The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 13, 2016

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8Today’s passages invite us to embrace God’s future while honoring the past. Guided by Christ’s vision, we keep our eyes on the prize, constantly moving ahead. Faith tends towards a type of chaos, an iconoclasm that pushes beyond our institutional structures. But, innovative faith needs to be balanced by honoring tradition and discovering the order that enlivens and inspires.

Isaiah proclaims that God is about to do a new thing! The One who has delivered the children of Israel in the past will deliver them again, bringing them from captivity to freedom, from the heaviness of the past to the openness of the future. God is taking the initiative and presenting new possibilities to a people who saw no way forward.

“Behold I do a new thing” is an important message for most churches to hear. Most churches are in the wilderness and don’t see a clear pathway ahead. We struggle with budget deficits, shrinking memberships, and aging congregations, and are tempted to stop right where we are and continue as long as we can with little hope for revival. We struggle between tradition and innovation, and past and future. The church has been a tail light, to quote Martin Luther King, and God wants it to be a headlight, illuminating a new positive future for itself and the world.

Our success will not depend primarily on our programs and initiatives but our response to God’s initiative. Today’s scripture invites us to spiritual disciplines that open us to God’s provocative possibilities for the future. God calls us to be a headlight and reminds us that even small and struggling churches can be vital and missional, if they open to God’s new thing. Saving soul can save the world, and any congregation can be a world-saver.

Psalm 126 promises joy and celebration after mourning and despair. Something new is happening. Within the limitations of our histories, God is delivering us from bondage and presenting us with a lively and new future.

In the passage from Philippians, the apostle Paul challenges us to go forward in faith. Faith is not backward-looking, nor does it rest on its laurels. Paul had accomplished much in his zealous youth; he was at the top of his profession. But, then God invited him to something more – to a living relationship with a living God. Everything before his encounter with Jesus, Paul says with more a little hyperbole, is rubbish compared to where he is going. Paul is not jettisoning his past. His rhetoric cannot dismiss his youthful ardor as in Judaism. In truth, Paul would not be here, straining toward the goal, if he hadn’t been there, a zealous Jesus leader, committed to preserving the purity of his faith. His moving forward depends on his past just as our moving forward as congregations depends of the commitment of those who have gone before us.

Still, Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the prize. Healthy faith – abundant living – looks ahead, and is inspired by visions of the future, grounded in the accomplishments of the past.
The Gospel reading portrays two essential facets of love. Perhaps, the pastor might include the passage from Luke 10:38-42, also involving Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to place Mary’s act of love in a wider, more holistic perspective, describing two sides of faith, the active and contemplative, the quotidian and the ecstatic. In both passages, Martha is serving. She insures that the guests have appropriate hospitality. Although Martha tends to become too task oriented and anxious – she wants things just right – her service is essential to the evening and makes Mary’s attentiveness possible. We need people concerned with brick and mortar, and we need mystics and imaginative thinkers. They are the yin and yang of congregational life, spirituality, and our own maturity in the faith. Martha pays the bills, so Mary can love extravagantly. We need housework and romance in a relationship and consistency and mysticism in the church and our personal lives. There is a time for building the infrastructure and insuring institutional well-being for the long-haul, this is Martha’s gift, and there is a time to throw caution to the wind, Mary’s contribution.

The challenge is to find the creative synthesis of order and novelty, security and abandon, quotidian and transcendent. The whole earth reflects God’s glory and in response, even brick and mortar can be windows into divinity. Behold, God calls us to something new, and our novelty in this time and place is grounded in God’s novel inspirations throughout history.

Reprinted from