Hancock Church Sermon  http://youtu.be/gIRK-iVjlhk

Becca Lockwood

March 10, 2013

John 12:1-8

The Good Disciple

I have to wonder, what does it mean to be a good disciple.

The text read today is quite straightforward in some ways, though I hesitate to say that about any text in the Bible. This story like so many others has a climax, a heroine, a villain, and a mediator. It’s clear who we should like and who we should dislike. And yet, as I hesitate to take this in such a straightforward way, I wonder…what else could be lurking in between these words.

We are led to believe that Judas is the villain, as he is often made out to be. And yet, Judas is right. Judas is saying the money spent on the oil could have been used for the poor—and Judas is not wrong; he is completely justified.

That money could have very well been used for the poor. Has Judas not just spent the last three years following Jesus, imitating Jesus, and listening to Jesus preach about the marginalized and our responsibility to care for them? Judas is right. That is what Jesus has been preaching. Love your neighbor as yourself. Reminding us to care for the widow and the orphan, the sick and the lame—those in our society who do not have the means to help themselves.
Isn’t that what a good disciple does?

But here Judas is wrong in this story. And just in case we had any scruples about Judas being right, John takes care to tell us that Judas is not only a thief, but very soon to be the Betrayer of Jesus. So we must conclude that Judas is wrong. And in this gospel story, it is clear that Jesus is defending Mary’s actions not Judas’.

And so, I have to wonder, what does it mean to be a good disciple.

Let us turn to Mary, the heroine of the story. What is she doing exactly that makes her the heroine? We know only three things about Mary. First that she is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, she has bought expensive oil, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with it.

Now I know not many of us like feet. But feet are my favorite part of the body. They are our connection to the earth. They are our foundation. They keep us balanced. I love to feel the grass beneath my feet or the sand between my toes. And feet were equally important in Jesus’ time. If nothing else, they were his mode of transportation.

Jesus and his disciples walked everywhere. And living in the Galilee where the roads were dirt rather than paved, that meant there was a good chance you had dirty dusty feet.
In the following chapter of John’s gospel, he opens the scene again with feet. Only this time it is Jesus on his knees washing his disciples feet, usually an act done by a servant.
But here in this story Mary doesn’t just wash Jesus’ feet does she? She anoints them. Mary is doing something above and beyond service.

Mary is declaring something about Jesus.

That Jesus is the person in which she has put her faith. She is naming Jesus her leader, the one whom she will follow. And then in the next chapter we have Jesus, the leader and teacher, getting down and washing his disciples feet, showing us what it means to be a leader.

Jesus interprets Mary’s actions as preparing him for his burial to come. But we don’t know if that was Mary’s intention. She doesn’t tell us. All we know is she anoints Jesus—a posture of worship. She is worshipping and adoring Jesus. And perhaps that is what we’re supposed to glean from this gospel story. She is simply worshipping. Simply adoring, loving Jesus. Filled to the brim with gratitude.

And so, I have to wonder, what does it mean to be a good disciple.

We are presented with two ways of being a disciple here, and in this story Jesus is lifting up Mary’s posture of worship.

Mary is juxtaposed to Judas who is stuck in this one mindset of how to be a disciple. And it’s a good mindset. It is good. But the operative word here is that he is stuck. This story offers us another way to be a good disciple.

There seems to always be an ultimate end or goal. The last three years of ministry have certainly been goal oriented for Jesus. I think something Jesus might be trying to leave with us before he goes is this:
How often do we do something just for the sake of doing it?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we have only a few things going on here at Hancock. And truly, what a blessing that is. This is a growing and thriving church. It is filled with you—you who love this church and its mission.

You are dedicated to the vitality of this church. And every Sunday there is someone new coming through those front doors. And most of the time, those newcomers keep coming Sunday after Sunday. Clearly we have a good thing going.

And while our active church is thriving, there can be such a thing as too much activity.

I find myself coming back to Mary, reminding me to not get stuck in the busyness. A couple of weeks ago Alex, one of Hancock’s other seminarians, and I were driving home after worship at the Well. It had been another crazy week and yet again it had been another snowstorm weekend.

Now I love snow. I’m from Maine, I like my winters to be white and cold. (I know not everyone shares my love for snow, but snow is clearly part of the deal when you live in New England). But after about the third weekend snowstorm, I had about reached my limit. I was ready for it to stop. And it was until Wednesday, beginning to smell like spring…of course I knew better. I know I have to wait until April before the real Spring sets in. But on that night at the Well, Paul our Senior Minister, stood up to greet us and the first thing he said was how beautiful the snow was on his walk over. The snow gently falling in the light of the street lamp. And as Alex and I were driving home I looked around, and it was breathtaking. It looked like I had stepped into Narnia. It was almost too beautiful. And it was a humbling moment.

It is so easy for us to get swept up in the “supposed to’s” and checklists and calendars. And while we all have important work to do, it is equally important for us to just take a moment and pause. Breath deeply. Or we might miss the beauty of a gentle quiet snowfall. We might miss the goodness and grace that surrounds us every day.

That’s all Mary was doing. She was taking advantage of the goodness in her life. Jesus had just raised her brother from the dead. They were holding a dinner for him out of gratitude and anointing Jesus’ feet was Mary’s way of simply saying, “thank you.”

I have to wonder, what does it mean to be a good disciple.

Mary and Jesus are partly warning us. They know if we don’t take the time to absorb and appreciate the goodness, if we don’t take the time to be grateful for our many blessings, our spiritual well will run dry. We will burn out.

A favorite story of one of my Buddhist professors about meditation goes like this: there was a pair of Christian service workers who had come to volunteer in India. They were doing wonderful work for the community they were serving, constantly giving of themselves. But they ended up giving too much of themselves. They were tapped dry; they burned out and ended up leaving. Meditation, our professor told us, is about helping yourself first. The idea being that if you have centered your self and freed yourself of other concerns you can more clearly serve and help others. And here we see a balance. We are offered another way to frame this idea in the gospels where we hear the story about taking the plank out of our own eye before we attempt to remove the splinter from someone else’s.

While Hancock is a very active and busy congregation, it is also a spiritually nourishing place. We have prayer groups where we learn what prayer is, discovering new ways to pray and develop a more prayerful life. I’ll be offering a contemplative spiritual practices class during Eastertide where we’ll explore different spiritual practices like centering prayer and meditation, among others. We have two inspiring worship services, and I know many of you attend both services. There are so many wonderful programs offered that can help us grow and deepen as people of faith. While we have an active church, we balance this by offering ways to fill our spiritual well. You nurture your spirit here as much as you give and offer help to others.

So what does it mean to be a good disciple?

It means being able to ask the question, what does it mean to be a good disciple? It means not getting stuck in one identity of discipleship. Which is exactly what is beyond the ability of Judas at this point. He has the right answer in the wrong situation. Being a good disciple may mean helping the lost and the least today, and tomorrow it might mean something different. Part of being a good disciple is knowing when to do which. Part of being a good disciple is always being open and ready to experience new ways of following Christ’s example. And thanks be to God there are so many ways.

May we go from this place filled with new energy and excitement as we continue to serve God, each other, and ourselves in the best ways we know how.
Amen