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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sermon: When Adversity Strikes

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Fifth Sunday in Lent
John 12:1-8

A young adult daughter complained to her father about her life and how things were so difficult for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed to her that as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the water in each pot came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs, and in the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil without saying a word.

The daughter, who was use to her father’s eccentricities, waited impatiently wondering what he was doing. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled out the eggs and placed them in another bowl. Then he ladled out the coffee and placed it in another bowl.

Turning to his daughter he asked her, “Honey, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted it and smelled its rich aroma. Dying of curiosity she finally asked, “What does it mean?”

He explained that each of them faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each responded differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. But after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity strikes, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a ground coffee bean?”

Our gospel reading for today takes place six days before the Passover the pressure is starting to build. In this time of adversity how do these characters respond? Which are they, when adversity strikes?

Martha is like the carrot, and goes from firm to soft. Martha is the one who, in the encounter with Jesus before Lazarus is raised from the dead, is hard and unrelenting in her faith and in her belief in Jesus. But here she has resigns herself to take the role of a servant. The adversity has weakened her.

Judas is like the egg, and goes from fragile to hard. Judas is a fragile character. He does not know exactly who he is or who Jesus is for that matter. He wants Jesus to be different than Jesus is. He likes Jesus and admires him but Judas is still not sure about him. He is trying to figure out Jesus and get on his good side so he says this perfume should be sold and the money should be given to the poor. That should be the right answer. But it is not in this case. The adversity has hardened him. Judas will do on to betray his friend.

Mary is like the ground coffee beans which change the water. Mary is the one who stands out as different in this story. She is doing something bold and brave, yet tender and caring. She is the only one, besides Jesus who knows what is going on. Mary, in an act of devotion and care, anoints Jesus’ feet, which is unusual it was the heads of kings, prophets and priests which were anointed. The adversity has changed her and she changes the situation. Mary fills the room with fragrant perfume and prepares Jesus for burial. The situation is so changed that even Jesus who is on the side of the poor, tells Judas the poor will always be with them but Jesus will not. I wonder if Jesus is reminding us that as faithful followers we will always be with the poor because that is where Jesus’ people are called to be in this new thing God is doing.

Which are you when adversity strikes in your personal life? Which are you when adversity strikes in your spiritual life? Something to ponder in these waning days of lent.

As we prepare for Holy Week, when the adversity for Jesus picks up, how do we respond when we hear of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

Are we like a carrot which goes from firm to weak? Are we hardened by our own experience of life so much that when we hear of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection we respond to Jesus with a soft “whatever” response? Like we don’t really believe it and just figure it will just be one of a long list of disappointments we have experienced.

Are we like an egg which goes from fragile to hard? Are we fragile from our own experience of life so much that when we hear of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection we respond to Jesus with a hard “so what” response? We wonder what good does that do us?

Are we like ground coffee beans which change the water? Are we changed by hearing of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection? We will never be the same.

We all have different responses to the adversity in our lives and we may have different responses to Jesus. But since our focus during lent is Jesus, let us look to Jesus and his response when adversity strikes?

Next week we will begin to walk with Jesus through the passion, but we already know what will happen. Jesus will not soften and buckle under the pressure. Jesus will not harden and refuse to listen to God. Jesus will be changed and change the reality of life and the reality of our lives. When Jesus, the son of God comes face to face with the pain of our sin, Jesus changes the reality of life. Because of Jesus we don’t have to face adversity alone, we have already been changed. We are not yet what we shall be. We have been and we are begin changed by Jesus.

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