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April 3 – It’s Something Already

John 12 1-8
5th Sunday in Lent

Sunday School Activities

I Dreamed of Rain – Voices United

A four year old child is in the care of his grandmother, to keep him occupied while she
takes a call, she outfits him in an over-sized shirt, sets out the paint, brushes and some old
newspapers on top of which there sits a fresh dollar store canvas. So intent and focused
is he on his creation that he doesn’t even notice when Grandma comes back into the
room. She stands there, just inside the doorway, a while watching in quiet contentment.
Finally she give a little cough so as not to startle him and not being able to make sense of
what she is seeing on the paper she asks, “what are you painting?” To which the child
replies, “Its a jungle.” With love and encouragement in her voice she says, “That sure is
going to be something when you finish.” The child forms a quizzical look on his face,
and with the all the surprised certainty that comes from someone stating the obvious he
replies, “Grandma, it’s something already!”1
It’s something already. We forget that don’t we? We live our lives seemingly always
looking forward, at what will be someday and miss what is going on right in front of us.
It is one of the greatest regret of parenthood, to look back and see how you were
constantly wishing they would move on from this or that phase and in so doing missing
what was already there. It’s a problem in Christianity as well. In more conservative
churches Christianity often gets reduced to a reward and a destination—salvation and
heaven. It’s possible to become so future focused that the grace of eveyday life is missed
completely. In more liberal churches it’s possible to be so focused on activism, on seeing
only the gap between the way things are and the way things could be, in believing that
God can only be experienced in some idealized world when the kingdom finally comes,
that similarly we miss what God is already doing, how God is already active in our lives
and our world. Both forms of Christian practice treat faith as a way to get to a
destination, an end point. I don’t think that’s how Jesus lived.
The story of Jesus is the story of a someone who pays attention to life as the arena of
God’s activity—his own life, the lives of those he encounters, in nature, in everyday
experiences, in the political and economic systems of his day. He pays attention because
he has this unshakeable belief and trust that God is there, that life is something already.
I believe that’s some of the life giving wisdom in our faith story this morning. To be fair,
Judas has a point, that is expensive stuff Mary is pouring all over Jesus’ feet, some
sources say the equivalent to a year’s wage for a labourer. But Judas also misses the
point, he is being too good, too devout to get the point, too worried about his own
salvation and righteousness, too future focused. Jesus responds with an often
misinterpreted statement; “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.” ‘Pay attention Judas, don’t you see what is happening here?’ It’s not a fatalistic
acceptance of poverty, it’s about discerning the moment and not using piety or
I first heard this story told by former United Church of Canada Moderator the Very Reverend Peter Short.
righteousness as a distraction from what God is doing tin the moment. It’s not time to
talk budgets Judas, it’s time to value the person in front of us2
. For everything there is a season.
Mary loves Jesus, she senses the impending tragedy of the road he is taking. She is
moved by both grief and love, so she anoints his feet, something you did only to dead
loved ones. She doesn’t do it with olive oil, but with the most expensive perfume she
can buy, then she wipes his feet with her hair; acts of extravagant and tender care for a
friend, a teacher, a mentor, a saviour. It is a giving of herself to Jesus. Jesus is moved as
well, he is paying attention and what he sees, what he feels is something sacred; the
movement of the Spirit in the vulnerability, compassion and love of Mary’s actions.
When we pay attention to life as the arena of God’s activity, we enter what mystics call
“the mystery of faith”. Sometimes when we think of faith, we think of a problem that
needs solving. A focus on belief gives us answers and a focus on activism gives us a plan
to implement as solutions to the problem of faith. The mystery of faith is neither of
these things. The life of faith is a mystery because it is a journey with God into our lives;
it is simply life unfolding in a relationship of trust with the God we have come to know
in Jesus. There are no certainties, just trust and companionship. It is a relationship and
like all relationships, you do not know how it is going to turn out, where it is going to
take you. It is a mystery that is not meant to be solved; rather it is a mystery that is
meant to be lived. Living the mystery of faith is about looking at our lives, our world
and looking for the Spirit’s movement. It is about staying in the moment and believing
that life is something already, God is there, God is here.
The late Will. D. Campbell is someone who embodies this for me. You likely haven’t
heard of him. The late Will Campbell was a Baptist pastor in the Southern US. He is best
known for leaving a comfortable job as chaplain at the University of Mississippi in the
sixties to join the American civil rights movement full-time. He was the only white
person who was part of the inner circle of the movement and a close confidante of
Martin Luther King Jr. That’s why it was shocking to so many when after King’s
assassination Campbell decided to dedicate himself to ministry with poor rural southern
whites, people who made up the ranks of the KKK. One writer reflecting on Campbell’s
life said this, “As any pastor knows, it’s tough to minister to folk on both sides. Tough to
minister to both the spouse who cheated and the one betrayed. Tough to visit a deathrow inmate and also pray with the victims of the crime. Tough to side with the striking
coal workers and also listen to the company’s higher-ups within the congregation. We
choose sides. It’s only natural. Yet Campbell spent time with members of the Klu Klux
Klan. He slowly realized that many Klansmen had a history of being oppressed—giving
them something in common with the black people they vilified. He reached out to Klan
members with the gospel of Christ, all the while maintaining his biblical convictions
about equality and justice for all…Many of Campbell’s friends in the movement for racial
2William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary
Lent 5,
equality were livid that he consorted with “the enemy.” Of course, Jesus got into trouble
for eating with the wrong people, too.”
Campbell would go on to say about this
decision that he had become a doctrinaire social activist, identifying with liberal
sophistication, and had lost something of the meaning of grace that does includes us all.
He would say, “…I would continue to be a social activist, but came to understand the
nature of tragedy. And one who understands the nature of tragedy can never take
For Campbell, there was a spiritual emptiness in a faith and an activism that
sought God in an idealized version of reality at the expense and vilification of others,
others who had also been victimized. What Campbell came to realize is that God is
already present, present in the muck and imperfection of life when we engage in
relationships without judgement, with genuine curiosity and with the belief that we all
have the imprint of the divine on our souls.
It’s something already this life of ours, God is here if we will but surrender to grace, if we
will but let go of fear and ego and open vulnerability, courage, awe, wonder and
beauty. It’s what living the mystery of faith is all about. Faith is not a problem to be
solved but a life to be engaged, in trust and in confidence that the Holy One is with us.
The grace is to know the world as a God infused reality, whether in a child and their
creativity, in standing up for one’s dignity or allying with those who do, in seeking to
love and understand those who’ve been driven to hate or simply fully experiencing the
lavish and extravagant care of a friend. The grace is to know that there is no secular and
, it’s all one, it’s all holy, it’s all God, it’s already something this life of ours. May
we know this grace. Amen.
Rev. Joe Gaspar