Listen to “Drink Deeply and Be Comforted” sermon by Vicar Rebecca Holland (7-7-19).
Listen to “Cast Out My Demons, O Christ” sermon by Vicar Rebecca Holland (6-23-19).
God’s Love is FOR YOU!
Today has been declared, “Father’s day.” It is a good day to thank and honor and remember those men in your life who have encouraged you, challenged you, supported you and been an inspiration for you – even if they were not your birth father. When I was young we always gave my father one of two gifts – a tie – or socks. And if it was a good year… he got both! I do have the secret to the best gift to give to a father…and it isn’t socks… but I can’t tell you yet…
Instead…. I have a question for you:
How many of you were encouraged by your father to boast when you were growing up? I don’t think the word “boast” was even in my father’s vocabulary. He was such a humble man that I can’t imagine him boasting. If he did something well, he never talked about it. And if he was caught doing something well, he would just say, “Thank you – you would have done the same thing.”
When I was growing up, I was taught NOT to boast. We were supposed to be humble – right? And yet Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to boast! He says, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” And then he says, “we also boast in our sufferings.”
This didn’t make sense either. So I wondered what Paul was talking about when he encourages the Romans to boast. It turns out that the word “boast” could also be translated as “rejoice!” It makes much more sense to rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. But…when you are in pain or suffering, how many of you boast? Do you rejoice?
I don’t. I complain. I certainly don’t seek out suffering – and I wouldn’t wish suffering and pain on anyone else either – and I certainly wouldn’t tell them to rejoice in their pain.
So what is Paul saying? He isn’t masochistic – he doesn’t love pain. But….Paul does know that we live in a broken world and that pain and suffering happen in our world and in our lives.
He also knows the story of Jesus and God’s great love. God not only took on human flesh and blood, but God revealed God’s love through the suffering and death of Jesus, his own Son on a cross, an instrument of terror and a symbol of shame.
In itself, Jesus’ death would have been have been incredibly powerful – and sad. But the cross is not the end of the story. God took what was shameful, painful and seemingly hopeless …. and turned it around to give us the incredible gift - of grace, peace, hope, love and everlasting life. Where there was sorrow, death and despair, God brought joy, life and hope.
And this is not just what we believe about in our heads. This is how God works in live our lives. God is present with us – even as we struggle in our faith and in our lives. There will be suffering in our broken world. But, God promises to be with us even in the midst of our suffering, and just as God made joy, hope and life come out of sorrow, death and despair in Jesus, God also works in our lives, pouring love into us. God works through our suffering to build in us endurance and character and a capacity to hope.
It’s Father’s day today… and yet… it was hard for me to read this passage today – and not think about my mother Marilyn who we buried yesterday in the family grave in Wisconsin. As many of you know, she died recently after living with cancer for five and a half years. Those years were not without suffering and pain. And yet… my mother taught me how she could rejoice – not for the pain – and yet rejoice…despite the pain and suffering. Like Paul, she could rejoice, because she knew three things:
First: she knew she was not forsaken by God. Her cancer was not a punishment. Cancer is part of the brokenness of our world. And God was with her through it all.
Second: she knew the story of Jesus who brings life and hope.
But perhaps most importantly, she knew what the story of Jesus meant for her life. She knew that she was a child of God. And, because of the love and support of God, and her Christian community… she knew that suffering and pain would not be what defined her life.
It was the witness of her parents, especially her father Spencer, that taught her endurance in the midst of suffering and pain. Their house burned down when she was about 8. For about two weeks, they lived with her father Spencer’s parents and aunts and cousins who lived at the top of the hill – maybe a mile away in a very big well maintained farm house. But then… they moved back to their farm and into a woodshed, for five years, while Spencer cut the trees, let them dry, planed the wood and built the house. She learned endurance from her dad.
They could have been bitter. After all, their grandparents and cousins lived in relative luxury while they lived in a woodshed in which the water froze in the bucket under the sink on winter nights. But they didn’t complain. In later years she wondered why, when her aunt lived in the big house at the top of the hill, that everyone came to their woodshed house for any celebration. Perhaps it was because her parents welcomed everyone… and just put up another sawhorse table when more people showed up. They didn’t just endure in the woodshed, they built character and shared the love of God with everyone.
I think it is because of the mentoring of her father – and others – that my mother learned to look at her situation, and even her cancer, as an opportunity.
She told me that there was a bell in the cancer clinic that people would ring to celebrate the end of treatment when they were cancer free. On one day when one of her newfound friends was ringing a bell, my mother must have looked especially happy. A man turned to her and said, “When will you be ringing that bell? Sometime soon, I hope?” Marilyn turned to him and said, “No, I will never ring that bell.” He was embarrassed and said, “Oh I’m so sorry – I just assumed that since you have had to endure so many treatments it would be your turn soon.”
Marilyn looked at him and smiled as she said, “I am glad for these treatments. They are what are keeping me alive!” She rejoiced – not in the suffering but in the hope that she had of living fully another day.
Her cancer had made her more aware of the preciousness of life. It was because she knew that her days were numbered that she took time to tell stories, gather with friends and family, travel and enjoy life to the fullest. Her prayer life deepened too.
Her intentionality of living a faith-filled life produced not only endurance, but character and the belief that life was worth living. This gave her hope, a hope that sustained her.
Marilyn had hope – an audacious joy-filled hope - because she knew the story of Jesus – and what it meant for her. She knew she was a child of God.
Marilyn was a remarkable person – but so are you. As Apostle Paul’s said to the Romans, so I say to you: God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
You have received the gift of God’s love – and here is the double blessing of God’s love – it grows when it is shared.
Remember that I promised to tell you the best gift you could give today? The best gift that you could possibly give to any father or anyone else for that matter -is the gift that our Heavenly Father gave to us – the gift of love and the assurance that God’s love is for them too.
God’s love is poured out without measure and without price for you – and it is given for you to share. This love allows us the courage to rejoice – to boast – because we know that God is with us always and will be with us regardless of any challenges that we may face… and that gives us endurance… which gives us character… which gives us hope…and allows us to love…because we know God’s love is given for us. Thanks be to God!
24:44 Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
24:48 You are witnesses of these things.
24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;
24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
YOU are witnesses.
“The Nurturing Place” in Jersey City is a daycare run by Catholic sisters for children of homeless families. Like the families that some of you helped care for this past week through Families moving Forward, a program that houses homeless families in churches, the children of these homeless families did not have many opportunities; none of the little ones had even been to the beach – even though it just was a short distance away. So one day, the sisters took the preschoolers to the Jersey shore and then shared what happened.
Can you imagine: The little legs of the 3 and 4 year olds scrambling up the sandy dunes, falling down in the sand and then giggling as they climbed back up again. It seemed like climbing a mountain. Finally, they reached the top of the dunes. And then… they could scarcely believe their eyes: there it was - the ocean – with water as far as they could see.
Those little preschoolers – as eager as any child would be - slid down the hill and ran towards the waves, running in and out of the water, laughing, splashing. What happiness! What joy! The children played and played until the sisters said it was time for lunch.
They left the beach and went to a park – not far away. But, after lunch, the children begged to go back up the sand dunes. No sooner had the sisters said yes than One little boy named Freddie took off. He outran the rest and climbed his way to the top. He looked out, then turned to the others and shouted, “It’s still there!”1
It’s still there. In Freddie’s young life, so little was “permanent” that he wasn’t sure that anything would last – not even an ocean.
We may not wonder about the ocean… pretty sure that is going to be there… but with melting glaciers we may wonder about the ocean levels -- or about the stability of other things. With 40 tornadoes pounding the heartland of the US in May and blizzards hitting us – last year in April and this year in May… the weather feels less predictable, less certain than in the past. The whole world feels unsettled… not only in our country but also the world – I mean, what’s up with Brexit? In our ever-changing world, it sometimes feels as if we are walking on shifting sands.
The disciples may have felt like they were walking on shifting sands too. They had been following Jesus for three years, watching as Jesus healed people; listening to his teaching; rejoicing in his triumphal ride into Jerusalem; then despairing as Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. But …Easter morning, they suddenly hear reports that Jesus is alive – and Jesus appears to them.
It is no wonder that the disciples are unsettled …to say the least. Perhaps they were afraid. After all… some of them had run away when the Romans came. Others had stood at a distance. Maybe they felt complicit or anxious… certainly confused... and clueless as to what was coming next…
Into this anxiety of unknowing, Jesus does three things:
First he opens the scriptures, like he did for the disciples who had been on the road to Emmaus. and like he had for them time and time again as they were traveling with him. So Jesus interprets for them – and shows them how his death and resurrection fulfills the prophecies.
Secondly, Jesus proclaims repentance and forgiveness, beginning in Jerusalem…with them. Jesus knows their fears and anxieties and forgives them. Remember… they were standing there… certainly blaming themselves –and probably each other for letting Jesus down. But Jesus wipes all that away and proclaims forgiveness, not only for them and for all those in Jerusalem who had condemned him but for all the nations.
And then… Jesus proclaims to them… and to us: You are witnesses. You are witnesses. What does that mean?
The role of a witness is to tell the truth, to proclaim to others who have not seen, who have not heard – like Freddie telling his friends, “It’s still here!”
Being a witness means you can’t keep silent. You have a responsibility. As it says on my cross, “Christ is counting on you.”
So did Jesus’ make a PR mistake? I mean… counting on a bunch of fishermen? I guess they were turned around. But what about today? Is Jesus really counting on people who have been taught – at least culturally - that faith is private, personal – live and let live- don’t bother your neighbor… don’t make waves… ?
But maybe Jesus’ didn’t make a mistake. Have you ever heard the legend of the invention of chess? The story goes that the emperor was so pleased with the inventor of the game of chess that he said to the inventor – “Name your reward!”
The man responded: “Oh emperor, my wishes are simple. I only wish for this: Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.“
The emperor agreed, amazed that the man had asked for such a small reward. Until, the next week when his treasurer came back and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum, far greater than all the rice that could conceivably be produced in many many centuries!”
The legend of the grain of rice is the story of how sharing the Good News of Jesus works. After all… who has been a witness for Christ in your life? I’m not asking who was the first person who told you about Jesus. I’m asking, who have you seen living a life of faith?
For me, it has been many people – certainly in the beginning my mom Marilyn and dad Ardell and my grandparents, Mabel and Spencer, Martha and Albert, and my Sunday School teacher Elsie Olson and my pastors Rube and Dave and Anne. But that is not all. The witness that I have seen continues with my family and friends and with all of you. After all, what are you doing? You are showing up to worship, encouraging me – and one another. By living a life of faith, you ARE a witness.
This is what it means to be a witness. It means “practicing” your faith inside these walls, but not just inside these walls. It also means taking it outside to the places where you live and work and play.
Maybe Jesus did not make a mistake in entrusting the message to his disciples – and they, in turn, to each person that they met. After all… if one grain becomes two… and two becomes four… soon 1000 becomes 2000. Good News can multiply too.
Jesus did one more thing: he blessed his disciples. They responded - not with dread or anxiety because of the weight of responsibility that Jesus placed upon them, but -- with joy, blessing God.
Jesus blesses you and me too and sends us out to bless others. In the words of the song we are about to sing, we join heaven and earth in responding with JOY “for in your life and mine is shining the glory of God; your life and mine unite in the love of God and your life and mine will always bear witness to God.”
Thanks be to God!
The Holy Gospel is from John the 13th Chapter.
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."The Gospel of our Lord.
Do you remember those pastel-colored heart shaped candies stamped with phrases like: “Be Mine,” “Hugs” “Love you”? Called “Sweethearts,” they weren’t known for their sweet taste – they actually tasted kind of chalky. And yet, until the company was sold this year, every year people bought 8 billion of these little candies just for their little sweet sentimental messages.
But in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is not being sentimental or sweet when he commands his disciples to “love one another.” These verses are taken from the scripture we read on Maundy Thursday. The disciples are gathered in an Upper Room for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Lots happened this week. Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey. People hail him as Lord and Messiah. People from other places want to see Jesus. This should be a time of triumph, a celebratory dinner, a feast!
But Jesus, knowing that he did not have much time left with his disciples, wanted to teach them a lesson that they would remember. So he took off his robe, wrapped a towel around himself, and, like a servant, began washing their feet. Remember, Jesus had just been proclaimed King and Messiah! This was a job for servants. And yet, when Peter protests, Jesus insists. He wants to demonstrate servant leadership and the length that he will go because of his great love for them. Washing their feet was just the beginning.
Jesus also fed them – taking the bread – giving it to them and saying, this is my body… take and eat… and he took the cup and gave it for them to drink, saying, drink this – all of you… All of you, even Judas. And then, after giving Judas a piece of bread, Jesus sent him out, knowing that Judas was going to betray him.
It was only then... after Jesus had demonstrated servant love – by washing their feet and feeding even of the one who was about to betray him – that Jesus gives his disciples the commandment: “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
These were Jesus’ chosen disciples. They had been traveling together. Together they witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Together they heard Jesus’ teaching. Together they ate and drank and slept. One might assume that they were all one big band of brothers, all best friends. But, that’s probably not the case.
At a conference this past week, I was reminded of just how different Jesus’ followers were from one another and how challenging it must have been for them to get along – let alone love one another. Take a look with me at just a few of them.
Peter – a fisherman by trade, had no screen on his words – he just said whatever he thought. Sometimes it was inspired and sometimes… not. He would not have been the easiest person to get along with on a road trip.
And what about James and John? Jesus called these two brothers, “Sons of Thunder.” That could be a clue to their personality. Luke reports that they asked Jesus if they could call down fire and thunder upon the unbelievers. Jesus said no. They also asked Jesus for a favor – out of earshot of the rest of the disciples – if they could claim the seats of honor, and sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom. These two were not real team players. Again… Jesus said no.
And then there was Simon the Zealot. Zealots believed God gave the kingdom to Israel and they had the right to get it back – by any means. The ulta-Zealots were the terrorists of the day. They carried a knife with them at all times and were prepared to assassinate traitors and those who sold out to the Romans… like tax collectors…
Speaking of tax collectors, you may remember that Jesus’ disciple Matthew– at least before he met Jesus -- was a tax collector. Most people despised tax collectors both because they often collected extra fees to line their own pockets and because they were seen as Jews who were in league with the Romans.
So you see they were an untidy little group of followers. Really, the only thing that held them together was Jesus. And now he was going to leave them.
Jesus knew it would be hard for them and so… Jesus told them – no, he commanded them: Love one another. They were to love one another, not only for their own sake as a community of believers, but also as an example for the whole world. He commanded them to love one another so that others would be able to recognize them, not for their differences… not for their preaching… not for the quality of their teaching… but… for their love.
We live in a time that is becoming increasingly polarized – especially politically, but in other ways as well. The media that you watch and listen to influences how you think about issues and what interpretation – some call it “spin” – you give to an event. This is tearing apart our country. Even within families, people are starting to take sides. One of my aunts has outlawed in her home all conversation that is political in nature – and if Ethel says something – everyone listens.
But I wonder if silence is the best response. Certainly it is if the alternative is name-calling and demonizing. But I wonder if we can live into being the loving respect-filled community that Christ calls us to be. I wonder if we can show the world that we can speak respectfully together – even when we disagree – just because we take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us.
The world needs our example. After all, where else is there a place in which people who differ from one another by age, by class, by gender, by race, by nationality and in so many other ways… can come together to share and be united by Christ’s body and blood?
We are doing that today. Where else can people be welcomed into your family just because God loves them? We are doing that today as we welcome Eli as a brother in Christ in God’s family.
Today, Jesus calls us, all of us, to LOVE ONE ANOTHER and to love ALL of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ as Jesus loves us – and to do it so that all the world will see and will know that we are Christians by our love. And I believe that we won’t do it perfectly and that we will need to forgive one another – a lot– when we hurt one another. Still… Jesus still calls us to love one another... and we get to start again, each day, to do just that. A poet said it this way:
"Life is short. We do not have much time,
to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us.
Be swift to love & make haste to be kind."
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
By Brigit Katz Smithsonian.com
2by Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss moral philosopher, poet, and critic.
John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” And not only do the sheep know Jesus, but as it says in our Gospel today “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
Jesus gives us – all of us – a promise,“ I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
That’s a promise. Jesus has got your back. No one and no-thing can come between you and Jesus. You belong to Christ Jesus.
At the funeral, Pastor Eugene Peterson, the translator of the Message Bible, his son, Leif Peterson – recalled his Dad’s message to him: It's the same message over and over: 'God loves you. He's on your side. He's coming after you. He's relentless.'"
Jesus will never give you up – because He loves you. And… he promises Eternal life. This is Jesus’ promise to you too.
Up until she was diagnosed with cancer, five and half years ago, my mother Marilyn was busy – really busy – with work and with lots of other things. But when she went into treatment, suddenly she had more time on her hands. And one of the things that she did was take time for devotions.
Her favorite devotion – that we read almost every day after she entered hospice – came from the high school teacher of Rev. Corrine Chilstrom: Every morning lean thine arm awhile upon the windowsill of heaven, and gaze upon thy God. Then with the vision in thy heart, turn strong to meet the day.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Lean upon the windowsill of heaven and gaze upon thy God. Know that God loves you. God has claimed you. You belong. God loves you – and the whole world.
Jesus loves…even though the world and people in it rejected and crucified Jesus. Jesus loves… even though the world and people… including people like us still behave in ways that are judging instead of loving, that are hurtful instead of helpful, that are condemning of people who don’t look or act or believe exactly like us – instead of welcoming everyone into God’s kingdom, now. Despite all of this… God’s response is: love.
Our response is clear too. After you have that vision of God as our Good shepherd who loves you and calls you by name and who gives you eternal life… THEN…with that vision in your heart, “turn strong to meet the day.”
“Turn strong to meet the day” because Jesus the Good Shepherd has given you the gift of life for today and for each and every day.
So what does that look like? It’s not what you might think. It’s not showing force or power. Instead, Corrine Chilstrom commends to us three things for the morning First: read scripture and devotions – many of you do this already – and if you don’t, see me and I will give you some suggestions both here and online.
The second is to do what Jesus did. In Mark we read, “While it was still very dark, Jesus got up, went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” You can pray any time and any place. But putting prayer into your morning routine is a great thing to do so that you can turn strong to meet the day.
The final thing she suggests is to sing – or at least read the words of hymns. Music and the poetry of music can reach us in ways that mere words cannot.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, join me in singing words of faith, trusting in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you abundant life, eternal life, a gift that lasts – forever. That’s a promise that’s worth singing about. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Doubting Thomas – Peace
Have you ever done or said something you regretted? Have you laid awake at night, thinking what you might have said instead, going over and over the scene in your head? I wonder if Thomas felt that way, under the scrutiny of the other disciples, after doubting their word about having seen Jesus.
Wouldn’t we all, after denying their story initially, perhaps in the hours and days to come, question ourselves? We don’t know what was happening among the disciples in the week following Jesus’ appearance that Easter evening. Were they bickering, or maybe sitting in sullen and fearful silence?
We can only guess, but there’s more going on than the words printed in this periscope. So let’s unpack it…..
Holed up in a locked house, we find the disciples, hiding, afraid for their LIVES. Just that morning, they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had appeared to her and spoken to her. The disciples were likely perplexed, and uncertain of what steps to take, if any. They believed that Jesus, who they thought was the Savior of the world, was dead. How did their journey with Jesus come to this? They were so sure he was the one! Now they didn’t know what to do or think.
In the midst of this tension and anxiety – imagine the thickness of emotion in that room – Jesus shows up among them and says, ”Peace be with you.” But it’s not clear whether the disciples recognize Jesus until after they’ve seen his wounds. Then they rejoice! This person who is only noticed when he speaks, is indeed the Risen Christ!
Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” He tells the disciples that he sends THEM as he has been sent by the Father, and breathes the HOLY SPIRIT onto them, sharing God’s POWER with them.
But it doesn’t appear that any of them have moved. Jesus returns a week later to the same house – the disciples still there, and Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” Which really means, “The peace of Christ is here now……..the peace of Christ is here, now!”
And Thomas is given what he requested, to see and touch the injured flesh of Jesus.
On doing so, Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the highest affirmation of Jesus’ identity in John’s gospel, making clear that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God….
I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The writer points out that he is called “the twin,” but he is remembered throughout history as “Doubting Thomas.”
He didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received. They all SAW that it was Jesus before rejoicing his return to the living. And Jesus didn’t express any consternation over the disciples need to experience his presence.
Realistically speaking to the human condition, to doubt isn’t an either/or. Doubt or believe. No. To doubt is to question, to wonder, to feel uncertain or to lack conviction. Really, all the disciples were doubting. Thomas was simply bold enough to say so.
The people closest to Jesus doubted! And sometimes, so do we.
But Jesus’ response to their uncertainty – our uncertainty – was to provide what was needed to believe, to strengthen their faith, and demonstrate the permanence of what Jesus did for all humanity on the cross. Doubt will not separate us from God’s love. Nothing will separate us from God.
So doubt is not an absolute negative. Doubt might bring us to question out loud, and questions generate conversation, and talking about what we believe, or don’t believe, can bring clarity and understanding.
When we are open about what we believe, we build Christian community. We grow together, we strengthen or reform our beliefs, we plant seeds of faith in the curious or misinformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.
I call it theological conversation. To wonder about God and the mysteries surrounding Jesus – how does God act? Where is God? How does Jesus show up in a locked room? What does God want from us or FOR us?
These are the questions of little children and grown-ups, of new Christians and biblical scholars. Theology is the study of God, so when we think about God, when we wonder about God with each other, we practice theology. We are all theologians.
From John’s gospel we see that God comes to us no matter how big, or tiny, our faith. Even at our weakest, when we might feel the furthest away from God…God is with us. And we have our own stories to share within God’s story.
When my husband, KC, had what he now calls his “unpleasantness,” which was a rupture in his ascending aorta, Medical staff told me it was a good thing he made it to the hospital, and that if he made it to surgery, he had a better chance of surviving. They were telling me there was a high chance he wouldn’t live through the hours ahead!
But I wasn’t fully hearing them. I felt as though my feet weren’t really touching the floor, as if I was being held up, somehow. I heard their words and I remembered, but I felt as though I might be in a cocoon – everything just slipping by me – almost dream-like.
On some level I was terrified of losing my husband, but on another deeper level, I felt an extreme peace that told me, no matter what happened, God was with both KC and me, and whether he survived or went on to a new kind of living, everything would be OK. I remember telling my pastor at the time, the only words that didn’t feel like a jumbled mess, “God is here.”
What I experienced, I believe, was the PEACE of Christ, extended through everyone around me. The ambulance driver who waited for me at an entrance that was a shortcut to KC in the ER.
The gentle explanations of the doctors, my family who were suddenly there to support us, and stayed through the evening. My nephew who drove to bring my son home from school, which freed me from that worry. And the many friends who texted me they were praying.
God comes to us in ways we’re able to comprehend in that time and situation. God meets us where we are and guides us through fear, or sorrow, and into joy, into new beginnings.
We see this in the story of Thomas, whose belief came to fruition by the revelation of Jesus.
God revealed God’s self to Thomas and the other disciples in the flesh of Jesus, and to us through the telling of Jesus’ story. In Christian community God reveals God’s self to us through one another.
We have NOT seen and yet have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing may have life in his name.
Not only life as in from birth to death, the lives the disciples feared for. That life in Greek is psyche or bios, the life span of every living creature, in body and mind. Life that comes from believing is a different word in the Greek – zoe – which is life given to those who believe, to those born of God. Zoe, is life that transforms us from just plain life to living in the abundance and eternity of God.
Over the course of our earthly lives, faith is not static, and humans may come to believe at any age. But God extends to us the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses understanding, and frees our hearts and minds to live into God’s abundant eternal life. Peace be with you. Amen.
Sermon, Easter 3, May 5, 2019 Deacon Kirsten Kessel
Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World
The Gospel according to Luke, the 24th chapter:
C: Glory to you O Lord…
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The Gospel of the Lord.
C: Praise to You O Christ
Jesus is the Best Gift!
P: Let the people shout Alleluia! C: Alleluia!
P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen Indeed!
Today we joyfully proclaim that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We shout our Alleluias and sing praises to the Lord that Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, our Messiah and Savior has defeated the power of death and given us the gift of resurrection.
But the first Easter morning didn’t start out that way. The women were grieving as they made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices. But instead, they saw two men in dazzling clothes –– angels – and they were terrified. Wouldn’t you be?
It wasn’t until the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” that they believed what they thought – up until that moment – was impossible. It was the third day – and Jesus was raised from the dead.
But when they told this good and amazing news to the disciples and the others, they laughed and called it an “idle tale” – and ridiculed the women.
Except Peter… Maybe something triggered his memory…. But he didn’t laugh. He took off running and then… when he saw that the tomb was empty…he went out to proclaim the good news!
No. That’s not what he did. He went home. Amazed. But saying nothing. The end.
Except… it’s not the end. Because, if this was the end of the story, we would not be celebrating today. But, thanks be to God, the message doesn’t end there. Instead… Jesus appeared to the disciples and then to the disheartened followers walking the road to Emmaus. He reminded them of his words – and the words of scripture. And they believed. And then the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples and the followers of Jesus throughout the years so that today…even a child can proclaim that the BEST Gift is Jesus.
The best gift is Jesus, because Jesus, raised from the dead, has defeated the power of death and has given us the promise of eternal life with Him. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!
P: Christ is Risen!
C: Christ is Risen indeed!
The disciples had been traveling with Jesus for three years. They had heard him teach that he would be rejected and die and rise again. But they had to be reminded of Jesus’ words before they could open their eyes to see the gift that God has given to us– and so do we.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Kate from the University of Minnesota Lutheran Campus Ministry spoke at a Conference meeting. She said that when students come to college, they are challenged with lots of competing values and ideas. Pastor Kate challenged us to help our young adults develop and be able to articulate an “elevator speech” – a statement short enough to clarify, in just a few minutes, what they mean when they say “I am a Christian.”
I was intrigued by Pastor Kate’s challenge for young adults, but after a conversation with our adult education class, I realized that it wasn’t just young adults that needed to have a faith “elevator speech.” We all do. We are at a time in history in which it is easy to assume that everyone knows the story of Jesus; everyone knows what a Christian is. But… unfortunately… not everyone knows the Jesus that we know. The Jesus that I know – and I hope you know -- is not coming with fire and brimstone to judge the world in anger. The Jesus that I know has already come and will come again to bring joy and the promise of resurrection and new life to all people.
But it is challenging – even for me - when asked, on the spot – in an elevator or elsewhere – why and what you believe. So… I thought, long and hard, about what would be an elevator speech about what it means to be a Christian.
We – you and I ___ are beloved Children of God who loves the whole world, and each person in it. And because of God’s love – not because of anything we have done or said - God forgives us, and makes us whole. That’s Grace. And, out of God’s great love, God gave us the best gift, Jesus Christ, to be the savior of the WHOLE WORLD. This is Good News – and God calls us to share it so that everyone may joyfully experience God’s abundant love.
This is what we can share about what it means to be a Christian. But if it’s a really short elevator, you can make it just one sentence: God loves you, forgives you and calls you to live your life as a response to Jesus’ love for you and for the whole world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has given us, you and me, the best gift – Jesus, risen from the dead who forgives us, restores us and makes us whole. That is good news, Good News that is too good not to share so that the whole world may be filled with joy.
P: So Let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!
P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen indeed!
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
Easter Sunday April 21, 2019
“It Is Finished”
What did the people at the foot of the cross hear when Jesus gasped these last words?
To Pilate, the Roman Soldiers, and the Religious Leaders, “It is Finished” perhaps is heard with a smirk of gladness and probably a sigh of relief. This man threatened their power, tradition and authority, but now, finally, this blaspheming-rabble-rousing rabbi, hangs helplessly on a cross. He’s Done. Dead. Finished-off. Not their problem anymore. Finally they can get back to business as usual.
To Jesus’s mother, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son--bleeding, tortured, gasping for air hearing her son--her own flesh and blood—crying out “it is finished” The one who birthed Jesus into the world, now stands helplessly at the foot of the cross as he exits the world.
His mother, the one who first heard the cries and coos of her baby boy so many years ago in that tiny barn in Bethlehem, now hears her boy cry in agony on the cross.
She, who used to be able comfort her son with the milk from her breast, now has nothing to offer him but her tears of helplessness. She cannot wrap him up in her arms and make the pain of the world disappear. Her baby boy, the child that she had nurtured… delighted in… her son…. It is finished.
For his disciples--the women and the 12 that have accompanied Jesus on his ministry, “it is finished” is the end of a dream. They had left everything, their whole lives to follow this man. Now what are they going to do? Hadn’t he just promised that he’d always be with him? Why isn’t he fixing this? They thought he was going to do something really great. But as they watch their teacher, their friend that they love hanging on the cross, all their hopes are shattered.
How could it finish like this?
“It is Finished!” What about us? How can we hear these words?
Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."
Te-tell-es-tie” It is finished; accomplishes the proclamation by John the Baptist who at the beginning of John’s gospel points his finger at Jesus and says “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “it is finished” is the fulfillment of Christ’s words in John 3:16—for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.
“It is finished” is not a weak whisper uttered in defeat, but it is a victorious proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s love for you.
On the cross, God has now finished the work that God began with us so long ago.
Because we could not get up to God, God climbed down to us. All the way down to a manger in Bethlehem, so that he could die on a cross at Golgotha. It is here on the cross, here in the bloody, torturous crucifixion, here in Christ’s death that you can know just how much God loves you. Christ has freed you from the clenching chokehold of sin and death—the powers that pull you away from God.
With his last breath, Christ has at last accomplished what God began us so long ago—to be in a full, loving, and life-giving relationship with you, and with me. It is finished.
When life becomes too hectic, when you lie awake in your bed at night going over to-do lists in your head, when the voice of the Evil One sneakily seeps into your ear and tells you that you are a failure, a phony, not good enough—when this happens and you begin to doubt God’s love for you, begin to doubt that God’s promise of forgiveness and love couldn’t possibly be referring to you… surely I must be do something, become something or someone that is worthy of God’s love—when these ___ of anxiety permeate your brain, I need you to remember the last words of Your Lord as he hung on the cross.
Listen to your Savior proclaiming this promise of God’s completed work on your behalf. “It Is Finished”-- the culminating act God’s love now complete. It’s all done. And God has done this all for you.
It is finished. Amen.
Thank you Lord that by your wounds we are healed. Thank you that because of your huge sacrifice we can live free. Thank you that sin and death have been conquered, and that your Power is everlasting.
Thank you that we can say with great hope, “It is finished…” For we know what’s still to come. And death has lost its sting. We praise you for you are making all things new.
Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
The Gift of the Lord’s Supper
On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus shares a meal with his disciples and friends knowing full well that in just a short time they would all fail him. In a string of events on one single night, these people that Jesus loved; passed out in the garden when Jesus told them to stay awake, handed him over to be executed by the authorities in exchange for some measly silver, they denied knowing him in during his trial, and they abandoned him as he hung on the cross to die.
Jesus loved these people! He chose them, called them by name to follow him. These are the people that Jesus invited to share his last meal with. Betrayers. Deniers. Abandoners. Quite the motley crew of sinners, his disciples are. But sinners are exactly the type of people that this communion is for. Jesus’ whole reason to be born into flesh, to become fully human was so that he could shed his own blood and die on the cross, for the sake of sinners—for sinners like his disciples, for sinners like you and me.
Here Jesus speaks his last will and testament before his imminent death. You see, this Last Supper, was not really the last of anything, but the beginning of a new covenant, a pact. In these words Jesus speaks a command and a promise not just to his disciples, but to all of God’s beloved who are trapped in bondage to the captivating powers of sin, death, and the devil. This meal and these words of command and promise are spoken for you, a sinner—and also a beloved child of God.
First, we hear the commands of Christ: “Do this,” Jesus says. “Eat,” “Drink,” and “do this in remembrance of me.” In just a few minutes we’ll hear Pastor Pam speak these same words before Holy Communion and we’ll hear why Jesus commands us to “eat, drink, do this.”—for the forgiveness of sins. For the forgiveness of your sin. Like a physician prescribing life-saving medicine only to those who are truly sick, Jesus prescribes this sacrament only to those in need of forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but my prideful and rebellious self doesn’t want forgiveness because that would mean that I have something that I need to be forgiven for. Only sinners are in need of forgiveness. This sacrament exposes the disease of sin within you and your desperate need for a cure.
This is a message that can be a hard pill to swallow, so Jesus combines the command with a promise. Christ first promises the gift of his presence—“this is my body; this is my blood”—Christ has promised to be truly and fully present when we come to the altar. He is present in and with the bread and wine not by some magic trick, but because this is where Christ has promised to be found. It is the combination of Jesus’ words together with the physical, tactile bread and wine that we are assured of his true presence. Christ has promised to show-up, that is the first part of his promise.
The second part is even more astounding. Not only has Christ promised to be present in the bread and the wine, so as to be some sort of admired spectacle of remembrance, but he has promised his true flesh and true blood to be broken, given, and shed for you. It is a promise that God will remain faithful to you, even when your faith is depleted. This is not just an abstract theological idea, but an actual, individual promise that Christ has made with you. This is the miraculous gift of communion! Christ has promised all these things for you, his beloved little renegade, and asks nothing of you in return.
We come to the table with nothing to offer but our ravenous hunger for forgiveness. And so Christ feeds us with his body and blood, filling our bellies to the brim with the comfort foods of forgiveness and faith. Jesus loves you so much that it is not enough for him to merely be near you, but within you—as a hunk of bread and a gulp of wine, he desires to feed you his own body and blood so that you may be filled immediately, and again and again, with his with his sustenance.
On the night in which he was betrayed, Christ gave us the life-sustaining gift of Holy Communion. Come now to the table, you who are hungry for you shall be filled with the nourishment of the Lord. Thanks be to God for this truly amazing gift. Amen.
“There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint, at times even stumble. The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger.”
A reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord
Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The Word of the Lord.
 Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “On the Lord’s Supper,” Line 24.
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
Maundy Thursday Service
Jesus’ Second Gift: A New Commandment: Love One Another
Tonight is “Maundy Thursday.” “Maundy” is Latin for Mandatum, which is translated “Commandment”. Jesus gives a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” But “Love one another” doesn’t sound new. And it’s not. Jesus adapts Deuteronomy 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” The commandment or admonition to love one another has been around for a long time and shows up in many cultures, faiths and contexts.
So what makes it “new?” It’s the second part… “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. ” Jesus has gathered his disciples around him to celebrate the Passover feat. He knows what’s coming and yet… look what he does. He knows that Judas will betray him – and yet… Jesus feeds him. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him – and yet… he washes Peter’s feet. He knows that not one of the disciples will stay by his side – and yet he breaks bread with them and washes their feet – all of them, even the feet of his betrayer, Judas.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s living out the commandment that he is giving them. Why? He loves them and so he serves them and provides an example for us.
This is what Jesus asks us to do for one another. Remember the old camp song, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love?” Jesus wants us to love one another, serve and care for others – not just those who care for you… but all the people we meet – even those that are not so nice, even those that can’t “pay you back”.
This is why we go on service mission trips with the youth. We practice being intentional in our serving and in our giving of our time, our talents and our selves with one another and with the strangers we meet. Mission trips are a great way of loving and serving the neighbor -- perhaps we all need to go!
But… we really don’t need to go somewhere else to do this. Loving one another for the disciples started with the people who were around the table – and then it spread from there. And that’s where it starts for us too… with the people who live with you, work with you, go to school with you, worship with you and live in the community with you.
This is what Jesus calls us to do – and I know that you do it! But sometimes we don’t think about it. So right now, I’d like you to take just a moment to think of a time within the last week in which you have shown someone – anyone – love or kindness. Is there a time you have served someone else? It doesn’t have to be someone you know… Maybe you let a mom with a big grocery cart and a screaming kid in line ahead of you? Maybe you wrote a note to someone. Maybe you delivered a meal. It doesn’t have to be something big – maybe you smiled at a person having a bad day. Take just a moment… and if you can’t think of anything… well… the week isn’t over yet, you can plan to show love to someone yet today. This is what we do and can do in our everyday lives: we love one another – and every time that we do, we are proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ through our words and deeds. People will indeed: “know you are Christians by your love.”
And now… the flip side. I’d like to invite you to remember a time that you haven’t loved your neighbor/ friend/ family as Jesus has loved you. If you are like me, those come to mind far too quickly. Again, take a moment to think of a time you haven’t loved someone as Jesus loves you. The truth is that all of us fail sometimes to love as Jesus loves us. There are times that we do not reflect God’s love to our neighbor - this is why we all need forgiveness.
Thanks be to God that we have a God of not only second chances but a God who doesn’t keep track but instead forgives us again and again and again. And not only that, but Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to die for us – for you… for me. That’s sacrificial love.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus shows his love for us through service and by dying to give us new life. Each day Jesus invites you and me to live into this new life by loving others as He loves us and sends the Holy Spirit to help us. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
Maundy Thursday Service
Jesus’ Third Gift: Himself
Finally, we come to the garden of Gethsemane, the place of betrayal. In the other Gospels, this is a place of prayer and building resolve. But in John’s telling of the story, Jesus is ready. This is his mission. He knows what’s going to happen and steps forward to ask them, “Whom are you looking for?” When they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus replies with the Greek form of the Divine name, “I AM.” In translating, we add the “he” to make sense grammatically, so we read: “I AM he.” But Jesus says: I AM.
The Romans had come with weapons and numbers – a whole detachment of soldiers – that’s 480 soldiers -- plus police from the chief priests and Pharisees. Yet when they heard the name, I AM, they stepped back and fell to the ground.
Remember back to Moses and the burning bush? Moses had the audacity to ask God, “What is your name? Whom shall I say sent me?” And the Lord God replied, “I AM who I AM.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses seven I AM metaphors to help us understand who He is, saying: I AM the Bread of Life; I AM the Light Of The World; The Gate; The Good Shepherd; The Vine. I AM the Resurrection and the Life; The Way, The Truth and The Life. And now, three times, he declares, I AM.
Jesus is ready and willing. When Peter tries to defend him, Jesus tells him to put his sword away and asks, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
I am reminded of the Philippians hymn we read on Sunday. Jesus empties himself, humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross.
Jesus and his disciples had been celebrating the anniversary of the first Passover night. God saved the first born son of the Hebrew people by having the angel of death “pass over’ all the doors marked with the blood of a lamb. They were spared. But on this Passover night Jesus’ final gift was to not have the Angel of death pass over him, but, out of love, to empty himself, humble himself and to give his life for us. He became the Lamb of God. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
Maundy Thursday Service
The Stubbornness and Courage of a Donkey
Minneapolis hosted the Final Four last weekend… and I have it on pretty good authority that the city did a lot of work to get ready for it – not quite as much as we did for the Super Bowl – but when big events happen in town, everyone from the mayor to the owners of food trucks gets ready.
The same thing was true in Jerusalem. Passover was a big deal and attracted large crowds of people – pilgrims and revolutionaries and revolutionary-minded pilgrims. But it also attracted those whose goal was to keep the peace - Pax Romana – a peace gained by and enforced by power and might.
Two scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, propose that while Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a donkey from the Mount of Olives, another procession was occurring from a gate on the opposite side of town.
One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down from the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. A rabbi, Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers were pilgrims going to the temple.
On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor… entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry, foot soldiers, with their leather armor, helmets, weapons, and banners. Imagine the sounds of marching feet, creaking leather, clinking bridles, and the beating of drums. 1It reeked of power and might. Just as it was supposed to do.
What a contrast! Two processions – two different messages:
Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.”
And yet… there was more to Jesus’ entry than a simple renunciation of the power of the empire.
You see, the pilgrims knew their history and the prophecies of scripture. To assure the transfer of power to Solomon, as he had promised Bathsheba, David had Solomon anointed by a priest and then had him ride into Jerusalem on his own donkey. It became a tradition. The prophet Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9
The people of Israel were long overdue for the prophesied messiah, the new awaited king, to come and restore them. And so…when the disciples – and all of the pilgrims saw Jesus, this rabbi who spoke of God’s kingdom with authority, healed the blind and raised the dead riding on a donkey into Jerusalem… how could they help but shout with joy that the time had come!
This image was not lost on the Pharisees – but they saw it as “dangerous.” It was dangerous because the Pharisees knew that if the Romans smelled even a whiff of revolution or heard the words “New King” or “Messiah,” they would destroy anything and everything that threatened the “Pax Romana” - their power. And that included the privileged place of the Pharisees and maybe even the temple itself.
There are times that call for courage. There is the instinctual courage that causes a young father to jump in front of a car to grab his toddler from its’ path. And then there is the kind of courage that sees danger coming, has plenty of time to choose a safer path, and yet chooses to remain faithful and endure the challenge - despite the fear … for the sake of the greater good. 2
Jesus demonstrates this second kind of courage. He tells the Pharisees that if his disciples were silent, “even the stones would shout out.” Rather than shushing his disciples and choosing a safer path, Jesus continues his journey, humbling himself and becoming obedient even to the point of death – death on a cross.”
Courage is easier to admire from afar.
During WWII in Nazi-occupied France, Pastor Andre Trocme gathered his congregation together in the small mountain village of Le Chambon. It was Christmas eve. It should have been a joyful time and yet his people were full of fear. You see, they had formed an underground network for saving refugees, many of them Jewish children. But they didn’t even dare talk with one another because none of them knew which of their neighbors might betray them to the German occupiers. So the pastor, wanting to encourage his people to continue to do what was right, gathered his people together and told them stories -- about Jesus’ life and the courage of a donkey. 3
Yes, of a donkey. Donkeys show up quite a bit in the Gospels and in our tradition. There is the donkey we imagine who carried a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, and Mary and Jesus to Egypt and there is a donkey in the story of the Good Samaritan. The donkey in our Gospel today is a young colt – never ridden before. In the pastor’s retelling of the stories, the master of the donkey is often afraid - afraid to let Mary and Joseph into the inn, afraid to let his donkey go to Egypt, afraid to pick up an unknown man by the side of the road. But the donkey, exhibiting the traits of contradiction, otherwise known as stubbornness, and courage, is not afraid. In each of the stories, against the “better judgment” of her “owner,” the donkey does the right thing. Mary gets to a stable to give birth and the donkey stays to keep it warm. The donkey takes the best path to Egypt and so protects Mary and Joseph. And it is the donkey, in the pastor’s retelling of the Good Samaritan story, that makes the Good Samaritan stop and care for the injured man by the side of the road.
In the pastor’s retelling of today’s story, the owner has finally gotten wise and tells the disciples that his donkey is the most stubborn donkey imaginable but if the donkey follows them, it will be ok because the donkey is always right! Sure enough, the donkey follows them and leads her colt to Jesus. The donkey was used to show courage – despite the circumstances.
The people of this mountain village were being called: by their pastor, by their conscience and by faith to have courage to do the right thing, to care for and support the Jewish refugees from the power of the Empire of the day. The example of stubborn courage displayed by the donkey in the pastor’s stories helped them to put aside their fears and embrace their faith and their mission with courage.
Ordinary people, like us, are called by God to not be afraid to follow but instead to be of good courage. There are plenty of challenges in our world, plenty of reasons to be afraid. But brothers and sisters in Christ, “Be of good courage.” We can dare to do the right thing, to live out our faith with courage – despite the challenges in our lives and in our world. For Jesus has already gone before us and has prepared the way. The journey is not always easy. But not only is the way of Jesus better than the way of the empire but Jesus loves us so much that he gives us the faith and the courage to follow. Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, by Borg and Crossan, p. 3 by Janet Hunt in http://dancingwiththeword.com/the-donkey-a-subversive-choice/#comments
2 William Barclay as quoted by David Lose http://www.davidlose.net/2013/11/luke-19-28-40/)
3 Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2017/03/11/lenten-story-how-donkeys-got-the-spirit-of-contradiction-by-andre-trocme/
The gospel lesson today is full of parallels, contrasts, and foreshadowing, as well as lavish devotion and discipleship.
You might have picked up on the recently revivified Lazarus at the table with Jesus. We know that Jesus loved Lazarus, and wept at his passing before recalling Lazarus from his tomb. Imagine how Lazarus must have felt toward Jesus. We can guess that he listened to Jesus’ every word as he sat in adoration of his Lord and friend.
Did you wonder if the stench of death lingered on Lazarus after 4 days in a tomb? That unpleasant odor in contrast with the sweet smell of Nard that permeated the house following Mary’s anointing of Jesus? Certainly, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ burial is clear, as Jesus himself names it.
Mary loved her brother, Lazarus, and had chastised Jesus for not arriving sooner to prevent his death. We can guess that Mary had prepared Lazarus for burial, however probably not with the extravagant perfume.
Nard, or Spikenard, was produced from the roots of the plant which grew in the high areas of the Himalayas and was said to grow at the gates of the Garden of Eden. When used for anointing, the costly Nard was reserved for people of the highest esteem – Kings, for example. Mary’s use of Nard to anoint Jesus signifies Jesus is King.
And Martha, true to her vocational calling, was actively serving. No complaints this time. Did she learn from Jesus that each of us has a role to play in the Kingdom of God? And that none is more important than another, because everyone is necessary to the community’s functioning and well-being?
Martha was modeling true discipleship – that of diakonia, or unconditional service. She used her aptitude to make sure everyone had what they needed. A perfect hostess, providing her best for all of her guests.
Now contrast Martha with Judas Iscariot, whose thievery and false concern for the poor was the example of FAUX discipleship – he played the part outwardly, but in his heart, love and compassion were lacking. Judas was not trustworthy. And Jesus, God made flesh, was fully cognizant of Judas’s fabricated consideration for others, yet included him in his inner circle. An example of loving one’s enemy?
Jesus was aware of the events to come, Mary’s anointing of him taking place less than one week from his regal entry into Jerusalem, followed by Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, torture, and finally, crucifixion. Being fully human, how must he have felt, knowing what he was about to face?
We read the external Jesus, and it appears he was holding himself together, remarkably, considering. But we aren’t given a glimpse into his mind-set or emotions. We don’t often think of Jesus in terms of needing anything. He was healing people, and feeding thousands. What could Jesus need from mere humans?
And then there’s Mary. Like Martha, Mary modeled true discipleship through her actions toward Jesus. Simply washing his feet was common courtesy, the expected hospitality offered to visitors, usually by slaves or women. Travelers, especially, whose feet would be coated in dust and grime, were topped off with oil that served as protection from further dirt, as well as soothing relief for sun baked feet.
But that’s where Mary’s behavior diverged from the norm. Mary’s was an act of abundant love and devotion. It was impractical, extravagant, and demonstrated the depth of her relationship with Jesus, as well as unity and belief in his mission.
Perhaps offensive, but definitely surprising, a woman’s hair was considered her glory, so by using her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, Mary exalted Jesus, and we can assume his worn feet were calmed by the silky touch of her hair. Imagine how those observing felt as they witnessed Mary’s outpouring of love.
In purchasing the Nard, Mary spent the equivalent of one year’s wages. Perhaps every penny she had. But this was Mary’s final encounter with Jesus, who she recognized as the Messiah. Did she perhaps also comprehend the human need of Jesus?
On the road ahead, he would face condemnation, ridicule, excruciating pain, and abandonment. Imagine the tension and weariness building in Jesus as his hour approached. Mary, though, poured out on him not only the expensive Nard, but also its soothing properties, which is known to reduce feelings of stress, to allow muscles to relax, and help a person to feel settled.
Jesus needed the relief Mary provided him. He needed to receive her agape love, the highest form of love between God and human beings. Mary reciprocated Jesus’ love for all humanity, and her love for Jesus, given without restraint, provided peace and strength as his hour drew near.
Reciprocation in relationships is necessary for vibrancy – for energy and vitality and growth. Mary is a model for us. How might we emulate her?
Be grounded in the Word – Dwelling in Scripture is a reciprocal process, so when you read scripture, or hear God’s word preached, expect to encounter God. Anticipate God’s word just for you. It may be a word of affirmation, or guidance, or comfort. It will always be a word of love.
Prayer is reciprocal as well. It is time spent in conversation with God. But Humans have a tendency to focus on human needs. We can get stuck in the “help me” rut. So prayer doesn’t have to be about “asking.” We can sit with God in silence, emptying our minds of our everyday clutter, and just tune in to God’s will for us. Bask in God’s love and let your love for God go forth from your being. Let’s try it for one minute…...
Receive the sacraments as often as you’re able. Baptism is once and forever, But in receiving Holy Communion, God comes to us with abundant love and forgiveness. When you approach the altar, imagine God running out to wrap you in God’s arms – think of the Prodigal son’s father rushing to meet his returning son with complete abandon. Not chastising, but with unconditional love.
And from receiving God’s un-bounding love and forgiveness, we’re sent back into the world to love our neighbors as ourselves. CS Lewis wrote, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Keep those words in mind as you encounter strangers where you work, or live, or play. You will Share God’s love, and receive it as well. Amen.
April 7, 2019
Deacon Kirsten Kessel