Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12: 1-8
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Several years ago I went with my family to go watch “The Lego Movie.” I grew up playing with Legos, my wife grew up playing with Legos with her three brothers, we have three boys, they all love Legos, so the movie was an obvious choice for us. While the film is clearly geared to children, there was also a lot in it for adults. The story in the film involves a cast of actual Lego characters living in a Lego world, and tells of their quest to prevent the evil “Lord Business” from using his weapon the “Kragle” to permanently freeze the Legos. The “Kragle” is actually krazy glue, with a few of the letters missing.
Lord Business’ purpose in freezing the Legos is simple: he wants to control them. To aid him in his quest for control, Lord Business creates evil robots made out of Legos called Micro Managers, which have multiple red eyes and black square heads. The job of the Micro Managers, as their name implies, is control. The Micro Managers ensure that all the Legos are in the right position and acting "perfectly" so that when they are kraglized, or freezed, they look normal.The Micro Managers also take apart any creative, unusual models and rebuild them specifically according to the instructions.
I recognize that if you have never played with Legos, or seen the “Lego Movie,” none of this probably makes any sense. Nevertheless, I was intrigued with film, specifically the Micro Manager characters, because in the past I have worked for a real life micro manager, and you probably have, too. In the real work world, a micromanager is a manager or boss who closely observes or controls the work of employees. Employees, including myself, generally do not respond well to micromanagement the very act of a supervisor closely monitoring the work of an employee implies that the supervisor has little, if any, trust, in the employee. Working for a micromanager was unsettling for me, and I made a promise to myself that one day, if I ever had people working for me, I would never be one myself.
Whether that is in fact true or not, any of the staff members at St. Andrew’s could tell you. I don’t believe that I am, at least at church. But what I have discovered about myself over time is that as negative an experience I had working for a micromanager, and as much as I vowed never to be one myself, I have alas, discovered yet again, my own hypocrisy. I might not be a micromanager at work, but I have learned that I can be one with those closest to me. I can be a micromanager in my marriage and in my family.
I am doing my work on this in therapy, and through it I have discovered that as a child, I learned from one of my parents that love and approval were conditional. That means that as a young child age my understanding of love and acceptance was one where I felt affirmed and loved when I did the right thing. I felt those good feelings when I got good grades, when I behaved, when I didn’t get in trouble at school. Those things – the good behavior, the good grades – I learned at a young age, were what I needed in order to feel loved and accepted by one of my parents. It was a conditional validation – validation was given when I met the criteria. Much later I learned that this was a kind of micromanagement and control.
The tragic story of our lives is that what we often internalize as children, we tend to recreate in our adulthood. And so I see in myself as a parent the very things I vowed as an adolescent I would never do. So I am praying for a renewed heart. I am praying for the capacity to love as God loves – with no conditions, no assumptions, no need for control.
The Bible is full of stories about God’s reckless love that is freely given, without counting the cost. Today we hear about a woman who takes a container of costly ointment and pours it upon the feet of Jesus. Immediately she is criticized, or micromanaged by a disciple who says it is wasteful to use that ointment when it could easily be sold and the money given to the poor. The disciple is right – you could sell the ointment and give the money to poor. But where the disciple was mislead was in the fact that you cannot control love, and you cannot control the sacrifice a person makes to love. You cannot micromanage relationship. Jesus understood this, and rebuked the disciple. If anyone was worthy to receive this gift, it was Jesus.
The stories of this kind of love without abandon in the Bible trickle down into our own church community – this parish – and we are empowered to live in a way that doesn’t seek control, but seeks love. A love that involves sacrifice, because if love is anything, it is sacrificial. St. Andrew’s is considering plans to build a new building on this campus, an act that would involve sacrifice on our part, as it would be costly, the least of which is financial. In my early years as a priest, I would quietly scoff when I heard of churches wanting to do such things like we are considering – building a building. I would scoff, because like the disciple in the Gospel today, I would say to myself, “take all that money to build a building, and give it to organizations helping the poor. Why do you need another building?”
Fast forward a few years, and now here I am standing before you saying, “we need a new building!” The hypocrisy, or change of heart, or whatever you want to call it, is not lost on me. And yet as I read this Gospel story of unconditional love sacrificially given, a haunting question keeps reoccurring in my mind. Is Saint Andrew’s worthy? Are we worth the cost? Are we worth the sacrifice?
Can we set our internal desires to micromanage, to control – can we set those aside, and with open hands pick up a container of costly ointment and anoint this community, this city? Will we do so without desiring control, without counting the cost, freely giving, anointing all that is holy, for you are worthy to do so. This is what God is calling you to do. We are worthy. AMEN.