Have you ever noticed the “virtue windows” in the sanctuary narthex, where the doors lead us out to Dakota Avenue? Their unique messages and designs have always caught my eye, including this window celebrating the virtue of prudence.
Prudence is one of those quiet, unassuming virtues that doesn’t get much attention in our modern culture, but I see this positive quality displayed in the lives of many of the folks I have come to care about at First Lutheran. When one exhibits prudence, one is behaving cautiously, wisely, and diligently—with a regard for the future.
These are the grounds on which Judas attacks Mary of Bethany in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. He observes her anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and he (like a 90’s era Dana Carvey imitating President George H.W. Bush) waggles his finger and accuses, “That’s not prudent!” He points out that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor—a bogus objection considering he was the one who regularly helped himself from the disciples’ common purse.
Jesus defended Mary’s extravagant, generous gift. In doing so, perhaps Jesus shows us there is a need to be prudent with the use of prudence. It is good and right to live one’s life wisely and diligently, with a regard for the future and a healthy dose of self-control. But there are times when God’s love may compel us to actions that are less than prudent—especially for the sake of blessing others.
The act of love given by Mary to Jesus—as she anointed his feet just before his burial—was beautiful and right, but it wasn’t prudent. So too, the love Jesus has for his own is not exactly prudent. The selfless, gracious mercy he gave to sinners would cost him his life.
With this prodigal love of God in mind, I’ll be preparing my sermon for Sunday. Join me in pondering, and I hope to see you in church this weekend.
P.S. Seminarian Adam Guthmiller will be delivering the sermon on Saturday, and I’ll be preaching on Sunday. Consider attending the Saturday service at 5 p.m., and come again to one of our services at 8, 9:30, or 11 on Sunday morning (and don’t forget we have the 11 o’clock KSFY broadcast and YouTube channel as well). Attending two services over the weekend, hmm. Wouldn’t be prudent….but could be good for the soul!
A Reflection on Mark 13:1-13 by Pastor Katherine Olson
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs…The one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:7-8, 13b)
A few days ago, actor Liam Hemsworth publicly shared this picture of his home in California, which was devastated by one of the recent wildfires. In the pile of ashes and rubble, a sign that once adorned his wall could still be read: “Love.” In a posting that accompanied the photo, Hemsworth went on to praise the firefighters, emergency workers, and volunteers who came together to help in the community’s time of crisis.
This photo reminded me that devastating things do happen in our world, but God’s love remains forever. God’s love for us cannot be defeated in any war, or be extinguished by any fire. For thousands of years, Christians have found comfort in Jesus’ words in Mark 13 as they have faced times of instability. It’s a comfort to hear of our Lord speak of such realities that plague our world and remind us that these things will not be the end of us. Instead, they are “birth pangs.” (v. 8) Out of such painful turmoil, God will deliver us into new life.
It is hard to understand why these realities exist in our world, but one clue comes to us in verse 10: “The good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” God is working in this age (marked in part by sin and suffering) to bring people of every nation to repentance and faith through Jesus Christ.
As God continues to work in the midst of this uncertain age, we commit to remaining faithful, not being led astray (v. 5-6). We meet times of anxiety and uncertainty with confidence and courage, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has been given to lead and guide us (v. 11). We commit ourselves to preaching the gospel and engaging in acts of service for the sake of our neighbor. We remember that God’s love comes to us even in the ashes, as it has come to us most especially in the cross of Christ.
See you in church,
Philip Ruge-Jones cautions preachers who tackle Mark 10:2-16 in their sermons on Sunday. “As soon as you read the word ‘divorce’ aloud, a whole sermon will appear in people’s heads. Some will hear early sermons that were launched at them or someone they loved when a divorce occurred. Pain will make it difficult to hear the words you actually speak. Others will conjure up their condemnation of others based on this single word.”
I’m a bit unnerved as I think of preaching for our community this Sunday. These words of Jesus will be tough for those whose lives have been touched by divorce and/or remarriage to hear. The Pharisees want him to speak about the law’s allowances concerning divorce, but Jesus will not play such games with them. He draws their attention back to creation, where God gives marriage to the human in order to bless them, not as a way to introduce heartache and strife.
Ultimately, the Pharisees did not raise the question of divorce with Jesus because they were concerned about husbands, wives, and children. They broached this subject with him in order that they may test him (v. 2). Therefore, it is the sin of self-righteousness that is ultimately exposed in this passage, and it will be the sin of self-righteousness that will receive the “fire and brimstone treatment” at First Lutheran this Sunday, not divorce.
If you come to this text feeling condemned and exposed, it is my hope you are reassured in the forgiveness, love, and mercy Jesus has for you after you hear the sermon. If Jesus’ condemnation of divorce causes you to feel proud and arrogant in your own ability to “keep the law,” then I hope God will use my sermon to expose your self-righteousness and your need, too, for a Savior. Married or divorced, single or widowed, we all have that—a blessed, gracious Savior—in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Katherine Olson