More Grace – less change. Lent 5C, 2010

A new thing comes – can’t you see it?

It is something that will put everything you have known, to shame

leave history, as you understand it, in the dust.

This is the sort of statement that, if we were honest,

leaves us all quaking in our collective boots.

We’re wary of new things – new ideas need to be proven and tested

new people too – and this prophet-talk of changing horizons surely means trouble.

Change comes to all things – but it comes to the people of God last of all,

and the herald of change is to be feared and questioned.

So it has always been with the people of God.

Those who howl about change (the prophets) are shunned –

Those who live out change – Jesus and his disciples – are pestered, ridiculed

and occasionally arrested and killed.

Such is our terror over anything different.

So what is this ‘new thing’ that causes such consternation?

What is it that God’s prophets – God’s servants – God’s Son

seem so determined to bring to our attention?

Upon inspection, there’s nothing new about it…

Isaiah does not announce that God has abandoned the history shared with the people of Israel.

We are reminded of the goodness that brought the people out of slavery

and into the promised land.

The new thing is not something new about God –

it is a new awareness on the part of God’s people that the prophet is calling for.

We are invited to cast our minds back – way back –

to the stories of God that sustained us in distress

and remember how extravagant God is – was – and ever shall be…

Paul – a reluctant prophet – would also remind us that change is in the air.

His life has assumed a different direction – though his history was blameless –

his intentions pure – his ‘religion’ nearly perfect…

yet this change – this new thing in Paul’s life is familiar ground for God.

Through Christ, Paul recognizes the saving and sovereign grace of God in a brand new way,

though such grace is as old as time itself.

And then there’s Jesus.

His very presence offends the traditionalists. He seems to know more than he should.

He speaks with an authority that his opponents can’t explain.

He claims an intimacy with God that is unheard of – almost indecent.

His every move – his every word – points toward change; encourages renewal –

and naturally, we resist such talk.

John’s gospel understands our reluctance.

John urges us to consider the results of Jesus ministry even in the early stages of the story.

As Jesus gathers with his friends (the friend he raised from death…)

as the pressure from authorities continues to mount,

as the feast of Passover draws near

a woman – Mary – offers a sacrifice so extravagant – so shocking – it defies belief.

Perfume so expensive that it could have sustained their ministry for a whole year – maybe longer!

An act so intimate –  it was almost guaranteed to offend.

But the only people who take offence

are those who might have profited from her withholding the gift.

Offence disguises greed and selfishness (for Judas kept the common purse, and stole from it)

and Jesus dismisses the indignation (then and now) and calls our attention to the gift.

Grace is his focus – gratitude, the only response.

Is this a new thing?

If God’s goodness has, until now, been a foreign concept,

then let us embrace this new way of seeing (and understanding) God.

Our call to live a new life in Christ is a call that should frighten us,

not for what we must give up but for what we will rediscover

of God’s purpose; God’s goodness through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

If grace and gratitude are new to us –

then thank God again for giving us the experience of Grace through the gospel of Christ.

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