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March 29, 2016, 8:43 AM

Named


John 20:1-18
 
I love baptisms, whether I’m officiating or in attendance. I love baptisms. I love the joy, the liturgy, the sense of hope and expectation that hovers, Spirit-like, in the air. I love the flow of the sacrament: the words of invitation, the symbols of faith, the questions, the blessing of the water, the act of baptism itself, and the words of welcome. I don’t know if we should have a favorite part, but I really love the naming. Just before that Spirit-filled water touches the head of the one being baptized, they are named, usually the full name. “Jane Marie Doe, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” There is this balance of solemnity and joy in the statement. And I always imagine, behind the words spoken by the minister, the whisper of God can be heard. This moment of baptism is held within community but it is so deeply personal. This isn’t some generic act, it is specific. This named person is the one being baptized. This named person is being welcomed into the community of God, which is world-wide and diverse. This named person is being called into a life of discipleship, blessed by the Holy Spirit.
 
No matter what Juliet pines to Romeo from the balcony, there is something about a name. It is a critical part of our identity. When someone speaks our name it grabs our attention like very little else can. It calls us back to ourselves, refocuses us when our thoughts wander, and calls us to alertness.  When we are named we are being attended to; sometimes in positive ways, sometimes not. When one of my parents called me by my full name it usually meant I was in trouble—Teressa Jo McConnell. I certainly knew I was being attended to.  So in our baptism, when our name is spoken, we are called into focus in this sacred moment, to attend to these waters that will pour over our heads. Even the littlest of babies has heard their name hundreds of times before it is spoken in their baptismal moment. There is something about a name.
 
It was all Mary needed.
 
The Gospel of John is wondrous in its simplicity and its complexity. John uses such simple and beautiful Greek but he conveys such depth and meaning in his storytelling. So much is at play in this wonderfully familiar resurrection passage. Mary arrives in darkness—a popular theme in John, one that speaks of unknowing and one that hints at the dawn of creation. “In the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth…and darkness covered the face of the earth.” John tries to nudge the community receiving this beloved story to remember how John’s gospel began. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Ah, a new beginning is happening here.
 
Mary journeys in darkness to a garden, where she is about to encounter a new creation moment. On finding the tomb open, a lot of running happens. Mary runs back to the disciples. Peter and the Beloved Disciple sprint to the tomb. They explore inside, finding burial linens suspiciously arranged in an orderly fashion, but no body. Did the disciples seriously believe grave robbers would unwrap the body before stealing it? Uncertain what to do next, the two followers exit the scene, returning to the city and the other followers. Mary finds herself alone once again in this garden as the light of dawn begins to lighten the sky, but not her yet. Not her heart, not her mind, not her soul.
 
Mary begins to wail—translations like to soften it to weeping, but she is wailing the mourners wail. She is bereft and alone and afraid and lost. Not only is she grieving the loss of the One who has completely redeemed and restored her, but now she cannot even spend time alone at this grave in prayer, grief, and remembrance. The One who lifted her out of the darkness of seven demons is dead and his body is missing—she is wailing in despair and grief. Is it any wonder she seems unaffected by the sudden appearance of two individuals in the once empty tomb? Is it any wonder that when someone speaks to her from behind, she mistakes them as the gardener? Her entire self is focused on one need, find Jesus’ body. She cannot perceive anything else.
 
Not until she is named. “Mary!” It is all Jesus has to say. “[The Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” 6 Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.” (John 10:3-6) Oh, but now we understand. “Mary!” Jesus calls, and Mary’s world is again changed forever. All of that pain and grief, confusion and anguish that drug Mary down into further darkness falls away as Jesus attends to Mary—calls her name, focuses her attention, returns her to herself…and to him.
 
Jesus calls Mary into this new creation birthed from the empty tomb in the garden, as the light of a new day dawns around them. Jesus calls Mary to new life, and then sends her forth out of this garden in joy, to share the wondrous news for the first time, the news of resurrection.  She is baptized in the Spirit of Life, of Hope, of Love. “I have seen the Lord!”
 
As those named and baptized as well, this story is our story. We have gathered here on this Resurrection morning to hear again this story of wonder and joy, and to find ourselves within it. Though it is light outside, other types of darkness may have journeyed here with us: the darkness of loss and violence in our world as our hearts and minds still ache for the terrorist attacks in Belgium and Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria, Pakistan and the Ivory Coast; the darkness of loss of beloved members in our communities of Oneonta, Cooperstown, Schenevus, and Laurens; the darkness of division and disagreement in our nation, in our communities, and in our world; the darkness of stress, grief, depression, loneliness, illness, and so much more. Perhaps we understand all too well the cloud of pain wrapped around Mary as she wails outside the empty tomb.
 
Jesus knows your name too. And mine. Jesus speaks it even now, attending to us, refocusing us, calling us back to ourselves, and to him. Can you hear it? Jesus calls us by name, that name that was spoken at our baptism. Jesus calls us into this new creation, this new life, found in our relationship with him.  That darkness that followed us into this space, that darkness of violence and grief and illness and despair, it will never, ever have the final say. We have gathered here to remind ourselves that the final word belongs to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, breathing love, calling your name. We have gathered to witness together the good news, “We have seen the Lord!” And we will be sent out into that waiting world, still trapped in darkness, with such glorious good news to share! As John began the gospel in chapter one, so now the risen Christ embodies, “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, cannot understand it, and cannot dim it.” Thanks be to God. Christ the Lord is risen today!



March 29, 2016, 8:40 AM

Community-Maundy Thursday


Exodus 12: 1-4, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17
 
The Reverend Nick Keeney, a pastor in the Susquehanna Conference and a former member of the Wyoming Conference, of which we were a part, was invited to be chaplain for the day at the Pennsylvania State Senate on March 14th. On Facebook, he shared that he was able to have some private conversations with two different senators, one republican and one democrat. He shared that both of them expressed how difficult it is to work within the current political climate. One senator stated that this is the worst he has seen it in his entire career, that people from opposite sides of the aisle won’t return calls or sit down to discuss their differences. This senator said, “It sounds like I’m describing junior high right now, but that’s what it has come down to.”
 
We all feel it, don’t’ we? This great division that plagues our community, our nation, and our world. We feel it in the current run for the White House, in our city-town of Oneonta, in our state politics. We feel it in the United Methodist Church as we look anxiously toward General Conference in two short months. We feel it in the horrific violence, fueled by insane hatred, in Belgium, Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, and in our own nation. There is such fear and anger, such worry and anxiety. Sometimes it can make us want to weep…or scream. Is there any hope for unity and peace?
 
In the midst of all this, I have been eagerly anticipating tonight—Maundy Thursday. We are in the holiest time in our church calendar. This entire week of journeying with Jesus is critical to who we are as followers of Christ. Easter is always the glorious pinnacle to the week, as we gather in the light of resurrection. But my aching heart needs tonight most of all, I think. Tonight with its gift of hope for community.
 
Every Maundy Thursday we are graced and blessed with three wonderful scripture passages; from Exodus, 1 Corinthians, and the Gospel of John. The Exodus passage we just heard is the story of the first Passover and the command to observe this holy meal and liturgy for generation upon generation. 1 Corinthians gives direction and explanation for the celebration of Holy Communion—the Lord’s Supper—in the community called church. And John’s gospel account is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the gifting of the great commandment, to love one another as Jesus has loved them. These three passages are a blessing of hope for the divided world. Here’s why…
 
These passages have the ability to remind us that our generation, our current reality, is not unique to now, but has been a part of humanity all along. The Israelites as a nation and vast community are living in darkness, oppression, slavery, violence, and fear. The Corinthian church is deeply divided and fractured. The disciples gathered around Jesus on their last night together are deeply flawed, not of one mind, and clueless about the future. Many (if not all) of them are still trying to figure out who Jesus is. Into these very human communities in need of deep healing, God gives the gift of unifying and comforting ritual.
 
For generation upon generation, the Hebrew people have come together every year to eat the sacred meal of Passover, gathered as small communities around tables in homes and temples, and to remember the defining story of the Exodus. The youngest child at the tables asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And the answer is given, “Because once we were slaves, but now we are free!” The Seder meal of Passover is a powerful reminder of God’s presence and salvation in the darkest of times. It is a ritual and meal that unites Jewish communities across the globe.
 
For a church deeply divided, reflecting the divisions of their larger society within the community of faith, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the meal and ritual instituted by Jesus. Despite their wealth or lack of it, despite their stations in life, the people of the Corinthian church are to sit side-by-side at Jesus’ table, to share the bread and the cup, and to ensure everyone is nourished and loved.  This is to happen each time they gather, uniting them across economic, social, and gender lines.
 
For a group of followers who keep getting it wrong, who haven’t figured out some important stuff, who are going to live a nightmare the next few days, Jesus gives a ritual that embodies his command to love. Against that all-to-human instinct to be strong and in control, against the siren call to the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, Jesus creates a ritual of ultimate humility, vulnerability and service. In washing one another’s feet, they are united in seeing each other in their vulnerability and in learning compassion for one another.
 
These gifts are now ours, and we embrace them anew each year on this holy night. We gather at the table of grace and healing, with echoes of exodus and freedom whispering around us, and are served of the cup and bread of life, side-by-side, everyone served, difference aside for a moment.  We come to the basin and towel, feet and soul bared, washed in the warm water that cleans so much more than our feet. We experience this simple gesture of love that connects us in new ways with one another and puts life in better perspective. Community is nourished and strengthened. Community is created from diverse people with different ideas and thoughts and understandings, but united in these simple acts of grace. We are nourished here with hope of a world transformed to resemble the way God dreams.
 
May we go forth into this night ready to invite others to sit at the table together, to serve, and allow others to serve us.  Amen.



March 19, 2016, 11:58 AM

A Service of Scripture and Poetry


The First Day of the Week-Sunday
A Reading from Scripture                           Luke 19:36-40         
As [Jesus] rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As [Jesus] 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 [Jesus], “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
 
Blessing for Palm Sunday   by Jan Richardson
Blessed is the one
who comes to us
by the way of love
poured out with abandon.
 
Blessed is the one
who walks toward us
by the way of grace
that holds us fast.
 
Blessed is the one
who calls us to follow
in the way of blessing,
in the path of joy.
 
The Second Day of the Week-Monday
A Reading from Scripture                           Luke 19:45-46
Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there: and Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”
 
It Was On the Monday…    
            It was on the Monday                                                                                 
            that religion got in the way.
 
            An outsider would have thought
            that it was a pet shop’s clearance sale.
            And the outsider, in some ways,
            wouldn’t have been far wrong.
 
            Only it wasn’t household pets,
            it was pigeons that were being purchased.
            And it wasn’t a clearance sale;
            it was a rip-off stall in a holy temple
            bartering birds for sacrifice.
            And the price was something only the rich could afford.
            No discounts to students, pensioners,
            or social security claimants.
 
            Then he,
            the holiest one on earth,
            went through the bizarre bazaar
            like a bull in a china shop.
            So the doves got liberated
            and the pigeon sellers got angry.
            And the police went crazy
            and the poor people clapped like mad,
            because he was making a sign
            that God was for everybody,
            not just for those who could afford God.
            He turned the tables on Monday…
            The day that religion got in the way.
 
The Third Day of the Week-Tuesday
A Reading of Scripture                    Luke 20:1-2
One day, as Jesus was teaching the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to Jesus, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?”
 
It Was On the Tuesday…   
            It was on the Tuesday                                                                                            
            that he let them have it.
 
            If you had been there
            you would have thought
            that a union official was being taken to task
            by a group of mobsters.
            Or that the chairperson of a multinational corporation
            was being interrogated by left-wing activists
            posing as shareholders.
 
            They wanted to know why
            and they wanted to know how.
 
            They were the respectable men,
            the influential men,
            the establishment.
 
            The questions they asked
            ranged from silly schoolgirl speculations
            about whether you would be a bigamist in heaven
            if you married twice on earth,
            to what was the central rule of civilized behavior.
 
            They knew the answers already…
            or so they thought,
            otherwise they would never have asked the questions.
 
            And like most of us
            they were looking for an argument
            with no intentions of a change of heart.
 
            So he flailed them with his tongue…
            those who tried to look interested
            but never wanted to be committed.
 
            And that was on the Tuesday…
            the day he let them…let us…have it.
 
The Fourth Day of the Week—Wednesday
A Reading of Scripture                    Matthew 26:6-7
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table.
 
It Was On the Wednesday…
            It was on the Wednesday                                                               
            that they called him a wasteful person.
 
            The place smelled like the perfume department
            of a big store.
 
            It was as if somebody had bumped an elbow against a bottle
            and sent it crashing to the floor,
            setting off the most expensive stink bomb on earth.
 
            But it happened in a house,
            not a shop.
 
            And the woman who broke the bottle
            was no casual afternoon shopper.
            She was the poorest of the poor,
            giving away the only precious thing she had.
 
            And he sat still
            while she poured the liquid all over his head…
            as unnecessary as aftershave
            on a full crop of hair and a bearded chin.
 
            And those who smelled it,
            and those who saw it,
            and those who remembered
            that he was against extravagance,
            called him a wasteful person.
            They forgot
            that he also was the poorest of the poor.
 
            And they who had much
            and who had given him nothing,
            objected to a pauper giving him everything.
 
            Jealousy was in the air
            when a poor woman’s generosity
            became an embarrassment to their tight-fistedness…
 
            That was on the Wednesday,
            when they called him a wasteful person.
 
The Fifth Day of the Week—Thursday
A Reading from Scripture               Matthew 26:47-50  
While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once Judas came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.  Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, do what you are here to do.”  Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
 
It Was On the Thursday…
            It was on the Thursday                                                                  
            that he became valuable.
 
            He hadn’t anything to sell…
            not since leaving his hammer and saw three years earlier.
            Needless to say,
            he could build a set of trestles
            or hang a couple of shelves at the drop of a hat,
            no bother at all.
 
            But he wasn’t into making things.
            Not now.
 
            He was into…well…talking, I suppose.
            And listening
            and healing
            and forgiving
            and encouraging…
            all the things for which there’s no pay
            and the job center has no advertisements.
 
            So his work wasn’t worth much.
            Nor, indeed, was he.
            For, not being well dressed
            or well financed or well connected,
            he wouldn’t have attracted many ticket holders
            had he been put up for raffle.
            But he had a novelty value…
            like a side show attraction.
            Put him on a stage and he might be interesting to look at.
            Sell him to the circus
            with the promise of some tricks
            and there could be some money in it.
 
            It was on the Thursday
            that he became valuable.
 
The Sixth Day of the Week—Friday
A Reading of Scripture                                Luke 23:33-34
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
 
It Was on the Friday…
            It was on the Friday                                                                       
            that they ended it all.
 
            Of course,
            they didn’t do it one by one.
            They weren’t brave enough.
            All the stones at the one time
            or no stones at all.
 
            They did it in crowds…
            in crowds where you can feel safe
            and lose yourself
            and shout things
            you would never shout on your own,
            and do things
            you would never do
            if you felt the camera was watching you.
 
            It was a crowd in the church that did it,
            and a crowd in the civil service that did it,
            and a crowd in the street that did it,
            and a crowd on the hill that did it.
            And he said nothing.
 
            H took the insults,
            the bruises,
            the spit on the face,
            the thongs on the back,
            the curses in the ears.
            He took the sight of his friends turning away,
            running away.
 
            And he said nothing.
 
            He let them do their worst
            until their worst was done,
            as on Friday they ended it all…
            and would have finished themselves
            had he not cried,
            “Father, forgive them…”
 
            And began the revolution.  
 
The Seventh Day of the Week--Saturday
Mary Magdalene and the Other Mary; A Song for All Maries   (by Christina Rossetti)
            Our Master lies asleep and is at rest
            His Heart has ceased to bleed, His Eyes to weep;
            The sun ashamed has dropt down in the west:
            Our Master lies asleep.
            Now we are they who weep, and trembling keep
            Vigil, with wrung heart in a sighing breast,
            While slow creeps, and slow the shadows creep.
 
            Renew Thy youth, as eagle from the nest;
            O Master, who hast sown, arise to reap: -
            No cock-crow yet, no flush on eastern crest:
            Our Master lies asleep.
 
“It was on the…” Poetry from the Iona Community, Stages on the Way; Gia Publishing.
Painting is from The Benedictine Nuns of Turvey Abbey, available for purchase through mccrimmons.com.



March 17, 2016, 8:23 AM

Discipleship


John 12:1-8, CEB
Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound,[a] of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages![b] Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”

“Discipleship”

Does anyone know the mission statement of the United Methodist Church? (give chance to answer) To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Let’s hear that again. To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Hmmm. So what does that mean? I know some in our congregation have trouble with the concept of making someone do something. But my concern today surrounds the word, ‘disciple.’ In listening intently at various larger denominational gatherings over the last several years as this mission statement has been lifted up, I have grown concerned that many in the UMC see this statement as ‘making Christians’ instead of ‘making disciples.’ In our current culture ‘Christian’ and ‘disciple’ have come to be two very different things.
We see example of this all around us; famous people on television, people moving in and out of our lives, calling themselves ‘Christian’ and then exhibiting behaviors that have nothing at all to do with Jesus.
 
In a conversational posting on Facebook this week, Nancy Hale—pastor at Broad Street UMC in Norwich—reminded me that the dictionary definition of Christian is “to believe in Jesus Christ.” Our culture has divorced belief from behavior/action, so basically someone can simply say “I believe in Jesus” and go back to living the world’s way and be called a Christian. Discipleship is something different entirely. And as United Methodists, we need to reclaim an understanding of discipleship and insert that back into our mission statement to truly get a picture of what we are called to do.
 
The gospels spend quite a bit of time, in their telling of Jesus’ story, in showing what following Jesus looks like. John’s gospel like to set up comparisons and contrasts as a way to highlight disciple behavior from non-disciple behavior. The writer John loves contrast—light and dark, flesh and spirit, disciple and non-disciple. And he does so in our gospel story before us today.
 
As we noted last week, many times in following the lectionary we journey into a story or conversation already in progress, and if we aren’t intentional, we miss a large section of what is being said and lifted up. That is very true of today’s text from chapter 12 in John. This is part of a much, much larger and significant story that began back at the start of chapter 11, a story we call the “raising of Lazarus.” This story begins by telling us that Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, are beloved of Jesus, a rare statement in the gospels.  These three are either intimate friends or they are family, and Jesus loves them intensely. So it is surprising to Jesus’ followers when news come that Lazarus is gravely ill and Jesus does not drop everything and run immediately to Bethany and Lazarus’ side. In fact, Jesus delays in going and when they finally arrive, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
 
We know how this familiar and beautiful story goes.  Martha runs out to meet Jesus on the road when she hears he is coming. “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” she cries. Jesus makes one of his “I am” statements—“I am the resurrection and I am life.” Martha exits to make way for Mary, who runs to Jesus, falls to his feet, and sobs, “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.”  Jesus is moved to tears, and then comes that powerful moment outside of Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus commands they roll away the stone, even amidst protestations that there will be a stench. He calls out Lazarus, commands they unbind him and set him free. And that is where we end our reading of the story. But it is not the end of the story in John’s gospel. Raising someone from the dead is pretty big news and word spreads like wildfire. Some are excited by this news and start following Jesus to see what this is all about. But others, the chief priest, the elders, scribes and temple lawyers are alarmed and frightened. Jesus has gone too far. He will draw attention from Rome, called down repercussions on the people. “Better that one man die,” the chief priest proclaims, “then for all the people to suffer.” Plans for Jesus’ death are put into motion, an arrest warrant is issued for Jesus.
 
This is where our story comes in to the larger story. The chief priest’s plans are nearing fruition. Passover is six days away, and thousands of Jews are traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate this important festival, Jesus and his followers included. It makes sense, with Bethany only 2 miles form Jerusalem, that Jesus and his followers choose to stay with their beloved friends. In just a few sentences, John paints a picture of an intimate evening meal. Jesus, at least a few of the disciples, and his beloved friends are gathered around the table in normal 1st century Palestinian style. The table is set in the middle of the room. The guest are gathered around the table, reclining, the top half of their bodies toward the table, their legs and feet extending behind them into the room. Martha is serving—which might cause us to think of Luke’s gospel and the story of Martha serving while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and draws her sister’s anger. The table is relaxed, everyone enjoying one another’s company, everyone joyous that Lazarus is there at table with them, talking and eating.
 
And in comes Mary. She is carrying this large jar of perfume, almost a pound’s worth. Expensive perfume, in today’s economy, about $30,000 worth of perfume. She walks straight to Jesus’ feet and dumps the whole lot over his feet onto the floor. Can you imagine the reaction? Can you put yourself in that situati0n for a moment? I mean, what would the others at the table be thinking? Some outraged at the waste and expense. Some overwhelmed by the overpowering odor of the perfume. Some shocked at the extreme behavior. But she isn’t done. No, Mary then drops to her knees, lets down her hair—a extremely inappropriate thing to do in mixed company, let alone during dinner—and proceeds to wipe his feet with her hair. Most around the table would have been in absolute disbelief and shock. What in the world is going on?!
 
And that gives our author, John, a moment to lift up one of his contrasts for in to this chaos of emotions and reactions, Judas speaks. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor!?” And just before Judas speaks, John makes sure we know and remember that Judas is a disciple of Jesus. And then John takes great care in making sure that though he carries the label ‘disciple’ his motives are not that of Jesus. All this sets up that contrast. On one had we have Mary kneeling at Jesus’ feet (where disciples typically sit during teaching) and wiping away the extravagant perfume with her hair. On the other hand we have a proclaimed disciple whose loyalty is questionable and whose honesty is lacking. John asks us, ‘who is the disciple here?’ It is the one who says he believes but whose actions are less than stellar, or is it this woman who say nothing but whose actions overwhelm the room?
 
Another rhetorical tool that John likes to employ in his writing is to assume his readers know the whole story and to make references to different parts of the overall story, even before their actually happening in the gospel. He does this as a means to show how it is all connected. For example, at the beginning of chapter 11 when Lazarus, Martha and Mary are introduced, John points out that Mary is the one who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair, a chapter before it actually happens in the sequence of the gospel. The same is  true here in the midst of Mary’s uncomfortable foot washing. As she kneels at the feet of another, washing their feet, in the midst of protests, we should see echoes of what is coming in the next chapter, chapter 13, where Jesus will don a towel, kneel at the disciples’ feet to wash them, in the midst of protest. At the close of Jesus’ foot washing, he used the disciples’ outrage and discomfort to drive home an important point. “As I have done for you, you should do for others. I have set for you a pattern. To do as I have done.” Jesus means more than just the foot washing here, he is pointing back over all his ministry, all his life in their company. Here is the pattern. Here is what it is to be a disciple. And having just read Mary’s foot washing of Jesus, she is lifted before us as a shining example of this radical life of discipleship, this life in the pattern of Jesus.
 
This is what it means to be a disciple, to adjust your life to the pattern given to us in Jesus; to do as Jesus did. We are called to go out into the world, especially to those places and situations that Jesus went to; to eat with sinners and tax collectors, to ministry with those ill and suffering, to reach out and touch all those who cry out in need. Mary-like we serve with reckless abandon, filled with the love of Jesus, not counting the cost. We do this surrounded by the gift of beloved community—this community we call church—fellow disciples on the journey of faith. We lean on one another, support one another, hold each other accountable.
 
Mary is a shining example of this word ‘disciple’ that we use so much in the church. A powerless, reckless young woman pouring out her love extravagantly for Jesus… and the aroma of it filled the room. So maybe we need to really embrace this mission statement of the United Methodist Church—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The United Methodist Church and the world need us to embrace this call. We need to reclaim that word, ‘disciple,’ and live out its mean for our denomination and all the world to see—Mary-like and beautiful. We need to show that to be a disciple is so much more than saying, “I believe in Jesus.” To be a disciple is to proclaim with every moment of our lives, I am following Jesus, I am patterning my life after his. And in doing so we transform the world, for the life of discipleship is a fragrance that will fill the world around us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.



March 9, 2016, 8:47 AM

Reconciliation


2 Corinthians 5:16-21, CEB
16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to God’s self through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to God’s self through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
 
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, CEB
All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus told them this parable:
 “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27  The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28  Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29  He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30  But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31  Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
 
“Reconciliation”
Language is a tricky thing, as we have been exploring these Sundays in Lent. The first and second weeks of Lent we explored the loaded words of “Wilderness” and “Covenant” to the Israelites, and therefore, to us. Last week we spent time with “Repent,” and often used word in our scriptures and in our church dialogues. All of them capitalized, to signify their importance in scripture and the life of God’s people. Words are tricky. They change over time, take on new meanings, are used in new ways. Just a few short weeks ago, our wonderful children and youth performed for us the musical rendition of the Prodigal Son, set in the 1920s, “Welcome Back, Billie Best.” Within the songs and conversations of the characters, we were introduced to the slang terms popular in the 20s, but foreign to our ears. “Bananas” was used to refer to someone being crazy. “Applesauce” meant it was nonsense. And “Jake” meant that everything was ‘cool.’ In our exploration of “Repent,” we experienced this shift as we discovered originally, Repent meant to shift our lives completely to be in line with God, not just a simple ‘I’m sorry’ for wrongdoing.
 
So what about today’s word-Reconciliation? What does it mean for us today? (give congregation a few moments to toss out words) Yes. Reconciliation has come to mean that for us in 21st century America. And Reconciliation is certainly a capital “R” word for us here at First UMC. As a reconciling congregation in the United Methodist Church, when we speak of Reconciliation, it is with a capital “R.” In the second letter we have from Paul to the Corinthian church, this word ‘Reconciliation’ is used to translate a beautiful Greek term, katallasso. Paul is using this term to set up a contrast to the popular notion that a restored relationship is achieved through a settling of accounts between the two parties. It is a concept that would have resonated strongly with the highly commercial city and people of Corinth. But Paul uses this term—katallasso—to speak of a new thing God is doing in Christ, a new creation, in which restored relationship is achieved with both parties holding all things in common. We no longer see things from a flesh, human point of view, no “mine” and “yours.” God’s dream is a people and a creation that lives in katallasso—Reconciliation—where everything is mutual.
 
How wonderful it is that the lectionary scholars, in developing the three year series of scripture readings, partnered this beautiful call to Reconciliation from Paul with Jesus’ powerful story of katallasso embodied, in the character of the Prodigal Father. Prodigal means lavish or extravagant behavior and we usually coin the term to refer to the younger son’s extravagant spending and lifestyle after he leaves home. But the father in this story is ever more lavish and extravagant in his behavior.
 
The story begins with the son demanding something hurtful and disrespectful of his father. “Give me everything I will receive when you are dead. I want it now.” The younger son is operating completely for that mindset of “yours” and “mine.” “Give me what is going to be mine.” And his father does. His father gives to his son out of his ton bion—out of his ‘bio,’ from biology—he gives to his son out of his very life.  Our response to such a demand might have been very different. “Excuse me?! I don’t think so!” But this prodigal father knows that he certainly could make his son stay, physically. He could deny the son the resources he needs to leave, but this will never lead to Katalasso living, to Reconciled life. It would result in an even more broken relationship, anger, and hostility. The only way forward toward Reconciliation is to let his son go, and to wait and watch and yearn for a return that might produce a heart, soul, and mind ready for katallasso—Reconciliation.
 
This certain man also has two sons, and the older son doesn’t get katallasso either. The older son also sees the world in terms of “yours” and mine.” In the final scene, as the son and father stand outside the celebration, the son complains that his father never even gave him as much as a small goat so he could celebrate with friends. The father’s response is katallasso—Reconciliation—embodied, “My child, you have always been with me, and all that I have is yours.” It has always been so, a mutuality, all things held in common. The older son didn’t need to ask, just celebrate. The life of Reconciled living has always been right there, ready for the living.
 
The father goes to prodigal lengths to create opportunity for katallasso—Reconciliation. When he sees his younger son far off, he drops everything, runs to him, throws himself upon him, kisses him, wraps him in robes and sandals and rings. “Let’s celebrate!” he cries, “for this son was lost but is now found!” A new chance for new living is here. The possibility for Reconciliation has opened up again. Let’s rejoice! When the father learns that the older son is angry and refusing to join the party, the father leaves the celebration and goes to him, continually begging him to embrace Reconcilation. The door to katallasso, to Reconciliation is wide open and ready to welcome.
 
Will it be different this time with the younger son? Will the older son release his anger and enter the celebration? The story doesn’t say. Those questions aren’t for the characters in the story, they are for the listeners to the story. They are for us. The door to katallasso living, to reconciled life, to living the common-wealth here and now, is open to us. “If anyone is in Christ, New Creation!” The choice is before us—to walk into God’s ongoing celebration of real restoration and Reconciliation or to turn away and operate from a “mine” and “yours” mentality. The door is wide open. What will we choose?
Thanks be to God. Amen.

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