“Despair Before Joy”

Sermon – 04-07-19 – Lent V – Cycle C
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21 – Psalm 126 – Philippians 3:4b-14 – John 12:1-8
Sermon Title: “Despair Before Joy”

Illness before healing. A flooded house before a mission project brings it to life again. Something lost before it is found. A huge medical bill before a “Go Fund Me” rescue or the mercy of the hospital and doctors involved. Addiction before recovery. Good Friday before Easter Sunday. Endless material concerns before spiritual concerns.

The spirituality displayed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, the close friends of Jesus, as she anoints Jesus with very expensive perfume; the materialism displayed by Judas in expressing displeasure about the perfume which seems very extravagant to him (especially because he would not be getting his hands on the money which was used to buy the perfume). The despair of Judas which becomes joy as expressed by Jesus for Mary’s loving act.

Was Mary doing this purely as an expression of love, and thankfulness, and devotion for Jesus or did she know that she was preparing Jesus for burial? Could God have been directing this scene without Mary knowing?

Have occurrences happened to you that seemed like setbacks but then proved to be blessings? This may seem like a frivolous example but just the other day, I had an eye doctor appointment in Pottstown. Even though I had written 11:00 a.m. in my date book, I thought it was 10:00 a.m. It probably was wishful thinking because I also had a meeting in West Lawn at 2:00 p.m. So I arrived even early for 10:00 a.m., which was amazing in itself, only to be told that my appointment was at 11:00 a.m. My first thought was that I could have slept an hour longer. My next thought was “How can I make good use of this hour?”

Between the receptionist and myself we decided that I could do the registration procedure and maybe the doctor could see me sooner than 11:00 a.m. So I took a seat, and promptly started to write an e-mail, thanking God that, yes, it is good that I now have time to do this. Part way through writing the email, a woman headed for the empty chair beside me. No problem. I smiled and said something about the weather before re-entering my password to continue writing the email. But God had other plans. This person really needed to talk. Wearing a clerical collar is like an open invitation to talk. That is good! That is one of the reasons why I wear a collar. So as I listen, I am realizing that God engineered my time mix-up.

In what seemed to be “no time,” I heard my name being called – Mary Etta, not just Mary! I went to my early encounter with those familiar machines that can do wonders to discover what is happening inside our eyes and also with the drops that make our eyes blurry and wanting to seek darkness. Then I encountered a talkative optician when I was selecting frames. He also started his conversation because of my collar. He shared some confidential family happenings with me.

Finally, I leave, only to notice that I really need to pay attention to be in West Lawn by 2:00 p.m. But my eyes are something else! So I make myself relax until I am confident that I can see well enough. I am wearing sunglasses on a rainy day. I also need gas plus lunch. I finally and safely reach my destination in West Lawn just comfortably before the meeting. I am always so amazed when God does this for me. Does this happen to you? Something seems to go wrong but then it becomes a good thing?

Well, so it is with people in the Bible. Abram waiting until he is 100 and Sarai waiting until she is 90 to become parents, to start the lineage that became Jesus. Mary and Martha waiting impatiently for Jesus to come and heal brother, Lazarus, and it does not happen. Jesus only comes when God directs – that is after Lazarus is in the tomb for four days.

Now this dinner with guests in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Was it not planned for a nice occasion of pleasure? Then it is marred by the criticism of Judas Iscariot. But Jesus saves Mary’s day by receiving her loving action with praise all the while hinting at the coming gloom.

The parade with the future Savior on a donkey while people cheered! The time at the cross and on the cross, certainly the world gone wrong. The saving king dying horribly while he remembers to give Mary, his mother, to John, the beloved disciple.

The women go to the tomb on the day after their Sabbath, with dark, sad, hearts, carrying spices to anoint the body as in burial. But no body. Not a burial! Where is this man? In fact, how did the stone get moved? A puzzling, sad, mystery. And then this new thing! There has been a resurrection! God is doing a new thing!

Remember Paul, who had been Saul. Darkness, hate, despair. Saul, in all his zealousness is causing ugliness for the Christians even though he thinks he is following God’s directions. Wrong! Jesus, from heaven, catches Saul, transforms him into probably the most successful evangelist of his time. God is doing a new thing!

What new thing is God doing in your life? Have you stopped to think? When was the most recent case of despair in your life? What was it? Is it still in despair stage? Does it look like it might be moving into a good, new thing? Has it become a transformation, a glorious new thing that makes you want to dance with joy? Do you think it may have already happened but you have not noticed because your mind is still in despair stage?

We need to pray.
Oh God, help us to move on from despair into the new thing, into the joy that you are presenting to us. Take our blinders from our minds and hearts. Help us to think about this as individuals and as a congregation. Open the windows and the doors! God, through Isaiah, you are saying, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Oh God, help us to spring forth with this new thing! And all of God’s people say, “Amen”

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