Transformation: Abundance of Love Kitchissippi United Church
March 23,2016 The Rev Dr. George Hermanson
It is always good to be here. In checking my past sermons I discovered that I had preached here on the texts for this Sunday. In case you remember that sermon I had to write a new one.
Jenni told me that your theme for Lent has been transformation, where you have been invited to figure out what you use your hearts for, how you love, and that gave me the hook for this morning..As well, she said you were using a friend’s Fat Soul manifesto. “We believe that instead of shrinking back in despair or approaching the world with raised hackles, we need to widen out in love, compassion, inclusivity, and full-bodied joy.” Farmer says: “ We believe that small is big: small choices, tiny creatures, minuscule gestures of love make a huge impact in our interconnected world.” If you carry away anything this is the heart of transformation. However, let us move to the texts for this morning.
We see hints of transformation in Judaism as found in Isaiah 43:16-21
18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
What an image of transformation and abundance counter to the context because Isaiah is writing to a people who have lost their location and are in captivity. I can hear this in another of the images Farmer gives: “We know that to become fat souls, we need to say no to things that impoverish not only our own souls, but the souls of others on this planet.”
Transformation is happening in every nano second. What it takes are ears and eyes to see this embedded in our daily life, despite those things that wear us down. We hear images that call us to be those who point to new life springing forth. This may seem wildly counter-cultural, but it just might relieve some of the angst of these troubled times.
Isaiah has set us up for this passage in John. It many ways it is a puzzling passage because Mary brings the perfume that is used for burial to this dinner. She is using it when Jesus is still alive. It is for this moment. It is reckless love to be present to what each moment requires. It is an act of intimacy, of excess. It is an act that transforms. She takes down her hair and with her tears washes Jesus feet. We have echoes of that in folk songs about taking down your hair, so we know the narrative is a challenge to some preconceived notion of intimacy. Think of the perfume that she gets covered with, a fragrance that will remain with her, the memory to carry her when faced with the events yet to happen.
John adds to this story by giving the woman a name. This means she is part of the group, has a place within the group. Mary claims a place within the community by her shameless act. She is a fat soul for she claims the power of love and kindness. She is not limited by the mores of her culture for she sees herself as an expansive person, not to fit in with preconceived categories. She becomes for us a guide to our own transformation. Mary’s action is an affirmation of abundance of unlimited love that can motivate us now and we can share with others.
Then comes the response.
As a good story teller John brings in Judas. Judas is the great let us change the subject. The great diversionary technique. Something radical and transformational is happening and someone steps in to divert us.
Diversions always appeal to some good, some value we have. Judas accepts that reality of scarcity — if you give to one thing you exclude another thing. It is a preoccupation with scarcity. Of course in one sense he is correct — think of the poor that could have been fed. The problem: he diverts us with his appeal to our humanitarian side.
Jesus is a realist in his response about the poor always being with us. It is not a justification for maintaining a society where poverty is accepted. It is not an either/or situation, but one of paying attention to the issue before us. Of course the reality of poverty was there, and is still here. That does not justify it, it only reminds us that our vocation includes creating a society that will make poverty history.
The story is about mercy. The narrative opposes the nightmare of scarcity, questioning the empire’s anxiety which is based on a preoccupation with scarcity. Jesus’ response is one of mercy, for Mary and by extension to all of creation. Mercy to the oppressed. 4
The claim of mercy must be have been a stunner to those who view the world out of a scarcity model, so soft, so human, so risky. It is a challenge to all who have penultimate power because ultimate power is mercy. Judas represents the interests of idea of scarcity of love, and catches us with his appeal to the poor.
Annie Dillard said this about the abundance of love: “spent it all, shoot it, play it, lose it right away. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place … give it, give it all, give it now.” ( Christian Century March 2)
We live in abundance, the unlimited, uncontrolling love of God. The life of faith requires irony, whimsy and shrewdness. We learn that task by opening ourselves to the power of transformation, the life of resurrection. It is to listen to the subversive wonder of God’s unlimited love as real power.
As Farmer puts it: “Together we stretch our imaginations and talents toward increasing the amount of kindness in the world. We embrace the full catastrophe of life and know that it can be transformed. In a nutshell, we are a network of networks of networks of people around the world who seek to live with compassion and creativity, open-heartedness and open-mindedness. We are Fat Soul.”