Risking Rejection: the Sin of Cynicism - Message from March 14, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Scripture: Mark 14:3-9

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Message: Risking Rejection: the Sin of Cynicism


Listen to podcast | Tithes and Offerings

Transcript

I know you are aware of Jesus’ last supper. It’s the time when after the Passover meal, Jesus gathered with his disciples and gave them bread, saying this is my body, broken for you, and gave them the cup, saying this is my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, for the opportunity for new life. As often as you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, do it in remembrance of me. The last supper is the act of Jesus on which we base our ritual of communion. And as United Methodists we believe that our re-enactment of the last supper as we partake of communion is a means of grace, making God present to us in a very special and real way.


So you are familiar with the last supper. But have you heard of the first dinner? Today’s scripture takes us back to a moment during the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Matthew, Mark and John all have a description of this first dinner, and each gives us slightly different details. Though we typically refer to this first dinner as taking place during Holy Week, John’s gospel suggests these events may have stretched over something more like ten days.


In the story, Jesus has come to the Jerusalem area for the Passover, and the scripture tells us he is in the village of Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. John’s gospel has this detail slightly different, and names the location of the first dinner as the home of Mary and Martha. In any case, a dinner is being offered with Jesus as the honored guest. The disciples are gathered. They are having a party. And then, in walks this woman. She’s uninvited. Can you picture the scene? It’s a dinner honoring the one this group has come to understand to be the messiah, there is relationship among these persons that has been formed in the trenches of walking with Jesus and carrying Jesus’ message. We can imagine it feels cozy, intimate, those present feel special. Jesus, we know, is carrying the stress and concern of what is to come. But the disciples seem to continue to deny the gravity of the moment.


So when the woman walks in, and opens a jar of very costly and fragrant oil, we can just feel the mood in the room starting to turn. She anoints Jesus with this ointment called nard, and then, the scripture tells us that the disciples become angry. “Wait a minute!” They say. “This oil was worth 300 denarii! This money could have been used to give to the poor!” 300 denarii was a lot. It was worth about a year’s wages. But Jesus responds, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”


That’s an interesting response from Jesus. When I first came to this scripture in preparation for a sermon, I was 27, pastoring my first church in Lawrence, Kansas. The ecumenical association of pastors in Lawrence had a tradition of offering a joint midday service every day during Holy Week at one of the big downtown churches. About a month before Lent that year I learned that part of this tradition was that any pastor new to town was assigned to preach at one of these weekday services. It was a very particular form of clergy hazing! The scripture for the day I was assigned, Monday in Holy Week, was this scripture.


Jesus’ response of “you will always have the poor, but you will not always have me” didn’t sit right with me. It just didn’t sound completely like Jesus. And I’d heard that phrase of “you will always have the poor” thrown as about a Biblically based reason not to provide services and housing for the unhoused, or feeding ministries, or programs that offered training and education to pull people out of poverty. There’s got to be more to what Jesus is saying here, I thought.


And so I went back to the original Greek. My Greek was fresher in those days. And what I discovered was within the original language of the New Testament, Jesus’ statement is better rendered, “As long as there is greed, you will always have poverty.” This is much more consistent with the moral code within Judaism at the time. In first century Palestine, there was a deep concern for the poor among Jews, and the prevailing belief was that there was no such thing as an honest rich person. What was true then is also true now: sharing and generosity are necessary for the well-being of all.


These new details start to expose a different scene and a deeper understanding of Jesus’ intent. And when you look at this along with the line in scripture that tells us that it was Judas who was most outraged, not because he wanted the money for the poor but because he planned to steal it, a very different picture emerges. Jesus is saying, “Your greed and your lack of willingness to share resources is something you need to deal with now and in the months and years to come.”


This is an important message for us: that poverty is a function of greed and inequity and that there IS enough if we share. But there is something more here, even. When you hear Judas and the disciples saying, “This money should have been donated to the poor!” what do you hear? And when you hear voices today misquote this passage, shrugging their shoulders and saying, “As scripture says, ‘The poor will always be with us’” while at the same time spending resources in wasteful or self-serving ways, what do you hear underneath that shrug and those words? I submit to you this morning that it is cynicism we hear and cynicism is a sin.


If you know me, you know I don’t use the word “sin” lightly. I prefer to describe a state of brokenness, or separation between ourselves and God when the concept of sin comes up. But I use it here intentionally, and I’m not referring to the ancient cynicism of Greek philosophy. Cynicism as I’m referring to here is modern cynicism, or some might say it’s actually post-modern stemming from the mid twentieth century. This kind of cynicism is based in the belief that people are motivated purely for self-interest. It is devoid of hope. And it is antithetical to faith. Now I want to draw a distinction here—cynicism is not skepticism. Skepticism can be useful in the sense that it can spur us to ask necessary questions to hone in on truth and reality, though I do think a more positive way to think about this is as “culture of curiosity.” Cynicism, on the other hand, communicates derision about the gift of life, and exhibits a supercilious attitude in which not only do others not know and understand the world as well as we do, they never will.


In progressive circles, sometimes there is a belief that cynicism and sophistication are the same thing. But cynicism has nothing to do with wisdom or maturity. It cuts us off from the undeserved gifts and surprises of life, such as what was exhibited when a woman showed up out of nowhere, anointing Jesus with tremendous devotion and extravagant generosity. Can you imagine the scene if Judas and the disciples had chosen to view what happened with the lens of wonder, hope and faith rather than cynicism?


Now, I don’t mean in any way to suggest that I’m above cynicism. In thinking back to that time when I was 27, a new pastor, excited about finding something new that the text might have to reveal if I looked hard enough, I see a different person. I see a person full of hope and joy. I see a person who was young, who had not weathered the disappointments or sadnesses that are a part of life. Take a minute to think about your own life. Are there ways you have become more cynical over time? Cynicism doesn’t come from nowhere. As we experience life, we all must take care not to let it creep in. It steals our joy. It keeps us from experiencing the living Christ right in our midst.


Pushing back against the cynicism that’s around us takes risk. We risk being seen as naïve, or being called Pollyannas, or uninformed. But this is the risk the woman took. She risked the rejection of the group whose party she entered uninvited. She risked being belittled or questioned. In fact, she WAS questioned and belittled. But in rejecting cynicism, she preserved her humanity, and in so doing she preserved the part of herself that was like Jesus.

I think this is what Jesus is trying to teach us here. As we’ve gone through Lent this year with a deep focus on Jesus’ passion, I’ve seen something I’ve never seen before in the scriptures. In every moment of this holiest of weeks, we are presented with scenes that emphasize the full humanity and the full divinity of Jesus. He’s not just preparing us for his death, he’s preparing us for his resurrection. He’s preparing us to see that he can die the most painful of deaths just like any human. But he’s also preparing us to see that he can rise above death, being present with us in news ways and in true divinity.


The word “Christ” or Christos in Greek means “anointed one.” In a word, it ties together the person of Jesus the human with his divine vocation as the messiah. In the Bible, an anointing that was tied to divinity would use the word “christos” and typically be an anointing of the head. But there were other kinds of anointings in Jesus’ time. Different words were used to signify what kind of anointing was happening or what it meant, but in our English, all of this is translated into just one word: anointing and so these differences get lost.

In our scripture for today, the word for anointing is not christos but rather myrizo, which signified an anointing of a physical body for burial. This word and this act was what was done at the time for any body, not just a divine being as Jesus was. What we are supposed to be focusing on here is not Jesus the Christ, but Jesus the human, the flesh and blood body that in its earthly state has value beyond our imaginings. This is what the symbol of the 300 denarii means. That this BODY, this human being, is a gift of immeasurable price. This is the gift of our God, who came to us as fully human and fully divine.


We proclaim this mystery of faith every time we participate in the sacrament of communion. Christ is fully human and fully divine. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We also tell the story of the last supper when Jesus said, “eat of this bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of me.” And as we do so, we know that God in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes present to us in special and mystical ways, fully present with us as one of us and as God, as present to us at that table, OUR table, as he was with those who gathered around the table at the first dinner.


Jesus has also instructed us to the tell the story of the first dinner, and the story of this woman. He says, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” May we today tell her story, and may we take the risk of rejecting cynicism for the sake of our joy, our humanity, and our lives. This is the gift of our fully divine Jesus, who showed us how to live out of the fullness of our humanity. Live in hope, and live in faith. Amen.


***



Order of Service (Bulletin) - March 14, 2021

ENTERING THE STORY

Gathering Music: “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Chris Poston

Entering the Story - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Annette Cayot

Prayer of Confession - Mary Cavagnaro

Assurance of Pardon - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Opening Hymn: "When Mary Poured Her Rich Perfume” (Tune: UMH #278) - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno


GETTING PERSPECTIVE

Listening for the Story: Mark 14: 3-9 - Susan Jardin

Anthem: “Orphan Girl" by Gillian Welsh - Erin Adachi-Kriege & Judy Kriege

Dwelling in the Story: "Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet" - Paloma Campi

Message: “Risking Rejection" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking


ZOOMING IN

Hymn of Response: "Servant Song" The Faith We Sing #2222 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

Call for Prayer -Orion Lacey

Special Music: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" UM Hymnal #349 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

The Prayer Jesus Taught (Lord's Prayer) - Jeff Bruno

Offerings and Opportunities - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Offertory Music: “No Not One" - Charles Lynch


ENTERING THE WORLD'S STORY

Prayer of Dedication - Janene Kuan

Closing Hymn: “Stand By Me" UM Hymnal #512 - Judy Kriege

Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Postlude: “Fantasy in G Minor" comp. Bach - Rev. Jerry Asheim


​SPECIAL THANKS TO:

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Erin Adachi-Kriege, Cathryn Bruno, Jeff Bruno, Paloma Campi, Mary Cavagnaro, Annette Cayot, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Janene Kuan, Orion Lacey, Charles Lynch,

Chris Poston

Video producer: Tai Jokela

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt

Credits

Liturgy and Design © 2019 worshipdesignstudio.com, adapted by permission.

Prayer of Dedication © 2021 enfleshed

Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.

Art in "Entering the Story"

  • Unidentified. Mary of Bethany and Jesus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54694 [retrieved March 11, 2021]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/5096168563/.

  • Anonymous (German school, 16th century). Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56136 [retrieved March 12, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_School,_16th_Century_-_Mary_Magdalene_anointing_the_feet_of_Christ.jpg.

  • "Anointed" ©2018 Lauren Wright Pittman. Used with permission.

​Art in "Dwelling in the Story"

  • Anonymous (German school, 16th century). Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56136 [retrieved March 12, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_School,_16th_Century_-_Mary_Magdalene_anointing_the_feet_of_Christ.jpg.

Images in Prayers of the People "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" submitted by members and friends of Epworth: Jerry A, Jerry F, Laura J, Sarah S, ​Cathy T, Whitney W.

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