Friday 23 March 2007

'Sticky Ideas'

Sermon for Sunday 25th March 2007
RCL Year C - John 12:1-8

‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

I don’t normally give my sermons a title but today I’m making an exception:
The title I have chosen is just 3 words and one of the words is LOVE!
No I am not about to tell you all that “I love you” – You know that already!
No the title of this sermon is “It’s LOVE stupid!”

Does that phrase sound familiar?...It should do!...If you follow international news and politics at all it should ring a few bells. It is a slight adaptation of a phrase coined by James Carville, an aide to President Clinton and used by Clinton, when he was campaigning for office as President of the United States. The slogan he used was: “It’s the economy stupid” and in those few words was conveyed a very simple and powerful message: All the electorate really care about – what really gets votes is: “How much money will I have in my pocket if I vote for you”? It seems very cynical and disappointing but it probably reflects political reality….and so the phrase or rebuke: “It’s the ECONOMY stupid!” By keeping that slogan to the fore Clinton kept his electoral machine on target or “on message” as is the phrase used today and achieved electoral triumph.
And today that phrase is everywhere – it is constantly quoted in Irish, British and European Politics – It is as compact and true a summary of our political motivation as you will find anywhere.

Simple concise phrases communicate so much and are far more memorable than long and lengthy philosophies of life…….the Bible is full of them…..quite literally: The Book of Proverbs is exactly that: a collection of seminal wisdom and truth expressed in compact, memorable and poetic language. The Sermon on the Mount equally expresses profound truth in succinct and rich phrases.

Our own contemporary language is full of similar examples…….take the phrase: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”…a proverb that has truly stood the test of time and can be traced back to the year 570BC! A recent book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath called “Made to Stick – why some ideas survive and others die” comments that this same proverb needed no advertising campaign or publicity budget to facilitate its spread across time, space and culture. It was a simple but profound expression of truth which was and is naturally “sticky”. The Heath brothers point out that these compact ideas are not to be confused with the contemporary fascination with the sound bite which is an unreliable medium but are in fact best described as Cervantes described Proverbs: “Short sentences drawn from long experience”.

So back to our Gospel : ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

It may not be as compact and as succinct a message as some of the examples we have looked at but it is an expression by Jesus of something that he and his followers say again and again: “It’s Love stupid!”
Perhaps not in that exact phraseology but in the rebuke that Jesus gives Judas, he points out that what was important was Mary’s motivation: her love for Jesus and perhaps her discernment of what was about to happen to him. Because of that there is an excuse for the extravagance of her Love in anointing his feet with a pound of expensive perfume as she anticipated (whether consciously or not) the Love that Jesus was about to demonstrate on the Cross. And so it’s all about Love – and Judas just doesn’t get it! Why? Because his mind is on other things! We’re told quite explicitly he is a thief who robs from the common purse and so resents this waste of money that he could have used to his own ends…..he doesn’t get it at all – he turns his back on Love and as we know it all ends in tragedy. “It’s Love stupid” is a phrase that we might long to say to him…..because of course we don’t identify with him in that story – Do we?

No we are all Mary…pouring precious perfume over our Lord’s feet and cleaning them with our hair! We know about Love and we are on the side of Love.
We have heard Jesus’ summary of the law from Matthew 22: “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” In this simple but powerful formula we find the basis for the Christian life.
We have heard and read 1st Corinthians 13 perhaps more than any passage in the Bible apart from the birth narratives of Jesus – We know that “if we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, [We are] only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”……that if we “have not love, [we] gain nothing”
We know all that so we don’t need to be told: “It’s Love stupid!” We know!

But wait a moment! – Judas knew all this – he walked with the earthly Jesus – he knew his earthly Love and presence and yet he walked away! He was distracted by other things which got in the way of the message of Gods love for him. Going back to our earlier political analogy he had gone “off message”…..even one so close as he had lost the plot and ended in oblivion. Scripture constantly reminds us that it is those times that we are especially close to God that we are simultaneously especially vulnerable…..our guard is down and we become complacent.

We do not all drift away from God’s Love in such dramatic fashion as Judas but there are more subtle ways in which we too go “off message”.

We do it when we treat our Church as an exclusive club with rules of admission instead of a place with no locks on the doors where all are welcome…..we do it when we meet the stranger and pass instant judgement on them because of the colour of their skin, their ethnic background or their religious tradition…we do it when we are more concerned with preserving ourselves and our own sanctity than reaching out to the broken and wounded people ….we do it when we say to ourselves thank God I am not as bad as this or that person….we do it when we fail to make peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ and yet claim to love Jesus.

It's all about Love and without it everything that we do will be in vain!
Living in Christ is not about doing the right thing! Its about doing the loving thing! It's about a "sticky idea": IT'S LOVE STUPID!

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