomfortable – even if only for a bit – until, in a most curious manner, we discover that the uncomfortable feeling was the grace of God breaking open our hearts and welcoming us into the superabundant giving found in the Father, Son, and Spirit.