April 9, 2019, 7:38 AM

Hoard or Whole - Sermon, 4/7/19

Some people like to take hikes. Some people like to walk in the moonlight. Some people like to read mystery novels. Me? I like to watch bad TV. One of my favorite shows is about hoarding. These TV shows tell the stories of people struggling with collecting too much and getting rid of too little. Hoarders’ homes, their families, and their very lives are threatened by hoarders’ inability to get rid of stuff.


Of course, hoarding is an actual medical diagnosis that has an actual impact on the lives of actual people. However, many, many people are impacted by our culture’s push to acquire and keep as much as possible. Lots and lots of people struggle to let go of stuff, especially tangible, physical stuff that pile up in the corners of our houses. Struggling to release physical stuff seems to simply be part of the human experience.


Hoarders feel the impact of the avalanche of stuff and the struggle to let it go more strongly than most other people, but lots of us are tempted to fill our hearts and lives with stuff rather than making room for something better. And it’s not just physical stuff that we hold on to. It’s spiritual stuff, too.


For many of us, in addition to holding on to physical stuff, we put a lot of effort into holding on to spiritual stuff. We may be tempted to believe this spiritual stuff makes us better humans. We may even be tempted to believe this spiritual stuff makes us better Christians. Paul knows that temptation and tells us all about it in his letter to the Philippians.


Paul begins today’s reading by writing about all the spiritual stuff that makes him “confident in the flesh.” Paul is actually quite full of himself. He has no problem bragging about his background. He brags about being an observant Jew, the Hebrew child of Hebrew parents. He brags about being a Pharisee – a person focused on following Jewish law. He even brags about being a persecutor of the church.


Paul believes that these things make him a better person. Or, to be more specific, Paul believed – past tense – that these things make him a better person. In Christ, Paul’s beliefs have been changed. Yes, Paul now believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. And, because of his new belief in Jesus, Paul also sees himself differently.


Paul writes, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” All that spiritual stuff that Paul has been bragging about now seems worthless to him.


It no longer matters to Paul that he is the Hebrew child of Hebrew parents. It no longer matters to Paul that he focused so intently on the law. It no longer matters to Paul that he persecuted the church. All those reasons no longer matter to Paul.


The only part of Paul’s identity that he holds on to is that he now believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Nothing is more valuable to Paul than his belief in Jesus Christ. All those old parts of his identity? He now counts everything as loss because he is in relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus is better than and is certainly more valuable than his previous spiritual stuff.


Paul releases everything he used to think was valuable and regards everything as loss. He holds on to nothing from his previous life to make room for Jesus in his heart and in his life. He hoards nothing of his spiritual stuff and releases it all.


We hear a similar story in today’s lesson from John’s Gospel. The reading begins by reminding readers that Jesus is rapidly approaching the time of his betrayal, suffering, and death. Jesus does not approach this difficult time alone, however. Today’s story sees Jesus surrounded by his friends and chosen family.


Some of the characters are familiar – Judas, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We often think of the sisters Mary and Martha from the story of their brother, Lazarus’, resurrection. We meet Mary in a different role in today’s story.


Today, we meet Mary as a rich woman – at least one rich enough to spend a year’s income on a pound of perfume. John’s Gospel records that the pound of nard – an expensive perfume used to anoint a body after death – cost 300 denarii, or a year’s worth of income for the average laborer. But Mary does not hoard her wealth. She recognizes that her earthly treasure should be put to good use in service to Jesus Christ.


I suppose Mary could have followed the advice of Judas and used her money to help people who are poor. I suppose Mary could have kept the money, saved it, and invested it – if that was even a thing at Christ’s time, I don’t know – and used the dividends to pay down her mortgage.


Mary does not hoard her belongings, however. Mary does not hold on to her money. Mary does not clutch desperately to her wealth. She releases it and uses it to purchase a pound of expense perfume.


Mary, the beloved friend of Jesus, buys the expensive perfume – but that is not the end of the story. Some traditions say that the perfume was kept in an alabaster jar – a jar that could not be opened like a regular jar, but the alabaster jar had to be broken to access the perfume inside. In other words, Mary gave everything out of love for Jesus.


Once the alabaster jar is broken, Mary continues to give generously out of her love for Jesus. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with this expensive perfume and, in a possibly scandalous act, wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Historians believe that the sight of a woman’s uncovered hair would have been shocking at the time of Jesus.


Mary’s act takes the shocking sight of her bare hair a step further and uses her hair to wipe the excess perfume from Jesus’ feet. Mary releases – not only her money – but Mary releases her social standing in the service of Jesus Christ.


We all have some stuff we hold on to. Whether it is – physical stuff, emotional stuff, spiritual stuff – we all have some stuff we hold on to. We all hoard something. The example of Paul shows us that we need to regard everything – all our stuff, whatever kind it is – as loss because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The example of Mary shows us that we need to release everything important to us – our money, our modesty, our social standing – we need to release everything important to us because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Whatever it is that we hold on to, let us not hoard it but seek wholeness by releasing it for the sake of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.

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