Rev. Kristin Philipson, John 12:1-8, Lent 5

So I googled “keys to successful relationships” this past week and got all kinds of insight.  People in successful relationships are affectionate and appreciative; they prize communication and commitment, quality time and shared interests; successful relationships are equitable and loyal, trusting and realistic, honest and respectful.  People in successful relationships laugh and forgive and compromise – all kinds of traits were listed except this one that I consider to be just as key: and that is noticing how your partner is changing.             In the early years of my relationship with my husband he wouldn’t wear jeans because he hated looking like everyone else, and he swore he’d never own a cellphone; he detested “the man” – in 2010 he actually went to witness the G20 protests in downtown Toronto.  But today jeans are his work uniform, and he is never without his cellphone, and the first thing he does when he wakes up is to read the Report on Business.  In fact, his favourite thing about us living in California last year was the fact that markets on the east coast were open when he woke up.  People change.  I think that’s what keeps relationships fresh and interesting – none of us is static and there is always something new to discover about our partners.

Which brings me to us.  We’ve actually been together for a long time.  I first started working here on and off in 2005 and joined the staff team permanently in 2011, and a lot about me is the same since I first started working here, but a lot about me has changed.  You’ve changed too; you’ve experienced joys and upsets, challenges and faced difficult choices.  So, I thought it would be interesting this morning to share some of our spiritual “shifts” – what’s new for us, how our insights are changing.  We say that what we’re about here at Rosedale United is learning and growing and serving and I thought it would be interesting share what that looks like for us – what we’re learning, how we’re growing, what we’re learning about service that maybe we didn’t know a decade ago.  I thought I’d start by sharing my own spiritual shifts in each of those categories and then I’ll pass the mic around so you can share too.  And in an amazing twist of fate, the gospel reading assigned to this Sunday happens to capture exactly how I’m shifting spiritually, how I’ve changed and am changing.

What am I learning that I didn’t really know when I first started working here?  I’m learning that God is in what brings us joy.

I was planning ahead for some of our Sunday services when the thought occurred to me: this could be fun!  Ideas were flowing, images came to me; I started to get excited about the possibilities and opportunities and then the Voice weighed in: “work is not supposed to be fun; that’s why it’s called ‘work!’  If you’re having fun it’s because you’re not working hard enough.  You must be letting yourself off the hook, taking the easy way out.  Fun doesn’t get you anywhere in life.”

Now I know this voice well and she is a real task master.  She likes to reference famous sayings: “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  No pain, no gain.  If you want to fly with the eagles, you’ve got to get up with the birds.”  And I’m grateful this Voice is a part of me; she got me to focus back in university and through pages of to-do’s and she’s getting me through my doctoral work right now.  But what I am learning is that this Voice is not the voice of the Spirit and this is a change for me.  I told a friend that I had all these ideas for our church that I was excited about, that sounded fun to me, but that this Voice kept telling me I must be trying to get out of working.  And you know what she said?  Tell that Voice thank you for your opinion but kindly stuff it.  Did you ever consider that the fun and exciting ideas might be coming from the Spirit, she said.  What if pursuing joy is pursuing God?

One of my learnings over the past while is that God’s Spirit and our spiritual practices are here to nourish us and fill us.  What if God is like Mary in our reading?  What if God wants us to feel good?  How good Jesus must have felt, having his feet rubbed with oil, after standing all day.  How soothing that oil must have felt; how refreshing the pressure of soft hands on a rough heel and achiles tendon.  Feeling good doesn’t mean not working hard and being disciplined, but I think it does mean actively pursuing those things that fill us with joy.  The Spirit is in what brings us joy – a deep contentment and sense of rightness and peace.  So, when I start bubbling up, when the ideas come quick, when I’m energized, when I’m actually content and full of joy I’m realizing now that I’m in the realm of the Spirit.  This is what I’m learning the Spirit is about – what replenishes us and renews us and revives us and makes us excited about the possibilities in a day.  That’s what I’m learning…and what about you?  What are you learning?  What spiritual shifts are taking place?

How are we growing?  One of the biggest ways I’m growing spiritually is by saying “why not?” instead of “why?”

One of the virtues I see in Jesus in this reading from our gospel is that he is able to say, “yes” to Mary.  When she approaches him with the perfume he doesn’t say “now hang on a second,” or “how much did this cost,” or “why;” he just receives Mary’s gift.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair and Jesus let her do it and the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  Jesus could have said, “why, Mary?” but instead he said, “why not?”  One of the ways I’ve been challenged to grow spiritually is to start to say “why not?”

“Let’s play cards, mom” my youngest will say and it’s always just when I’ve sat down with nice cup of tea ready for a moment to myself.  “Why now?” I think, just when I’m relaxing.  A friend from university who I haven’t seen in years gets in touch, “Let’s go for coffee,” she says, “or out for a drink.”  “Really?” I think, “why?” when we’re both so busy.  My husband says this: “How about we both get up early on Saturday morning and take our daughter, Emma, to her swim practice together…the boys will still be asleep so we don’t have to worry about them and we could just sit on the bleachers and talk – it could be like a date,” he says.  “A date at 6 in the morning?” I think, “why?  Why doesn’t one of us sleep in?”  Different people standing in front of me with their fragrant perfume – a gift, from them to me, and all I really need to do is receive it – a game of cards, a cup of coffee, time spent together.  How often does it happen that I greet peoples’ gifts with a “why?” rather than a “why not?”  So, I’ve been trying to say “why not?’ when my natural instinct would be to say “why?” and it’s helped me grow and bloom in all kinds of ways – in joy, in love, in health, in happiness.  I’m finding that good things come to me when I embrace simply embrace other people’ offerings…when I say “why not?”  And that’s new for me; that’s a change.  How about you?  How are you growing spiritually?

How should we serve?  What if we saw service, not as a burden, but as adding beauty to the world?

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.  Mary’s way of serving in the world is extravagant and over-the-top and intimate and it costs her.  Her service has a price.  Ahead of the Annual General Meeting I sent an email, “I don’t think we should have soup,” I wrote, “let’s just keep it simple – let’s save the clean-up crew from washing bowls and we’ve got some catered sandwiches and we can use paper plates – let’s not go to all that trouble.”  I saw the service our volunteers were offering as a hardship and burn out as too high a price to pay.

“I wanted to do something special for Karen’s last day,” Michele Scholes wrote to me about prepping the soup.  “I suggest we use the china bowls and plates,” said Anne Richards-Bentley.  The basement looked beautiful on AGM Sunday – tables laid with china and food spread out on platters and the whole room was filled with the fragrance of hot soup.  It was extravagant – over the top – mounds of dishes were left.  But we had all been anointed and our gathering had dignity and we all felt loved.

We don’t get Mary’s perspective in this story.  We can’t ask her why she gave and what she got out of it, but I wonder if she wasn’t compelled by a desire to make the world beautiful.  I wasn’t there but I know a group of people met at the church this past week to make plans for our gardens and to talk about fundraising by selling flowers and that there was to be talk of using their skills to help pretty up the landscaping around Habitat for Humanity’s Toronto offices.  Service that comes from a desire to add beauty to the world, to make life beautiful for someone else, is service that fills us even as it asks of us; thinking of service as adding beauty to life changes the practice of serving from burden to blessing.  Seeing service as any way to make life beautiful – that’s a shift for me.  What about you?  How do you feel that we’re called to serve now?