Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday in Holy Week

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”
(John 12:1-11)

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“No good deed goes unpunished” was something I grew up hearing my Aunt Gretchen say – usually with a frightening degree of relish in her voice and usually as she was launching into a long, gossipy story involving one of her Altar Guild or Daughters of the King cronies. Thinking back, “see these Christians, how they love one another” was not exactly what got modeled for me in my early growing-up days in the church … it was more like “see these Christians, how they fight and argue over things like women priests and prayer books, over who gets to sit in which pew and sing which hymn.”

And so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “No good deed goes unpunished” comes to my mind as an appropriate sub-title of the gospel story appointed for this Monday in Holy Week – the story of the woman whose extravagant outpouring of precious perfume as a gift to Jesus earned her a tongue lashing from his disciples. The good deed – the gift she offered – was judged and rejected by those surrounding Jesus who thought she should have made a different choice.

Mark says, “They were infuriated with her.” Matthew says, “They murmured against her.” (And if I got to choose I think I’d pick the nice honest infuriation anytime over a bunch of murmuring going on!) Either way, her best offering was deemed unacceptable by the community that surrounded Jesus … there was no way they were going to let her good deed go unpunished.

And then Jesus intervened.

“Let her alone. Why do you criticize her?” he asked – and then challenged them to look beyond their “either/or” mind-sets and embrace what we like to call “both/and” thinking – that feeding the poor is always important but so is taking care of each other: that in doing what she did – offering what she offered – she gave not only a gift to Jesus but an example to us of risking to give abundantly, to love extravagantly.

What an example for us to claim on this Monday in this Holy Week. And what an antidote to the “either/or” challenges that seem to face us every time we turn around – not to mention the “no good deed unpunished” contingent who are all too ready to leap in at a moment’s notice with what we shoulda, coulda, oughta done instead …

The climate of polarization that currently grips both the American Culture and the Anglican Communion is a prime example. A case in point is the story a friend and parishioner tells of her experience being part of a day of dialogue that brought together folks from different congregations and contexts for “conversation across the divide.” They started by going around the table and naming what were, for them, Jesus’ core moral values.

“Peace” said my friend.

“Not at any price,” immediately retorted a woman across the table from her, “what about security?” – throwing down the “either/or” gauntlet … and letting her know it was going to be a long day across the divide!

The idea that we have to choose between peace and security is, I believe, a false dichotomy that puts us in “either/or” land – but it is a place where many people dwell: like the disciples either murmuring at or infuriated by those of us who have a different perspective. Bridging that divide is tough – hard, hard work – but it’s work we’re called to do. And, I’m happy to report, its work my friend hung in there and gave it her best shot for the rest of the weekend. Were any minds changed? I suspect not – but – like the woman who anointed Jesus -- she did what she could.

In the wider Anglican Communion and here at home in the Episcopal Church the either/or du jour seems to be “justice or unity.” Can we find a way to respect the dignity of every human being and fully include all of the baptized in the Body of Christ and still maintain unity? Frankly, the jury is still out – but there’s plenty of both murmuring AND infuriating going on … particularly as we countdown to Lambeth Conference this July.
And there are LOTS of good deeds not going unpunished as those working, striving, strategizing and advocating for a way forward through the hard ground of our differences run up against just how hard it is to hear the “both/and” voice over all the “either/or” shouting.

The prayer that began our worship this morning is full of “both/ands” -- joy and pain/glory and crucifixion/the way of the cross and the way of life and peace. For the “way of the cross” is by its very nature a both/and – a way we walk throughout our spiritual journey and a way we walk in a most intentional way this Holy Week.

May we be given the grace in these holy days ahead to walk with the sure and certain knowledge that the One who walked this way ahead of us walks along with us as well. And may we be given the grace to treat each other gently along the way – letting the good deeds of others go unpunished as we work to proclaim together the Good News we have been given to share. Amen.


Jim Costich said...

At the beginning of the cold war Albert Einstein said that no one can prepare for war and peace at the same time.

Peace is not just one of Jesus core moral principles, it is the way he requires us to walk if we are to follow him and attain the Kingdom of Heaven.

Security does not come from war. Whether you read the newspaper, the Old Testament, or the Mahabarata - written 2 thousand years before Abraham there is not a single story about security being achieved through war and violence. War is a choice to kill and die. Peace is the choice to support life and live. Our God is the creator of the universe, not the death of it. Our savior delivers us from death into eternal life, not into the hands of our hatred and bigotry.

Every day each of us chooses who we serve today. The God of people who will not have peace at any price is Kali. Armies of soldiers pour from her womb, and they fight themselves into her grip of death where she stuffs them into her mouth as food to fuel birthing more armies. She is an ancient Hindu nightmare that has thrived throughout history. Not the dream of Isiah, the fulfullment of the promise to Abraham, or the new covenant of eternal life.

If we are going to be Christians we have to actually try to follow Christ. The "great divide" we see before us is nothing less than the gulf separating life and death. We are on the threshing floor and the grain is being seperated from the chaf.


lilbearsings ...

I have that Einstein quote on a bumper sticker on my car.

Thanks for coming by!

edav38 said...

The story of the Little Drummer boy's Gift to the baby Jesus compared to that of Frankensesnse, Myrrh, ect from the three Wise men, seems to be a similar reference that you made here.
Either the boy's drum solo was a precious gift Or the high priced herbs (which were similar in value to Gold of those days)was the more precious gift.

We live in a world where attitudes are returning to what they were towards the end of Jesus' Crusade, where some believed you are "Either" this, "Or" that. That you are "Either" 100% compliant with CHRISTS word, "OR" you are not worthy to enter the sanctuary. "Either" you are Straight, "OR" you are gay and not worthy to supplicate.

The Pharasees lived a very "Either" "OR" existence, and due to that Jesus was arrested and cruxcified for His "Or".

Not just in the Anglican Comunion, nor in only the Episcopal Church, but in the entirety of the CHRISTian Faith, and All across America and the World, we ALL need to Fight for the "Both/And" rather than the "Either/Or."

If not, then we are going to start Yelling for "Barabas" rather than Yelling for "Jesus, the CHRIST." If we do that, then were does that put us?......I say it puts us Outside of the Trinity Godhead.

Is that Really where we want to be?