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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      Sept. 19, 2021 | 17th Sunday after Pentecost

      Stewardship of Abundance
      John 12:1–8

       W E OFTEN SPEAK in a kind of shorthand. We verbalize part of a saying assuming the person with whom we’re talking can fill in the rest.

      Some examples:

         ■ Football fans might say “2 and 26” or “Kick 6.” If you are an Auburn or Alabama football fan, then you know what those short phrases mean. The story doesn’t have to be retold.

         ■ If someone says something mean to us, our retort might be “Sticks and stones. Sticks and stones.” That makes no sense unless you know the whole saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

         ■ You drop a quarter into your savings jar and say, “a penny saved.” Your grandchild, not knowing the saying, might tell you that was not a penny.

         ■ You have a difficult task before you. You take a deep breath and say, “I can do all things.” You are not boasting. The rest of that Bible verse is “through Christ who gives me strength.”

      † † †

      YOU GET the idea.

      Here’s one more: “You will always have the poor.” These words of Jesus, “the poor will be with you always” are the most quoted biblical text about the poor. And I would say, most misquoted. If you don’t know the whole verse, you might think:

          a) that we can never end poverty.
          b) that it is the role of Christians, not the government, to try to care for the poor (if so, that’s not working out too well).
         Or—
          c) that Jesus rather than the poor should be our concern.

      This phrase actually means the exact opposite of how it’s generally interpreted. When Mary anoints Jesus, she is chided. Mary is accused of wasting this very expensive and valuable ointment. If instead she had sold the ointment, a very big donation could have been made to support the poor.

      † † †

      IN JOHN’S VERSION of this story, Judas criticizes Mary. Judas, we’re told, regularly steals from the money jar. He uses the poor as an excuse to line his own pockets. So, when we use Jesus’ words to justify not caring about the poor, we are repeating the very sin of Judas himself, who was robbing the poor.

      If we look at Matthew’s version all of the “the disciples are angry” at the wasteful gesture. Both versions seem to assert a common way we address poverty. You earn money or come upon nice things and then use that money (or some of it) to donate to the poor.

      But, Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea of addressing poverty and he stops Judas from being able to add money to his own pockets. Jesus praises Mary for her alleged waste of the ointment. And then Jesus says this classic line: “The poor are with you always … ” For someone who’s concerned about meeting the needs of the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is justifying poverty.

      † † †

      BUT HERE’S WHAT we miss because we don’t know the whole phrase. Jesus responds to the disciples and praises of the woman with the line “the poor are with you always.” This phrase echoes — or actually quotes — Deuteronomy 15:11.

      “There will always be poor people in the land.”

      But it continues:

      “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

      Look it up sometime and read the whole chapter. It is one of the most liberating passages in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 15 explains that if people follow God’s commandments, there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the prescriptions so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty — to ensure that God’s bounty is enjoyed by all. The reason there are poor and people in need is because God’s people don’t follow what God said to do. Because of this:

      “There will never cease to be some in need on the earth.”

      † † †

      HEAR THAT AGAIN. Read it for yourself in Deuteronomy 15. Because we — God’s people — do not follow God; because we do not adhere to the stewardship of abundance, there are folks who are poor. Therefore, our duty to God is to “open our hands to the poor and needy neighbor.”

      This passage about God’s plan to ensure that no one is poor is referenced by Jesus in his line “the poor are with you always.” Although we don’t have this whole passage readily available in our minds, Jesus’ disciples did. They understood his reference to Deuteronomy 15.

      They knew that God had another program for addressing poverty. Rather than selling something valuable and donating the money to the poor, the people of God were supposed to be organizing their society to enact Jubilee, freedom from debt for all people.

      † † †

      THE PERSISTENCE OF POVERTY is not a reason to ignore the poor. It is a reason to draw near to the poor with generosity. When you know and complete Jesus’ statement with the verse in Deuteronomy: Jesus says the poor will always be with us; “therefore,” we should be even more generous.

      Jesus calls us to open our hands wide to those in need. We must rejoice in the blessings we have received from God, and, in turn, give aid to those who do not have the same material benefits as us.

      That is what Christ wants us to do.

      — Keith Cardwell   


      «Jesus calls us to open our hands wide to those in need. We must rejoice in the blessings we have received from God, and, in turn, give aid to those who do not have the same material benefits as us.»

      SCRIPTURE FOR THE DAY

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      John 12:1–8
      Holy Bible, New International Version


      Jesus anointed at Bethany
      12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

      4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

      7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


        


      Footnotes:
         a.  John 12:3  Or about 0.5 liter
         b.  John 12:5  Greek  three hundred denarii
         c.  John 12:8  See Deuteronomy 15:11.


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