Lent 5C’22
3 April 2022
Is.43.16-21; Ph.3.4b-14
John 12.1-8
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Amen. – From Philippians 3.13 NRSV

I don’t think I’ll ever forget a boy from the neighborhood I grew up in. His name was Calvin Sparrow and boy did he ever save me from certain bodily harm one summer afternoon. We both had a couple of things in common, we were both the same age, and we had just finished the 4th grade. But there was one major difference – he towered over me and most of the neighborhood kids.

On that fateful day, I had walked down the street to visit a friend. While I was in the house a gang of other kids in the neighborhood had followed me and were waiting out in the front yard. A knock came at the door and it was one of the kids who asked for me. He said that a boy named Daniel, who was new to our neighborhood, wanted me to come outside – that he wanted to give me something, “a dime.” As I got out on the porch, I quickly became aware that what Daniel wanted to give me was a ‘knuckle sandwich’ and to have all the kids join in. Moments away from the first punch, who should arrive on his shiny bicycle but Calvin Sparrow. He pulled up to the porch I hopped on and Calvin quickly pedaled us away from the punches of Daniel. What you have just heard is an exodus story – a story of deliverance when God does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Every time I remember this story I chuckle and say a prayer of thanks for Calvin Sparrow.

In today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear about the original exodus story – the great deliverance of God delivering the people of God out of the clutches of the pursuing army. Remembrance, the remembering of the mighty acts of God, and God’s people, is an unbroken thread that runs through both Jewish and Christian spirituality.

As we look back on these events of the past, we draw strength and find inspiration so that we can continue on our journey of faith. Isaiah, reminds us of not one but two deliverances of the people of God; one is when God parted the Red Sea and they were able to escape from the pursuing army onto dry land; and the second is when God would lead them through the desert into their very own well-watered Promised Land. From water to dry land and then from dry land to well-watered land.

When we remember God’s deeds in the past it builds up faith and gives us hope. This is well and good, but our tendency is to move out of a wholesome remembering into nostalgia.

In the “Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine” [London, 1833], which defines it as “The concourse of depressing symptoms which sometimes arise in persons who are absent from their native country, when they are seized with a longing desire of returning to their home and friends and the scenes their youth ….”[1]

When we are in the grip of nostalgia, we can find ourselves remembering the good old days. This kind of memory doesn’t give us inspiration but creates a longing to recreate a golden age from the past. The other problem with this kind of remembering is that the memories tend to be viewed through rose-colored glasses, with the good parts proudly displayed and the negative parts swept neatly under the rug.

As two years have come and gone, we are in the midst of a modern-day exodus out of the pandemic and into the ‘new normal.’ In these two years much has changed and it also quickened the pace of change within the wider Church. The reality seems to be that attendance in most churches across the country have not returned to pre-Covid numbers. Technology has driven some of the changes. Live-streamed services are here to stay. Zoom meetings and bible studies are now an option for those who can’t drive at night. The other day during our noon healing service, we had a prayer request come through Facebook from India. We have a member who lives in Atlanta. People who had either drifted away from the church, or who had never been interested in being a part of a church community, have found themselves drawn to the church. We have been able to see more clearly that the Church is the people not a building.

In these days of rapid and sporadic change we may find ourselves feeling the strong pull of nostalgia and longing for the good old days of the past.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that it is precisely at the moment we are most nostalgic that we need to forget returning to the past, and look for the New Thing God is doing:

“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?”

In the Epistle, St. Paul writes while in the midst of a personal and corporate shake-up and is realizing that the things he taken such great pride in in the past, things like his tribe of origin and pedigree, his theological training, and his position in his law-based religion was being eclipsed by the New Thing God was doing. The religious system that had functioned for centuries would now be expanding beyond the boundaries of Jewish Israel to the entire Gentile world.

Mary in today’s Gospel perceives the New Thing God was doing, and was so moved in the presence of Jesus that she takes a $300 jar of ointment anoints his feet with it and then wipes off the excess with her hair. Judas shows us the way of someone in the grip of nostalgia and religious pride can see the forest for the trees and criticizes Mary for wasting the expensive ointment on Jesus by saying:

“Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?”

Judas doesn’t get it, Mary does and Jesus rebukes Judas and tells him to “Leave her alone” that she is anointing him for burial and that they would always have the poor with them but they would not always have Jesus with them.

As one of my seminary professors, Bishop Mark Dyer used to say, “About every 500 years God has a yard sale, and sells of what the Church no longer needs.” My friends, as we are emerging out of the pandemic, I think we might just be in the midst of another yard sale. God is doing what God always has done by bringing healing to the sick, freedom to the captives, hope to those in despair, and sharing the unconditional love and acceptance of God to all people regardless of their tribe, pedigree, or position in society. God extends an invitation for us to join with him – who knows God might use us to be like a ‘Calvin Sparrow’ that shows up just in the nick of time for someone who needs God’s deliverance.

“I am about to do a New Thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/nostalgia