Do you remember who your childhood heroes or heroines were? Being vertically challenged all my life I’m sure influenced mine. I was never big enough to imagine myself as Superman, but I could identify with a little flying caped rodent who came on every Saturday morning in the cartoons on TV. I don’t remember much about him, but the theme song that introduced the show said something like “Mighty Mouse is here to save the day.” Yes, like most of our superheroes Mighty Mouse used too much violence to dispatch the bad guys, but he was always on the side of what my 8 year-old self understood as justice. Life was so much simpler then. Things were either right or wrong without all the messy ambiguity that I see in so much of life as an adult.
How many of you are familiar with the term “Messiah Complex?” That’s an occupational hazard for preachers – to think that we and we alone have the Truth that will save the world. It’s a dangerous and heavy burden to carry around. I had a senior pastor advise me once when I was fresh out of seminary that I should “never lose my idealism.” That was lousy advice. Life on this side of heaven is not now nor ever has been “ideal.” A better word choice would be to never lose Hope. Idealism for me implies a kind of utopian ideal we humans can create. Hope on the other hand is an unshakeable faith in God’s power to triumph over evil.
We are living in a dark and ugly period of human history in so many ways. Our hearts break every time we see pictures of what’s happening in Ukraine. I have to turn the news off when I can no longer take the anger and helpless feeling to do anything to stop the cruelty. Where is Mighty Mouse when we need him? Or Wonder Woman?
At the beginning of the Gospels we have John the Baptist preaching hell fire and brimstone for all those who refuse to repent of their sins. He’s expecting a superhero to overthrow the hated Roman oppressors. But Jesus is not that kind of Messiah. We want a Rambo to save us and instead God sends us a Gandhi. Jesus goes to the wilderness immediately after his baptism and rejects the temptation to use worldly power. We long for a savior on a white stallion, but next week Jesus will ride into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. We expect our heroes or heroines to arrive in a stretch limo or a Batmobile, but instead Jesus appears in a beat up old Volkswagen bug.
But this 5th Sunday of Lent, before the Palm Sunday parade, the Gospel of John tells us that six days before the Passover, two days before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he came for dinner in Bethany at the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. This is just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead in John, chapter 11. So this could have been a joyous celebration of Lazarus new life, but at least some around that table know that they will be dealing with another death and resurrection the following week.
Mary understands, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume and wipes them with her hair. It is an act of love that foreshadows Jesus washing his disciples’ feet the following Thursday, but it is more than that. The word “Messiah” means “anointed one.” Mary and Martha and Lazarus know better than anyone that Jesus has the power over death itself; he is truly God’s anointed servant.
And so are you, and you and you and me. Let me say that again in a different way. When we are welcomed into the family of God at our baptism, no matter when or how that happened, we are claimed, just as Jesus was, as God’s beloved children. Baptism means we all belong to a great and mysterious God who created this vast universe billions of years before any humans ever set foot on this tiny planet. God created us, male and female, and declared us good and blessed from day one. And no matter how badly we or anyone else screw things up, our blessedness doesn’t expire.
There is nothing we can say or do, no matter how stupid or awful or sinful it may be that can ever change that. Believe me, I’ve tried. Jesus showed us that in the wonderful parable of the prodigal son where God the heavenly parent runs with open arms to welcome his wayward son back home. St. Paul says it when he says “Nothing in all creation, not power, or Putin, or principalities, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
One of my favorite descriptions of resurrection came from a sermon by Bishop Dwight Loder at our annual conference many years ago. He said, “Jesus wasn’t resurrected by the church; Jesus wasn’t resurrected for the church; Jesus was resurrected as the church.”
That’s the good news of the Gospel that we resurrection people draw strength from to be God’s servants in the world. We all have a super power that enables us to hope when things seem hopeless; to love the unlovable, even when it hurts too much; to believe in peace and justice in a world that has gone mad. That’s the kind of Messiah Complex we all need for these trying times to keep on keeping on. A friend of mine reminded me recently of that old saying, “My get up and go got up and went.” We all know that feeling. But the power of the Holy Spirit tells us that even the “old will dream dreams” and “those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength and mount up on wings like eagles.”
The Lenten journey is long. We began on Ash Wednesday being reminded that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Don’t you hate being reminded of that? A colleague in ministry told a group of us that he likes to change that up and say, “You are dust, but remember what God can do with dust!” I like that so much better and just wish I had learned that earlier in my ministry. “We are dust, but remember what God can do with dust.”
Another way to say that might be, we know the pain and suffering Jesus will face in Jerusalem, but we also know the end of the story. God wins! Love wins!
When I get discouraged about my own life or the mess the world is in I often return to the words of an old song from my past. Isn’t it funny how we can remember the lyrics to a song from 50 years ago but can’t remember if we took our meds this morning?? Anyway here’s the song from
“The Man of LaMancha.”
“To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
And to run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
And to love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march, march into Hell
For that Heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, (or woman) scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with the last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.”
[Preached at Wesley Glen retirement center, April 3, 2022]
2 thoughts on “Anointed: Messiah Complex, John 12:1-8”
Wow, Steve, This sermon is a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. Wow. Just wow. So many lines you wrote speak directly to my heart. I cannot think of a more succinct and clear way to summarize what I’ve tried to preach many times than your line: We want a Rambo to save us and instead God sends us a Gandhi. Plus numerous other thoughts and lines. With your permission, I’d like to read this to a group I lead (a book discussion group called “The Spirituality of Aging”) at Dublin Retirement Village next Tuesday. It’s going to be Holy Week and when I suggested to the group that we acknowledge Easter in some way, one of the women was aghast at “celebrating Easter” before Good Friday. Your sermon encompasses it all—and yes, we do know the end of the story! I also really love, Remember you are dust and remember what God can do with dust (paraphrasing). Awesome, or “awesomely wonderful”, meaning that your sermon fills me with awe and wonder for God!
Thank you so much for your kind words. You certainly may have my permission to use whatever you would like. Blessings on your ministry.