“Many Kinds of Faithfulness” July 21, 2019 – Year C – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

“Many Kinds of Faithfulness”

July 21, 2019 – Year C – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ,

I am Martha and I write to you in the name of Jesus Christ our teacher and friend.

I write because I have heard of the wonderful work that the United Church Women’s group has done on behalf of your church.  The UCW is important in the life and work of the congregation.  Women have been coming together in the name of Christ Jesus for Centuries – and that is good, and I am pleased.

One thing does concern me, and this concern is what I want to talk to you about.

I know you have read about me and my sister Mary, and I know that we have been talked about a great deal in circles of church women.  Luke told you about us in his gospel – a least he told you one little portion of our story.  Sometimes, I wish that he had told of some other happening in our lives, for the one he wrote about has been preached all over the world, and, I must admit, I feel that my sister and I have been misunderstood.

It seems that we have been used to create divisions amongst women according to the work they do – and this greatly saddens my heart.  For years Mary and I have been compared, one against the other.  I know that many discussions have taken place about which one of us was the better disciple.  Many have suggested that Mary was the more faithful church woman because, from Luke’s story, she appeared to be the one most anxious to learn from Jesus.  As for me, I have not been looked on favourably.  Many have called me a fussy, complaining housekeeper, because, on that day, I was concerned about the practicalities of caring for my guests.

It seems that women after us have even been labelled ‘the Mary’s’ or ‘the Martha’s’ of their church depending on the way in which they have chosen to serve the one whom we all love.

I think much division and much guilt has arisen over this and I’m sorry that our names have been used in such a way.

As women, Mary and I both had inner conflicts about how best to serve our Lord.  Our feelings of duty to our home and to our community seemed always to be in battle with our deepest heartfelt desires for ourselves.

Both of us had to make hard decisions about our lives and about our responsibilities and this is where Luke found me that day at Bethany – caught in a struggle of duty over desire.  On that day, I chose duty.  I do not believe I made a mistake – it was the way it had to be.  Although Jesus teased me about it – he really did understand.  We’d had many talks about this struggle, and I was surprised one day to realize that it was his as well. 

Now, Mary and I are left with an image of ourselves and of our work in the church that is not accurate.  Such images are hard to change, but I want you to know that Mary and I did not intend to divide women in the church on the matter of how best to serve in faith.

In real life, Mary and I were sisters – we did not compete – we loved each other.  We were both called to be disciples and we both wanted what was best for our friend Jesus. Our only difference was that we sometimes meet his needs in different ways – in the ways in which we felt the most skilled and the most comfortable.

And so, you read about us again.  I hope that you will not think of us as women in competition.  Rather, I hope you will remember that we were sisters – birth sisters – but also sisters in faith.  And women, you are our sisters as well.  Men, we are your sisters, proud and faithful.

Women in your day have many ways to serve the church.  You all have before you a wonderful opportunity to learn, to serve, to love, and to be loved.  You all have the opportunity to grow in faith, together.

Peace be with you, my friends.

May the one who taught us to listen, to serve, to be together in laughter and in tears, be with you all.

Martha.

Let’s hear our scripture text one more time, and listen to this new translation and see if there is new clarity for you.

(Luke 10:38-42 Living Bible )

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem[a] they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. 39 Her sister Mary sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked.

40 But Martha was the jittery type and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing.

She came to Jesus and said, “Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “Martha, dear friend,[b] you are so upset over all these details! 42 There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her!”  Amen.

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“Who is My Neighbour?” July 14, 2019 – Year C

“Who is My Neighbour?”

July 14, 2019 – Year C

 

In this age of fear of picking up hick-hikers and disregard for street people, it is hard for us to hear the story of “The Good Samaritan.”  It pricks at our conscience.   We don’t want to hear that we are called to love unconditionally.

There once was a man who was travelling along a highway.  He had car trouble and had to pull over on the side of the road.  He didn’t have his cell phone because he had left it on the charger on the kitchen table.  Well, it wasn’t long before another car stopped.  But the driver of the car didn’t look like he had “helping” in mind.  He beat the man up, stole his wallet, slashed his tires, and set his car on fire.  Then he left him.

As the beaten man lay on the side of the road, a car came by.  It slowed down to take a look.  The driver was a minister, but instead of stopping to help, he changed lanes and re-engaged his cruise control – he had a board meeting to get to, and people hated it when he was late.

Then a salesman drove by.  He, too, slowed down to take a look, but then sped on.  He had promised his boss he would be back in the office before everyone else left.

Finally, a van pulled up and come to a stop.  Inside was a young woman with 2 small children.  She picked up her cell phone and called 911.  Then she got out of the van and helped the weak and bleeding man into the front seat.  She got out the first aid kit she and her husband kept underneath the passenger seat and proceeded to clean the cuts on the man’s face.

The story of the Good Samaritan wasn’t an “old favourite” the first time around.  How shocked the listeners must have been when a Samaritan – racially unacceptable and a heretic besides – was chosen as the model of love that is essential to eternal life.  The parable is told in the context of a lawyer wanting to test Jesus.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  A trick question perhaps?  At best a somewhat selfish question, showing concern for preserving one’s own future.  Jesus responds with a question that draws out the issue of concern for others, for one’s neighbor.  The lawyer tries to evade the issue by challenging, “Who is my neighbor?”  It was not more information he needed; rather it was action on what he already knew.  In the tale that Jesus told, the first 2 travelers who passed by the wounded one were clergy – a priest and a Levite, or in other words, a priest’s assistant.  Perhaps their lack of action was due to rules about touching a dead body or fears that his was a hoax – a reasoned response.  But the Samaritan, unencumbered by should and oughts and intellectual arguments, saw only a human being in need and had compassion.  Compassion literally means “to suffer with.”

12 years ago I arrived at the church on Easter Sunday morning only to find swastika’s and profanity spray painted across the exterior wall of the church.  Who would deface a church in this way?  After calling the police we gathered around the entrance and I said a prayer for the vandals, that they might come to know God’s great love and mercy so that their lives might be turned around.  I prayed for us as a community of faith, that we might know deep compassion and forgiveness, so that we might continue to be good neighbours.

 

 

 

At its heart, we need to recognize this parable as deeply offensive and subversive to all that our culture holds dear.

The priest and the Levite, the minister and the lawyer, the people we might expect to give help to the helpless, passed by on the other side.  But in Jesus’ time, they were expected to.  Touching the victim would have rendered them unclean.  They would have to purify themselves before they could operate the food bank, visit the hospitals, or provide legal aid to poor people.

Then the kicker.  A Samaritan!

Family feuds are most bitter between the closest kin.  The Samaritans were the Jews’ closest kin in the Middle East.  And a Samaritan helped a good Jewish boy.

To get a comparable effect, we have to imagine the last person on earth we’d expect to receive help from, the person we’d go out of our way to avoid having contact with.  Someone with HIV/AIDS, perhaps.  Or high on fentanyl and living on the streets.  A squad of Hell’s Angels.  A frothing-at-the-mouth racist.  A mass murderer.

That person, the parable asserts, is our neighbor.

Who is my neighbor?  The person who needs my help, or who can give me help.  Even if it’s the last person on earth that I’d expect.

Mitch Albom, the author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” tells of a conversation between himself and Morrie.  “Life is a series of pulls back and forth.  You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else.  Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t.  You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.  A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band.  And most of us live somewhere in the middle.”

“Sounds like a wrestling match,” says Mitch Albom.

“A wrestling match,” Morrie laughs.  “Yes, you could describe life that way.”

“So, which side wins?”  he asks.

He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth, “Love wins.  Love always wins.”

Hans Kung writes in the book “On Being a Christian,” “Jesus is not interested in universal, theoretical or poetical love.

For him love does not consist primarily in words, sentiments or feelings.  For him love means primarily the great, courageous deed.  He wants practical and therefore concrete love.

According to Jesus, love is not simply love of another person but essentially love of neighbour.  It is a love, not of people in general, of someone remote, with whom we are not personally involved, but quite concretely of one’s immediate neighbor.

Love of God is proved in love of neighbour, and in fact love of neighbor is the exact yardstick of love of God.

I love God as much as I love my neighbor.”

Back in 2007 I work in a church in a large Ontario city.  One day I received a phone call from a family telling me they were in serious trouble.  After over ½ an hour of listening to their story I realized that they were either very good story tellers or were in deep, deep trouble.  I decided to interpret the situation in the later – but only somewhat.  So, after explaining that I could help them with some food vouchers that the church provides and which I would deliver to them – I suggested a number of community resources – I felt I had done my job.  But, that was the problem.  I did my job.

So, later on that day I drove toward the airport and found the home, only to be confronted by such incredible poverty and squalor conditions that I wanted to vomit.  The home they were living in was in the shadows of the airport, with doors and windows in disrepair.  Rotting boards, holes in walls and no food in the fridge and no gas in the vehicle to get to work.  The family was pleased to no longer live in their vehicle and instead have a house to live in.  And as appreciative as they were for the food vouchers, they had no gas to get to the grocery store, which was several miles away.

And there was me, with my full tank of gas, my designer clothes and my beautifully decorated home.  Needless to say, my drive back home was an uncomfortable one.  So, the next day I arranged with the family that I would put gas in their vehicle, for they are my brother and sister in Christ.  They are my neighbours.  After all – it was the least I could do.

I continued to visit with this family for the better part of a year.  I helped them access some community supports.  I shared with them some hints and ideas of navigating through the Social Services system.  But, most of all, I befriended them.  There was nothing I wanted in return.  They were my neighbours.  I came to love them.

To love deeply and unencumbered is our call.  To see the face of Christ in every person we encounter is our mission.  To be neighbor to all God’s people is our great challenge.  May we love with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourself.  Amen.

 

 

“Keep it Simple” July 7, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“Keep it Simple”

July 7, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

There’s a legend that tells of Jesus’ return to heaven, still bearing the scars of his cruel death on the cross.  Gabriel approached him, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for humans.”

“I did.”

‘And,” continued Gabriel, “do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?”

“Oh, no,” Jesus replied, “not yet.  Right now, only a handful in Palestine know.”

Gabriel was perplexed.  “Then what have you done,” he asked, “to let everyone know about your love for them?”

“I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell others about me.  These will tell still others, and my story will spread around the globe.  Finally, everyone will know about my life and love.”

Gabriel frowned skeptically.  He knew humans all too well.  “Yes,” he said, “but what if Peter and James get tired?  What if the people who come after them forget?  What if people in the 21st century just don’t tell others about you?  What are your back-up plans?”

“I don’t have any other plans,” Jesus replied.  “I’m counting on them.”

Imagine Jesus standing in the middle of the sanctuary saying: “I select You, and you, and you, until Jesus has ultimately pointed to each one of us.  Would we say to the people we encounter, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  You see, that is the challenge that is presented to us.  We are to heal the sick while proclaiming God’s
Good News.  It is a simple message that must not be weighted down with extraneous details.

No purse, luggage, sandals, or back-pack for us.  We are to simply head along the streets and roads and proclaim, “Peace to this house!”  And then we are to point out that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”  If we are not welcomed, we brush the dust from our feet and move onward.

As you hear the phrase “shake the dust off your feet” you might have found yourself thinking of the movie “Babette’s Feast.”  Babette is a French cook who finds herself working in the dour home of a Norwegian family.  When she wins some money, she decides to cook them the finest meal they, and their guests, will have ever had.  They are suspicious of the food and her motives, but she is not about to shake the dust off her sandals. She hangs in there with the family.

 

Perhaps you are wondering why such a mission? The writer of the Gospel of Luke is writing in a period of expansion for Christians around about the year 85 CE.  This description of the mission of the 72 disciples is not mentioned in the other gospels.  Jesus sends the original 12 disciples on a mission to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal, but Jesus expects something else from the 72.  They are to prepare a way for him to visit the towns to which they are sent.  Although all the gospels record stories of missionary journeys, only in Luke do we get both a sending out the 12 and the 72.  Their mission is simple They are to heal the sick and proclaim the reign of God.  Luke concludes with a joyful homecoming scene where there is great rejoicing about the success of the mission, and a reminder from Jesus that wonderful things have happened because they belong to God.

As John the Baptist heralded the Messiah in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the 72 herald the journey of the Messiah at the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem.  Their ministry is focused and purposeful.  They must not stay in towns where they are not welcome, nor take rejection personally, and not take credit for miracles.  That is pretty hard to do.  They were to set their own ego aside and go confident in God’s grace.

We are called to preach, teach, and heal in God’s name.  Wherever there is poverty, discrimination, war, evil, violence, and exploitation of humans and the planet earth, then there is an urgency to move into these areas and work to change the unjust structures.

Our church’s Mission and Service fund has heard that call and responds.  Through our donations to the M&S fund projects that feed the hungry, seek justice, support the oppressed, and care for the planet are supported.  Our letters on behalf of Amnesty International is proven to help free prisoners of conscience.  Our intentional care for the planet by reducing, reusing, and recycling is an important commitment.

Wholeness, healing, acceptance, and forgiveness comes through God’s grace. God, in turn, challenges and supports us to become a new creation, and to wholehearted commitment to lovingly, happily, and joyfully creating a better world.

“How do we do that?”, You might ask.  I believe it first of all becomes real when we stop hiding our faith under a basket.  We are called to speak our faith, live our faith, and even sleep our faith.  In other words, in all we do we are to exemplify God’s grace.  Second, we are called to take risks.  We are to venture the path of bold courage.  This means that the care for our planet and the people on it must be a priority.  Writing to manufacturers demanding that wrapping be reduced and be bio-degradable.  Using products that are non-toxic.  Walk more and drive less.  Support initiatives that place people and the planet as priorities.  And finally, we are called to invite others into our circle of faith community.  Evangelism is not a 4 letter word in the United Church.  And yet, many of us are reluctant to invite friends and neighbours into our community of faith.  If we are to grow, it is imperative that we extend invitations to those around us.  If we believe in the message that the kingdom of God is near, then we must let it be known.

“Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary,” a worship resource states: “that the disciples are sent out in pairs shows us that even at its simplest level, Christian missions is never a solo voyage.  Christian existence and Christian life are corporate in nature, for Christ calls us into life and action as God’s people, not merely as God’s persons.  In turn, as Jesus sends out these teams, he speaks deeply ironic words, telling them that the harvest is ready and great, but the workers are few.  We should not forget that Israel was a religious nation.  Religious concerns and practices coloured the fabric of everyday life, but Jesus says despite the religious cost of life and the number of religious leaders there were few workers available for God’s work.  The saying reminds us that religious activity that is merely directed toward God and not directed by God may be useless.

Our congregation knows the importance of two or more joining together for worship, service, study, and fellowship.  That is why we take seriously the call to be a vital, alive community of faith.  We seek to know Jesus intimately in all that we are about.

It will always remain true that a person’s greatest glory is not what they have done but what God has done for them.  For instance, it might well be claimed that the discovery of the use of chloroform saved the world more pain than any other single medical discovery.  Once someone asked Sir James Simpson, who pioneered its use, “What do you regard as your greatest discovery?”  expecting the answer, “chloroform.”  But Simpson answered, “My greatest discovery was that Jesus Christ is my Saviour.”

May we take delight that Jesus has called us to proclaim the Good News.  May we do so with joy and conviction.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“Full On Commitment” June 30, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“Full On Commitment”

June 30, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

Fred Craddock, a noted theologian, tells of a time when he was preaching in a university church in Oklahoma, when a young woman came up after the service.  That night, Dr. Craddock had preached from the passage in which Jesus called his disciples to follow him, and they left everything to follow him.  A young woman came up to Dr. Craddock and said she wanted to talk to him.  She said, “I’m in med school here, and that sermon clinched what I’ve been struggling with for some time.”

“What’s that?”

“Dropping out of med school.”

“What do you want to do that for?”

She said she was going to work in the Rio Grande Valley.  She said, “I believe that is what God wants me to do.”  So, she quit med school. Went to the Rio Grande Valley, sleeps under a piece of tin in the back of a pickup truck, and teaches little children about Jesus everyday while their parents are working in the field.  She dropped out of med school for this, and her folks back home in Montana are saying, “What in the world happened?”

Our scripture passages of this day challenge us to reflect on the faith journey that is ours.  Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem and invites us to follow.  With all the conflict in the Middle East, are we willing to go there?  Are we willing to risk our own safety to travel to the site of holiness?  Are we so spiritually centred that we will put our lives on the line?  Are we so confident that the pilgrimage is something we must do?

Will we make a financial donation to First United Church, in Vancouver’s east side?  Will we support the soupateria?  Will we give to the Mission and Service fund who give grants to projects that work for justice?  Yes – we are heading to Jerusalem with Jesus!

However, we have barely started on our pilgrimage and already we can see that it is not going to be easy.  We are going through foreign territory.  Following Jesus is no picnic.  We venture along with the prostitutes and johns – through polluted lakes, rivers and oceans – beside fentanyl users and the homeless.  Are we really willing to put our faith on the line?

Fred Craddock tells of a time when he was teaching at Princeton.  In the refrectory, he found a place at a table, and there was a young woman there.  “You a student?”

“Yes, I’m a graduate student.”

“In what field?”

“Theology.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes,” she said, and they talked more.  She was a Roman Catholic nun – she had not been one for long.  She said, “I was a buyer for Macy’s in New York.  I had a nice apartment, and everything was just really going my way.”  She said, “In fact, I was engaged to be married.  About 2 months before the wedding, I had prayed, I had thought, I had prayed, I had thought, I called my fiancé.  He came over and I gave him the ring.  He didn’t understand, but he took the ring and left.  Some time later I was on the subway in New York.  I was wearing my nun’s habit, and all the seats were taken.  I was standing, holding the strap when I suddenly realized, facing me, holding the strap right in front of me, was her former fiance.  I said, “hello.”  He said, “Hello,” we both cried and said goodbye again.”

The account in the Gospel of Luke brings to mind similarities between Elijah and Jesus.  Both of them have recognized that their lives are reaching their climax, and both have an important journey to make.  Both are dealing with disciples who need a strengthening of spirit if they are to carry on their mission.  Jesus makes a decision to journey to Jerusalem via Samaria.  He is rejected by the Samaritans because he is going to worship in Jerusalem rather that at Mt. Gerizim, their holy sanctuary.  Jesus is not discouraged by this rejection.  James and John, on the other hand, want to call down from heaven as Elijah did.  This would certainly show who Jesus is, just as it revealed God’s presence at Mt. Carmel and changed the people into believers.  Yet Jesus responds instead from a clear focus and determination.  His parable makes the point that no one ever plowed a straight furrow while looking back over their shoulder.  In the same straightforward way Jesus moves on in his ministry and he calls others to join him.  We followers of Jesus are reminded that there will be tough choices that require clear vision and determination.

At what point did Jesus seal his fate?  Theoretically, right up to his trial, he could have backed out.  Even during the trial, he could have defended himself.  But he didn’t.  Perhaps he didn’t think it was worth the effort.  Once he disrupted the temple, he left his opponents no choice but to rid themselves of him.  But he didn’t have to go into the temple.  He could have stayed in Bethany.  Better yet, he could have stayed in Galilee, out in the boonies, where no one expected much religious purity.

Galilee was a bit like Canada’s farther-out provinces of today.  The country could tolerate an occasional socialist government in the sticks, in Saskatchewan or Prince Edward Island, but have one in Ontario or British Columbia throws the whole country into an economic depression.

But did Jesus really have that choice?  As a male Jew, he was obligated to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  By race and religion, he was committed.  Every act led inexorably to another.  And once he started on that road, he could not turn back.  Not without betraying himself.

It was karma or fate.  Once Jesus decided he had to go to Jerusalem, he didn’t look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and froze.  Jesus didn’t.  Nor should we.  As followers of Jesus we are to follow the path of the cross.

Fred Craddock tells of the time when he was a pastor and a 30 something year old came up to him and said, “Let’s see now, was it next Sunday that my daughter was going to be baptized?”

Craddock said, “Yeah, next Sunday.”

“Well, she has dance lessons next Sunday.”

Craddock said, “Well, this is Sunday morning.”

“Well, the dance lessons are at 10:30.”

“on Sunday morning?”

Yeah, the dance studio has classes on Sunday morning.”

“On Sunday morning.” That’s what the Mother said, Sunday morning.

“So,” Craddock said, “Then we have a decision to make, don’t we?”

Well, that’s just it.  We always have decisions to make between what is good and what is even better.  It is not that there is anything wrong with taking dance, or even on Sunday.  It is not a matter of choosing between good and evil, but between good and better.

We are called to follow Jesus.  Will our ears be open to hear the message?  Will we be courageous enough to leave behind our prejudices and long held patterns?  Will we be faithful enough to leave behind our friends and loved ones, for the sake of following Christ’s way?  May we journey with Jesus.  Let us travel to Jerusalem.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Set Free”  3rd Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2019 – Year C

“Set Free”

 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2019 – Year C

 

“Come on Simon, have you noticed, in fact, have you seen this woman?”  How could he not have!  A woman of questionable reputation, in his house, right where guests were having lunch!  Had Simon seen her?  Yes, he had, but on the other hand he had not really seen her.

Jesus saw her.  He saw a woman, deeply conscious of her failures and sins.  He saw a woman who loved deeply, repented, and therefore experienced forgiveness.

Jesus saw Simon as well.  But, Simon did not see himself.  He was too shielded by his goodness to see his badness.  How could he repent unless he saw his own sin?  How could he love deeply the source of his acceptance without sensing the source of his need?  I don’t know which comes 1st – the sense of need, the love, the repentance, the forgiveness, or if they are all jumbled together.

I am distressed by how superficially I sometimes look and therefore I judge.  I may think that nose-rings and coloured hair tell me a lot about that individual.  In reality they tell nothing about the real person.  I can’t help wondering if there is there someone out there brave enough to hold a mirror up to me so I can truly see me?  And if so, am I brave enough to look?  What about you?  Will you look deep inside yourself and realize that God loves you unconditionally, even with your shortfalls?

Let’s look a little deeper into the story about this fascinating woman.  The woman of this story has sometimes been confused with Mary of Bethany who also anointed the feet of Jesus, and with the woman who poured ointment over Jesus’ head in the home of Simon the leper.

This particular unnamed and uninvited woman enters the home of Simon the Pharisee and weeps tears onto Jesus’ feet.  She dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, kisses them tenderly, and rubs in perfumed ointment from an alabaster jar.  How did this woman get into Simon’s house in the 1st place?  When Simon confronts Jesus for allowing this woman to touch him, Jesus replies with a story.  It is a tale that challenges Simon about his own mistreatment of Jesus who, as a guest of Simon, could expect to be greeted with a kiss, offered oil for his face and hair, and have his feet washed.  Simon is appalled that Jesus would allow such a person to touch him in this way and ponders whether Jesus can be a real prophet if he does not know what kind of woman she is.

This story of love and forgiveness challenges us to be slow to judge and quick to forgive, and to look for signs of God’s presence in our everyday lives.

It is a wonderful account of Jesus and his gracious acceptance of people who are “other.”  We do not have the woman’s whole story here, but we are told that “the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven.”  Nor do we know much about Simon.  It would seem, that both have encountered Jesus before, but their responses are quite different.

In the world of the New Testament, hospitality was the greatest social obligation.  This included greeting a guest properly in one’s home by washing their feet and anointing their head with oil or cooling ointment.  Simon, a religious leader, was very concerned about the conduct of Jesus and the conduct of the woman, but failed in his own conduct.

The story continues with the account of Jesus traveling with “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases” – Mary, Joanna, Susanna and “many others,” we are told.   Perhaps the woman of the previous story was one of them.  In response to God’s love, these women, “used their own resources” to help Jesus carry on his ministry.  These women, like many before them and since them, responded to God’s great love by seeking not the easy path, but doing what was needed, despite the criticism and lack of understanding shown by many around them. They traveled with Jesus, supporting his ministry financially and became some of his closest disciples.   This leads to the question; what does our conduct say about us?  Do we have generosity of spirit?  Are we exuberant in our loving?

I wonder where such exuberant love comes from.  And, I’ve come to the conclusion we have it in ourselves as children.  And as long as we know that we will be forgiven, we can continue throughout our lives to be exuberant.

A colleague tells about his son Jamie.  Jamie, who was quite young, broke a window.  He and a pal got carried away, and a stick went through the window.  His Dad discussed this with Jamie and together they decided that Jamie will pay for it from his piggy bank.

That night, there were hugs and kisses as usual.  Jamie knew the incident about the window was forgiven.  No forgotten, but forgiven, and so he was able to love as exuberantly as ever.

That’s what Jesus said about the woman.  “Her sins; which were many, were forgiven. Hence she has shown great love.”  Jamie and this woman could love exuberantly because their sins were forgiven.

Our scripture text offers a gentle nudge to watch out for love in action.  Like Simon the Pharisee, we know what it is like to make mistakes, to err on the side of self righteousness and proclaim ourselves as always right.  Knowing all this, we nevertheless are to act like the woman in Luke’s story.  How hospitable are we?  Do we tend to give all of self for others and not guard your own need for compassion toward oneself?  We are called to watch out for congruity in our lives and to safeguard the inheritance we have been given in Christ.  We are called to love self and love neighbour, neither one more, or less, than the other.

Today, as we listen to the scriptures being read, and as we have pondered the account of acceptance and forgiveness, we are struck by the astounding love of Christ.  He models for us the way of freedom.  In our world today there is Venezuela in unrest.  We hear of the tensions in Europe as Great Britain seeks autonomy.  We know the plight of African nations who face drought along with turmoil.  What does today’s gospel tell us in the face of such realities?  I know that power over someone is corrupt.  Therefore, I believe that God is calling us to a way of graciousness and tolerance.  When we let go of false pride we see with new clarity.  We recognize each other as sisters and brothers united by love.  We become ambassadors of repentance and mercy.  We are truly God’s beloved.

May we live as aware and gracious as the unnamed women.  May we be as open and vulnerable as the Risen Christ.  May we be filled with God’s spirit.  Amen.

 

“Getting our Attention”May 5, 2019 – Easter 3 – Year C

“Getting our Attention”

May 5, 2019 – Easter 3 – Year C

            Are you able to hear Jesus asking each of us, “Do you love me?”

Rabbi Moshe-Leib tells the following story.  “What is love?  I feel I ought to tell the truth and confess that I learned its meaning from 2 drunkards.  Yes, drunkards.  I saw them sitting in an inn, drinking – silently.  But from time to time they would stop for a brief exchange. ‘Are you my friend, Alexei? Asked the younger one.  “Do you love me?”  “Yes, Ivan, I do.  I am your friend.”  They emptied another glass and dreamed their separate dreams in silence.  Again, the younger peasant turned to his companion: “Alexei, Alexei, are you really my friend?  Do you truly love me?”  “Yes, I am your friend,” said the older peasant.  They emptied another glass and another moment went by in silence.   Again, the younger peasant spoke up: “Tell me, Alexei, tell me the truth; are we friends?  Do you love me as a friend?”  Finally, Alexei got angry.  “How many times must I tell you, Ivan, that I do!?  Don’t you believe me?  Are you drunk?  You are my friend and I am yours; and my heart is full of brotherly love for you.  Must I go on repeating it all night?”  At that point, Ivan looked at Alexi and shook his head sadly.  “Alexei, Alexei,” he said, “If you are my friend, if you do love me, then how come you don’t know what is hurting me?”

I don’t know about you folk, but I can’t imagine the depth of the disciples’ loss.  These friends of Jesus shared their lives with him and experienced so much together.  And now it was over, from the ordinary daily routines to the extraordinary miracles and lessons.  They didn’t just want to see the risen Christ, the desperately needed to see him.

I must admit to a strange, subtle envy of the disciples.  At times, I feel as desperate as they must have been to have Jesus that near, and real.  How I would love to see him just once, and reach out to touch his face, not so much to squelch doubt but in some fumbling, inadequate way to simply thank him.

But I wasn’t the one who lived his earthly life with him.  I never laid down beside him after a long day, looked up at the starry night and said, “Good Night rabbi” before drifting off to sleep.  Still, every now and then, in my prayers I ask Jesus to come and reveal the truth of his presence in our absurd human condition.  By God’s grace and by the Spirit’s whisper, Jesus responds, “I did that.  Now it is your turn.”

Are you able to hear Jesus asking each of us, “Do you love me?”

Oh, so comfortably we respond with a “yes.”  And yet, we live in a world starved for love.  We see around us folk hanging out in our church’s stairwells, stoned and lonely.  We see the long lineup at the Soupateria every noon hour.  Do we donate food or money?  We experience the long list of people requesting prayer.  Do we keep them in our daily prayers?  But, with all this said, we hear Jesus asking, “Do you love me?”

When God extends a hand and says, “Will you dance with me?  We have the opportunity to transform our world by saying “Yes”.  It is a dance of liberation for our tired spirits.  It is a dance of comfort for our grieving spirits.  It is a dance of jubilation for our buoyed spirits.

All we have to do is look to the story of Saul’s conversion and we find ourselves also transformed.  Saul probably thought he had a pretty good job.  Bounty hunting has certain advantages, after all.  Being the hunter is a good way to ensure that you won’t be mistaken for the hunted.  So, Saul sets out on the Damascus road to hunt down some followers of the Way – and in the twinkling of an eye his life is turned upside down.

He is an interesting person, is he not?  One day a bounty hunter and the next an evangelist.  One day he is a person determined to destroy the lives of followers of Christ Jesus.  The next he is a zealous proclaimer of the Good News of the risen Christ.  Sure, Saul – now named Paul – had his struggles.  He was a stubborn, impatient, ill, follower of Christ.  He had his baggage.  But that is part of the reason we so love him.  He was so very human.  He responded faithfully to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”

It was out of that deep love that Paul responded with a determination that we can’t help but admire.  He is that same person who penned, “love is patient and kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

So, are we open enough to receive the gracious love poured out in the very life of Christ?  Are we vulnerable enough to break open our hearts to the transformative way of love?  Will we follow Paul along the path of vulnerability?  You see, serving Jesus means we may have to go to places we would rather not go to.   Sometimes it is to the bedside at the hospital.  Occasionally it is to coffee shop to listen to a troubled soul.  Frequently it is right here in our day by day lives that we are called to venture faithfully.

Perhaps a story best illustrates what I am trying to say.  “An old pencil maker took his newest pencil aside, just before he was about to pack it into a box, Imagining the little fellow as a person he recalled a few things about the pencil.

“There are 5 things you need to know,” he said to his pencil, before I send you out into the world.  “Always remember these 5 things – never forget them – and you will become the best pencil you can be!

The 1st thing is to remember that you will be able to do many great things, but only if you put yourself in someone else’s hands.

From time to time you will experience a painful sharpening, but, remember that this will make you a better pencil.

Also, keep in mind that you will be able to correct any mistakes you might make along the way.

And the most important part of you is what’s on the inside.

And remember this, as well, upon every surface that you are used, you must leave your mark.  No matter what else happens, you must continue to write.”

It seemed the pencil listened to him and promised he would remember these 5 things so that he could live his life with heart and purpose.”

So, we come back to Jesus’ question:  Are you able to hear Jesus asking each of us, “Do you love me?”  Amen.

“The Funeral that Wouldn’t Be”April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday – Year C

“The Funeral that Wouldn’t Be”

April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday – Year C

 

On Good Friday many of us stood at the foot of the cross and tearfully watched Jesus be crucified.  It was a time of pain and sorrow.  We felt helpless.  There, on a plain wooden cross hung our Redeemer.  And there was nothing we could do.  The day was dark.  So were our spirits.

Here we are.  It is Sunday.  Join with me and let’s walk to the tomb where Jesus was laid.

We need to walk carefully for the ground is rocky.  We follow Mary Magdalene.  She is carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ body.  She reaches the tomb first.  She is taken aback.  The air is sucked out of her.  She is ready to faint.  The tomb stone has been removed from the cave.  Not even stopping to get her breath, Mary runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple – the one whom Jesus loved.  They too run to the tomb.  All the stuff associated with death is there – but no Jesus.

You would think that at such a scene these followers of Jesus would understand what is going on.  Surely, they have an idea of what has happened to their friend and leader.  But, instead, they reach into the darkness and believe.

Mary stands outside the tomb and weeps.  Me too.  In all her grief and hurt she is mystified and uncertain what is happening around her.  It seems too much to take in.  What is she to say to all the questions that we ask?  With blurry eyes clouded with tears Mary doesn’t recognize the man with whom he is speaking.  Even with all the tenderness shown to her, she fails to recognize the Great Teacher.

A few minutes pass.  Jesus whispers to her.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She thinks that it is the gardener who is speaking to her.  More time passes.  “Mary,” the voice whispers.  Mary recognizes the Beloved.  Do we?

The light of dawn caresses our face.  Along with Mary, we too have seen the Risen Christ.  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

All of us have experienced the death of someone close to us.  We know the pain and sadness that goes along with death.  We so wish that we too could hear our name spoken, one more time.  Oh, how we wish that our loved one could utter our name.  Our hearts would turn cartwheels!  I am sure that Mary’s heart did.  “Mary” the risen Christ utters.  “Laura” the risen Christ whispers.

Maggie was in the darkened hallway of the hospital, bending over in pain.  She waited there for the 5 minutes each hour she was allowed to go in to be with her husband.

They had never been apart.  In the 55 years they had been married, they had never spent a night apart.  Through all the years on the farm, the births and raising of their children, through illnesses they had both suffered, they had never been apart.

Now he was dying.  The nurse tells her that Harold could not last the night.  “Why don’t you go home,” I suggested.  “I’ll sit here for a while.”

“I can’t go,” she said.

The nurse told us that we could have our 5 minutes.  “Don’t forget the gowns and masks,” she commanded.  “We don’t want the infection to spread.”

Harold didn’t seem to recognize the 2 green-shrouded figures that came to his bed.  At least, not until Maggie took his hand, moved her mask and touched her lips to his cheek.  I said a prayer out loud, but all the time she was whispering to him.  She kept her head right alongside his on the pillow.  She talked to him like she belonged there.

Later, in the hallway, she was weeping.  “What did you say to Harold?” I asked – more to cover the silence than to get information.

“I told him that I loved him and that I would stay with him.

“You know he’s very ill.  He may not be with us in the morning.”

She stared at the floor for a long time.  “I know,” she said.  “He knows he’s dying too.  He’s afraid a little.  I can tell by the way he holds my hand.  But it’s all right.  I know he’s all right now.  I told him that it will be Easter in the morning.”

I didn’t know what to say.  It was November.  Had she forgotten?

“Um.  It’s not really Easter,” I offered.  “I know, Reverend,” she said patiently.  “But it is for us.  We’ve practiced celebrating Eater together for all of our years.  Now for Harold and me, tomorrow is our Easter.”

On Easter morning the church door opens and Sharon walks in.  She’s 20 years old and hasn’t seen her family for a year.  They are standing in the front row.  The usher knows this is a big moment.  He grabs her and holds her and pulls her all the way to the front row.  Her father sees her, peering around the edge of the pew.  It is such an incredible moment.  The whole family, all 5 of them, just collapse on each other.

Danielle is 12 and her mother died this year.  It was the first time she had been back in church.  We sang “Amazing Grace”.  When I saw her,  I thought, this is going to be hard for her.  During the service, people kept reaching out to touch her.

I’m in complete awe of the courage these people come with.

Such are the Easter experiences in your life and in mine.  Together we witness the Risen Christ.  It is a holy mystery, to be sure.  But, with faith we are assured that Christ’s Spirit dwells within us.  May we too be open to the Risen Christ.  Alleluia!  Amen.

 

“I Will Adore Christ’s Sacred Name”Good Friday – April 19, 2019 – Year C

“I Will Adore Christ’s Sacred Name”

Good Friday – April 19, 2019 – Year C

 


Will you adore Christ’s sacred name?

George Macleod writes, “I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the centre of the market-place as well as on the steeple of the church.  I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between 2 candles, but on a cross between 2 thieves – on the town’s garbage heap – at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek.  At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.  Because that is where Jesus died.  And that is what he died for.  And that is what the cross is about.  And that is where church people ought to be and what church people ought to be about.”

Will you adore Christ’s sacred name?

Father Thomas Keating writes, “The cross of Jesus represents the ultimate death of God experience.  The crucifixion is much more than the physical death of Jesus and the emotional and mental anguish that accompanied it.  It was the death of his relationship with God.”

Will you adore Christ’s sacred name?

We stand at the foot of the cross and quietly weep with Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Rudyard Kipling writes:

“If I were hanged on the highest hill,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

I know whose love would follow me still,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

 

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

I know whose tears would come down to me,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

 

If I were damned of body and soul,

I know whose prayers would make me whole.

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

 

Will you adore Christ’s sacred name?

Studdert Kennedy writes:

 

“And, sitting down, they watched him there,

The soldiers did:

There, while they played at dice,

He made his sacrifice,

And died upon his Cross to rid

God’s world of sin.

He was a gambler too, my Christ.

He took his life and threw

It for a world redeemed.

And ere the agony was done,

Before the westering sun went down,

Crowning that day with its crimson crown,

He knew that he had won.

 

Will you adore Christ’s sacred name?

We live in a world that is all to comfortable with senseless death.  Whether it be a shooting in Vancouver, a suicide in Summerland, a fentanyl death here in Penticton – we seem immune to the horror.  Jesus’ death seems, on the surface, to be senseless.  However, because we are Easter people, we know that God had great designs in revealing a resurrected Christ.  We are adored in Christ’s sacred name.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

 

 

“Hail!  O King!”April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday – Year C

“Hail!  O King!”

April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday – Year C

 

The quintessential Palm Sunday word, as far as I am concerned, is Hosanna, and a palm branch is an absolutely necessary symbol.  Yet, alone among the 4 evangelists, Luke says nothing about Hosannas or branches, palm or otherwise, on this fateful day when Jesus, mounted upon a colt, sets his sights for Jerusalem.

Their absence shocks us.  But even more shocking is the absence in Luke of another all-too familiar part of this story – the crowds who wave the branches and shout the Hosannas.  For Luke has different points to make as he remembers the events of that day, a point about the relationship between a man and his followers, a point about their faith in him as he steadfastly moves toward his destiny.  To hear these points, we need to set aside our preconceptions about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that have been shaped by the other versions of the story.

When Jesus came near to Bethphage and Bethany, to the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent 2 disciples to obtain a colt.  He tells them exactly where it is to be found and what its owners will say when the disciples untie it.  So far, the story is moving exactly as expected, following the familiar contours of Matthew and Mark.

Yet after reporting the return of the disciples with the colt, Luke’s account begins to take a different direction.  Though the other 3 evangelists tell us that Jesus sat himself upon the colt, Luke tells it rather differently.  It is the disciples who set Jesus upon the colt after covering it with their garments.  And it is the disciples who spread their clothes upon the road for this lowly beast to walk upon.  And then it is the disciples, a multitude to be sure, but a multitude specifically comprised of disciples, who announce the coming of this blessed one and shout about the peace that has now come.  Throughout this whole scene it is the disciples alone who make things happen.  And there is neither palm branch to be seen nor hosanna to be heard.  Hence, in this year’s worship service there is no palm parade.

In his book “The Hungering Dark”, Frederick Buechner tells of a visit he made to Rome as a young man.  He went to St. Peter’s to see the Pope celebrate the Mass.  The church was packed and when the Pope arrived, he was carried in on the shoulders of the Swiss Guard and placed on a golden throne.  Buechner writes, “What I remember most clearly …is the Pope himself, Pius XII as he was then.  In all the Renaissance of splendour with the Swiss Guard in their scarlet and gold, the Pope himself was vested in plainest white, with only a white skull-cap on his head…..As he passed by me ……he peered into my face and into all the faces around me and behind me with a look so keen and so charged that I could not escape the feeling that he must be looking for someone in particular.  He was not a potentate nodding and smiling to acknowledge the multitudes.  He was a man whose face seemed gray with waiting, whose eyes seemed huge and exhausted with searching, for someone, for some one who he thought might be there that night or any night, anywhere, but whom he had never found.”

Buechner goes on to say that the one the old Pope was looking for was visible in the faces of all gathered there that night, because they all were looking for the same One he was looking for.

In the first century, kings and conquering generals entered Jerusalem with crowds, hymns and acclamations to show their authority over the city.  Although Luke’s telling is more subdued than other gospels, elements of this are in the passage that _____ read.  The cries of the crowd of disciples surround Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.  Their cloaks (not palm branches) pave his way.  Their acclamation, “Blessed is the King, who comes in the name of the Lord,” is drawn from one of the Hallel psalms sung during the Passover meal and still used today.  Thus, Jesus enters Jerusalem acclaimed by his followers as a king whose reign will bring peace on earth and glory to God.  Yet even at the gate, the Pharisees voice their opposition – a signal of what is to come.

We too join the crowds to take a glimpse of the One who comes in the name of God.  It is a spiritual pilgrimage we are on.  We yearn to be part of the celebration and enactment of Lord’s Supper.  And in a few minutes, we will remember Jesus being seated with his closest companions, the specially chosen disciples.  We will participate in the greatest pilgrimage of our lives.

Perhaps you have made a pilgrimage to your ancestral homeland.  Some of us have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so that we too might walk the roads that Jesus walked.  There are folk who make the famous Spanish pilgrimage – the Camino de Santiago. For 780 km. one walks through portions of France, Portugal and Spain.  I know that many of you go back to the prairies for homecomings and other significant times.   That too can be a pilgrimage.

Jesus, his family and the disciples made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that they could celebrate the Passover.  The hoards of crowds were unbelievable.  Just imagine the jostling and pushing that must have happened as folk strained their necks to see who was entering the gates.  Coming from 3 directions the throng merged in the bustling city.  Where was this “king who comes in the name of the Lord?”  Expecting to see Jesus riding on a mighty steed we can imagine the shock of seeing Jesus on the back of a donkey!

All this excitement and passion is too much for the religious leaders of the day.  Perhaps fearing repercussions from the Roman rulers, they tell Jesus to silence his followers.  Jesus tells them that even if the disciples were silent, the stones beneath their feet would shout out.  This reference to stones recalls a passage in the Book of Habakkuk in which stones cry out and judge those who oppress the poor.  The implication is that Jesus’ way is the way of justice, and that it will be given voice no matter who tries to silence it.

Many of you will come to the Good Friday worship service knowing that the Holy Week story begins with Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem.  You will come on worship on Friday, aware that story of Jesus continues with the re-telling of the passion narrative.  You know that to come and celebrate next Sunday, without going through the agony of Good Friday is minimizing the power and glory of Easter.         But here we are today, catching glimpses of what is ahead for Jesus.  So, we will make our own journey into Jerusalem and gather at Jesus’ table.  We will make our pilgrimage to the communion table and we will feast.  For today is a day for faithfully remembering Jesus.

As it turns out Luke got it right after all and we need not be so surprised about the way he tells the story.  Palm Sunday has no need of palm branches or Hosannas.  It only calls for faith – the faith of a handful of followers who believe that Jesus can change the world.  It calls for the faith of all of us who have learned just how much he has changed the world.  So, as we walk through Holy Week and through the seasons of achievement and heartache in our own lives, may we hold fast to the faith the disciples first enacted.  May we give the highest place to our Redeemer, may we offer everything we have in Christ’s service.  May we shout the greeting again and again – “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”  May it be so.  Amen.

 

 

“At Jesus’ Feet”April 7, 2019 – Lent 5 – Year C

“At Jesus’ Feet”

April 7, 2019 – Lent 5 – Year C

 

As you listen to this message, I invite you to breath deeply and imagine the sanctuary filled with the smell of expensive perfume.  With each breath you take, smell the perfume and feel Mary’s hair draped over your feet.  Feel the touch of Mary’s hands on your feet, massaging in the costly oil.  This is the scene in which Jesus, along with Mary, Lazarus, and Judas and presumably the remaining disciples find themselves.  Join this tableau for the next 10 or so minutes.

Think of some of the homes that you walk into and are moved by the wonderful scents.  Perhaps it is the smell of freshly baked bread.  Or the lingering perfume from a bubble bath.  The Gospel writer of John tells us that the smell of perfume filled the house.  The unselfish gift Mary offered affected all who were there.  Those who witnessed the exchange as well as Mary and Jesus, were deeply touched.  And isn’t Jesus presence like that fragrance or aroma that fills the air.  You know that Jesus had been there because his presence lingers on.

From the song in the play “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Mary sings, “I don’t know how to love him,” but she expressed her loving through the perfume.  Love expressed in a gift – love revealed through the wonderful scent that pervaded the room.  The sweet smell of the perfume which filled the whole house, was a sensual experience.

When Mary gave the extravagant gift of the perfumed oil to Jesus, she hadn’t necessarily thought it all through.  If she had, she probably would have been more reserved, followed Judas’ advice and given the money to the poor.  It is easy to be analytical and careful like Judas.  Mary’s gift was impulsive – the kind of thing that would seldom get through the board of a charitable organization, or an institution, or a corporate board, or, for that matter a local church budget committee.  But love is not love if it is carefully calculated.

I wonder if I have ever been that extravagant in my gift sharing.  Have I ever been that extravagant when I discern my PAR contribution to the church?  Have I ever been that extravagant in pouring out my love?  What extravagances does this scene bring to mind for you?

The Good News Bible states, “She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me.”  Jesus’ disciples probably expected him to praise them, when they protested that the ointment would have been better sold and the money given to the poor.  He didn’t.  Many people give generously to support used clothing stores and soup kitchens.  But they wouldn’t dream of getting to know a transient personally.  Many give generously to causes such as “Grandmothers for Africa”, “The David Suzuki Foundation” or any number of tremendous organizations.  But we fail to engage with the grassroots of the group.  We don’t attend information sessions believing we have done our part, or we know the story well. It is too easy to make compassion a principle – Jesus always made it a person.

Patrick Willson, a Presbyterian minister describes one of the most memorable grocery shopping excursions.  He says, “I waited in a long check out line.  Directly in front of me was an elderly gentleman refinely dressed.  While we waited, we struck up a conversation.  I was fascinated by the assortment of vegetables in his basket.  Yes, he explained, since the death of his wife 15 years before, he had become quite a cook, though it was dreary cooking for one, most of the time.

In the line ahead of him was a young woman with a son clinging to her jeans and a infant daughter asleep in the cart.  The checker rang up her shopping and pointed to the bouquet of flowers she held.  The checker rang a total.  The young woman looked at the total, then examined her wallet.  She shook her head and handed the flowers across to the checker who laid them behind on a counter to be replaced in the market.  Children in tow, the mother wheeled toward the exit.

The older gentleman moved with a swiftness that certainty betrayed his age.  He motioned to the checker for the flowers, indicated that they went on his bill, and quickly caught up with the young mother.  With a gesture that would have shamed Lancelot, he laid the bouquet of blossoms in her arms, bowed elegantly and returned to line with a big smile.  “I hope she doesn’t think I’m a dirty old man,” he giggled, “but I so seldom have an opportunity to give anything to anyone.”

As we delve into the Gospel text, we are reminded that giving and receiving are deeply connected. Love is never one-sided, and compassion requires us to show our love in the way we act. Mary anointing Jesus feet may have been done for a lot of different reasons, but it is an act of love. Perhaps it was thanks for raising Lazarus on his last visit, perhaps she somehow knew what was coming, but she was not afraid to act because of what other’s might think. We too are called to care for one another, unconditionally, – to care for the vulnerable in our midst with compassion and love. We too need to find ways to celebrate God’s love in our lives.

Here we are, drawing close to Easter – that season of butterflies, lilies, and joy.  But to get there we first have to encounter Jesus on the way to Golgatha.  Jesus has just had the encounter of raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.  Mary was a witness to that event.  Now, she is pouring expensive oil over the feet of her friend, leader and guide.  By anointing Jesus, Mary actively signals that she recognizes Jesus’ special role and relationship to God.  What a moment that must have been!  Just like in ancient times, Mary realized that anointing was to make a person sacred.  Kings such as Solomon were anointed when they ascended the throne, indicating God’s approval.  So, here we have Mary anointing Jesus just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

By pouring oil on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, Mary was foreshadowing the Last Supper, in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  Jesus uses this foot washing to symbolize true discipleship, in which all were called to serve one another as equals.  Jesus’ friend Mary recognizes and lives out this servant model of discipleship.  She pours out expensive perfume on the feet of the one who makes himself servant of all, including the poor and outcasts. Since ointments and spices and oils were usually poured on the bodies of the dead, Mary’s action hints at the crucifixion – when Jesus’ own life would be poured out on the cross.

According to theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Mary is portrayed as a true disciple in contrast to Judas, the unfaithful disciple.  We heard how Judas is presented as a hypocrite who claims to be concerned with the poor, but, is more concerned with lining hi own pockets with money.  Jesus responds pointing out what true discipleship is all about.  Although “The poor you will always have with you,” has traditionally been seen as a justification for callous behaviour, it is actually a quote from Deuteronomy 15:11, which reads: “There will always be some Israelites who are poor and in need, and so I command you to be generous to them.”  Jesus is not saying “don’t worry about the poor, there is always a lot of them around.”  Instead he is saying “There are so many in need, so pour out your blessings upon them.”

As our Lenten journey moves us toward the final walk of Jesus into Jerusalem, we remember the incredible gift that Mary of Bethany poured on Jesus.  It was an extravagant expression of love.  It was costly, not simply in terms of financially but also because to love someone that much involves risk.  But Mary’s gift reminds us that love graciously given – and love graciously received is to be our anointing.

May we once again take a moment to smell the perfumed oil.  May we feel the tears that accompany the anointing.   Feel Mary’s hair touching your legs and feet.  Feel Mary’s hands caressing your feet.  Be wrapped in this most sensuous experience.  Extravagant love is poured out for you.  Amen.