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May 25, 2016, 9:04 AM

Pentecost People


by Sandy Bach

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?...—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[c]

She was present at creation, sweeping across the face of the waters.  She was present to bless the 70 elders chosen by Moses to lead God’s people through the desert wilderness.  The promise made by the prophet Joel was this same Spirit that would be poured out on all flesh.

She’s usually quiet, unassuming, yet pushy when necessary.  Humanity has heard her voice and at times chosen not to hear; heeded her voice and at times chosen not to heed.   Come that Pentecost celebration in Jerusalem, she became as loud as a violent wind and as showy as the yellow and red flames of fire.  Still not finished, she gave each one present the ability to speak a variety of languages.

People stopped dead in their tracks – they heard their native tongue – not the international Greek of the Empire; their own language.  Those who spoke, proclaimed the mighty deeds of God.

I believe the Holy Spirit was at her absolute best that day.  Loud, showy, awesome, granting ability as she saw fit.  It was an amazing spectacle.  And she was just beginning.  The immigrants and pilgrims probably had a good grasp of Greek.  Yet, when they heard their native tongue, it must have felt as if they were coming home.  So familiar and friendly.  What was spoken touched their hearts and minds, with some help from the Holy Spirit.

And she still wasn’t done.

The witnesses of this noisy event, couldn’t figure it out.  Were they drunk?  No, that would hardly make it possible to speak in various languages.  They’re uneducated Galileans; this is something bigger.  Then, “what does this mean?” they asked again and again.

She chose Peter: the doubter, the denier; the one tested and found wanting.  She chose him and gave him the gift of insight and understanding.  And then she nudged him forward and opened his mouth.  Peter spoke.  He was a Jew with a solid Biblical background.  He remembered what the prophet Joel said, and reminded his fellow Jews:  God would pour out God’s Spirit.  God would pour out God’s Spirit on everyone:  young and old; men and women; slave and free.  And you’ll know it when the Spirit arrives.  It’ll be a huge entrance that you won’t be able to miss.

And still she wasn’t finished.

Peter would continue his ministry, becoming inclusive of Gentiles and women.  Paul would meet Jesus on that road to Damascus and end up forming house churches in Gentile lands, inclusive of Jew and Gentile, men and women, slave and free.

And still she wasn’t finished.  She isn’t finished today.

God continues to pour out that Spirit on you and me and strangers and friends.  She continues to include those who some would exclude; she continues to speak to those some may not like or trust.

She’s still pushy, when necessary.  She creates community where she sees fit.  She calls us to unexpected places all the time.

She is ruach – the breath of God.

She is pneuma – God’s Spirit.

She is active and busy yesterday, today and tomorrow.  She calls us Pentecost People.  And that’s who we are.  Blessed to be a blessing.

So take a few minutes right now.  Be still and listen:

Breath in:  "Be still and know..."

Breath out: "that I am God."

Breath in: "Be still and know...

Breath out: that I am..."

Breath in: "Be still...

Breath out: and know..."

Breath in: "Be still..."

Breath out: "Be still..."

Breath in:"Be..."

Breath out:

What is she saying to you now?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




May 25, 2016, 9:03 AM

Faith Under Fire


by Sandy Bach

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.  (Acts 16:16-34 NRSV)

There are slaves and there are slaves.

There are slaves trapped in mental illness; slaves to addictions; slaves captured by lust for other things that get in the way of their relationship with God.

The slave girl in our story certainly is enslaved.  Luke doesn’t even tell us her name.  She probably has a mental illness; some suggest schizophrenia.  It has given her the ability to read people’s fortunes.  Whether they are true or not, probably doesn’t matter, as long as she continues making money for her owners.

She is owned by others; she has no freedom; she is locked in her illness.   Perhaps her fortune-telling skills tend to be truthful, because she definitely recognizes Paul and Silas accurately: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”

She’s also a pest.  Day in and day out she catches up with Paul and harangues the crowds with her words, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She’s relentless.  Paul and Silas try to slip out the back door and through the alleyways.  There she is, waiting for them.  They leave home early, she’s there.  They leave home late, she’s there.

No matter what they do, she continues her tirade: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  Finally, Paul can stand no more.  Is he angry at a system that uses women like her for profit?  Is he embarrassed?  Is he tired of her stocking him?  Or has her voice finally gotten on his last nerve?

We don’t know, however he puts up with it for several days before he finally turns to speak, not to her, but to the demon.  “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her.”  And it does.  This side-lined slave girl continues to be sidelined in our story.  We have no idea what happened to her.  Did Paul do her a favor by releasing the demon from her or not?  I truly hope she found a place in the house church that Lydia supported.

With her healing, though, we’re led to the next group of slaves:  her owners.  They are slaves of the almighty denarius ; slaves of wealth; slaves of fear of anyone who doesn’t look and act like them.  They're anger and fear won't permit them to marvel at the miracle of healing.  No, these men have to be dealt with!  They gather Paul and Silas up and take them before the magistrates.

And here we meet the next set of slaves.  Government officials enslaved by power and stature.  They can’t dismiss the charges or they’ll appear soft on crime.  Perhaps, they too, are afraid of others who aren’t like them.  Caught up in the trappings of their position, they, too, are unable to marvel at a miracle of healing.

Then we meet the jailer.  He holds the keys to the freedom that his prisoners long for.  But, as the holder of the keys, he is enslaved to Rome’s military who will not go leniently if he loses prisoners.

Finally, we hear a little bit about the prisoners.  Those who have done things to hurt society, they, too, slaves.

Slaves of disease and illness; of money and wealth; of power and stature; of job and career.  Only two men in this story aren’t slaves to society: the prisoners, Paul and Silas.  They remain in the deepest, darkest part of the prison, singing hymns and praying.  Don’t you wonder what the others in the prison are thinking?  Yet, the text tells us they listened.  It's as if they listened and heard the message.

We’ve experienced earthquakes quite a bit the past few years.  I remember an earthquake that touched my home in the dark of night.  It scared me; I didn’t know what was happening.  But that earthquake was only a rumble next to the one that hit Philippi that night.  It shook the foundations; would the roof fall in on them?  Look the doors are standing open.  And how did my chains come loose?  Quickly the jailer comes from his nearby home to check on the prisoners.

His worst fears have come to pass: the jail is unlocked and the prisoners have surely escaped.  He’ll do the honorable thing, but he’ll do it his way.  He’ll fall on his sword.  Paul figures it out and calls out: “We’re all here!”

And that was Paul and Silas’ testimony: they didn’t run.  They stayed where they were, not because they were guilty of anything, but because they were men of faith who would see this difficult situation through.

People of faith are like that.  They see slavery in all walks of life: fear of immigrants; fear of Muslims or African-Americans or anyone who doesn't like them; fear of our quickly changing world; love of money, prestige and power; love of anything that impedes their relationship with God.  People of faith identify enslavement both in themselves and in others.

People of faith pray to God for release from those demons in themselves and others.  And they keep praying, trusting that transformation is happening, day by day.  They see the world around them from 30,000 feet and know there’s a better way to be.  They read about Jesus and try to emulate him, even the hard stuff like eating with sinners and tax collectors.

People of faith testify to the love of Christ by simply being.  Their actions speak louder than words.  Their love crosses the divides of race, gender, culture, economy and stature.

When the jailer met Paul and Silas in that jail cell, free in more ways than one, he wanted to be a part of that.  “Tell me what I need to do,” he asked.  And his first response to his new life of transformation was to care for the prisoners.  He brought them into his home and tended their wounds.

What challenges have you faced?  What challenges you today? What have you done in the past to remain faithful in your response to the challenge?

Prayer.  So easy that it’s almost too easy.  Or is it?  Sure, we can pray for the ordeal to be over.  However, resting in prayer and learning to listen for Christ’s voice brings about understanding and insight.  Resting in prayer brings a sense of peace and well-being, knowing that no matter how it turns out, God will not abandon and God is still in charge.

Talk with others who have come through a similar situation.  Someone you can trust who can help you remain faithful and will remain in prayer with you and for you.

A friend recently suggested to me that people don't go to church because they think they have to get their lives in order before they're good enough to enter.  If they only knew!  If they only knew that sitting in those seats and pews are slaves to all manner of ailments.  If they only knew that what they see are people who aren't good enough, but come anyway.  If they only knew what awaited them: hope, forgiveness, healing, acceptance.

There are slaves and there are slaves.  Today, I pray that you can honor that part of you that is captured and hurting.  Recognize it and honor it and spend time with God.  Live into hope.  Trust that healing will come.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




May 2, 2016, 10:19 AM

Gospel Hospitality


11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  (Acts 9:11-15 NRSV)

So far, in our two-week journey through Acts, we’ve encountered some interesting people with engaging stories.  Peter is summoned to Joppa for the sake of a woman whose ministry is caring for widows.  He brings her back from the dead.

Peter is then summoned to Jerusalem to answer for his actions in ministering to and eating with Gentiles.

Visions abound.  The Holy Spirit is active.  People from all walks of life are led by the Spirit to be converted: women, gentiles, Romans, the wealthy.  The Spirit is able to overcome road blocks: gentiles hostile to Jews, Jews doubting the gentiles, discussion and debate, even dissension in the church.   It would seem that nothing could get in the way of God’s activity through the Holy Spirit.

Today we meet Lydia: a woman, probably a gentile and she’s wealthy.  She seeks more in her life, though.  Her spiritual life craves God.  So she meets with other women by the river to pray.

Meanwhile, Paul and his associates are attempting to spread the gospel.  They travel through Asia, repeatedly blocked by the Holy Spirit from preaching.  They arrive on the coast of the Aegean Sea opposite modern-day Greece.  They endeavor to enter an area close by.  “No,” says the Spirit.  “Not here.”

Ministry is like that.  We show up with a great plan and enthusiasm and energy only to have our hopes dashed.  The Holy Spirit has blocked the way, always with good reason.  It takes awhile for us to understand that reason, though.

Just as Paul decides to sit tight, he has a vision.  Lots of visions appear in Acts.  What visions have you experienced?

This vision essentially says, “Your ministry is in Macedonia.  Get going.”  The next few verses indicate a sense of urgency in their travel plans: from Troas across a peninsula to Samothrace Island and then they land in Neapolis.  (I’m told that this is the same journey the Syrian migrants take to find a home in Europe.)  From there a short journey to Philippi.

They settle in for a few days.  Come the Sabbath, they head for a place of worship.  What led them outside the city gate?  What drew them to the river’s edge?  They know they’ve arrived when they see them:  a group of women.  Paul crosses all kinds of barriers to minister to them.  They are women, at least one is wealthy and they’re gentiles.  He begins to speak.

Lydia is among the women.  She’s from Thyatira, a city known for its production of purple dye. Purple is the color of royalty and it’s illegal for anyone outside of the royal family to purchase it.  She’s a unique woman; wealthy and successful, able to move in a world completely dominated by men.  That day she arrives at the river not knowing her life is about to change forever.

Paul, on his way somewhere else and blocked at every turn meets Lydia and helps her fill that need in her spiritual life.  What were the chances they’d meet up in Philippi?  Pretty good, if you consider the Holy Spirit is at work.

As I said, a lot happens in Acts by the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Barriers of race, gender and economic means are crossed.  The church becomes a place for Jew and Greek, men and women.  And next week we’ll learn about the barrier of slave and free.

It’s in Acts that we learn of the origins of Deacons: those chosen to serve the widows and others in need.  Today we learn another important part of the life of the church:  that of radical hospitality.  Lydia prevailed upon Paul and his entourage to stay at her home.  She has responded to God’s call on her life.  Now she responds to this call by caring for the messengers of the Word.

Plans blocked by the Holy spirit.

Leaders pointed in a different direction.

Ministry to non-Jews and women.

All leads up to radical hospitality. One could well ask, “What is this first century church coming to?”

In our 21st century church of declining members, churches closing, the increase of no church involvement or belief, one may well ask, “What is Christ’s Church coming to?”

I suggest the church is becoming better at listening to the real needs of people and are learning to pay attention to the Holy Spirit.  I suggest that the vision of the man of Macedonia pleading and saying, “Come over here and help us,” is that sector of our society labeled, “spiritual but not religious.”  These are the Lydia’s who don’t know what church can be and that there is living water here for their thirsty hearts.

What is this 21st century church coming to?  What I believe is this:  the Spirit is still active and God isn’t finished with us, yet.

So, we can sit in sack cloth and ashes and immerse ourselves in gloom and doom.  Or we can be a part of God’s plan, discerning the call of the Holy Spirit and reaching out to those whose paths cross ours.  And when we meet up with them, we can be authentic, caring Christians who meet people where they are and honor their pain and their joys.

And that’s how we begin to offer gospel hospitality.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Are there barriers that you’ve erected from those who aren’t like you?  Are they appropriate barriers or not?
  2. What would it look like for us to reach out to the “spiritual but not religious?”
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April 24, 2016, 7:04 PM

Transforming Change


by Sandy Bach

5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven... 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  (Acts 11:5-9;17 NRSV)

“Who was I that I could hinder God?”

Well, I’m human, for one.  I’ve lived through six decades, each one stranger than the last.  I live in an age that has adapted to a new form of warfare; truth has become relevant;and exponential change everywhere I turn.

In my opinion, that’s enough reason to hinder God.  I would never want to discover that I’m getting in I God’s way.  But, the truth is, I probably do it on a regular basis.

Perhaps, though, we could learn more from the times when we didn’t hinder God.

Several years ago I decided to wander through my favorite bookstore.  I could always find a good book there and simply wandering the aisles was pleasant.  After an hour of wandering, no book was found to be bought.  Somewhat surprised, I left the store.  Just as the door closed behind me, I saw her coming into the store.  Melanie.  We hadn't seen each other in years.  We took the next half hour catching up on our news.

Then she asked me about a situation that had occurred in my life a few years back.  We talked for a while and I share that the pain was still with me.  I had failed as a parent and was trying to find a way to forgive myself.  I can't remember what Melanie said that day, but her words began the real healing of my broken heart.

Before we parted ways that day, we both acknowledged that we had been led to this place in front of the book store.  I will always see that as the work of the Holy Spirit: that I was brought to a place where Melanie could begin my healing process.

When have you sensed the Holy Spirit alive your life?

From the time Jesus met Peter on the beach and asked him, “Do you love me?” three times, we’ve had glimpses of a stronger man, more determined to serve our Lord and growing in maturity and power.  The more he experienced, the more he grew.

Was he excited to return to Jerusalem and meet up with friends in the faith?  Was he surprised at his welcome; or, rather, lack of welcome?  “What are doing eating with those people?  They’re not like us, Peter.  They’ll defile our faith.  We’ll lose our center.  Besides, what they eat is yucky.  It’s just not right.”

Peter could have responded with argument; with theological debate; with anger.  Instead, he shared his story and brought them in to the scene for them to experience it themselves.  By the end of the story, they must have felt as if they had been there with Peter, seeing that sheet lowered down from heaven from its four corners; sensing the Holy Spirit empowering him to enter into the gentile world and share the good news.

“How could I hinder God?” asked Peter.

“You couldn’t,” replied the rest of the apostles.  This wasn’t the end of the debate, though.  Eventually, there would be the first Jerusalem Council and they would have to discern how best to welcome gentiles into the faith: through circumcision, or not.

The Spirit has certainly been alive in this building the past few years.  Our congregation has grown in numbers, but more than that, we’ve grown spiritually and we’re open to new things that God is doing in the life of the church.  Most recently we opened our doors to our Methodist brothers and sisters.  For two-and-a-half years, they’ve nested in our building so they can continue in ministry without the enormous burden of building upkeep.

We didn’t move quickly, though.  With the diligent and faithful work of a parish council made up of members of both of our congregations, the potential road blocks were removed.  Our relationship has grown stronger.

Now a new opportunity emerges for the Methodist church.  With the announcement of their minister being moved to a new charge,  they are looking at several possible options:

Ongoing pulpit supply

Tent maker pastor.  Someone who works for a living and serves the church on a limited basis.

A lay pastor, licensed by the Methodist Church to serve part time.

Retired Minister.  Again, part time, but someone willing to keep their hand in during their retirement years.

Federating.  Two congregations with one pastor: me.

That’s where we come in.  How do we discern the Holy Spirit speaking to us on federating, with the possibility of being one church some day in the future?  Where to begin is the first question and the answers are as many as our creative minds can come up with.

This past week, I encountered a vision during my mediation time.  I pictured our two congregations worshiping together once or twice a month at 11:00.  A worship committee made up of representatives from each congregation meeting weekly to unpack our bulletins.  What is the order of worship for each church?  Why do we do it that way?  What holds meaning for us?  How might we create an order of worship that speaks to everyone in the pew?

The Methodists could see my particular style and learn my theological beliefs with an eye to determining if they could live with me as their preacher. And, think of twice the number of people worshiping together in this place!  You could sing those hymns as loud as you want!

Peter’s vision led him to new places and opened him up to new ideas.  The word of God spread quickly because he refused to hinder God.

My vision may never take place, and I’m okay with that.  Its purpose has been to open me up to new possibilities.  I look forward to the future, however it may turn out.  I invite you to envision the future as well, whether it’s as a faith community joined with another in worship and ministry, or moving forward as separate congregations.

What if? Is the question of the day.  Be open to the Holy Spirit as you imagine what God holds for us in the future.

Peter asked the question, and now it’s our turn to ask it.  Who am I that I could hinder God?

Let’s move forward together in love, ministering to God’s people wherever they may be.  Let’s move forward in faith, knowing that we won’t be abandoned, but guided by the hand of God.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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April 18, 2016, 10:30 AM

Marks of a Healing Community


by Sandy Bach

36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”

40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

42-43 When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.  (Acts 9:36-43 The Message)

Tabitha
She’s a faithful disciple with the heart of a deacon. Her ministry is in the care of widows – one of the most vulnerable in the community. Word of her works has spread some distance in both the gentile and Jewish communities. She is not one of the poor, but a woman with an upper room, which tells us that she is financially well off.

She’s an important member of the Christian community and a god-send to the widows. Every day she risks her economic stability and possibly her own health for the sake of those in dire need. Every day she is empowered by God to serve.

Sadly, though, she gets sick and dies. Was it due to a lack of self-care or something else? Whatever the reason, all faith communities know that even when ministry is going well and thriving, none of us can escape heart ache.

The Disciples
They worship God and listen to Jesus’ voice. They are willing to submit to the authority of Peter. They know him to be a healer. They need healing, a funeral service, and, most of all, a pastoral visit.

Peter
Last week we met up with Peter on the beach. Unable to make ministry work, he went fishing, doing something he knew well. Several disciples followed him. After breakfast with Jesus, he had a heart-to-heart talk with him and realized that his love for Jesus was too deep to ignore Jesus’ lambs and sheep.

So, today we meet up with a transformed Peter. Having received the Holy Spirit, he has preached and healed; despaired of Saul’s persecution of the Church; learned of Phillip’s successful mission in Samaria and is all too familiar with Stephen’s stoning in Jerusalem. He has his days of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” and days of seeing Christ glorified in word and deed.

He’s in Lydda when two men arrive and ask him to come immediately. We read that he, “got up and went with them.” He arrives and allows himself to be taken to the upper room where Tabitha lays, lovingly prepared for burial. He sees much: the love and respect of the widows; the respect of fellow disciples; the clothing she made day after day; and grief: heart-wrenching grief.

So, he puts everyone out of the room. He kneels and prays, perhaps remembering being with Jesus when Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life; or perhaps he remembers the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. He kneels and prays. This is God’s activity; he’s only the channel.

Then he turns to her and says, “Tabitha, get up.” Tabitha opens her eyes and sees Peter. Then she gets up with Peter’s assistance. Peter invites the disciples and friends back into the room where he shows them not what he had done, but what God had done.

The Widows
They have lost their means of support and so they’re marched off to the fringes of society to live by begging or gleaning or other ways we don’t even want to talk about. They are less than human, walking the streets in shabby clothing, begging off of others and being shunned: Get a job! Don’t be so lazy! Whew! Have you taken a bath lately?

One person, Tabitha, sees their situation and fights to make their lives a bit better. They receive fresh, clean clothing; perhaps even a place to bathe. They learn about this Jesus who ate with sinners and stood up for widows and the orphans.

They are a community of believers and for the first time in a long time they belong. They know love that cares for each other and love in the form of self-respect.

Tabitha gets sick and dies. Their grief is bottomless. Where will they go? What will they do? They simply can’t return to their former lives, but what else is there?

What are the marks of community today? You have to look in the right places to find them because this is an age where individualism is one of the most important characteristics. To find true community, your best chances of finding it in the best sense of the word is in a church.

Church community stands together. They sacrifice precious time to see that the family sitting in a loved one’s funeral can return to Fellowship Hall for a hot lunch prepared with love. They pray for each other over and over again, knowing that a cure may not be imminent, but healing is possible in countless ways. They welcome the stranger with open arms and no expectation that the offering plate will be fuller, but that the life of the church will be.

Church community weeps together. After the 9/11 attack on our nation, the one place you found many Americans was in church praying for peace, for the families of the victims and for each other. Community weeps together when one of their own dies. They weep together over the unfairness of disease and war and social injustice.

Church community celebrates together. Whether it’s a celebration of a member receiving their first service animal, or the anniversary of the congregation, or simply a pot-luck meal.

And in this age of cherished privacy and a stiff upper lift, they’re not afraid to call each other and ask, “How are you doing?” And then settle in for the lengthy answer.

That was the community of Tabitha’s day. And sometimes, thank God, we find it today.

We live in a world changing constantly: a world where the loudest voice gets heard; where one disease is wiped out only to have another new virus emerge; where the ones who aren’t like us aren’t trusted by us; where we suffer and weep behind closed doors.

This is a world that can be difficult to live in. But, it’s a world that Jesus is active in, providing communities like that of Tabitha’s and looking to a God who provides victory over death and calls us into new and transformed life daily.

We are in the world, but we are not of it. We live and work and play in the world, but we worship God and demonstrate a love that tries to model Jesus’ life.

Tabitha became ill and died. So important was her work and her life, that they sent two men to Joppa to find Peter. Peter was the agent of healing and bringing life back.

But this story isn’t about Peter or even Tabitha. This story is about a God who reveals God-self in may wondrous ways.

And it’s a story of a community who refused to be of the world. They believed in the risen Christ and walked with him daily. Their faith inspired their work and their love and refused to let anyone be left to work things out alone. They knew their dilemmas and refused to not believe in a God who could bring healing in many different ways.

Where are the Tabitha’s today?

Who do we know who is turning the world upside down?

Who are the ones who refuse to accept the status quo?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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April 10, 2016, 4:59 PM

Feeding Faith


by Sandy Bach

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

Strange things happen in the Gospel of John.  Water becomes wine at a wedding; water turns to living water for a broken woman in enemy territory.  People are resuscitated back from life.  Jesus describes himself as "Bread of Heaven", "Vine", "Good Shepherd."  And just when you think you've completed reading the entire Gospel, you turn the page to find an epilogue.

Why?  In Chapter 20 we read of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then to the 10 disciples.  Finally, he returns to the 10 and this time Thomas is present.  One look at Jesus and he describes who Jesus is, "My Lord and my God."  There are a couple more sentences that bring this Gospel to a very good conclusion.  But, it appears that we need one more story.

While Jesus visited the disciples in chapter 20, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them their sacred commission:  "As the Father sent me, so I send you." (20:21b)  They have the Holy Spirit to guide them and the commission to go out in ministry.

So why do we see them sitting on a beach at the Sea of Tiberius (Galilee)?  Not only that, they go fishing!  Is this what God called them to do?  Fish?  I think the answer is clear when we read that they fished all night and didn't catch a thing.  Along comes Jesus.  "Children, you have no fish, have you? Try throwing your nets on the other side."

Competent fishermen would have known what to do.  I wonder if they're stuck.  Stuck in seeking a vision for their ministry; stuck trying to fish without giving it thought; stuck trying to figure out where to go from here.

Sure enough, going with Jesus' suggestion to try doing it a different way, they quit fighting the task and do as he suggests.  They catch a lot of fish.  The net is heavy and just as they're ready to pull it into the boat, the disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes Jesus.  "Look!  It's the Lord!"  A comical scene ensues when Peter throws on some clothes, plops himself into the water and manages to get ashore.

Jesus has fish and bread waiting for them on a fire and suggests they bring some more from their catch.  They eat together as they had so many times before, only this time it's a sacred meal.  A sacred meal that resembles the Great Banquet in the Kingdom of God.  After breakfast, Jesus and Peter have a conversation.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."

"Feed my lambs.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."

"Tend my sheep.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Now Peter feels hurt.  Does he remember the three times that he denied being one of Jesus' disciples?

"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."

"Feed my sheep."

The third time Jesus asked the question, Peter completely commits himself to Christ and his mission.

That mission isn't to be found on a fishing boat.  There's only so much time left in Peter's life and he's been called by God to serve in the world spreading the good news.  He has his mission now and his vision: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.  Somehow he seems to understand because as we read about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter becoming a strong leader and a powerful healer.

So why the need for the epilogue?  I suggest three messages for you and I today:

  1.  Jesus calls us and feeds us.  We're not alone when we're serving him and his people.
  2. Jesus offers forgiveness and grace.  It's good to know that because we will mess up with denials and betrayals and running in the other direction.
  3. There's no escaping Jesus.  Whether hiding behind locked doors or out on a fishing boat, Jesus finds us.  As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?  (Psalm 139:1-3, 7 NRSV)

 Perhaps your relationship with Christ is a close personal faith with him like that of the Beloved Disciple who reclined at Jesus' side at mealtime.  Maybe your sense of call is more like Peter's, that of continuing Jesus' acts of justice and mercy.  Chances are that your faith is a blend of the two along a continuum between the two.  Understanding your relationship with Jesus, how are you fed by him?  How do you keep your relationship with him alive and thriving?  Some ideas include: prayer, time alone in mediation with him, Bible reading and study.  You may also consider how you serve others in your particular community.  Whether through your local church or other organizations, how do you work for justice and mercy as an expression of your love for Christ?

If you're wondering if you're doing enough, begin in prayer and stay at it until you receive an answer.  You may be surprised to discover that your life is a reflection of your love.

If not, God will point you in a direction.  However, you may have to fish on the other side of the boat, rather than doing it the same way all the time.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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April 3, 2016, 8:49 AM

Empowered to Witness


by Sandy Bach

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (John 20:26-29 NRSV)

 

Who is Thomas?  He's not “Doubting Thomas.”  He’s a faithful, faith filled disciple. So, if he’s not a doubter, who is he?

I wonder if Thomas is one of those talented, geeky engineer types. He is the computer nerd who loses track of time. He can make computers do marvelous things, but he can barely hold a conversation with a human being. He is that intelligent engineer who second-gueses those new bridge plans until the rest of us are groaning in pain.

I love these people for the simple reason that I’m not one of them. My creative brain would rather select a color pattern for the bridge than determine its strength. I couldn’t fix a broken computer code if my life depended on it.

Perhaps Thomas is from the Show-Me state of Missouri. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b NRSV)  Seeing isn’t enough for him. He has to touch, as well. Will he bring a magnifying glass along? Perhaps he’ll demand a DNA test.

Who is this Thomas? Is he the skeptic in some of our churches who doesn’t trust those who count the offering? Or the one who questions someone’s faith because they don’t buy into every single line of the creed? Or is he the cynic who doesn’t believe that those girls were really approached inappropriately?  [Nancy Claire Pittman, “Feasting on the Word: Homiletical Perspective (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Year C Volume 2 Page 399 & 401]

Every time they speak, they hurt someone and that lack of trust tears at the core of the congregation.  If this is the Thomas of our scripture passage, we would like for him to trust his fellow disciples and what they all reported to him. We would like for him to be a bit more forgiving and flexible. We wish for him a spirit of love and respect, rather than rigid legalism.

Or, maybe Thomas is shattered by the events of Holy Week. That triumphal entry was amazing! But Jesus kept talking about crucifixion and resurrection. It was too much to take in. And while he tried to figure out what Jesus was saying, there was that Passover Meal where he washed Thomas’ feet and dried them tenderly with a towel. He told them to love each other as Jesus loved them.

That was strange.

Then the betrayal by one of their own group. The denial by Peter. He ran away with the rest of the disciples. And, finally, crucifixion. There are so many questions; so much hurt and pain. Thomas is numb.

So, when he returns from wherever he was, he stands firm and says, “I can’t believe until I see.” It wasn’t distrust of his friends. He’s fumbling and wondering where God is.

Perhaps Thomas is feeling left out. Where was he that evening? Why wasn’t he locked in that room with the rest of the disciples? Perhaps he went out for supplies and when he got back he heard the news, not so much with joy but with a sense of having missed out on something.

So, a little hurt and a little petulantly he says, “I want to see, also.”

On the other hand, maybe Thomas is you and me. Doubting and believing at the same time; fumbling through our faith journey; needing to see before we can believe; needing to hang on to what we know is factual while others testify to a different truth.

Maybe we’re Thomas, looking for God in the silence. Or hiding from God behind those locked doors because of who and what we are. Guilty of denial and betrayal and running in the other direction. Ashamed and fearful that our “real” selves will become apparent to those around us. Maybe he needs to know that Jesus loves and cares for him despite his absence that particular day.

The Thomas in each of us needs so much assurance. We need to hear Jesus’ words to his disciples and a week later to Thomas: “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you. Not despite who we are, but because of who we are. Peace be with you, because we are God’s creation and he doesn’t make junk. Peace be with you, even though we mess up and get it wrong and then hide from God behind locked doors.

Peace. Not simply an absence of conflict, but God’s shalom. God’s shalom connects us one to another; it’s harmony and completeness. It’s a sense of wholeness. Which only comes from God.

In Jesus’ blessing of peace, he offered forgiveness. No chiding or rebuke or punishment. He forgave them and then breathed on them the greatest gift of all: The Holy Spirit. He solemnly commissions them to go out and do what he taught them to do.

But there’s one more thing he has to say. He gazes on Thomas and says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then he turns and looks at you and at me and speaks again, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If Thomas is you and I, then maybe we are a bit overly cautious at times. And perhaps at times we find in ourselves the cynic and the skeptic. Or we wonder what we can do to feel part of the inner circle. And, at times, we hide behind locked doors and fail to “see” what others call truth.

But, we are God’s creation and we belong to our Lord who breathed the Holy Spirit on us and tells us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Don’t worry that you’re not perfect or smart enough or handsome enough. Don’t worry that you’re not enough of anything or that you’re too much of something else. That’s Jesus' job.

So, my friends, I repeat his words to you now:

"Peace be with you.

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

"Receive the Holy Spirit."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 29, 2016, 4:18 PM

Witnessing to New Life


But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to [Jesus’] tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  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?”  (Luke 24:1-5a)

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen, indeed!

He is Risen and as a result we have new life and new hope!

Or do we?

It’s all well and good to say that, but how do we live it out?  How are we living out the reality of the resurrection?

During Bible Study a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues used this particular phrase to describe the result of the Easter experience: “We are parading our dreams on the streets of reality.”

We are parading our dreams on the streets of reality.

Or are we?

Perhaps we’re like the women who stand at the tomb, the stone rolled away. Entering the tomb, they find it empty.  They are perplexed.  Fear looms on the edges.  Suddenly two dazzling men appear and we’re reminded of the Mount of Transfiguration.  Something very important is going on here.  We need to pay close attention.

But, sometimes it’s too hard to take it all in.  At the appearance of these men, the minds of the women shut down.  They are terrified and who wouldn’t be?  They bow their heads to the ground.

Silence.  The silence made up of fear; of trying to fit the pieces together; of processing what they’ve seen and heard.

That fear and silence are abundant today.  Our nation which is abundant in resources and peoples from all walks of life has so much to offer the world.   But our abundant nation operates with a scarcity mindset.  Politicians tell us what to fear and that they alone are the ones who can fix it.  Our concept of truth is played out in every way from social media to the halls o Congress.  The news media spend time and large amounts of money telling us that we aren’t enough; we don’t have enough; that we aren’t good enough.

Have fear and scarcity taken the place of the promise of resurrection?

Fear is also what we feel when we discover, yet again, that God’s ways aren’t ours.  It’s scary to put our trust in someone whose idea of kingdom bears no resemblance to the kingdoms of this world.

We believe that nothing is impossible with God.  Then we turn on the news.  And we worry, yet again.

Worry turns to fear.  Fear turns to anger.

The problem is that God is beyond our comprehension.  That’s pretty scary for those of us who need to b in control at all times.  We find God, in Jesus, calming storms, feeding thousands at one time.  All of this from a man who was born in a stable to poverty-stricken parents from a back-water district.

God’s kingdom is subversive, where children are welcomed, we love the enemy, and leadership is about servant hood.  Jesus spoke truth to the powerful and the wealthy.  He healed the enemy.  He taught subversive ideas such as, you’re blessed if you’re hungry or poor or weep or if people hate you.

We can’t wrap our minds around God’s activity in God’s world.  And while women and gentiles and children are welcome in the kingdom we know that the cost of discipleship is high: the sidelined are welcome in the kingdom of God, but not in our nation; Jesus ate with his enemies.  Anyone here interested in joining me for lunch with a terrorist?   No.  Me neither.

Jesus practiced servant leadership.  Remember when he washed the disciples’ dirty, stinky, calloused over-used feet?  What does servant leadership look like today?  Weak and ineffective? Or, compelling and profound?

While our faces are bowed to the ground and we’re trying to figure out that empty tomb, the question comes all too quickly.  We’re not prepared.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

We look for the living among the dead because everything is happening too quickly.  Technology has made our world so small that we can literally watch war on our TV’s and tablets.  Our nation is undergoing enormous change and it scares us.  We hang between heaven and earth fighting to get back to what we once were.

We look for corpses in the cemeteries of long dead ideas and ideals; what we often refer to as “the good ole’ days.”  Our vision of our world and our nation and even our communities and our churches live in those cemeteries.  We keep searching them out as if we could return to those former times.

We hang on to what we already know is dead because we don’t dare let go: it’s not safe.  And so we’re stuck in place, fighting it out, like shadow boxing.

The Easter experience as, “Parading our dreams on the streets of reality” is a compelling thought.

Easter people know that God is in all; that God can empty tombs and our mistaken ideas; that God doesn’t change but changes us; that God is always reforming us and the church and the world; that God is never finished.

Easter people remember Jesus’ words.  That he would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.  And while we witness the women running to tell others of this great event, we can turn into testifiers of the truth of the risen Christ.

Are you parading your dreams on the streets of reality?  Or do you tuck them away, for fear of laughter and ridicule?

What dreams would you parade if you could?

A working housing program for the poor and dispossessed?

That no child feels the pain of poverty?

That everyone has enough of the right kind of food to eat?

The discovery of a cure for disease?

Fresh insight into the politics of our nation and the world?

Whatever the dreams, dream on.  Get out of the cemetery once in awhile.  Jesus is alive and well and waiting for you.  Jesus is risen and we can walk with him and learn from him.  We can learn what it is to be subversive and we can make a difference.

We can be the risen Lord’s hands that feed the hungry; his voice to speak truth to power; his feet to find the lost, the least and the last.

We are Easter people.  And for those of us who find ourselves in the cemetery, at least part of the time, there’s a way out.  Look for the Risen Christ, standing at the gate of insight and courage saying, “Come, follow me.  I won’t leave you hanging between heaven and earth.  But I will teach you what it means to be a subversive for the Kingdom of God.”

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

Amen.




March 20, 2016, 10:35 AM

What Sort of a King?


by Sandy Bach

"When they brought [the colt] to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying:  'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!' ...As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it..."

It’s an occasion for believers  put on by believers!

Jesus stands on the Mt of Olives gazing on Jerusalem. He’s waiting for two of his disciples to return with a colt.  It’s not a warhorse, but it’s never been ridden: it’s a sacred animal worthy of our Lord.  The rest of his disciples wait patiently and watch. Crowds of Jesus’ followers are beginning to line the roadway that leads down from the Mt of Olives into the Kidron valley and back up to Jerusalem.

Jesus is unusually quiet today. He stares thoughtfully across the valley to Jerusalem. His disciples wonder what he’s thinking.

Finally, the disciples return with the colt.  “Any problems?” someone asks.  No.  It happened just as Jesus said it would.”  They place a few cloaks on the colt and Jesus takes his seat.

On one hand it’s a bit comical:  Jesus feet must be all but dragging on the ground.  But it’s also a parable. When the people see it, they’ll remember what Zechariah wrote:

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.   (Zech 9:9 NRSV)

The crowds cheer him on, remembering what he told them; his promises to them; his parables.  Luke’s version of this entry into Jerusalem depicts a throng of believers.  Perhaps there aren’t as many along the parade route as the other Gospel writers depict. But, they aren’t the ones who will stand outside Pilate’s headquarters yelling, “Crucify him!”  The crowd may be smaller than we imagine, but it’s certainly very joyful.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Jerusalem, Pilate’s procession ensues: a great warhorse, military regalia; his legion escorts him.  No one cheers. Rather, they slip into the shadows and alleyways, hoping not to be noticed.  The population of Jerusalem will likely double during this Passover celebration.  There will be trouble and Pilate will stop at nothing to maintain control and Pax Romana.

Jesus lets the colt step down into the valley at its own pace.  He smiles and waves.  People lay their cloaks down on the road as a sign of respect. And they call out:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the Lord’s name!”  and "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”

Jesus permits the celebrations, even knowing what he faces this week. “Let the people celebrate; let them enjoy the moment.” And he, too, enjoys the moment; at least for a little while.   But, as the young colt begins the climb out of the Kidron valley and up the steep hill to Jerusalem, you can see a change in his demeanor.  It’s in his eyes.  They grow more serious; distant; sad; even haunted.  As the colt brings him near to the city he begins to weep: For Jerusalem and the deep loss that will occur to the Jews all too soon. For those who weren’t able to listen and hear his words. For himself and what is about to happen to him this week.

I used to think of Holy Week as if it were a bookshelf with book-ends: The joy of Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.  Finally, to land in Easter, once more returning to joy.   Holy Week, as I saw it, was deep sadness book ended with joy.

But, this year I see it differently.  Yes, we love the palms and the children singing.  But, we can’t stop in the Kidron Valley and go home.  We must make the trek up to Jerusalem.  This journey is uphill in more ways than one.

Palm Sunday is our entrance into Holy Week.  Holy Week takes us to Maundy Thursday where we hear again Jesus’ mandate to his disciples to “love one another just as I have loved you.” We hear also the Words of Institution that remind us of Jesus’ Last Supper.  Holy Week takes us to Good Friday where we’ll read scripture and sing hymns that remind us of betrayal and fear; politics and empire; torture and death.

Than spend some time alone during the Easter Vigil, once again reading scripture, but this time with an attempt to understand and hear God’s voice in our hearts and our lives.

Finally, we end up at Easter, standing at the empty tomb with the women.

Dare we go with Jesus, through those mighty gates of Jerusalem and Holy Week?

Dare we permit ourselves to see our own place in the liturgy?  Peter who denied.  Disciples who ran.  Judas who betrayed.  Women who wept and discovered.

Dare we allow God into our hearts to convict?

Dare we shed our own tears?

This week will seem like a week of Friday’s but remember this: Today may feel like Friday, but Sunday’s coming: With resurrection, new life and great joy.

But there’s only one way to Easter Sunday and that’s through Holy Week.

I’ll see you there.

All glory and honor be to God.   Amen.

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March 13, 2016, 7:34 PM

Extravagant Love


by Sandy Bach

"Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'” (John 12:1-8 NRSV)

Death hangs in the air.
Lazarus reclines near his friend, Jesus.  Does he know about the plot to kill both him and Jesus?

Death hangs in the air.  Yet, Mary and Martha and Lazarus throw a dinner party. And, what a time for a dinner party! Tomorrow Jesus will make his triumphal entry up to Jerusalem – what we call Palm Sunday. But today they celebrate Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave.

Death hangs in the air. Mary brings out the expensive perfume. She anoints the feet of the Anointed One. She lets down her hair and
wipes his feet with it.

Death hangs in the air. As palpable as the aroma of the perfume worth a year’s wages.

Death hangs in the air. In the person of Judas: Hoarder of money. Thief. Liar. Betrayer. And now he’s trying to sideline Mary.

Mary is the one who studied at Jesus’ feet. The one who chided him for being late to save Lazarus from death. The one who loved enough to use expensive and valuable perfume for his feet.

Judas may be a betrayer and a liar and a thief, but don’t you also question Mary’s use of the expensive perfume? I can’t help but wonder what she was thinking?

After all, a year’s worth of wages could buy a lot of important stuff: food, shelter, clothing. The poor could be served; the disenfranchised brought into Jesus’ circle. What would you do with a year’s wages? For many of us, perfume that expensive wouldn’t even make it on the list.

Perhaps what Mary was doing was giving us a glimpse of the Kingdom. A place where no one is poor: everyone has enough and more.
A place where all are equal; wealth and power doesn’t dominate; and death no longer hangs in the air.

Mary is telling us today about the lavishness of God’s kingdom. Might she be pointing out to us that saving the fine perfume for a special occasion (that may never be special enough) can look more like hoarding?

I know someone who doesn’t save money, she hoards it and worships it like an idol. Some call her a money-grubber. Everyone has to know about her great wealth. She’s one of the unhappiest women I’ve ever met.

Many of us hoard something: possessions; grudges; anger. We hang onto those things that we most need to let go of. And every once in a while, we become lavish like Mary. We give of ourselves fully and completely. We use our hard-earned money to help others. We donate possessions, give blood, and shed tears with those who grieve.

Mary reminds us that those moments of lavish giving and loving show us at our best.

Mary reminds us that her costly and extravagant act is faithful witness to Jesus’ costly and extravagant act that is about to occur. (George W. Stroup, “Feasting on the Word” Year C Volume 2 [Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009] page 142)

Death hangs in the air today: war, terrorist activities, soul-crushing poverty and injustice, to name a few.

In the midst of all this we are challenged to live in the tension between providing for those who live on the edges and offering the life-giving aroma to all with whom we meet.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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