Scripture: John 12, Isaiah 43, Philippians 3
Are you an “Early Adopter?” It’s a term that describes someone who is one of the first to buy and try
some new piece of technology. Early Adopters are the first customers. They are always eager and
willing to try new things, especially new gadgets.
On a bell-curve of who buys a new tech gadget, first there are the Innovators, the people who create
and market the items. Then come the Early Adopters, the first people in town to own one. If you have a
“Smart speaker” like an Amazon Alexa that controls your home’s lights and thermostat, you may be
one! After them comes the Early Majority, as the item becomes more common. I think electric cars are
getting to this stage, at least in Toronto. The Late Majority only join the trend once it is very well
established, the prices have dropped, and cheap knock-offs are everywhere. I got my first smart-phone
less than two years ago, which put me in this category. And someone who still doesn’t have a cellphone
is considered a Laggard in this view of consumers. (Although others might say they are the ones
who are able to resist chasing the ever-changing fads of the day.)
In our modern, scientific world, some people criticize the idea of Religion and its faithful followers by
calling us archaic, too focused on tradition, set in our ways. They think our views and opinions are
immovable, frozen by dogma. We are too conservative for the trends and changes in our world.
This criticism is so common that it has spawned jokes. Like calling a group of Christians the “Frozen
Or Light-bulb jokes, like:
How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They always use candles.
Ten. One to call the electrician, and nine to say how much they liked the old one better.
In such criticism, Religion is considered bad because it gets in the way of progress. It is filled with
Laggards at best, and harmfully backward people at worst.
But: what if God is an Innovator? What if God is at the opposite end of that trend-adoption bell-curve?
What if God starts a new thing?
Does that sound crazy? God doing something new is a theme that shows up in all of today’s readings.
In today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah, God comes right out and announces, ‘Pay attention! I’m
doing something new!’ Then God describes the new thing he is doing, to rescue his people.
“Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot
and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a
wick: 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.”
God begins by reminding them about the past. ‘Hey, remember that stuff I did in the past? You know,
parting the waters of the Red Sea, giving your ancestors a dry path through the water, snuffing out the
attacking chariots of your oppressors, remember all that?’
These reminders of God’s amazing actions of past deliverance happen a lot in the Bible. They are
touchstones of faith, urging us to trust today because of how God acted in the past.
But this time God tells them not to focus on the past, but to be watching in the present. Because
something amazing and new is about to happen. The people God spoke to, the people to whom Isaiah
wrote, were not blocked by a sea but by a large wasteland of wilderness. God’s people had been
conquered, and forced from their ancestral lands.
But God was already at work, preparing a way through the arid desert and wilderness. Be watching, the
new thing has already begun. God is at work, doing things they could hardly even imagine, to rescue
and deliver his people. A great, new thing was happening.
In our New Testament reading, Paul describes his move from the old ways of following God to the new
life that comes through Jesus.
Privilege has become a common word in our culture today, as we begin to realize, especially white
males like myself, how much easier our life is and has been because we won the lottery of being born
on the right side of history and society. Likewise, Paul lists all the Privilege he enjoyed, all the things
that seemed right and good about his old life. He was born into the right family, went to the right
schools, did all the right things and had lots of success early in his career.
But now he has come to understand that Jesus Christ has turned everything upside-down. Paul
considers all the old benefits and successes worthless, maybe even counter-productive. As good as they
seemed, he has turned away from them to be better able to pursue Christ in the exciting new life.
Jesus has done something amazing and new, and it broke all of Paul’s categories, flipped his world. The
stuff that mattered before doesn’t work now that he sees God’s new thing in Jesus. So, Paul concludes,
“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.” Paul is leaving his old ways behind, and pursuing
this new thing, this new call of Jesus.
So what exactly is this new thing God is up to? It’s Jesus and his life. It’s God with us, God among us.
It’s Jesus Christ and his death. Salvation through sacrifice. Life through death. Jesus and his
resurrection, bringing the new life. The true life, of freedom and restored relationships.
This new thing is marked, inaugurated, almost christened, through an extravagant gesture in our Gospel
reading. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus with a large amount of
expensive perfume, and wiped off the excess with her hair.
It’s a shocking and extravagant act. Another one. Remember last week, Graham talked about the
parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son, and how finding each of the lost items was
celebrated with a seemingly wasteful extravagance.
In this reading we have another case of extravagance. Jesus is in the final week of his life, just days
before his arrest and crucifixion. The moment of climax is swiftly approaching in God’s great and
scandalous new thing, of dying to bring new life. And it is commemorated in this special way, with
costly perfume poured out on Jesus’ feet and wiped up with a woman’s hair, uncovered and unbound,
hanging loose. This gesture is not just extravagant, but affectionate, even intimate.
Judas is shocked and scandalized, and reverts to the old ways of thinking. Charity and responsibility are
always the answer, it seems. He complains that the perfume should have been sold for 300 denarii and
the proceeds given to the poor.
Now, rather than converting 300 denari into Canadian dollars, I decided to hop over to The Bay, to see
how much a pound of fine perfume costs. I didn’t do it the old way, (going to the store); I used the new
way of thinking (theBay.com). It turns out that a pound of Burberry Black at The Bay would be around
A shocking amount to spend on a fragrant liquid to pour on someone’s feet!
Although, if you think about it, rather limited in the help it might bring to the poor. Maybe that’s why
Jesus responds with the sometimes-challenging comment that “You always have the poor with you, but
you do not always have me.” In the eyes of Jesus, just days away from the cross, it was an appropriate
amount for a one-time gesture, an amount that would have brought only so much relief had it been
turned into charity.
Something new was happening, and old ideas needed to be reconsidered in the light of the death and
resurrection of Jesus.
If the story of Jesus is new to you, wonderful! I pray that you will enjoy hearing and reading and
learning about this story that shook the earth, that altered the course of history. This amazing new thing
that God did in Jesus Christ.
If it is not new, if you have heard it for years and years, no worries! There are so many layers and
nuances and new insights that still lay ahead for you, and I pray that you will keep finding excitement
Are we watching for the new things that God may be doing around us? Are we watching, like Isaiah’s
audience, to see what God will do next, maybe more than we could have imagined? Are we willing,
like Paul, to recognize when the old ways get in the way, when to leave them behind and pursue Christ?
How can we see something anew? How can we who know so many details inside and out hear it again
as if for the first time?
One way is to keep returning to the stories. Put yourself in the action. Imagine yourself as an observer.
Then reread it and imagine yourself as one of the characters. For example, imagine yourself as Mary in
this story. How do you feel? What thoughts or responses come to mind? Then redo the exercise and
imagine yourself as another character, maybe Lazarus or Judas or another disciple.
I think coming to Grace Church also helps! We are fortunate to have many preachers, who bring
different perspectives, different ways of saying things that might connect with you in new ways.
Moments of thinking “I’ve never heard it put that way before.”
The questions go beyond just knowledge of the Bible or our faith. How can we see our neighbourhood
anew? How can we see our relationships, our spouse and family, our life’s purpose, how can we see
anything anew? How can we notice the new things God is doing?
People change, cities change, culture changes, technology changes. It can be a fool’s game to try and
keep up, or chase the latest fad, or pursue change for its own sake. And some of the changes are not
helpful, and can be harmful.
Yet sometimes we need to let go of old ways of thinking. Mission and outreach used to be something
that we threw money at, and it just happened. Many of us gave donations, and a dedicated few would
do the on-the-ground work. But that old way of thinking is no longer as appropriate in 2019. Instead we
need a more personal connection, between real people. That’s where mission and outreach happen
today. It’s harder, it’s messier. It’s more demanding on all of us. And I think it’s closer to the heart of Jesus.
May you be watching for the new things God is doing in your life and your neighbourhood. May you
be ready and willing, like Paul, to put aside any expectation of privilege and pursue the new life in
Christ. May you prepare your hearts and your lives to embrace and celebrate with extravagance the
great reversal that God brings through Christ.
Our Innovator God says, “I am about to do a new thing.” Won’t you join me in seeking to be Early
Adopters of the new life in Christ?