The Unexpected God


John 12:1-8

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

How many of you like to go shopping?

Of course with having two teenagers in the house I have spent my fair share of time in a mall over the course of the years. If you have been in a mall at any time, I am sure that you are familiar with some of the smells that you encounter. The smells that come wafting out of the food court are enough to tempt you into possibly eating when you aren’t even hungry. Almost every mall has a pretzel place and the smells that come from there can make your taste buds water. The smells coming from the cinnamon rolls will make you gain a couple of pounds instantly!

The smell that truly shocks the senses is when you wander into any of the department stores and get immediately pelted by the smells of the cosmetic and fragrance counters. Sometimes so overwhelming that you have to hold your breath just to get through that area of the store, hoping that you can hold your breath long enough without passing out!

It would be my estimation that if we were to walk in on Jesus having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in our gospel lesson this morning we would have sensed that we had just encountered the fragrance counter in a department store. An entire pound of perfume Mary had purchased, to anoint Jesus’ feet, and to be used at his burial. There was enough on his feet for her to wipe them with her hair!

What are we to make of this story? The breaking of bread among friends with an anointing that not only points towards Jesus’ death; it also points toward his action of washing the disciples feet during the Passover. Is it the fear of scarcity that takes center stage in this gospel lesson, or is it a story of God’s abundant love poured out for all of creation?

This Lenten season we have walked together as a congregation being reminded weekly of our call to turn back to our baptism on a daily basis. Repenting of those things that we have done wrong and those things that we have failed to do allows us to deepen our relationship with a loving, grace-filled God.

We entered this Lenten season with Jesus. Being tempted in the wilderness. As we have entered our own wilderness this Lent, we are reminded of the many temptations that come in front of us on a daily basis. The temptations to turn away from God and place something else in higher priority. I invited you to welcome in disruptions and listen to where God may be calling you in that time and place. We have thought about what we were going to say “yes” to this Lent, and what we were going to say “no” to. Perhaps you have done well following your Lenten discipline, however, I will have to admit that I have been tempted once or twice and may have possibly slipped a little.

Our journey through the past five weeks have been full of temptations whether we have noticed them or not. We may have succumbed to them and not even realized it. God has continued to work throughout the world in the past five weeks as well! God has shown up in places that may not have been expected and has brought hope and peace to those that are hurting and in need of healing. God does this by being with first responders and caring hands that reach out in love and support. Perhaps maybe God will even show up in the mess of a political system in our country that is currently being dominated by hate and fear.

God has shown the unexpected in our gospel lessons these past weeks also. God has been in the unexpected image of Jesus as mother hen gathering in all of the little children. God has been in the unexpected role of the gardener telling us to “just relax and let me tend to and nurture this thing (whatever it may be) that is so close to you and It will bear fruit as it is fed.” God is unexpectedly seen in the father of the prodigal son that comes home after spending all of his inheritance on wasteful living.

Again we find God in the most unexpected places this morning. For Mary to use such costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet was unheard of. For her as a woman to be anointing is unheard of. She breaks all barriers when she takes it upon herself to wash and anoint Jesus in the midst of dinner. It was leaders and kings that did the anointing, look at Saul and how he anointed David. God shows up in the most unexpected places, breaking barrier to reveal the unexpected.

The objections raised by Judas even come as unexpected as we know the rest of the story and know what lays beyond Jesus’ death. Luke even inserts his own knowledge of Judas’ greed and sinfulness in this story to set up what is about to happen in the betrayal. Here we even experience the unexpected. A sudden plot twist that we may not have seen coming if we did not know the rest of the story. As we have got to know Jesus, we may not be surprised to find that he defends Mary, but to tell us that we will always have the poor with us, that is possibly unexpected. If we will always have the poor with us, how do we live into that together as a community? Stanley Hauerwas suggests that, “The poor we always have with us in Jesus. It is the poor that all extravagance is to be given.” By doing so we shower Jesus with the love that has been given to us from the beginning of creation and reminded of in the waters of baptism.

This next couple of weeks is going to go by at a fast rate as we prepare for Palm/Passion Sunday next weekend as we enter into Holy Week. We will come to the basin to have a feet washed on Maundy Thursday and gather around the table to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday will provide us with a chance to be with Christ and examine what the crucifixion means to us. The Saturday Easter Vigil will allow us to experience that which was unexpected to the disciples.

God is up to something new! God is showing up in the unexpected! May the fragrance of God’s love wash over us in our preparations for the next two weeks and surprise us with the unexpected.


By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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