Monday, February 27, 2012

Why This Waste?

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matt. 26:1-16
February 22, 2012
Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

How do you feel about waste? Are you ever a little wasteful? Generations of Americans—especially those who lived through the Great Depression—would tell you that waste is a dirty word. Waste not, want not. Out of poverty and necessity many people have learned to let nothing go to waste. Are you one of them? Have you ever eaten food past the expiration date so as not to waste it? Do you own a large assortment of plastic food containers you just can’t bear to part with? Are there fast food ketchup packets in your fridge? Do you re-use saran wrap and aluminum foil? Have you been known to “rescue” items from the trash can that others saw fit to throw away? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you probably don’t like to waste anything (and you might benefit from some professional help). But on this Ash Wednesday I want you to learn that not all waste is bad—that waste is not always the worst thing to be accused of.

In tonight’s reading from the Passion of our Lord, St. Matthew sets the stage for the final days before Good Friday. Jesus for the fourth time predicts that He will be crucified. The chief priests begin plotting and planning in earnest as to how they can arrest Jesus and kill Him. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, goes to the chief priests and, for thirty pieces of silver, agrees to betray Jesus. That’s how the passion begins. We know the story well.

But in the midst of this well-known account, an unidentified woman showed up—a wasteful woman no less. She barged right into the place where Jesus was staying with a flask of very expensive perfume. She proceeded to pour that pricey perfume on the Savior’s head. She anointed the Savior with sweet-smelling oil. St. Matthew tells us nothing of the woman’s identity. We don’t know whether she was old or young—whether she was a woman of purity and virtue or a perhaps a prostitute. We don’t know whether she was poor, and the perfume represented everything she had, or whether she was wealthy with closets full of perfume flasks waiting for her at home.

But the one thing we can be certain of about this woman is that she was wasteful. At least, that was the verdict quickly reached by Jesus’ disciples. St. Matthew says that they were indignant—which is a nice way of saying that they got angry. And their angry question was: “Why this waste?” Why waste this precious, priceless perfume in a way that fed no hungry, clothed no poor, and housed no homeless? What could justify the spillage of this aromatic oil? When you squander something for nothing, that’s wasteful! And the woman was roundly condemned. They shamed her for her wasteful act.

On this Ash Wednesday it’s good to remember that there are wasteful acts for which we should feel shame. There are wasteful acts for which we need to repent every day. There are times when the Savior could look at our lives and with righteous indignation ask each of us, “Why this waste?” Just think of all precious things we squander. Think of the body God has given you—a body designed to serve others and glorify God. But we waste our bodies in acts of adultery and sexual immorality. We waste our bodies in shameful, destructive acts. In fact, when you drink too much, and become intoxicated, the slang term for that is “getting wasted.” To which our God rightly asks, “Why? Why this waste?”

Why do we waste God’s gift of time, living as if money and possessions are the top priority? Why don’t we instead live each day in the sober recognition that this world in its present form is passing away? And why do we waste so many opportunities for witness? Why do we waste those chances to tell the good news about Jesus—to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ? Why this waste? And—even worse—why do we waste God’s grace and forgiveness? Why do we claim the precious, priceless, blood-bought grace of God for ourselves, but then go right back to the same old sinful patterns? God’s forgiveness is never the permission to keep on sinning. But that’s exactly how we take it. That’s exactly how we waste it. Why? Why this waste? We are sinners. And being a sinner means that we are the worst of wasters. We waste in all the worst ways. We sinfully squander what God so graciously gives us. And the ashes on my forehead remind me of that—remind me of my need to repent. God, be merciful to me, a waster—a waster of all that You give.

But let’s go back to the house where Jesus was anointed by the wasteful woman. Because there we learn that not all waste is bad. For what the disciples so quickly condemned as a shameful act of waste Jesus declared to be “beautiful.” “Why do you trouble the woman?” He asked. “For she has done a beautiful thing to me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. . . . Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” What everyone else saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What everyone else saw as foolish and ridiculous, Jesus saw as a lovely, faith-filled act of devotion. So too, whatever you do for Jesus in faith is lovely and beautiful. The praises you sing, the offerings you give, the sacrifices you make, the truth that you speak—Jesus declares that everything you do for Him and for your neighbor in faith is beautiful.

How can sinners who squander God’s gifts be—at the same time—beautiful to God? It’s only because of Jesus, of course. You are beautiful to God because you have a wasteful Savior. Yes, Jesus is wasteful—wasteful in all the right ways—the best ways—wasteful as in generous, as in extravagant. That’s Jesus—generous and extravagant when it comes to love and grace and mercy and forgiveness. He gives it away for free! To sinners like us! Over and over again! It was a wasteful, generous Jesus who willingly went to the cross to bear your sins and be your Savior. Nothing could justify the bloody beatings He endured. What a waste. Nothing could justify the thorns, the nails, the blood He shed. What a waste. Nothing could justify the execution of this innocent man—nothing except His love and devotion for you—His deep desire to give you life that lasts forever and forgiveness for every sin. God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The love of the Lord is wastefully generous; but it’s not wasted on you. It gets amazing results in your life. It leads you to love others in lavish, wasteful ways, just like your Savior. And the lavish love of Jesus is served to you again tonight in the bread that is His body and in the wine that is His blood. That love has come to you in the waters of your baptism. That love is served to you again tonight in the words of this sermon, and in the cleansing cadence of Holy Absolution. That love is not wasted on you; for that love is what makes you nothing less than beautiful in the eyes of God. Amen.

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