Words of Wondrous Love

“Words of Wondrous Love”

resurrection Jesus - medieval manuscript

Luke 24:1-12 – March 27, 2016

Have you ever had a very full week? Where a month of experiences have been packed into seven hectic days? At such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations. Challenging to decide what important thing to do when, especially when there are so many urgent matters waiting for you. Calling for you. Nudging your elbow, clamoring for your attention. Add to all that tumult the trauma of a sudden death.

That is the situation for these faithful women. These women have gone through some gut-wrenching things, these past few days. After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem just a short seven days ago, these companions of the Rabbi Jesus had seen their leader in debate with some of the most learned religious teachers and leaders of Israel. Jesus had delivered one of His most stirring sermons—the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s Gospel, as well as one of the most poignant—the Discourse from the Upper Room, from John’s Gospel.

As if all of that heavy theology from Rabbi Jesus wasn’t enough, their leader Jesus showed Himself to be everyone’s servant. Since there was no servant present at that Passover dinner on Thursday night to wash the guests’ feet, Jesus did it Himself. He took the position of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. Talk about a mind-blowing experience. Your Rabbi, your teacher, whom you have been following for several years, hanging on His every word and action. This Rabbi, this Jesus becomes a lowly servant and washes everyone’s feet.

But, wait. We’re only getting started. Their Teacher, Rabbi Jesus did something completely unprecedented at supper that night. He took one of the loaves of bread, tore it apart, and said, “This bread? It’s my body. It’s going to be broken for all of you. Take it, and eat it.” Shortly after that, Jesus took one of the cups of wine and said, “This cup? This is the new covenant in my blood, given for you. Take it, and drink.” Jesus took the familiar Passover supper and instituted a new thing—the Lord’s Supper. What we call communion, the Eucharist.

Things really started to follow in rapid succession. The time of intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The betrayal of Judas, and the arrest of Rabbi Jesus. Repeated trials before Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the whipping and the scourging. I am certain all of this was reported to the disciples in great detail.

Pilate bringing Jesus before the crowd that Friday morning. The crowd yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” So, Pilate sentenced this Rabbi Jesus to death. The Roman death of a criminal, death on a cross. Crucifixion.

Some of Jesus’s followers were there as He bore His cross out of the city of Jerusalem. They saw that agonized walk down the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. Finally, as the cross was raised on Golgotha, Jesus suffered that most painful death, death on a cross.

All of that heartbreaking trauma, horror, and extreme grief were packed into just a few days. Plus, for all good Jews, Saturday was the Sabbath. Not only a regular Sabbath, but the special Sabbath during Passover. The women—the rest of the disciples hardly had a chance to begin to process all of those tumultuous events. They did their best to rest, to hide, to grieve on that seventh day of the week, on that Saturday.

I include the women as disciples of Jesus. As commentator Dennis Bratcher says, “Luke tells us that these women followed Jesus from Galilee and watched Him die on the cross (23:49). The Greek word for “follow” is the usual word used for a disciple …. It seems that Luke wants the readers to understand these women to be disciples of Jesus.” [1]

After all this, the women—trying so hard to be faithful in their friendship and following of their leader and teacher Jesus—take spices to anoint the body. They go to the tomb where Jesus had been hurriedly laid late on Friday, before sundown. As the Gospel tells us, they found the stone rolled away. And, the tomb was—empty!

Can you imagine how confused they were? Distracted? Astonished? Yes, it was early in the morning. The women had difficulty comprehending what was before their eyes. After all the horror and trauma of the last few days, while the women were talking amongst themselves, things got even weirder. As Luke says, “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.”

What would you do if two guys in gleaming white clothes showed up, suddenly appeared right here, in St. Luke’s Church? Pretty scary! Talk about being amazed. Astonished.

The men (we can call them angels, because that’s what they were) said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!”

What did I say, a few minutes ago? How at such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations, to pay attention. What on earth is going on here? We hear the angels say, “Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

Then—finally!—the women remember the words of their Teacher Jesus. They run back to their friends, the other disciples, telling them what happened. They are witnesses! They say, “The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone! And, we saw angels!”

I suspect we all can predict the reaction of the other disciples. “What? You saw … what? Are you crazy? What is the matter with you?” Luke tells us, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

What must it have been like for the disciples to hear the Good News the angels brought? A little far-fetched. Maybe a whole lot far-fetched. They couldn’t take it all in. They didn’t believe it! They thought what the women were saying was crazy talk!

What is it like for us, today, to hear the Good News the angels brought?

Who do you identify with? Do you identify with the women? Do you believe in those words the angels brought, and run and tell your friends? Are you witnesses to the Resurrection? Or, are you like the other disciples? Doubting. Skeptical. Thinking those words seem like nonsense! Crazy talk! Perhaps the disciples didn’t remember the words of Jesus. No, not yet.

Ah, that first Easter morning. As Luke says, the angels remind us that our Lord Jesus told us what was going to happen beforehand. Our Lord Jesus predicted that He must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Those were the words that the women remembered. And just like the women, we, too, can witness to the Resurrection. We can proclaim that powerful, loving, transforming experience that has happened!

What does that message, that Good News the angels brought, mean to you and me? Do we know the wondrous love of Jesus? The wondrous love that led Him to the cross, the wondrous love that pierced Him for our transgressions. And, by His wounds we—all of us are healed. Thank God Jesus died in our place, so we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. Thank God Jesus conquered death. We have been reconciled to God. That is the Good News of wondrous love the angels brought.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel—Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!       

 

(I appreciate Readings, Analysis of Texts and Preaching Paths, Dennis Bratcher, Christian Resource Institute. Thanks for the assistance in understanding the text from Luke.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Ceaster1nt.html#text2

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

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Pierced by Love

“Pierced by Love”

Crucifixion woodcut

Isaiah 53:5 – John 19:37 – March 25, 2016

This service tonight is brought to you—to me—to all of us—by the word “LOVE.” All through Lent we have been following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, following Him as He expressed that love to all He met, in various ways.

On the first Sunday in Lent, Valentine’s Day, we looked at Jesus as He was tempted in the wilderness. While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

            We heard Jesus compare Himself to a mother hen. Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, loved by Him, always.

We followed the thread of covenant love given to King David. Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today. God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

Then, the parable of the Prodigal. Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices and run away to a far country.(Including us.) God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off. If that isn’t love, what is?

We come to Mary of Bethany, anointing Jesus with a whole bottle of unbelievably expensive perfume. She intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? Astronomically expensive. Do you understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us so. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

Now, today, Good Friday, Jesus is facing that ultimate gift of love.

When I was in my twenties, recently graduated from a Christian college, it was this time of year. Holy Week. I had connections to several different churches around Chicago, in different denominations. I took the opportunity to attend a service each day at this time, at each place of worship. Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I attended a Lutheran church. The night our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper that night. Good Friday, I went to church at an evangelical church. The church celebrated communion that night. On Saturday at that time, I was in the habit of occasionally attending a Messianic synagogue. I attended that Saturday, and they celebrated that commemoration of the Passover dinner where Messiah Yeshua instituted the Lord’s Supper. And on Sunday morning, Easter morning, I went to a Presbyterian church, where we celebrated Easter communion.

Four very different services at four diverse places of worship. Four separate occasions where I had the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper. With each renewed reminder of the Words of Institution, where we remembered that on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and took the cup at supper. Said, “This is My body, this is My blood, broken and shed for all of you.” And St. Paul in 1 Corinthians reminds us when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember the death of our Lord until He comes again.

As each service washed over me, my consciousness of my sinfulness and how unworthy I was also washed over me. I love this reading from the prophet, Isaiah chapter 53. This chapter of Isaiah keeps breaking my heart. It broke my heart in my twenties, and still continues to break my heart today. I bow my head in grief as I read about our Lord Jesus, despised and rejected of humanity. A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Acquainted with grief.

On that Holy Week in my twenties, with the repeated communion services, my sin was repeatedly put before me. Extreme grief and sorrow came over me each time as I repeatedly considered my sins, my transgressions, and these words from the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus was, indeed, pierced for my transgressions. Through His death on the cross, through those wounds He received, I was healed. Healed from all iniquity!

These words of the prophet are not just words on a page. They became vividly real to me some years ago. Just as they are still vividly real, today. Real for me, for you, for everyone. Jesus was pierced for all of our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for all of our iniquities.

“On Thursday—yesterday, Jesus ate with His disciples.  He knew it would be His last meal with them.  When no one washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus did the job.  He even washed the feet of Judas who would turn Him in to the soldiers and Peter who would pretend he did not even know Jesus later that night. That is love!

“On Friday, Jesus endured whipping and being nailed to a cross.  He forgave the soldiers who did the job.  He endured the crowds who mocked him as He died and forgave them.  He watched His mother watch Him die on the cross, and even asked his friend John to take care of her.  That is love!

“By the time he died on Friday, His heart was broken by his enemies, by the crowds, and even by His friends.  But Jesus kept on loving them all.  That is love – God’s love!” (from Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.)

Yes, our Lord Jesus did die on the cross. He took upon Himself the sins of humanity, willingly. Lovingly. He was pierced, because of love. The best news of all? Jesus did it because He loved us with God’s love. Boundless, abundant, transforming. Jesus loves without limits.

We have been forgiven. Just as the prophet says, through His wounds we are truly healed.  That is indeed something for which we all can thank God.

That is not the end of the story. No! Jesus may have died that Good Friday afternoon, but He did not stay dead. He rose from the dead! Sunday is coming! However, it is not here yet.

Yes, we sorrow with the women and with John, there at the Cross. Yes, we bow our heads in anguish and shame, guilt and grief.

When someone asks us, “How much did Jesus love people?” We can say, “Jesus loved us this much.” (holding up outstretched arms)

 

(Thanks to Carolyn Brown, for her excellent ideas for a Lenten series on Love! I borrowed freely from  Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-palm-passion-sunday-march-20-2016.html )

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Love, Humble and Obedient

“Love, Humble and Obedient”

 

crucifixion sketch

Luke 19:37-40 – Phil 2:8 – March 16, 2016

Have you ever watched a television show or a movie where there are two different stories going on at the same time? A few scenes of the first story, and it gets to an exciting or a suspenseful part; then the show switches to the other story. The second story goes on for a bit and just gets interesting, and suddenly the show changes back to the first story.

This sermon is going to do just that.

Like many stories, the first story we look at today does not start at the beginning. Instead, it interrupts in the middle of the action. Rabbi, or Teacher Jesus, wanted to enter Jerusalem on a Sunday morning. This was a special week. Observing, believing Jews from not only all over Israel, but from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.

People were really starting to talk about this Teacher Jesus! Some people said He was the prophet Elijah who had returned. Others said He was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Even some in Israel said this Jesus might be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

So, when Jesus planned His entrance into Jerusalem that day, He knew what people were saying. He wanted to show everyone—the friendly people in the crowds as well as those who doubted or actively disliked Him—that He was the Messiah. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He did NOT come in like a conquering king, on a white horse. No, He came in as the Anointed One of God. Humble, and riding on a donkey.

Let’s consider what the Teacher Jesus had been doing for a number of months. Jesus’ words and teaching had authority. He preached with power, which was different from the way the scribes and teachers of the day preached. He healed people, restored sight to the blind and made lame people walk—all of which showed God’s mighty power. And if this wasn’t enough, the Teacher Jesus even forgave sins! He certainly appeared to be from God.

We’re going to shift scenes now. Cut!! Now—instead of looking at a situation two thousand years ago, we are going back before the universe was created. Before God spoke and called anything at all into being. Before the beginning of all things, there was GOD. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There was community and fellowship within the Godhead even before anything else was created in the whole universe.

I’ll focus on God the Son. Fully God. He was always in existence. There never was a time when He was NOT. When God the Son took on humanity, when He became Jesus at Christmas two thousand years ago, the human Jesus had an actual, physical birthday. But God the Son always was, always is and always will be. It’s a mystery! I can’t understand it, much less explain it. This is a part of the God we worship and celebrate.

Let’s compare the two stories now. Take God the Son before the foundation of the world, all-powerful, all-knowing. Take Jesus the Teacher in Jerusalem, teaching, preaching, healing, even forgiving sins! Compare them side by side. These are all ways that we can describe God.

Jesus, as He comes into Jerusalem, is greeted by crowds of people waving palms and shouting ‘Hosanna!’ They quoted Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This is a clear sign of what the crowds who greeted Jesus on that day were thinking. This was the way the people of Jerusalem had greeted the conquering king Jehu several centuries before. They greeted Him as Messiah, the Anointed One, who comes in the name of the Lord.

Consider God the Son, before the foundation of the world. The Apostle Paul tells the believers in the city of Philippi that He set aside His God-ness. He laid it aside. Jesus emptied Himself, willingly, of all things related to being God, to become Man. After being in on the creation of the heavens and the earth, after speaking the world into existence, after being all-knowing and all-powerful, God the Son became a baby. Think of a baby you know, a cute, cuddly, helpless little baby. God the Son willingly became like that.

We all know the Christmas story. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a barn to a young, homeless couple. Jesus was Jewish, from Israel, an oppressed people-group, in an occupied country. Jesus was marginalized and shunted aside from the very start.

Think about Israel in the first century—occupied territory! People oppressed, terrorized by not only the Roman soldiers, but also by Herod’s soldiers. Looking through history, we can read the fear of occupation and domination from first-person, historical accounts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a letter written during the time of the Underground Railroad, a diary from Nazi-occupied Holland or a personal account from a victim of human rights abuse from Guatemala today. Horror. Violence. Oppression.

God the Son breaks into this mess of a world. God over all the universe, the Word made flesh, became a baby named Jesus. He became powerless, most vulnerable, least of all. In this fallen world, where power and influence are everything, Jesus came to be with us as a helpless baby.

But I’m not done with the story—yet. Or should I say, the stories? Plural.

Jesus the Teacher could have hidden Himself. He could have just laid low for years, taught quietly, stayed on the outskirts, far away from large towns. But, NO. Jesus did just the opposite. Jesus decided to come to Jerusalem, where there were large crowds, many Jewish leaders, and also many Roman soldiers. He walked into this situation with his eyes wide open.

Some people—I’m thinking of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and other temple leaders—were awfully uneasy. For them, Jesus was their worst nightmare. Dr. Luke tells us in chapter 9 of his gospel that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Our Lord Jesus made up His mind to travel that path. Certain death awaited Him. But He determined to go, nevertheless.

Let’s see what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2. Jesus is described as humbling Himself. Humble? The people in Jerusalem that Palm Sunday morning certainly didn’t expect a humble, quiet guy. No! They expected someone who would take charge, rally the people, and mount a rebellion! They wanted someone who would turn things upside down!

Think about the world the Jews were living in. They were subjects of the Romans, the most powerful nation in the world. So the Jews did not like this oppression much at all. People would pop up, claiming to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, and attempt to rally an army to himself. These attempts never went anywhere. The Romans quickly put an end to any rebellion.

When the Apostle Paul wrote about the person and work of our Lord Jesus, he uses terms familiar to his audience. Paul communicates it in simple, matter-of-fact words. Listen to just a part: Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and coming in human likeness.” Even at that Passover dinner on Thursday night, Jesus did not lord it over the disciples. He washed their feet. He did not seek to dominate others, like the Romans did. So many people want power over others. Instead, Jesus wanted to serve. Just like the Apostle Paul describes here in Philippians, Jesus took the form of a servant. He humbly, willingly and lovingly decided to serve others.

Wow. I repeat, WOW.

Let’s get back to the story. Back to Jerusalem. While Jesus went through the turbulent events of Passion Week, with all of the confrontations and discussions, and especially Passover dinner on Thursday night, we see only a portion of the events of this week. Almost the highlights of the week, what you might see if you were watching a video or a television show in two parts, and at the beginning of the second part they showed you the story so far, up to this point.

Why did Jesus come to earth, empty and humble Himself? He did it for us. We can’t understand it. It is pure love from Jesus. And, we can praise God that Jesus did this, for us.

Remember the people on that Palm Sunday morning, the ones who said ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ They were looking for a savior, a conqueror. Jesus was a savior, He was a conqueror, all right. Just not in the way everyone else expected.

Paul tells us that Jesus became obedient, obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Jesus could have turned away. Jesus could have stepped aside. But He didn’t. We even hear it in what Jesus prayed in the Garden. He said to His Father, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Jesus knew that some of that crowd who cried “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday morning would be screaming “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday morning. On Palm Sunday morning, He entered Jerusalem. Jesus was preparing Himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, one of the most horrible kinds of execution ever thought of by anyone, anywhere.

We can ask . . . WHY? Why did the God over all the universe, the Creator of the heavens and the earth come down from heaven and die a criminal’s death on a cross? It was LOVE.

Jesus shows us a love we could not resist, that melts our hearts. This is what causes us to fall at His feet in worship and praise. As the final step, the culmination of His amazing love for us, Jesus has been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God the Father! Jesus receives the name which is above every name. Jesus Christ is Lord. Did you hear? Do you know? At the name of Jesus every knee should bow! Every knee of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Praise God. Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Extravagant Love

“Extravagant Love”

John 12-3 Marys_Anointing_of_Jesus_

March 13, 2016 – John 12:3

How do we express our love towards each other? What way is the best way? Do different people express love in different ways?

A Christian counselor and popular author, Dr. Gary Chapman, has a best-selling book and series of videos and in-depth studies on how to express love in the way that your loved one understands the best. Each individual has a slightly different view on how to best communicate love to another person. These different ways fall into several basic categories, such as: through physical touch, acts of service, words of kindness and affirmation, spending quality time with one another, or through gifts.

As we consider our Gospel reading from John 12 today, verse 1 paints a backdrop for our action. Jesus pays a kind visit to His good friends at Bethany, a town quite near to Jerusalem. The time is six days before the Passover. And, Jesus stayed at the house of His friend Lazarus, whom He had just raised from the dead.

Martha, Lazarus’s sister, puts on a special dinner. You had better believe that all three siblings were extremely grateful to Jesus for what He had recently done!

In today’s reading, we have three actors in this scene in Bethany. First, Jesus, the guest of honor at the festive occasion. Second, Mary, the sister of Martha, the one giving the special dinner. And third, Judas, one of Jesus’s disciples.

Both Martha and Mary express their love to Jesus. Martha, through the special dinner she hosts. Remember what John writes in his Gospel? “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.” But, Mary? Mary goes over and above anything loving and thankful Martha could have done in the kitchen and with the food. The reading today tells exactly what Mary did: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet.”

Before we consider the extravagant love Mary showed to Jesus, let’s talk about the perfume Mary had. The Gospel calls it “pure nard, an expensive perfume.” This perfume is not just expensive, say, $100, maybe $200, for a tiny little bottle. No. This perfume is astronomically expensive. Unbelievably costly.

Nard comes from the high pasture lands of the Himalayas. It was extremely difficult to manufacture, and traveled a long way over the Silk Road across central Asia to Palestine. At that time, nard cost up to as much as a laborer would earn in a year. I suspect Mary intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? As I said, astronomically expensive. Do you begin to understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

Jesus knows exactly what Mary is doing. He sits there calmly, receives the extravagant gift of extravagant love. I suspect He talked softly with Mary while she was anointing His feet, too. John’s Gospel says “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Just a short number of days before, the house of Martha and Mary was filled with the stench of death. Deep grief, weeping, and wailing. Lazarus had died. Yet, Jesus had raised their beloved brother back to life, and now the house was filled with the scent of pure nard. An unbelievably expensive aroma, a scent of richness and beauty.

Enter the third actor in this scene, the disciple Judas. Judas shames Mary for such expense. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” It’s true. That expensive perfume could have fed countless mouths, could have funded several missionaries, could have clothed many needy families.

Ah, but the reader sees which one practices poor stewardship. The one who talked out of both sides of his mouth; the one who secretly was a thief; the one who used to steal from the community fund which was held by Judas in common for all the disciples. So, not only was Judas making off with the group’s money, but he held up “the poor.” He used them as an outright shaming device! Imagine, shaming a loving woman for doing what she felt needed to be done: to love Jesus, extravagantly.

Let me tell you a story.

“Several years ago, the Seattle Art Museum hosted photographer Annie Leibovitz’s “Women” exhibit. … One black & white photo had an almost magnetic power to draw in the passersby. It was a serene photo of an aging African-American woman – her head slightly tilted, her soft eyes and smile welcoming. She was Oseola McCarty, an 87-year-old washerwoman from Mississippi who gave the bulk ($150,000) of her life-savings to ensure that African-American students would have the college education that she couldn’t.”

“Leaving school in the sixth grade to take care of her ailing aunt, Ms. McCarty spent the next 75 years washing other people’s clothes and saving every dime she earned. Towards the end of her life she commented, ‘You can’t do nothing nowadays without an education. I don’t regret one penny I gave. I just wish I had more to give.’ She couldn’t understand others’ amazement at her ability to save so much from her meager earnings or her willingness to give it all away. “It wasn’t hard,” she said simply, ‘I didn’t buy things I didn’t need… The Lord helped me . . . It’s an honor to be blessed like that.’”

“Many have questioned the “hows” and “whys” behind Ms. McCarty’s extravagance towards complete strangers. The fact of the matter is: she saw her ability to engage in such extravagance as complete blessing – an outpouring of gratitude for the life of “enough” that God had given her. Her extravagance mirrors Mary’s extravagant gift of anointing (in this week’s Gospel reading) as well as gifts of grace from an extravagant God.” [1]

Finally, Jesus steps up to Mary’s defense. ““Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.” He stops short of outright shaming Judas, but it’s like Jesus put His arm around Mary, faced Judas, and said, “Hey! Stop picking on my friend Mary! Leave her alone!”

We know that Jesus knew very well what He intended to do, in just a short time. Yes, He was attending a celebratory dinner, celebrating His good friend Lazarus being alive. But—His face was set toward Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was not far away. Moreover, Jesus realized what extravagant love Mary was showing towards Him.

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us, only a week away. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

            Those who love Christ truly love Him so much better than this world as to be willing to lay out the best they have for Him.

Do we love Jesus that much? Are we willing to lay down a year’s salary? Are we willing to do as much as Ms. Oseola McCarty? Are you and I willing to show such extravagant love? Jesus showed extravagant love to us. In the Passion Week. On the cross. Truly, extravagant love.

Let us pray.  Lord, help me to show a portion of such amazing, extravagant love to You, and to many others. Amen.

 

[1] Radical Gratitude, lectionary-based stewardship, Northwest United Methodist Foundation. http://www.nwumf.org/images/radical_gratitude/year_c/radical_gratitude_mar1907.pdf

I would also like to express my appreciation for Matthew Henry’s excellent Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume V (Matthew through John). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc5.John.xiii.html From Matthew Henry’s Commentary. (I received a great deal of assistance with this sermon from this commentary.)

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

 

Our Stronghold, Our Peace

“Our Stronghold, Our Peace”

God, stronghold for the oppressed

March 9, 2016 – Psalm 37:39-40

Most everyone is afraid, at one time or another. And, there are some really powerful things in this world to be afraid of! Worry, anxiety, fear. Those are all things that threaten to take away any peace and serenity in our lives.

One of the enemy’s most powerful weapons that he uses against us?  Worry, anxiety, fear can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, threatening our every move and decision. Not only the huge things, but also the little things. The personal things. I know we, here at St. Luke’s Church, have a good deal to be concerned about. Things just happen.

Just when I think I’m going in a definite direction, with a specific goal in mind, things can happen. These things can just be accidental, minor bumps along the way. Or, sometimes the situations or accidents can be catastrophic, life-changing. Maybe even life-ending.

Take our psalm for the evening. A psalm of King David, David wrote about evildoers, and about the evil people seem to routinely do. Yes, there’s lots to worry about! Yes, there’s lots for us to be anxious about! Look at all the evil in the world!

No matter what kinds of things happen in our lives—and good things happen as well as bad!! —the psalm we read today is talking about the evil things that happen. Evil things complicate our lives. Make our lives messy, even confront us with dangers. Things to worry about, endlessly.

What can we do when we get into an anxious predicament like this? What if the evil, worrisome things complicate our lives beyond all imagination? It is then that we feel separate from others. What’s more, we can feel separated from God, too. Any peace we had is hopelessly gone. Worry, anxiety and fear take its place.

I have known people who do not face evil, trials, and tribulations very well. I usually didn’t ask at the time, but I think one of the reasons might have been because they were not sure whether God was really in their lives. I know for a fact that several of my acquaintances do not really care about God, and don’t want much to do with Him at all. They are totally separated from God.

There are several ways to face evil; this way is not the wisest way, to my way of thinking.

The psalmist, King David, certainly had cause to be anxious. He had been up against real evil, many times. He had been in a real mess over and over, and he had come through it repeatedly. What’s more, David knew God had been at his side all the way. And, David knew that the evildoers would get their comeuppance, sooner or later.

Remember what David said in the first two verses of this psalm: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” This theme runs through this psalm, all the way through. David tells us not to worry! Yes, the evildoers might be prospering right now. Yes, the evildoers might have lots of money, and property, and power, and control. The evildoers might be doing awful things to people. But, that is not the end of the story!

Some scoffers might say, what about things that are even worse than we can imagine? Things like violence, war, rape, bombing. Why do godless people seem to get away with all these horrendous acts?

Marjorie Nelson, a Quaker nurse served with a Friends medical team in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. She is a pacifist. This is part of her story. “Our project was located six miles from My Lai [the site of a massacre by U.S. military forces]. We treated at least one survivor from that massacre. Vietnamese friends told me not only of that event but of five similar incidents perpetrated by American or Korean troops in our province alone. I saw children injured by NLF rockets which exploded near their orphanage. I treated patients in our rehabilitation center who had extremities blown off by land mines planted by both sides in that conflict. Do I under-estimate the power and influence of evil? I think not.” [1]

Some scoffers consider Christians to be naïve and easily manipulated. I don’t think so. I don’t think Marjorie, that Quaker nurse and pacifist, was naïve. Yes, we are aware of the evil that people do. Sometimes, horrible things, so awful we cannot even imagine how horrific. But we are not naïve. We have sin within ourselves, too. Plus, God’s message is to love our enemies, and be kind to them. Even when we are our own worst enemies.

David finishes the psalm with the verse “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; God is their stronghold in time of trouble.”

A stronghold is not only a refuge, a place of safety, but a stronghold is also for our salvation, for offensive purposes, too! We can see that God is not only a safe place for us to hide, but also God is also a strong place to keep us free. No matter the situation, God is there for us.

God is our salvation–and we can come to the Lord at any time. We have not only the ability to come to God, but we have the privilege, too! What an opportunity. And what a thing to celebrate–we can echo the psalmist’s words, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you the desires of your heart.”

 

[I’d like to thank Catherine Whitmire and her excellent collection of thoughts on peace found in Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007). ]

[1] Whitmire, Catherine, Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007), 126.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

 

Love, Despite Bad Choices

“Love, Despite Bad Choices”

Luke 15-20 prodigal, father, brother

March 6, 2016 – Luke 15:20

Most of us—maybe even all of us—have some experience with a prodigal child. Either one of ours, or one of our close friends’ or relatives’ children. Are you familiar with the parents, loving their child enough to let him or her go away? Go far away, cross country, or even into a foreign place? This might be familiar. It can be very sad. Heart-breaking, in fact.

We have the familiar parable of the Prodigal as our Gospel reading today. What is the setting for this parable? In verse 1 of chapter 15 we see Jesus sitting down to dinner with a bunch of social outcasts. As far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned, that is—they were outright offended! How could Rabbi Jesus, a self-respecting, reputable rabbi, be associating with riff-raff, with undesirables, with people like that?

Tax collectors and sinners. The upright Pharisees even had rules about associating with those people. They just didn’t. They were forbidden to have any dealings with them at all. But—Rabbi Jesus welcomed the tax collectors and sinners. Get this—He even ate dinner with them!

The Pharisees and scribes (teachers of the Law of Moses) were judging Jesus for some bad choices they saw Him making, according to them and their strict rules.

You know what Jesus’s response was, before I even tell you. Jesus said, “Let me tell you all a story. A parable.” Except, He didn’t just tell one parable, He told three of them, all about similar things. Luke chapter 15 is called the chapter of lost things. Jesus tells three interconnected stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Today, we are focusing on the lost son. Our Sunday school gave us a wonderful retelling of the gist of this story!

The parable of the lost son is a parable about bad choices. As the story continues, we see that the younger brother made a series of bad choices. Wanting to leave home. Asking his father for his inheritance. Going to the far country and blowing all the money in fast living. All of these decisions were bad choices.

Let me expand on just one of these bad choices. According to the inheritance rules of the time, the younger son was to receive one third of the total assets of the father, after his death. (The oldest son would get two thirds, just because he was the eldest son.) But—this shouldn’t have happened until after the father died. The younger son was so uncaring, so disrespectful to his father, that he essentially said, “Dad, I wish you were dead already, so I could have all of my inheritance now. In fact, I want you to cash in all your assets and give me one third, right now. I can’t stand around waiting for you to die for me to get my hands on your money!”

The amazing part, the unbelievable part of all this? That’s exactly what the father did.

We all know what happened. The younger son goes to the far country. (A Gentile country.) Is estranged from his father and family. He mismanages and squanders his inheritance with debauchery and fast living. The far country has a famine descend upon it, which makes the younger son lose his money even more quickly. Finally, he becomes completely poverty-stricken. Runs out of funds, and is forced to hire himself out as a pig herder. (A surprising occupation for a good Jewish boy.)

If you ask me, these all sound like pretty bad choices.

I posed the question at the beginning of this sermon: do you know some young person who has been making bad choices? I want you to keep that person in mind.

Then, the good choices start happening. The younger son “came to himself.” This phrase means so much! It could mean that the young man had taken leave of his senses, at one point. Yet, now, he makes a good choice. A sensible choice. He remembers that his father’s servants—even the most lowly servant, on the bottom rung of the ladder—had enough to eat. That lowest servant was not starving, even though he was a servant.

If you or I were in that desperate situation—practically starving in a famine-torn land—I would suspect that thought would sound pretty good to us, too! Moreover, the younger son makes the decision to ‘fess up to his father. He realizes that he has acted in a really bad way towards his father. Plus, he acted in a really bad way … towards God, too. He returns to his father, and in so doing, returns to God, too.

We all know very well that the younger son made some really bad choices. Yes! And, isn’t there just a little bit of self-satisfaction at how bad things got for the younger son? “I told you so!” “I could have predicted that!” and even, “Just what you deserve!”

Yet, how many of us make bad choices from time to time, too? Once in a while, or even a little more often than that? How many of us come to our senses, and realize we have acted badly? We return to our heavenly Father, hat in hand, tail between our legs, and ask for forgiveness. We repent, just as much as the younger son did.

Yes, the younger son finally made a good choice! He gets up, leaves the far country, and returns to his father. His faithful, loving, compassionate father.

The absolutely joyful part of this is the father’s reaction. The father sees his son coming from a long way off. All the time the son was gone, the father kept looking for the far-away son. The father kept hoping that the son would return! And when he finally sees his son in the distance, the father throws away all concern for propriety and loss of dignity. He runs down the road in the middle of town to meet his son! Embracing his son, showering him with kisses! So relieved and overjoyed at having his beloved son with him again!

But, wait! That’s not all! The father restores the son to his place, puts shoes on his feet, a ring on his finger (showing his status in the household), and gives him the best robe (a restoration of position). Reconciled! Restored! On top of that, he throws a big party!

If we celebrate the recovery of a lost sheep or a lost coin, how much more should the father celebrate the recovery of a lost son!

I don’t have time to go into the bad choices of the elder brother. That would take a whole other sermon. Suffice it to say that the disgruntled older brother made a bad choice or two, himself, even though he stayed at home. Remind you of anyone? The Pharisees and scribes, perhaps, keeping all their strict rules to the letter, but not having compassion, love and forgiveness?

So, Jesus hits the Pharisees and scribes where they live, with their own disgruntled remarks and attitudes. And, Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices. Including us.

God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off.

If that isn’t love, what is?

 

[I am indebted to R. Alan Culpepper’s commentary on Luke, chapter 15, found in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series (United States of America: Abingdon Press, 1996). Thanks for several insights interwoven into this sermon.]

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

As Far As Possible—Peace

“As Far As Possible—Peace”

 

March 2, 2016 – Romans 12:18

Living at peace with others can be difficult sometimes.

Peace in families. Peace between friends and in relationships. Peace between groups of people, whether in terms of sports teams, religions, music preference, the racial context, food choices, even thinking about the pets some people choose to have!

People have disagreements about all of these areas—and then some!

What does the Bible say about disagreements? Conflict?

Let’s take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s book of Romans, 12:16-21. This is two paragraphs in a larger section. There is a lot here, in terms of pointers for conflict resolution!

These are a series of good pieces of advice from Paul. A laundry list of valuable ways of acting. Plus, these are pieces of advice that Paul gives to the whole congregation. We can tell from the verbs—all plural, for the group of believers. A group pep talk!

How does Paul recommend the Roman congregation to act? “By living in such a way that fosters peace.” Commentator Elizabeth Shively says, “Verses 17 and 21 act like bookends, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil’” As she tells us, these ideas are connected. We are truly overcome by evil when we allow spite to infect us. [1]

Aren’t evil, spite and resentment like a disease? Like a particularly nasty, insidious virus, that sneaks into our bloodstream. Gets under our skin, and burrows down deep inside. Evil, spite and resentment are particularly difficult to get out of our hearts and lives.

Yes, we can think about different people in a congregation. Our church, or any church. Yes, there are serious matters that come up. Divisive issues, and sometimes matters that are particularly difficult to resolve. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this kind of serious conflict! He gives us some words of advice that may be useful in just such a contentious situation. More than that, he gives words of advice that are useful in many situations—squabbles between friends or family, and arguments between church folk and those outside the church.

This can be a complication! Paul comes right out and tells the believers in Rome that they are not to repay evil for evil. Instead, show love. Paul does not say so here, in this paragraph, but he does several times in other places, in this letter.

It is the Christian’s job to show love! Paul tells us expressly how we are to show love, too.

How are we to show love? Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” And further, verse 20 quotes from Proverbs 21, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’”
Let me give an illustration. Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote, “In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned.

“Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”

This African man showed love to his enemy. He did everything he could to put out that fire in his neighbor’s house. He lived out God’s love towards his enemy, just as Paul urges us to do, here.

God shows us abundant love! God shows us plentiful mercy! And, we do not deserve it. That’s why Paul urges us to do the same for those who do evil to us, and for those who are our enemies.

Since the believers in Rome were shown God’s love and mercy, Paul recommends tending to enemies in the same way they—we—would tend to the material needs of families, and friends. As our commentator Elizabeth Shively says, Paul’s audience “are to do more than refrain from repaying evil; they are to initiate doing good to opponents. This is much harder. But in doing so, Christians overcome evil with good, showing that they “cling to what is good,” expressing the definition of true love.” [2]

How difficult is that? Really difficult! How hard to express true love. How hard to live at peace with everyone. Yet, that is what we are called to do as followers of Christ.

Yes, the idea of living at peace with everyone is a wonderful thing. Living it out is a challenging thing. Sometimes, even an almost impossible thing. Remember, it’s the Christ-like way to live.

What would Jesus do? How would Jesus act?

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

We are called to act in practical and physical ways. Show love. Express mercy.

That, I think, is how Jesus would act.

[1] Commentary, Romans 12:9-21, Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!