Sometimes our greatest strength can become our biggest weakness. Learning has always come easy for me. I have invested a lot of time, energy and money in learning as the picture of my library below testifies.
Knowledge can be helpful, but it also has it’s limits. Knowledge can actually become a weakness and actually get in the way in our spiritual lives if we start equating knowing about faith with having faith. Knowing about God is not the same as trusting in God. There is often an information / action barrier. I am not going to say a lot that is overly knew to those who have been connected to the Christian faith. But, what I have after here is what you know. Rather it is about something deeper. It is about how faith shapes the rest of your values, your perspective – how it shapes your life. I am feeling the definite limits of knowledge in trying to convey the deeper aspects of faith. And knowledge (ideas and concepts) are all I have to point you towards faith.
In addition, it can be tempting for me to over-invest in acquiring knowledge and allow my life to get out of balance. It can be easy to think that what I am good at can be my “ticket” to getting ahead in life. Spiritually, it can be tempting to place more trust in knowing things than in trusting God.
I don’t think I am alone in this. Aren’t we all tempted on some level to over-invest? And it doesn’t just have to be about learning or knowledge. I can just as easily be about any number of other things: finances, sports, the arts, social popularity and connections, the list can go on and on.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=324986951) Paul set out his Jewish credentials: circumcised on the eighth day,a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. There are impeccable credentials. They would certainly have been seen as a strength in Paul’s religious world.
By way of comparison Paul is saying: In the world of athletics he is Charles Haley and hauling out his 5 Super Bowl rings. Or in the world of business and finances Paul is saying he is Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. In the world of academics Paul is saying he is the famous Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. He is saying he is Yo-Yo Ma, Leonardo DaVinci or Adele in the world of the arts. If you want to measure social popularity and contentedness he is saying he has more than 84 million followers on Twitter like Katy Perry or 107 million likes on FaceBook like Cristiano Ronaldo.
And yet, Paul says they are rubbish compared to knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection. Paul has discovered in Jesus something far more valuable. As helpful as his credentials were in helping Paul get ahead in his world, they were nothing compared to God’s ability to work in new and unexpected ways. Paul’s credentials were nothing compared to God’s ability to take what looked like losing and turning it into winning. Or what felt like failure and turn it into success. No one but God could take death and turn it into life.
But it is not always so easy to believe that in a way that is more about trust than it is about knowing – especially when we are suffering. Or in the midst of pain. There are times when the experience of losing, failure, and death seem inescapable – at least this side of the grave.
In those times it is tempting to believe we would be better served in placing our trust somewhere else. In John 12 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=324989029) Judas watches as Mary pours a year’s salary worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wipe them with her hair. This seems outrageous to him. At the least, the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. From his perspective, Mary’s has just treated a year’s worth of wages like rubbish.
But, Mary is acting like an Old Testament prophet. Her unusual action is anointing Jesus for burial. It is an extravagant act. But it is nothing in comparison to the extravagant love Jesus will demonstrate in his suffering and death. Or Jesus’ witness to God’s extravagant ability to transform losing, failure, pain and death into winning, success, and abundant life. It is this power of the resurrection that Paul says re-orders our values, our perspective and our lives. So Judas, there is no need to worry about a little perfume. Seen from the perspective of the resurrection there was no reason to fear running out — of nard or of life — for where God is concerned, there is always more than we can ask or imagine — gifts from our lavish, lavish Lord.
God continues to show up in extravagant unexpected ways. Those who were here this last Wednesday night for our mid-week Lenten Service heard Betty Nygaard talk about the ways God has used unexpected and hard places in her life as places of God’s extravagance grace. Betty gave several examples: One of them was what a blessing it was to have worked with men who were in prison. She talked about how you might think that a prison is the last place you might expect to be touched by God. She spoke about how she started working with a prison ministry thinking that she was going to be giving something to the people in the prison. But, she discovered that she learned a great deal from them and found herself being blessed by them. Others of you can testify to the way God has blessed them through working with Caring and Sharing Hands, or helping with free school lunches in the summer, or helping out at the nursing home. Has God shown up in unexpected ways in your life?
Paul and Mary invite us to trust that God continues to show up in the places where the world might thing it is a waste – a waste of time – a waste of energy – a waste of money – places where we might be tempted to believe it is equivalent to throwing it all in the trash.The world still asks: Why pour a year’s worth of wages on Jesus’ feet?
God still answers with extravagance.