“Amazed” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Amazed.” The photo is from a local graveyard. As Easter dawns, there is life in the dead places of this world. While this photo was taken at sundown facing west, the sun is rising in the east over this graveyard as this poem is published. If I were to title the haiku, I might title it “Jesus’ checklist for today.” May Easter light fill your lives this day.

Roll away the stone.
Fold up your useless linens.
Bring life to the dead.

“Believe” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt for Photo-A-Day is “Believe.” In Christian tradition, Holy Saturday is a day of both anticipation and solemnity. Depending on your tradition, you may spend it celebrating or you might spend it silently.

I chose the photo I selected because it is my hope that we each tend to our light of faith on this holy day. May it burn brightly however you celebrate Holy Saturday.

Believe and have faith.
No darkness overcomes light.
Keep your candle trimmed.

“Among” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s prompt for the Rethink Church Photo-A-Day is “Among.” I decided to share a photo of my child and I sitting back and eating one gigantic matzoh cracker. It is my belief that there was laughter at the Last Supper in addition to seriousness.

Recline here with me.
Be still for a moment here.
Find peace here with me.

Images: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, fall 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, fall 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, fall 2017
Jesus is nailed to the cross, winter 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, winter 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, spring 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, spring 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, spring 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2018
Jesus is nailed to the cross, summer 2018

Images: Jesus is stripped of his garments

Note: A friend of mine once called this statue “Jesus with a six pack.” Artistic license is alive and well, even in statuary.

Jesus is stripped of his garments, Summer 2017
Jesus is stripped of his garments, fall of 2017
Jesus is stripped of his garments, winter 2018
Jesus is stripped of his garments, spring 2018
Jesus is stripped of his garments, spring 2018
Jesus is stripped of his garments, summer 2018
Jesus is stripped of his garments, summer 2018

Sermon: “The ‘Stone’ comes with praises”

Message: “The ‘Stone’ comes with praises”
Date: April 14, 2019
Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
Preacher: Rev. Robert Dean

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.”

Luke 19:28-40, NRSV

We are entering Holy Week this morning and we hear that strange story of the palms and cloaks on the road into Jerusalem. We find Jesus entering Jerusalem and being hailed. We find angry religious leaders, excited disciples, and exuberant children of Israel. Today is a day of excitement and joy. We have been building up to this day since Jesus’ last liturgical appearance here. Jesus is born and enters the temple. Wonderful words of prophecy and hope. Going forth from next Sunday, we will see a new faith born out of the events of this week. There’s a reason this is called Holy Week. Holy Week is pivotal to the Christian faith.

“Palm Sunday in Spain,” 1873
by Jean-Georges Vibert French
Public Domain Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This week is pivotal not only in terms of church tradition but also it how it forms us. These stories change how we understand God. One of the reasons we encourage kids to attend Holy Week events is because they can change the way we see God and these stories in both their beauty and their sorrow teach us about the love of God.

Growing up, we were required at the Trinity United Methodist Church to go through a long confirmation process before we were offered membership. We were not alone as members of the church of all ages had several month process of education before you could join the church, but confirmands had to go through the whole Christian year together with their leaders before joining the church. We began in the fall during “Ordinary Time,” walked through Advent where we helped with Christmas programs for younger kids, took a retreat together in the season after Christmas, helped the church through Lent by taking part in helping lead Holy Week services, and finally entered membership on Pentecost.

The whole process was quite an experience, but in my memory this week was the most formative one. I remember trying to get my head around how you could receive such lavish praise one day and be crucified a few days later. When we stop to ask that question, there are a million and one reasons it might have happened.

  1. Was it a jealous religious leadership acting maliciously?
  2. Were the wrong people in Jerusalem the day Herod brings Jesus before the crowd?
  3. Was Herod sick and tired of dealing with the locals and literally washed his hands of them?
  4. Were Jesus’ teachings being heard by ordinary folks who realized they required a lot more than a welcome parade?

These ideas a few ideas of many and it may have been a combination of these things and more, but I remember looking on these moments of extreme difference and being puzzled.

I grew up near Buffalo during the years of Jim Kelly’s leadership of the Buffalo Bills, so I knew how fickle fame could be. Scott Norwood was a villain, Frank Reich was a hero, and the week before Norwood missed the kick during the Super Bowl he was awesome and the week before Reich led one of the greatest comebacks in history, he was riding the bench. I know that fame can be fickle, but this was more than that level of fickle behavior.

Something happens during Holy Week I have spent decades trying to figure out. In many ways, the curiosity and awe inspired by Holy Week led to me becoming a minister. I want to draw your attention to another passage. In Luke 20:17-19, we find these words:

“What then does this text mean:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

Luke 20:17-19, NRSV

Now, context matters, so this passage immediately follows a parable Jesus tells about the owner of a vineyard who leases out the property while he goes on a long journey. The owner sends to the people leasing the vineyard a servant after many years away. The tenants will not pay. They beat the servant and send him away. They beat the next servant who comes. Finally, the landlord sends his son. The tenants kill the son to try to benefit from the son’s death.

The religious leaders understand that Jesus is telling a story about them. They are furious and that upsets them, but what’s interesting is that old quotation. It comes from Psalm 118:19-22:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalm 118:19-22, NRSV

The religious leaders object to Jesus being given such praise on the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday. The religious leaders question him and he refers to a coronation psalm. Jesus, being questioned about the goodness of his deeds and teachings, tells them that the gates should be open, that God’s salvation is near, and that the very thing the builders have rejected will become the chief cornerstone upon which salvation will be built.

Over the years, I have never really wrapped my head around all the events of Holy Week. I believe part of the Christian walk is this ongoing attempt to contemplate, ponder, and meditate over these days. I understand this though: today we celebrate the entrance into Jerusalem by Christ. Christ is who the people need and not who the people want. Jesus is the foundation of the future they need and a breaking from what the people imagined.

On this day, we celebrate Jesus entering a city built upon generation after generation of people doing their best. Jesus will enter a temple of ornate stone and beautiful worship. Jesus will smell the scents, see the people, see the abuses of the temple, and will teach. The very person the people need will be the one who is rejected. The very stone upon which the future will be built must first be rejected.

If this sermon seems like only a bit of the story of Holy Week, it is because this is only one part. As we enter Holy Week, I want to challenge you to come back to church before next Sunday. Come Thursday night and ponder Holy Communion over a meal. Come Friday to hear the story and empty the sanctuary. Come by yourself and read the gospel stories during one of the quiet days when Wide Horizons is on break and you’ll find Teagen and myself working away in our office. Interrupt me to ask questions. I promise I won’t mind as I may be pondering the same things myself. Grab your Bible and take a long walk with it. I invite you to enter further into the story.

Take time this week. Meanwhile, contemplate this: We often never know what we need until the moment is past. Like those people long ago, we may believe Christ is coming into our lives to do what we expect. If Holy Week teaches us one thing, it is that Christ comes and will be Christ. Let us welcome Christ into our lives. Let us pray…

Images: Jesus falls for a third time

Jesus falls, summer 2017
Jesus falls for a third time, summer 2017
Jesus falls for the third time, fall 2017
Jesus falls for the third time, fall 2017
Jesus falls for the third time, winter 2018
Jesus falls for a third time, winter 2018
Jesus falls for the third time, spring 2018
Jesus falls for the third time, spring 2018
Jesus falls for the third time, summer 2018
Jesus falls for the third time, summer 2018

Images: Jesus speaks

Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem, summer 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, summer 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, fall 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, fall 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, fall 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, fall 2017
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, winter 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, winter 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, spring 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, spring 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, spring 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, summer 2018
Jesus speaks with the women of Jerusalem, summer 2018

Images: Jesus meets Mary

Jesus meets Mary, summer of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, summer of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, spring of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, spring of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, spring of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, winter of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, winter of 2018
Jesus meets Mary, fall of 2017
Jesus meets Mary, fall of 2017
Jesus meets Mary, fall of 2017
Jesus meets Mary, summer of 2017
Jesus meets Mary, summer of 2017

Images: Christ falls

Christ falls, summer of 2018
Christ falls, summer of 2018
Christ falls, summer of 2018
Christ falls, spring of 2018
Christ falls, spring of 2018
Christ falls, winter of 2018
Christ falls, winter of 2018
Christ falls, fall of 2017
Christ falls, fall of 2017
Christ falls, summer of 2017
Christ falls, summer of 2017

Images: Christ takes up the Cross

Jesus takes up his cross, summer of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, summer of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, summer of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, spring of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, spring of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, spring of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, winter of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, winter of 2018
Jesus takes up his cross, fall of 2017
Jesus takes up his cross, fall of 2017
Jesus takes up his cross, summer of 2017

Images: Jesus before Herod

Jesus before Herod, afternoon in the summer of 2018
Jesus before Herod, afternoon in the summer of 2018
Jesus before Herod, in the morning of Spring 2018
Jesus before Herod, in the morning of Spring 2018
Jesus before Herod in the winter of 2018
Jesus before Herod, in the fall of 2017
Jesus before Herod, in the fall of 2017
Jesus before Herod in the summer of 2017

Let us Ramble: An Easter Examen

It was Easter afternoon and the ham was cooling in the oven when it happened. I was offered a ride from one room to the next in a wheelchair. I could barely walk after falling down the stairs during church (while carrying and then wearing communion juice) and suffering (what was later discovered to only be) a severe contusion on my left foot. I was invited to ride as I could barely stand. The nurse said “You don’t get offered a free ride often. You should take it pastor.”

It was Easter evening and my wife was sitting on the couch after a very long day. She looked exhausted. She said to herself “I wish he had emptied the trash or changed the litter box before hurting himself.” It was Easter evening when I slid down the stairs on my bottom cradling a garbage bag full of kitty litter before limping it to the garbage. My wife chided me but I kept listening to the rock and roll in my ear buds as I fought my way through the task.

In hindsight, I am glad that both things occurred. A big portion of that relief comes from the fact that it is two days later and I’m doing significantly better after resting and icing my bruise. A bigger portion of the relief comes from what I see when I look at these actions.

The Examen is a spiritual discipline connected to many different sources but especially to the practices of the Roman Catholic leader St. Ignatius Loyola. I know, I’m United Methodist. Why am I pointing towards the practices of a Roman Catholic? Well, to over simplify, God is bigger than the denominational divides and wisdom sees wisdom wherever it lies… Anyway…

The Examen is a prayer practice that helps me to personally see what is good in my life by revealing the presence of God in ordinary moments through reflection. IgnatianSpirituality.com (a ministry of Loyola Press) identifies the following as a simplified approach to the Examen:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

Let me be honest, I obviously ignored the fourth point when I picked two moments out of my day in my reflections on Easter Sunday for prayer. The two moments I focused upon were the moment of accepting the ride and the moment of carrying the kitty litter to the trash to help my wife.

I saw God’s presence in the moment when I was proffered a ride in several ways. First, the nurse was a relative of a church member and I saw the compassion that her parent shows in her life at the church. I saw God’s love expressed through her kindness. I also felt God’s presence in an invitation to practice humility by accepting a ride instead of fighting my way down the hall with my considerable and obvious stubbornness. As I prayed through that moment I found a connection between these actions and God. It did lead to gratitude and to a sense of blessing.

I saw God’s presence in the moment when I was carrying to kitty litter in several ways. First and foremost, I recognized that there was compassion in my heart towards my wife’s plight and exhaustion. The same considerable and obvious stubbornness which had been a hindrance earlier was properly applied to assist someone else in need. In the right context, that stubbornness was a blessing which came out of God’s own arsenal. Was it a bit silly? Probably. Was it unnecessary? Yes. Was it an act of compassion and gratitude for all my wife had done for me that afternoon? Absolutely. I could see God at work in my motivation. I did not do it because I was simply stubborn. I was not upset with my wife for her forlorn statement either. It came out of my own sense of God’s call.

I write all of this down for the internet at large in order to express how taking time to go through the act of the Examen did help me to grow deeper in my faith through a very painful moment. In honesty, I was a bit annoyed with myself and with that staircase before I stopped to engage in this old practice. My prayer changed my day. When It was over I had found my center, found my hope for the next day, and was prepared to move past the pain into healing.

There have been many times in my life when I have been deeply blessed by engaging in the Examen or even in the daily act of journaling the best moments of my day along with my hopes for the next day. I would invite you to take a look at this spiritual discipline if you are struggling to find ways to go deeper or even struggling to find ways to look at your own life with different eyes.

Here are my three suggestions on how to engage in this practice:

  1. Set aside time in the same place each night. Maybe you travel and it cannot be the exact same place, but even engaging in that old (yet useful) tradition of kneeling at the side of your bed might be a place to start. Starting off with the intention of creating a consistent pattern helps. If you’re married or have a roommate, you may wish to warn them before starting this practice. It is strange to stumble upon someone kneeling in silence–they may think something is wrong. Yes, I speak from experience…
  2. Set aside a set number of days when you’ll intentionally engage in this practice. I suggest you do this even if you decide to begin with just two weeks of attempting the Examen. Make a plan to attempt this practice and then follow through to the end. I do not recommend just saying “I’ll do this the rest of my life starting tonight.” If you can make it through a week, make it through a week before going for two weeks. Celebrate your successes and a pattern will establish itself in your life in a more natural fashion.
  3. Ask a religious friend to journey in this practice with you. Get together after a week or two in order to talk about your experience. If you do not have a friend, look into finding a spiritual director who can assist you in this practice. You may even be able to find a spiritual director who can meet with you mainly over the phone and only a couple of times face to face throughout the year. I recommend a group like Spiritual Directors, International to help find a reliable and vetted director.

So, that’s my introduction on this Blog to the Examen. By the way, I grabbed the kitchen trash on the way to the garbage can with the litter. If you’re going to be stubborn, you have to be tough.

Let us Seek: Holy Saturday Reflection

When I was a younger pastor I served in a town with a Wesleyan Church. One year on Good Friday they hosted the ecumenical service for the town. As we gathered they showed a video clip of a preacher speaking over the image of the cross, the tomb, and finally a light glowing behind the rock. The words the preacher was saying (to an epic rock background) were “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”

It was powerful imagery, but it kind of threw me off a little bit. What about Saturday? What about Holy Saturday? As a child I thought about it as a day of waiting and silence. As i learned more about my Polish heritage I learned there were places (especially in Poland) where special baskets of food for the celebration were brought to the church for a blessing. I’ve learned there are a lot of traditions that surround this most holy day.

For me, the fact of the matter remains that it is a day of rest in my heart. Partially this is a part of my celebration from my reading of the texts. The story places this day as the Sabbath during that most holy of stories and I don’t mind entering into the silence.

The other side of my experiencing this day as a day of silence comes out of an understanding of music. There are so many notes throughout the week and there are many events. This day is a good day for a bit of silence before the music resumes. Music rhythmically that does not have rests ends up being rote and repetitive (in my mind). This is a beautiful day for that moment of rest before the crescendo.

However you celebrate Holy Saturday, I hope that you’re blessed today. Remember, the sun rises on Easter!

Let us Seek: Holy Thursday Reflection

As we progress through Holy Week, we reach Maundy Thursday. In some Christian traditions, today marks the begin of a remembrance that begins after the Maundy Thursday and lasts until Easter. The three-day remembrance is seen as a special season of the year known as the Holy, Easter, or Paschal Triduum.

For me the Paschal Triduum has always had a strange place in my own devotional life. At various points in my ministry I have celebrated Good Friday with a Cross Walk (think stations of the cross marked by readings and often shared by various churches in an ecumenical fashion), celebrated a special service on Good Friday, and have opened the church for prayer and reflection. Holy Saturday has often been a time when I’ve spent the day in silence or doing acts of kindness for others.

Even in the midst of the celebration of the Triduum, Maundy Thursday has always had a special place in my heart. John Wesley taught that the act of communion is a gift of grace that extends a real and powerful benefit to the people of Christ. I have always found the act of communion to be a deep and meaningful expression of God’s love and grace. As such, I find the celebration of the remembrance of that first communion to be incredibly meaningful.

Today’s lectionary reading covers a great deal of that celebration, but beautifully it tells the story through the eyes of the Gospel of John. I usually default to Luke’s Gospel in a lot of my own theology, but the beauty of John’s remembrance of that night is powerful and life altering.

In John’s lectionary reading (13:1-17, 31-35) the story told does not revolve around communion but instead around the washing of feet. Jesus knows that the end of His journey towards Calvary is near, so John tells us that Jesus takes on the role of a servant. Removing his outer garment, Jesus wraps himself in a towel and washes the feet of His disciples.

The Lord of the Universe, the One we crown with many crowns, the Lamb upon the throne spends some of the last moments of His time alone with His disciples washing their feet like a servant. The King who was, and is, and is to come wraps Himself in a towel and washes feet with humility before inviting His disciples to remember what He has done and to do likewise in their own lives.

I truly believe this passage is one of the most challenging passages of Jesus’ ministry because it reminds us of the true order of things. No servant is greater than their master. Our Master humbled Himself. Our Master did not assume the place He deserved, but He took the place that He knew that He must. This is the revealed Image of the Invisible God.

Verily, the place of a disciple is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The next day will be challenging. Let us continue this journey and understand that we go further on the journey towards resurrection having first had a lesson in humility. Easter may be triumphant but triumph comes through first submitting to God’s will and doing so with humility mixed with grace. May God’s grace guide us down the challenging paths as the Triduum begins…

Let us Seek: Holy Wednesday Reflection

Today is Holy Wednesday and for me Holy Wednesday has always been the last deep breath before the plunge. This afternoon I’ll be headed out to do the last (planned) visits before we begin the craziness of Maundy Thursday (at least it is a bit crazy around here), the solemnity of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday, and the riotous celebration of Easter. Today is that moment where it seems all clergy take that last deep breath.

With that being said, today’s lectionary reading does not leave a ton of room for that deep breath. It is emotional, deep, and troubling. To be entirely honest, I feel strange writing a blog post about it in my bright clergy shirt. It feels very dark. In choosing an image to match this feeling, I chose a painting of Jesus’ giving His Farewell Discourse to the 11 remaining disciples as painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the 14th century because of the person who is missing from the painting.

The lectionary reading is found in John 13:21-32 and technically took place on Thursday of Holy Week. In the reading, Jesus reveals that someone at the table will betray Him. There is a moment of confusion and John is approached by Peter to ask who will betray Christ. A piece of bread is dipped in wine and given to Judas. The scripture says that after Judas receives this bread that Satan enters into Judas. Judas is sent to do what he must do and the actions of the evening are set into motion.

I must be honest, I do not like this reading. One reason I am not a huge fan of this passage is that I know this reading has been used to disparage the act of sharing communion by intinction along with Mark 14. I honestly do not like people who use scripture to disparage a meaningful act of communion with God, especially when it is not really an airtight argument.

Another reason that I struggle with this passage is simply the wording. Judas has been traveling with Jesus. Judas has the very best teacher, the very best friend, the very best guide, and the very best leader. Judas has the ideal situation to learn about the heart of God and Judas still just falls away. Judas is taken by the tempter and that is very discouraging to me, especially as his journey ends in suicide.

I have to be entirely honest. I wish that Judas’ story ended differently. Don’t you? Judas does betray Jesus, but the scriptures seem to imply that this is simply what must be. Judas has journeyed with Christ, shared a few loaves and fish with thousands, been sent out to preach with other disciples, and been a leader. In Acts, Judas’ place is filled by another disciple because Judas’ role had been very important in their life together. I wish Judas’ story ended differently. I wish it with all of my heart.

This reading hurts me down to my soul. Perhaps it is a good thing that we remember that Judas was a person on the day before his betrayal of Jesus. Judas’ story is a tragedy that leads to one of the greatest gifts of history. Even so, it is still a tragedy.

May God bless all those folks who are tempted to head in the way of Judas. May God help lead them into the path of folks who can invite and guide them back onto the path of life.

Let us Seek: Holy Tuesday Reflection

Today is Holy Tuesday. The gospel reading today reflects on conversations Jesus had around His purposes and around God’s glory. It also goes deeply into life issues. The Revised Common Lectionary reading for today is John 12:20-35. This is what verses 23-26 say in the New Revised Standard Version:

“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.’”

We’ve followed Jesus through all of Lent. We came down that mountain into the valley where there were sick folks, hurting folks, and upset folks. We followed Jesus as He continually reminded people to turn away from their understanding of how a Messiah was meant to be and to act. We followed Jesus as He kept reaching out to the poor, kept reaching out to folks in need, and kept upsetting the religious leaders.

Now we’re invited to follow Jesus as He approaches Gethsemane. We’re invited to follow as Judas betrays with a kiss. We’re invited to follow as the world stands by as Jesus is tried and convicted. We’re invited to follow Jesus up Calvary. We’re invited to watch the sky darken.

Sometimes I don’t want to follow Jesus on this path. Let’s be honest–Holy Week grows gruesome. Holy Week would be the nastiest and worst of events if it weren’t for Easter. Some years I’d like to just say “Look at the time!” before running off to make a cup of coffee until Sunday. It is beautiful, it is deep, and sometimes I would rather have a simple broth than dig into the theological beauty of Holy Week.

Still, we must follow. We must because this is Jesus we’re following. Whenever we gather around the table to share in the Lord’s Supper it is this story that we speak to each other. Whenever we see suffering in the world around us, it is this story that reminds us that God entered into human suffering. Whenever we see people claim earthly power, authority, and greatness, it is this story that enters and can inoculate us from the disease that can easily carry us away into realms where we connect earthly power with divine right. This story is foundational–we must follow.

What’s more, we must walk the same path. This story effectively changes the way that we look at the world around us and how we relate to the world around us.

Let’s say we’re rich and we’re powerful. Perhaps we’re as powerful as the President of the United States. We have wealth, riches, and an army sworn to do what we decide. How do we act? Well, let’s be honest. If we’re going to walk like Jesus, it is going to change the way we look at the world around us and change the way we act. Jesus was arrested, tried, and convicted. Jesus was executed and his words weren’t threats or screams of anger. There was painful moans, I’m certain, but the words shared were words of forgiveness and words of grace. Jesus didn’t cajole or argue. He invited criminals to paradise despite what they did. If one is to follow Jesus it changes the way you live your life, perhaps especially if you had power, riches, and followers. To follow Jesus might mean you lose your privilege only to gain eternal life.

Let’s say we’re a public school teacher. Perhaps we’re the best teacher in the world and not one parent comes to your classroom to explain your job to you. Perhaps the parents who try leave your classroom apologizing and planning to write a nice letter. Perhaps you have offers to go and lead in the most prestigious private school in nation whenever you’d like. If you’re going to walk like Jesus, it very might well change your way of life. How? Jesus willingly cared for the very people who came to “take care” of Him in the Garden. Even in the midst of being taken to suffering, Jesus stopped to heal one of the very people who came to persecute Him. The kid screaming at you in your class might be a royal pain, but what would Jesus do with this child? Would Jesus show love and kindness? Would Jesus have grace in the midst of the suffering this kid will likely inflict upon you? To follow Jesus might mean healing that kid’s ear and that act might change your life.

I think we honestly each need to follow Jesus on this journey. It isn’t a pleasant journey, but let’s be clear. Few of us live perfectly pleasant lives. If we want to learn to live out our lives well, we might need to learn to lose in order to follow Jesus. If we want to learn to live out our lives well, we might need to learn from someone who can change us. In the way of Paul, we may need to live out our own ministries in life resolving to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

In the meantime, it is my prayer that this journey would be a blessing to you. May we all learn to follow and to let the Grain that died multiply within us.

Let us Seek: Holy Monday Reflection

Throughout Holy Week I have the goal of reflecting on one of the lectionary scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary each day. For today’s gospel reading we see Jesus at the house of Lazarus in Bethany. It is revealed in the text that Lazarus is being plotted against by the chief priests in Jerusalem as Lazarus’ resurrection was causing a stir in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus, but that isn’t what immediately catches my eye when I consider this story. Consider verses 1-8 of chapter 12 of John’s gospel.

“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 Judea 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.’”

I find this story to be interesting for several reasons. As a person who studies the nature of the scriptures and how they were transmitted through time, I often wonder if the comments for the reader were written by the author or by one of the helpful folks copying the words throughout the centuries. Judas is at least acknowledged as a disciple by this account although his discipleship is clearly cast into question by not only his betrayal but his apparent greed in the eyes of the author.

I also find it interesting because this is the story of a family that still seems to be coming to grips with a majorly traumatic event. The previous chapter (11) recounts not only the story of Lazarus’ resurrection but tells us that Jesus was forced to go to Ephraim as a result of plots to take his life. As far as we know, this is the first real opportunity after some time had passed for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to see Jesus. One of the reasons the chief priests seem frustrated with Lazarus is that Lazarus’ proximity to Jesus raises issues that now require his removal from the equation. This could be a sign that Lazarus hadn’t been near Jesus and raised these issues until this moment.

If this is the case and this is one of the first opportunities for response after the events of Lazarus’ resurrection, then this story becomes powerful. Martha is serving, Lazarus is sitting, and then Mary enters with the perfume. She anoints and uses something as precious and personal as her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. This kind of act is not something that one does for just anybody. It is deeply intimate, deeply personal, and deeply emotional.

Into this moment we find Judas Iscariot stepping in and scolding. He is concerned about the waste of money. He sees the price of the perfume as the issue, but he’s missed the point. We all know that Judas has missed the point. How? Mary and Martha had lost their brother Lazarus. He was gone and he was restored. History is filled with people who would give anything for a few more moments with the person they have loved and lost. I am a pastor who believes in the resurrection and even I have people in my life I would give almost anything to see again for just a few more minutes. Mary and Martha are given the opportunity to do something incredible.

In the face of such a blessing, who wouldn’t care about money to say thank you? Perfume can cost a lot, but think about the gift that they have just received. Who cares about the money? Who cares about the cost?

I think we can all take a couple of things away from this story.

  • Some things are important most of the time, but are utterly worthless when seen in the big picture. An old phrase states “You can’t take it with you.” In the long run, would you rather have more money in your bank account or more time with people you love? If you knew tomorrow was your last moment, what would you do with your time?
  • There’s a time and place for stewardship and there is also a time and place for gratitude. I cannot say enough that sometimes we place stewardship on such a high pedestal that we forget to be grateful for the non-monetary blessings we have in life. I’m not advocating for wastefulness, but Judas clearly missed the point about what was most important. Sometimes we do the same thing (but hopefully without betraying people to their deaths).
  • We don’t need to be aloof with our emotions. Mary is clearly someone who was in touch with how she felt about Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Mary for feeling deeply about Jesus’ place in her life. Sometimes we need permission to feel and Mary gives us an example of how we can fee deeply, passionately, and still clearly have the love of God in and around our lives.

As Holy Week continues, I hope you find a place of blessing in these scriptures. May you feel deeply and thoroughly connected to Jesus.