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Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The Reverend Christopher W. Hogin
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 26; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
April 7, 2019
There’s an old song recorded in 1973, by the band Faces
. (Rod Stewart was once a member.) The song is called Oo La La
. It’s about a grandfather giving advice to his grandson regarding relationships. He recalls a time as a young man when he fell in love with a woman, a French Can Can dancer. It’s unclear what happened, but the lyrics indicate he was rejected. Even in old age he remains bitter while offering his grandson cynical advice. The refrain of the song goes as follows: I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger.
Or put another way, I wish I knew then what I know now.
Is there anything in the past you would change? Think about it. Have you ever wanted to go back in time and visit your younger self and offer advice? What would it be? Would you tell them to marry the same person, work harder in school, or choose a different career path? What would your relationships look like with the benefit of hindsight? The list could go on and on. The presumption is that if certain past choices were made differently then perhaps our present would somehow be better, more comfortable, or more fulfilling.
Maybe that’s true and maybe not. We will never know. What we do know—at least for now anyway—is that traveling back in time is impossible. It’s not even a theory. The only form of time travel theoretically possible is future time travel. It’s true. Albert Einstein developed this idea in the early 20th
century with his theory of Special Relativity. The example given by NASA goes something like this: Imagine a person is 15 years old. He leaves Earth on a super-fast spaceship traveling the speed of light for five years. Upon his return he is now age 20, but all his peers are not 65 years old. This is because time passes slowly during speed of light travel than for those on Earth. Everyone else aged 50 years, while he aged only 5 years.
A mind bender isn’t it? The point is that this kind of science is future oriented. Scripture is also future oriented. All of our readings this morning point in a forward moving direction. The prophet Isaiah proclaims: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 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.
The Psalmist calls upon us for future hopes: Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev. Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
Paul writes to the Philippians: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Even Jesus, in John’s Gospel, gives us a forward looking perspective as Mary anoints him with oil in preparation for his future death on the cross.
The message is clear: we must not be imprisoned by our past. If we are imprisoned by our past we cannot see what God is doing right now. We cannot see how God is making a new pathway in the wilderness and rivers in the deserts of our soul.
Each person in this room has a job to do. We all have a purpose. That’s true for the person sitting in front of you, and the one behind you. We are all connected. We are all called to participate in fulfilling God’s vision of bridging the Kingdom of heaven with Earth. But in order to do that we must look beyond ourselves. Obsessing over the past, and our so-called mistakes and bad decisions, can lead us down self-absorbed rabbit holes. Going down those rabbit holes can blind us to what God is doing now—not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others. When we let go of the past, we open ourselves up to future possibilities of growth and renewal. This can happen regardless of age, or what has happened in our past.
In my brief experience as a priest, I’ve noticed that those who are spiritually healthy are the ones who look upon past mistakes as instructive moments—points in their lives that taught them valuable lessons. The past is viewed with a sense of fondness or nostalgia, but they don’t obsess over it, or believe that their lives would somehow be better now had they made different decisions. Instead they move forward. They look ahead to growing further in life, regardless of age. (I’ve noticed these characteristics in people in their 90’s.) A favorite quotation of mind comes from Thomas Friedman. I’ve used this in a sermon before, but nonetheless, it’s worth repeating. He writes: “when your memories outweigh your dreams, then the end is near.”
As we prepare for Holy Week, may we lay our regrets before God. May we recognize that our past helped us grown into who we are today. May we heed Isaiah’s call; absorb the hope embodied in Psalm 26; learn from Paul’s advice, and follow Jesus just as Mary did as she anointed him with oil. All of it points to the future, to the hope of a brighter and better existence.
God is not finished with us. God continues pursuing us. God continues working within us so that we may develop into the beings we were always meant to be: a people who can receive, experience, and give grace-filled love so that all of us, no matter who we are, and despite our past, may be reconciled with God and one another in the future that lies ahead.