The Gardener

Easter lily

Meditation on John 20:1-18

Easter 2016

***

     Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

      But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

My parents finally moved this week. I say, “finally,” because it was something we talked about for a long time–them moving from their home in Port Orange to a retirement community in Orange City. It was hard for them to give up their home and so many things they loved. But Dad is where he can have nursing care if he needs it, and Mom can have help caring for him. They live in a nice, little 2-bedroom cottage. They even bought new “wheels” to get to activities in their community, such as bridge, art classes, concerts and meals in their choice of restaurants. This is my brother, Steve, driving Dad in their new golf cart.

 

Golf Cart

Jim and I last saw my parents on Monday–the day before their move. The packers were there and people were in almost every room of their house. And there was stuff everywhere! And Dad was in the kitchen, amidst the noise and chaos, quietly trimming dead flowers and leaves off a flower arrangement someone had given my mom. Snip snip went his little scissors. I watched him gently handle the blossoms, leaves and stems, and I remembered The Gardener of my childhood.

Dad’s been retired 25 years or more, but when he worked full time in a government office in Maryland, he would become, in the evenings and on weekends, The Gardener, caring for growing things. He grew houseplants on our large, enclosed porch — African violets with fuzzy leaves and purple blossoms

african_violet_2

 

 

and hanging baskets of ivy, fern, spider, and wandering Jew.

zebrina+pendula+(own)5

 

In winter, he kept bulbs in refrigerator drawers, nestled with onions and potatoes. He tended flowering trees and evergreens. We had azaleas and rhododendrons.

Azaleas

 

He cultivated roses.

 

Roses

 

We had fruit trees and a large vegetable garden, growing squash and zucchini, broccoli and beans, asparagus, peppers and tomatoes.

tomato plants

 

We even had a strawberry patch for a while, and Mom made freezer jam.

 

strawberry patch

When my parents moved to Florida in 1990, Dad reluctantly left the big yard “up north”–and all the physical labor that was too much for him. But he brought with him a few plants, including a bulb in a pot that he inherited from his mother–another gardener! It hadn’t bloomed in years. It looked dead, actually. It had been forgotten when Grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease became more advanced and taking care of Grandma was all my grandfather could do. Dad planted the bulb in his Port Orange yard, and wouldn’t you know it? It bloomed the first year–a gorgeous, red amaryllis. Dad took pictures every time it bloomed and retold the story with a bemused expression.

amaryllis_minerva_4

 

Once dead. Now alive! And my father, even without a yard of his own, is still–at heart–The Gardener.

 

***

 

In our gospel reading today, Mary has an unexpected encounter with the gardener–or at least someone who looked like one–when she goes to the tomb. This is Mary from a village on the west shore of the Sea of Tiberius called Magdala and later Tarichaea, meaning “salted fish.” This is the only gospel that features Mary the Magdalene alone at the tomb, but every gospel consistently features this Mary at the tomb– looking for Jesus.

John’s account of Mary the Magdalene speaking with Jesus without even knowing it is my favorite resurrection story. Let’s look at John 20:15: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she supposes him to be the gardener. This tells us that he looked like an ordinary person. Even as the Risen Savior, he wasn’t otherworldly looking, with light beams shooting out of bright white garments. He was truly God who had become one of us and had come to comfort and reassure his own! We suspect that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus not because he had changed so much in appearance but because she didn’t expect to see him alive–not after seeing his cruel death. She doesn’t have the “sight” that faith provides– until Jesus calls her name. This brings us back to John 10:3, when Jesus says, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” By the way, the Greek word “Rabbouni” Mary uses and John translates as “teacher” isn’t just “teacher” ; the form of the word is a term of endearment, expressing affection and respect.

Finally, it is important that he looks like a gardener. We only find this “gardener” encounter in John’s account. This image takes us all the way back to Genesis.

197px-Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_The_Earthly_Paradise_(Garden_of_Eden)

 

     After God creates by speaking into existence the heavens and the earth and forms man from dust, the Lord God becomes a gardener, so that human beings would have a beautiful place in which to live and food to eat.

Genesis 2:8, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

But all along, God didn’t plan to be the only gardener. He had made a companion/partner to care for and enjoy Creation with Him.

Gen. 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Before today’s reading, when Jesus appears to Mary looking like a gardener, Jesus had a history with gardens, but not as someone who works the soil. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus takes three of the disciples with him to a garden.

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane 2

This is what the Garden of Gethsemane looks like today. Gethsemane, a name meaning “oil press,” is at the foot of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. An ancient grove of olive trees stands to this day.

In Matthew 26:36-39, “Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’”

The garden of prayer soon becomes a place of betrayal. Luke 22:45-48 says, “When (Jesus) got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’”

After Jesus dies, he is buried– in a garden.

In John 19:41-42, we read, “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation [the day before the Sabbath] and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

Here is an example of a garden tomb in Jerusalem.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008

This one has been a place of pilgrimage since it was discovered in 1867, and considered by some to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. This contradicts the traditional story of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem–another site claiming to be where Jesus died and was buried. The story goes that the Emperor Constantine, who became a Christian in the 4th century, built the church on top of a temple that Emperor Hadrian built for the goddess Aphrodite in the 2nd century to cover up the cave in which Jesus was buried.

The truth is, we don’t know the exact site of Jesus’ tomb. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is what the gospels tell us– that early on the first day of the week, when Mary and other loved ones come looking for Jesus, the stone has been mysteriously rolled away or removed. And the tomb is empty!

Easter Tomb

 

And the place of betrayal and death has become a place of hope and promise for all people who believe on the Son.

Once dead. Now alive! Our Risen Savior comes to us as one of us, but also God.

The Gardener.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your Word that tells us the story of your Son’s cruel death, though he committed no sins, but also His miraculous Resurrection–how you raised Him from the dead. And now, by your grace, the world has the hope and promise of eternal life with You through faith in the work of Your Son for humanity’s sake. Father, we could never be good enough to redeem ourselves, but knowing that and loving us so, you were willing to come and dwell with us and truly become one of us so we may be brought back into right relationship with you. Help us on this day when we celebrate your Son’s triumph over the grave to be your loving, comforting presence to others in need, especially those mourning the loss of loved ones or suffering from illness or disease. Lead us to boldly share our hope with the world, proclaiming our faith through humble service and acts of compassion and love. Christ is alive! He is risen from the grave! Alleluia! Amen!

religious Easter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Things That Make for Peace

Palm Sunday road

Meditation on Luke 19:28-44

March 20 (Palm Sunday) 2016

     After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it 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!’  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’

 

***

 

Friday began as an ordinary day. I was working from home, preparing for Sunday worship. Jim was out running errands, one of which included dropping off our two dogs at the groomer. Molly the sheltie and Mabel the Pomeranian were carrying in all sorts of debris from the trees outside–matted in their long, thick hair. And it’s hot enough now for their “summer” haircuts.

So on Friday I am working on my prayers and liturgy, when the phone rings. “Hi, this is so and so from Doggie D-tails. Did you know that Mabel is crawling with fleas?”

My heart sank. “Oh, no! Not fleas!” The dread of every pet owner! If one indoor pet has fleas, they all do–and they’re in your house, so you’ve got them, too.

Ctenocephalides felis

Ctenocephalides felis, cat flea or flea, isolated on a white background

 

“Oh, no!” I said again, as the nice lady told me about using Borax on our carpet to kill the flea eggs that were going to keep hatching every couple of days. Oh, joy.

Then I remembered how poor Melvyn the cat had been scratching himself lately until hunks of his hair came out. I should have known it was fleas! All the signs were there. How did we miss it? What were we thinking?

The rest of Friday was anything but ordinary for the Crawford household. Poor Melvyn had his first bath since he decided to move in with us 3 years ago.

 

 

melvyn bath 5

 

I lathered him up with the flea shampoo–and there they were–crawling all over his body, trying to hide, trying to survive. Those bad ole fleas were going to die! Melvyn wasn’t crazy about his first flea bath. Maybe his first bath ever because I had never given him a bath. He didn’t have fleas in Minnesota when he showed up at our door. And he became an indoor kitty as soon as he came inside and said, “This is a good place. They feed me here. I think I’ll stay.”

He was a good boy in his bath. He didn’t thrash around or scratch me. He tried to climb out, but I wouldn’t let him, so he looked deep into my eyes and let out a mournful yowl. I think he figured out, though, that if I were going to kill him, I would have done it by now.

And then, baths aren’t too bad when Mom keeps the water and soap out of my eyes and ears– holds me in her lap and rubs my belly and my chin.

Melvyn bath 1

 

I don’t think he cared for the wire brush, though.

Melvyn bath 2

 

I held him and brushed him, and the fleas were jumping off him –and landing on me. Bad ole fleas! After a few minutes of towel drying and brushing, Melvyn began to relax in my arms. I think he sensed that his itchy body was going to get better.

Melvyn bath 3

 

Or maybe he was remembering that it was almost time for lunch!

I had my work cut out for me before Molly and Mabel came home–cleaning, bleaching, washing, vacuuming–eradicating the fleas.

Molly looked much better–and happier–after her flea bath and haircut.

 

Molly before

Molly after

Mabel looked and felt much better, too.

Mabel before

Mabel after 2

***

Our reading in Luke today recounts Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. His journey to the Holy City–and to the cross– began in Galilee about 3 years earlier. Most recently, he was with his disciples in Jericho, where he calls to Zacchaeus, a short, unpopular toll-collector, who climbs a tree so he can catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes by. Then Christ, who came to eat and drink with sinners and seek and save the lost, invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner.

Jericho is 27.75 km (around 17 miles) from Jerusalem. Jesus is truly going “up” to Jerusalem in this journey, as verse 28 tells us. Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level; Jericho is more than 800 feet below it. Once Jesus reaches the Mount of Olives, the path to the Holy City descends for about a mile, as seen in this modern photo.

Palm Sunday road 2

 

Jesus and his followers have made the entire journey on foot, thus far. But now he sends two of his disciples to borrow a colt from the “village ahead” for him to ride for this final mile, not because he is tired, but so his identity as the Messiah, Jerusalem’s “king,” will be proclaimed, as will the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:  “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.”

Coming up from Jericho on the Roman road, one would approach the villages of Bethphage and Bethany on the hill overlooking Jerusalem from the east, above the Kidron Valley. The small village of Bethphage, whose name means “House of Unripe Figs,” was on the Mount of Olives and is only mentioned in this episode in the New Testament. This scene appears in all 4 gospels, with some differences. Luke’s animal is a “colt” –the Greek word polos— the same as Mark’s. Polos could mean a “young horse, a colt” or a “young male donkey.” Matthew uses the word onos meaning “donkey” and talks about 2 animals–a female donkey with a foal–and has Jesus somehow riding both. Luke, like Mark, specifies that Jesus ask for an animal that has never been ridden.

Are some of you looking for the word, “Hosanna”? This is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew or Aramaic word that means not “Praise God” but “Save us, now” or “Please, save us!!” Hosanna is in Matthew, Mark, and John, but not here. And how about the palm branches? Where are they? The palms are only mentioned in John. Matthew says, “cut branches” and Mark says, “leafy branches.” Luke, Matthew, and Mark talk about the people’s cloaks that are spread on the back of the animal before Jesus rides and laid down in the road before him.

Jesus’ arrival brings division in Israel, as Simeon in Luke 2:34-35 prophesies when Jesus is 8 days old, “‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” The crowd praises God for all the powerful deeds they have seen while some Pharisees insist that Jesus make his disciples be quiet. Why? Are they afraid the noise will attract Roman soldiers and give them an excuse to punish them? More likely they are offended or angry that the crowd is declaring Jesus the Messiah by singing from Psalm 118, only substituting “king” for “the one” : “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

These words echo Jesus’ own in 13:35, when he laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Studying this passage, I am moved by Christ’s sorrow over the two things that Jerusalem fails to see: “the things that make for peace” and its “visitation from God.” The people of Jerusalem don’t recognize that Jesus is the Messiah–sent from God to save us from our sins. The crowd of Jesus’ so-called disciples also fail to understand who Jesus is and what it will mean at his journey’s end. They don’t understand that knowing Jesus means serving Him, seeking to be like the one who, as Paul teaches in Philippians, “emptied himself of His divinity” to become a slave, taking on our fragile, human form. He “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

Not even the original 12 foresee Christ’s death and resurrection, though Jesus warns them 3 times in Luke–in 9:21, 9:44 and 18:31-34, when he “took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 3After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’” They understand “nothing about all these things.” “What (Christ) said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

Friends, we might be tempted to read this passage and say, “What’s wrong with Jerusalem? Why don’t they see?” Or, “What’s wrong with his disciples who don’t grasp what Jesus is teaching them?” But that’s not why we read God’ Word–to condemn others. We read Scripture so that our hearts will be open to hear God’s will for our lives. The truth is that we often fail to see things God wants us to see—good and bad– when the signs are right in front of us. Think of how I was blind to the fleas that were on my pets, and yet I saw all the signs. I should have known!

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week in our Lenten journey, as we remember with gratitude the ministry and sacrifice of Christ. Like the disciples of Jesus’s time, we need help to recognize God’s visitation--the Spirit’s guiding, healing presence with us. So come with me now. Let us draw ever nearer to the throne of mercy and grace to confess our blindness and disobedience and find forgiveness and unconditional love. Let us ask the Lord to illumine for us the things that were hidden from God’s people long ago- things we fail to recognize even today. May the Lord reveal to us–so that we may show the world– the things that make for peace.

The cross looms ahead.

 

Palm Sunday photo

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your Word that guides us throughout our lives. Open our eyes, Lord, to the things that we need to see. Forgive us for our spiritual blindness and disobedience. Humble our hearts throughout this Holy Week and draw us nearer to you. May we feel your loving presence with us each day. Stir us to boldly confess our sins and receive your forgiveness and unconditional love. Speak to us of your will and teach us the things that make for peace so that we may be a light to the world–and be the people you have ordained for us to be. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

A Fragrant Offering

 

Meditation on John 12:1-8

March 13, 2016

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?’ (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.) 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.’

 

***

Today, we reach a milestone in our ministry of just 5 months together–a baptism! Baptisms are times of joy and celebration in the life of the Church as we welcome the newest member into our family of faith. In baptism, the Church is refreshed and renewed by the same Spirit that marks, seals and claims as God’s own those being baptized. Baptizing baby Oscar will always be particularly meaningful to me because he is our first–together, in this place.

     And today, we begin a new tradition at our church for our baptismal gifts. In addition to the beautiful banner a member of our congregation made for Oscar and his family, Oscar will receive a white baptism blanket, created by Heavenly Handmade, a crafting fellowship group of our congregation. Since we began meeting once or twice a month in January, the group of about 7 has knitted or crocheted the baptism blanket and 15 or more prayer shawls to give to people in need of God’s comfort and healing touch.

Each shawl or blanket is unique, a work of art, a labor of love! We use different patterns and yarns of a variety of colors, weights and textures. Some members of the group have been knitting or crocheting for years. Others, like me, have been crocheting just a little while and need more help. Still, I never feel like the little bit I can do isn’t good enough–because of the love and encouragement of this very special group of people. I am richly blessed! I feel almost guilty because of my joy when I am with them, as we labor with yarn, hook, and needles, creating something beautiful, for Christ’s sake.

 

***

 

We hear of another gift, given from a heart of love and gratitude, in our gospel lesson today. Mary of Bethany is the giver and Jesus the recipient at a dinner given in his honor at Mary’s family home. The joyful meal follows Jesus’ raising her brother, Lazarus, from the dead, after he was in the tomb for 4 days and the stench of death had already set in!

This passage is called the “anointing of Jesus,” and yet it wasn’t ordinary practice to anoint someone’s feet; it was usually their head or face. Jesus explains that Mary bought the perfume for his burial, presumably to prepare his body for the tomb. Her gift is worth a whopping 300 denarii — 300 silver pieces! This is about a year’s pay for average laborers, who receive only 1 denarii (or silver piece) for a day’s work.

This Mary could be confused with the unnamed “sinful” woman in Mark and Luke who weeps as she pours an alabaster jar of valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her tears as he dines at Simon’s house. The first few times I read this passage in John this week, I mistakenly imagined Mary weeping, but she isn’t crying! She isn’t a so-called “sinful woman”–a lady of the night, like in Mark and Luke, seeking forgiveness for her sins. This is the faithful Mary whom Martha criticizes in Luke for just sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word while Martha is doing all the work to get dinner ready. This is Mary who comes to Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb and kneels at his feet, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Only Jesus knows the loving, grateful heart that stirs Mary’s generous offering to Him. She chooses to give all that she is and from what she has– what is of great value to her society, a world that is supremely smelly by our standards. The climate is hot–without a/c or glass windows to keep out dirt, wind, heat and smells from neighbors’ herds of goats and sheep. There is no deodorant. No daily bathing with perfumed soap and treated water, no daily shampooing of the hair nor machine-washing clothes with powerful dirt and odor fighting detergents. No toilets or modern sewers. You get the idea.

The Greek word translated perfume (myron) usually refers to a perfume or ointment made from myrrh. Either as a dried powder or liquid, myron was made from a gummy resin from a low, shrubby balsam tree that grows in west-central South Arabia. It was used as incense and in cosmetics, perfume, medicine, and burial preparations. But John uses the word to mean simply perfume, for this myron is not myrrh. Verse 3 says, “Mary brought in a pound of expensive perfume made from real nard and anointed Jesus’ feet.” Nard or “spikenard” would be, for a woman living in Bethany–2 miles from Jerusalem– more exotic and difficult to acquire than myrrh. Nard is a fragrant oil derived from the root and spike of the nard plant, which today grows in the mountains of Northern India. Verse 3 continues, “Then she dried his feet with her hair, while the fragrance of the perfume filled the house.”

     Mary’s gift was truly a fragrant offering to the Lord! It brings to mind the fragrant offerings of ancient Israel. Numbers 15:3 says, “And you present to the LORD food offerings from the herd or the flock, as an aroma pleasing to the LORD–whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings….

This passage in John also calls to mind 2 Cor. 2:4-6, when Paul refers to Christ’s followers as life-giving fragrance for the world: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

Immediately following Mary’s extravagant gift, when the house fills with the beautiful scent, Judas Iscariot, one of the 12, responds angrily, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii (300 silver pieces) and the money given to the poor?’  Then, John interrupts with a rare narration to explain Judas’ motivation. Verse 6 says, “It was not because he was concerned for the poor that he said this, but because he was a thief. He kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.” This foreshadows what will happen later in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas will betray Jesus for a mere 30 pieces of silver.

Mary doesn’t respond to Judas’ attack, just as the women who anointed Christ’s feet in Luke and Mark with their tears and expensive perfume say nothing in their own defense. But Jesus speaks up for Mary. He tells Judas, “Leave her alone!” Then Jesus makes a remark that has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that we shouldn’t bother to help people in need because there will always be people in need. Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you don’t always have me.”

The OT scripture Jesus is quoting actually means the opposite– that God commands us to care for people in need precisely because there will always be people in need. Deut. 15:11 says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”

With Christ’s talk of not always being with them, the Lord is preparing those who love him–the faithful and not so faithful–for what is to come–the passion, his death on a cross for the sins of the world.

Friends, we live always in the shadow of the cross, but we also live in the presence of the risen Christ. Let us not become distracted by Judas’ unfaithfulness, lest we miss the call to faithful discipleship. May we remember Mary’s fragrant offering of all that she had and all that she was, in the midst of a world of treachery and betrayal–not just out in the world in which Jesus lived but amongst Christ’s own followers.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, like Mary! The Lord welcomes us to come to Him just as we are. His grace covers all our sins! The gifts God has given us are meant to be shared with the Lord and God’s people. Don’t think you have nothing to give or that your gifts aren’t good enough! Maybe–like me learning crochet– you haven’t begun to discover all the gifts the Lord has given you to use for His sake! Our gifts are ALWAYS acceptable to the Lord, a fragrant offering, when they come from a heart of love and gratitude and a desire to be pleasing to Him.

 

Let us pray.   Holy One, we thank you for your love and grace, always welcoming us to come to you, just as we are, and seek your face. Help us to trust you so that we are willing to be vulnerable, a fragrant offering of all that we are and all that we have, what is most valuable to us in this world. Thank you for the gift of faith and for sending your Son to show us the way back to you–through belief in His suffering work on a cross for our sakes. Thank you for claiming baby Oscar as your own by baptism and filling him with your Spirit. Please strengthen and guide him to walk in your ways. Empower us as the Church to support and encourage baby Oscar and his parents, Kara and Oscar, as they seek to nurture him in your love and grace. May he and all the other children of our church come to profess Christ as their Savior and live as his faithful followers all of their days. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Ambassadors for Christ

 

Meditation on 2 Corinthians 5:16–21

March 6, 2016

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

      “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

***

I was online this week, posting my sermon at my blog, writing emails and responding to Facebook messages and it occurred to me how important Internet communication has become to us as a society–and a church. How powerful a tool it is for ministry! With the Internet, you can quickly and easily communicate with people everywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night–from wherever you are. Talk about going beyond the church walls with the message of God’s love!

I was pleased to discover, before I came here, that our church has a great Website and a Facebook page, regularly updated. I am happy to see that in our congregation-from the very young to more than 80 years old–people are willing to share their joy with the world :o)

 

Selfie for March 6, 2016 sermon

Last Saturday, I had tears of joy to catch a video posted by my friend Phyllis in MN. And it motivated me to pick up the phone and give her a call! Phyllis is not into computers; that’s her husband’s thing. But she wanted to share with all her friends and family her 3-year-old granddaughter, Addy, and her first attempt at riding a trike. And it’s not just any trike. It’s the one her daddy rode when he was a little boy.

I like how the video begins, with Grandpa Dennis squirting W-D40 on the wheels. And how she starts off with her feet on the ground–powering the trike “Flintstone style.” Grandma cheers her on, while Addy, ponytail swinging, begins to pedal. It looks like hard labor, at first, doesn’t it? Slowly, the trike begins to move… Did you notice that she has trouble moving forward, when she keeps looking behind her?

Her attitude changes when she reaches the end of the path and who does she see? Daddy! Suddenly, riding the trike is easy! It’s just a tool to take her to her destination–her father’s adoring arms.

Off she goes, with joyful anticipation! Did you catch what Grandpa Dennis says? “Showin off mode!”

***

 

It’s really too bad for Paul that he didn’t have all the technology we have today that makes communication with far away friends so quick, easy and efficient. For Paul had some serious communication issues with the churches that he planted–and these, though not actually causing all the conflict, certainly didn’t help solve the churches’ problems. The church at Corinth, in particular, presented interesting challenges for the apostle.

Paul arrived in Corinth in the fall of A.D. 50. Corinth was a prosperous city-state on the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. He came alone the first time; Timothy and Silvanus were busy with the churches in Macedonia. In Corinth, Paul meets and becomes friends and partners with Aquila and Priscilla, a couple with a successful tent-making business. They had been in Corinth since the Emperor Claudius had expelled them from Rome in A.D. 49, along with the other Jews. Paul stayed in Corinth about 18 months on his first visit, when he was falsely accused and expelled from the synagogue. The congregation began meeting in a villa, though, and grew. But some members of the Corinthian church were of the wealthy, urban elite class with which Paul– who identified himself with the lower classes, insisted on working for his own living, and not taking money from the Corinthians–did not always get along. Paul left Corinth and ended up in Ephesus, planting and guiding a new church, for 3 years. That’s where he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as other letters to the church that did not survive. In the meantime, a gifted Alexandrian Jew named Apollos, who preached and spoke better than Paul, visited the Corinthian church, as did none other than Cephas (Peter, the leading disciple of the Lord), both of whom the Corinthian church liked more than Paul. They questioned his qualifications for ministry after that and struggled with conflict from within. When Paul heard that the church failed to separate from people within the believing community who were sexually immoral, he responded with a letter that has not survived, mentioned in 1 Corinthians. But the church misunderstands his letter and thinks he means they should separate completely from Corinthian society. Then the church writes Paul with questions about food sacrificed to idols, temple worship, speaking in tongues and other controversial issues of the time. Paul, in 1 Cor. 16:17, says Stephanus and two other men, brought this letter to him. Then, just as that letter arrives, a delegation shows up bringing news that the Corinthian church is dividing into factions. He deals with this in 1 Cor. 1:11, and continues to address serious problems, including members suing one another and doubts about the resurrection of the dead.

Will Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians ever end?? Paul sends Timothy to the Corinthian church to explain his letter to them, as well as bring back a reliable report on what is really going on. As Paul plans to travel to Macedonia, more bad news from the Corinthian church arrives. The news is so serious that Paul decides to go to the Corinthian church a year earlier than he had planned. Details of the crisis are not spelled out, but Paul speaks of sexual sin and debauchery in 2 Cor. 12:21, and “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” in 12:20. He prepares to go to Corinth, but then changes his plans and goes to Macedonia, delaying his visit to Corinth, and creating more hard feelings when he writes, instead, a “severe” letter, now lost to us, but mentioned in 2 Cor. 2:3-4 and 7:8-12. He immediately regrets sending it, fearing it will mean the end of his relationship with the Corinthians. But then he goes on to the Macedonian churches, seeking to solve problems there, before Titus brings him the message that things are both better and worse in Corinth. Then Paul writes the letter we call 2 Corinthians in A.D. 55, in response to Titus’s report and in preparation for his third and final visit to Corinth.

So hearing all this background, aren’t you amazed that we find this beautifully written passage, expressing the joy and promise for every Christian that we don’t have to look back and remember the sins and brokenness of the past, for we are not what we used to be, not when we believe on our Lord Jesus Christ?! Paul teaches that we have a different purpose, an important role to play in God’s kingdom, when we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to him.

Paul, gentle this time, reminds the Corinthians, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Then he tells them in a nice way that they need to change the way they look at the world and the Church. “From now on,” he continues, “we regard no one from a human point of view…”

Does it surprise you that he tells this divided, struggling church that theirs is a ministry of reconciliation–when they are not reconciled to Paul or one another, let alone able to reach out with the love of Christ to a hurting world? Paul is saying what we say when we pass the peace after the assurance of God’s grace:

“Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all!”

And now, miracle of all miracles, broken, sinful people like us are entrusted with the job of being ambassadors for Christ, with God making his appeal to the nations, through us! How can this be?

The answer is in 2 Cor. 5:17: so brief and concise in the Greek, “If anyone in Christ, new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The key word is “see”! Believe that we are who Christ has re-made us to be–ambassadors, for Him, though we may never have truly lived with the joy and confidence that belongs to the one who is, “in Christ, new creation.” If and when we see, then we can’t help but forgive others, for God doesn’t count our trespasses against us! Think of little Addy, pedaling the trike as fast as she can; it is hard, slow work, for someone who has never pedaled before. But her loving family cheers her on. She looks back fearfully, worried she might be alone, but she’s not. Her bright future lies ahead.

Then her smiling father appears, waiting to take her in a warm embrace– just as God waits for us to let go of the old that has passed away and see everyone and everything as God sees us.

In Christ–new creation! Ambassadors, for Him!

And suddenly, traveling this journey of faith is no longer hard; it’s easy — for our brothers and sisters in Christ cheer us on. May we keep our eyes on our destination– our smiling heavenly Father, waiting with arms open wide. Off we go, now, with joyful anticipation!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for your Son, who has reconciled us to Him through His suffering and death on a cross. Thank you, loving God, for reconciling all Creation to yourself. Thank you for entrusting us with the message of reconciliation — being reconciled to you and one another. Help us to share this with the world by modeling forgiveness and reconciliation in our own families, communities and congregation. Forgive us for getting stuck in the past, sometimes, not letting go of hurts and refusing to see the world as you want us to see it–the Kingdom of God drawing near. Give us courage to be Christ’s ambassadors. Stir us to share the promise and hope you have placed within us–if anyone in Christ, new creation! In Christ we pray. Amen.