April 5, 2019
Years ago, I wrote a short blog piece titled "Three Things we [as Christians] shouldn't say"- it was meant to be part of a series of posts on bad expressions -- things I wish people would quit saying because they are not only bad psychological advice, they are terrible theology. That blog piece dealt with the three expressions:
"Everything happens for a reason,"
"God helps those who help themselves,"
and "You can't bargain with God."
(If you want to know why I think those are terrible expressions, you can read it here.)
Given this Sunday's Gospel, I want to add a fourth:
"Everything in moderation."
I suppose that's a common expression because if you don't take it literally, it could be good advice.
Say, for example, it's being said to someone who is trying to to lose weight and is wondering if they have to give up ice cream for the rest of their life.
In other words, "Ice cream in moderation" would be okay advice if it means "go ahead and have a scoop when you're celebrating someone's birthday...but don't make three-scoops-after-dinner a daily habit."
But taken literally, "everything in moderation" doesn't make any sense at all. Heroin? Is heroin okay, as long as it's taken in moderation? How about gossip, or insulting people? Stealing is okay, if done in moderation?
Okay, maybe I'm being silly, to make a point.
So maybe the expression really means, "all good things in moderation."
That would make sense if we were talking about good things that we can sometimes get carried away with...good things we do to such excessive extremes that they end up causing more harm than good. Things like exercise, or saving money, or sharing (or not sharing!) one's opinions.
But what about kindness? Should we really be moderate in our kindness? What about goodness?
What about love?
One of the most remarkable things about Sunday's Gospel passage -- the anointing of Jesus' feet -- is how IMMODERATE the action is.
Like the love displayed by the "forgiving father" in last week's Gospel, like the water-to-wine miracle at the start of John's Gospel, and, for that matter, like the very fact of the incarnation, life, and resurrection of Jesus -- God not only approves of, but encourages over-the-top displays of love.
In fact, as I hope to explore in Sunday's sermon, when this immoderate, unsettling, loving anointing action (by Mary in the Gospel of John, by an unnamed woman in Mark, by "a woman, who was a sinner" in Luke) is criticized by those embarrassed (or shamed) by it, the actions are not only defended by Jesus, but are held up by Jesus as model discipleship.
Everything in moderation?
When it comes to love, the biblical standard is abundance.
When it comes to love, it's "everything over-the-top."
When it comes to love, ours is to be the lavish, wild, extravagant, nothing-by-haves" attitude modeled by God.
See you Sunday, John