Category: Lent

The Fragrance of Life

greenhousePaul writes from a Roman prison where he expects to be killed for preaching faith in Jesus as Messiah, Christ, and Lord. His letter is to the church in Philippe. Philippians 3:4b-14

John begins his story of the final two weeks of Jesus’ life by telling us of Jesus returning to Bethany, where Lazarus has been raised from the dead. John 12:1-8

Are some people more heaven bound than others?

Consider the child whose parents are both pastors, she went to a private Christian school. Her grandfather help found the Christian university she attends. She has all the best Bible apps on her phone and has never missed a mission trip.

On the other hand, consider the child whose parents are both in prison. She went to public school until she dropped out at 16. She sells drugs on a university campus. She has all the best dating apps on her phone and has never missed a good party.

Paul is like the first child. He lists out all the ways he is perfect. And then calls them rubbish. These are appearance things. Things of the flesh. And a lot of them are not due to any personal morals… but just luck and happenstance. Paul didn’t choose his parents any more than either of these children. And the situations we’re born into affect our whole lives: the social groups we’re in, the opportunities we have, and the ways we learn to get food, shelter, and love.

Press on, he says. Press on, toward the goal, for the prize of the heavenly call of God, known to us in the Christ, Jesus. The first girl may be doing that… or she may not. The second girl may be doing that… or she may not. We don’t know. We don’t know because people’s life situations, and births, and jobs, and families are parts of people… but not the whole of who they are.

Consider our second reading…

Judas is heaven bound, right? He is one of the 12 men following Jesus. One of the few who actually was verbally called by Jesus to be part of this new world from the very beginning. But we know, in his heart, he is a torn man who wavers between faith in Jesus and faith in money.

Mary does not look heaven bound. She takes a years’ wages and buys a pound of perfume. She puts that entire bottle on Jesus’ dirty feet and then uses her own hair to wipe the mud and camel poop from Jesus’ toes. Even today, a woman using her hair to clean someone’s feet makes us uncomfortable. Imagine how much more uncomfortable everyone at that table is, when custom was that a woman ought never touch a rabbi… let alone take her ‘crowning glory’ of hair – expose it from her head covering – and use it as a sponge on FEET. Sensual, taboo, wasteful.

But Jesus praises Mary and chastises Judas.

Jesus is concerned about WHY we do things. He’s concerned about what is in our hearts. If any of these people have good intentions and compassionate hearts – Jesus is happy. If any have bad intentions and callused hearts, Jesus is sad.

The saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” bothers me. Yes, often, “no good deed goes unpunished” but… our faith is about our hearts. So much in our life we can’t control. We can control trying to do good, love God and our neighbor and ourselves, and help one another. We can try in whatever situations we find ourselves in – great life set ups or poor life set ups. Great histories or ignoble histories.

Jesus is about hearts…. Because God is about hearts and writes God’s own love on them.

Mary’s heart is in the right place. Paul’s heart has moved to the right place. Judas’s heart wavers.

Mary’s heart came to this shelter of Jesus through her brother. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – sisters and brother – live together. We know this story from the chapter before the part we read today. In the story, Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, dies. But Jesus raises him from the dead.

People were upset to see Lazarus return to life, and that resurrection is what began the plots to kill Jesus. They refused to celebrate.

People are upset to see Mary anoint Jesus, and Judas, who will betray Jesus for money, is introduced regarding money for the first time. The disciples refuse to celebrate.

Their hearts are not with Jesus and life and the moment. Judas claims he is only thinking of the poor.

Jesus replies, Judas, “you always have the poor with you.” For Judas is poor. Not financially, but spiritually. His heart has not moved from the death tomb to the lively feasting table.

“But you do not always have me.” Judas does not always have Jesus with him. Does not always have the heart of Christ. Sometimes Judas is a good disciple of Jesus. And sometimes he is not. Judas is… mixed.

Mary is shown as such a good disciple that Jesus follows HER example, and after this scene, anoints and washes the feet of his disciples, after Mary has done the same to him. Mary, we’re told, does not flee from the crucifixion. Mary is the first to see Jesus’ empty tomb, and first to know Jesus has come back to life. Mary always has Jesus with her.

And that heart of Jesus is what moves her to love extravagantly wherever she is, now.

In our reading we’re told they share dinner six days before Passover. Six days before the death of Jesus, Jesus shares life with these siblings. Perhaps this is the first time Jesus has spent time with them since bringing Lazarus back to life. In that meantime, Martha has worked to get the very best meal she can make to serve Jesus and her back-to-life brother. Martha intends a celebration feast. And Mary has taken a years’ wages and bought an anointing perfume for Jesus. Mary, like Martha, wants to show her love and gratitude.

In ancient Israel, people are anointed when they die, when they are healed, and if they become a king. The word for anointed one is ‘Christ.’ Jesus the Christ means Jesus the Anointed One. Mary anoints Jesus. Mary declares him her king. She also prepares him for death. Mary has been listening – she knows. She knows Jesus the Anointed Christ is also Jesus the Messiah, the Savior from God. And he has said he will suffer and die.

Mary knows this because Jesus is who healed her brother – her only beloved brother – and brought Lazarus back from the dead. He taught and she sat at his feet learning. Mary knows this because Jesus sees her not as a dangerous woman, lose even, and only as valuable as her womb for children… but Jesus sees her as MARY – beloved child of God.

Do you remember one of my favorite lines from the King James Version? “He stinkith, my lord!” Lazarus stunk in his tomb. The sisters warned Jesus not to open the tomb because it stunk so much. Their brother had been dead for days.

Now the house of Lazarus stinks. But instead of the sickly sweet smell of rotting corpses… it is the heady sweet smell of the perfume nard. Nard is heavy, sweet, spicy and woody all at once. Like crushed moss, wet dirt, or a wet woods.

Like… growing things.

Our brains are wired for scents. Scents stick in our heads and even though it can be hard to recall a certain smell, as soon as we smell it, we suddenly remember all kinds of things related to that scent.

I asked the children… what does Jesus smell like? And I ask you too: What DOES Jesus smell like?

I’m not asking about the historical man, who likely smelled like most people who live in hot places and bathe once a week.

I’m asking about the Jesus you know.

What smells invoke in your mind the memories and moments of when you have known God is with you as close as your own shadow? The very shade of your heart?

Jesus smells of Easter Sunday to me. Dizzying hyacinths and lilies. Jesus also smells of my mother’s hands after they’ve been in bleach – salty. Clean. Callused against my face tenderly. Jesus smells of Fast Orange garage soap on my Papa. And the lingering tinge of house fire smoke on my father. Jesus smells like the greenhouse in March, when the kerosene heater is struck and tinging, the planted tomato flats are filling the air with the smell of plants and humid soil, and life.

To me, Jesus smells of the fragrance of life.

A loving, hopeful, life that still grows even after the stink of callused hearts and cold graves.

An extravagant life that is found in every place – from the depths of the sea to the great cosmos – to the smallest bacteria of our own bodies to the great oak trees – life that, against all odds, comes back from the grave again and again.

That’s worth a year’s wages! Worth a victory feast. Life after death is worth extravagant celebration!

Praise God!

Jesus smells.

Praise God!

Amen.

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Psalm 126 Call To Worship

One: When God restored our fortunes, we were like those who dream.
Many: Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
One: All our neighbors said, ‘God has done great things for them!’
Many: And God has done great things for us and brought us joy.
One: Restore us, again, God, like water returning to dry creeks.
Many: May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
One: Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy carrying their sheaves.
All: We come today restoring God planting our seeds and seeking your holy harvest!

Lent Devotional Activity

Lent Devotional Activity

Needed – 3×3 inch +/- scrap of cloth per person

Washable markers

Sharpie markers

Bowl of warm water per table

Dreft, soap, or etc. per table

Dry towels

 

We are born – all different sizes. All different and unique.

(give out the different sizes of white square cloths.)

 

Genesis 1: 26-28; 31

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

 

So God created humankind in God’s image,

in the image of God, God created them;

male and female God created them.

God blessed them,

 

… God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.

 

We are created – with God’s love written on our hearts.

 

(draw heart on cloth with a Sharpie)

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their spouse, declares the LORD.

 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach their neighbor and each their sibling, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

And when we are baptized – A name is given to us.

 

(write your name on the cloth)

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

I give Egypt for your ransom,

Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,

and because I love you,

I will give people in exchange for you,

nations in exchange for your life.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

I will bring your children from the east

and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’

and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.”

 

And then, we live! Life – gets us messy!

 

(Exchange Sharpies for washable markers. Draw on the cloth.)

 

The mess can be too much.

 

Psalm 22:1-

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a human,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

“They trust in the LORD,” everyone says,

“let the LORD rescue them.

Let God deliver them,

since God delights in them.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

From birth I was cast on you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce e my hands and my feet.

All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 

When it is too much, remember your baptism. Repent. Believe. And be washed clean.

 

(wash the cloths clean in warm, soapy water in bowls on the tables)

 

Isaiah 1:16-18

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,

Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor;

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,”

Says the LORD,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson,

They shall be as wool.”

 

Acts 2: 37-39 When the people heard the Gospel of Jesus, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

 

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 

But see here – love – cannot be washed away.

 

(Sharpie heart and name remain.)

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-10; 12-13

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Our name: Beloved Child of God – always remains.

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in the Son may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

PRAYER

 

Praise! We praise you, creating God! From waters you call forth worlds. From chaos you create order. From darkness you create light. From sinners you create saints.

 

We praise you, abiding God! From our births to our deaths; from our deaths to our new lives – you abide with us. When we are clean and wet and new – and when we are dirty and dry and old – you abide with us. Wherever we go – there you are. We praise you – for abiding!

 

Praise! We praise you for forgiving. In our wandering we do not always remember we are abiding with you. We forget to love ourselves, love our neighbors, love our strangers, and love you. But you forgive and welcome us back again and again.

 

We praise you, God of the Book, God of Abraham, God of Isaiah, God known to us in Jesus, God felt in our bones, God of the universe – we praise you for ever tilting the balance of the world towards good.

 

Amen.

Hen’s Teeth

chicks.jpg

Abram has gotten rich in livestock, and silver, and gold. He has a wife. He recently has successfully won a major battle.

But God’s promise to give him children hasn’t been fulfilled all these years.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, teaching, healing, and prophesying as he goes. It is the “hour” or time for these things and not yet the hour, or time, for his death, which is how he may refer to as his glorification.

Luke 13:31-35

Ambiguity is a big word for meaning something is unclear. Not as a simple as black and white. For example we all agree there is a left and right to this church, yeah? But is that Terrie’s left and right, my left and right, your left and right, the kids’ left and right… All of these directions are different compass points, even through we all agreed there IS such a thing as left and right to the church!

We’re pretty ambiguous about chickens. It is an insult to call someone a chicken, but a complement to call them a chick (if they’re a woman.) We complain chicken is the cheapest meat, but complement food by saying it tastes like chicken. We praise someone for being an egg head, or a smart egg… but insult them by calling them a bird brain. Ambiguity. It’s not really clear how we actually feel about chickens.

Religion is an ambiguous thing to me. Religion has inspired some of the greatest people on Earth to do the greatest acts of love. For religious reasons, Mother Theresa served the poorest of India. Religion inspired the foundation of most hospitals – which began as charities. And many universities, schools, food pantries and material assistance around the world.

Religion has also inspired some of the most horrific acts. The Spanish Inquisition murdering Jews and Rroma; the Crusades murdering Muslims; the drowning of Anabaptist by other Christians for their belief in adult baptism and the giving of small pox laced blankets to First Peoples who refused to convert to Christianity.

Religion is pretty ambiguous. Not a simple thing of all good or all bad.

Simplifying our conversation to just Christianity, to just the scriptures we all have today in our hands… things are still muddled.

How many angels were in Jesus’ tomb? Zero? Two? Three? The gospels don’t agree.

Does God have a wife? In Genesis, God speaks in the plural. In Kings, there is the comment that the ancient Israelites set up places to worship YHWH and “His Asheroth.” Asheroth is the name that other ancient religions used to describe the lives of various gods… such as El… which is a name sometimes given to YHWH in the Bible.

It is ambiguous. Not clear. Thousands of thousands of years and writings and rewriting and new encounters with the ever living God have occluded, muddled, the story. But it looks like once, all our ancestors were not monotheists. And our scripture, handed down generation after countless generation, from ancient Abram to now, has little hints of this time still in it.

Luke’s gospel isn’t as old as the stories of Genesis and Kings… but its still not clear. Consider – Are the Pharisees good guys or bad guys of the Bible? Sometimes they are plotting to kill Jesus… and yet, today, we hear they WARN Jesus not to come to Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill Jesus. They are the people Jesus preaches against as hypocrites for being outwardly pious but inwardly not… and yet they join Jesus’ disciples and invite Jesus into their homes for dinner.

The Pharisees are… rather ambiguous. Grey. Neither good nor bad.

Jesus seems to embrace ambiguity.

He faces Jerusalem today and just calls out what a mixed place it is. It’s the place where God had chosen to make God’s home on earth – a holy city on several hills. It was also the place where the tetrarch Herod (the junior Herod) ruled and kept the land in subservience to Rome. Jerusalem was full of holy sites and holy people… and a city complete with all the things a city normally has: crime and cesspools and the valley known as Gehenna – where the Romans cremated their dead.

Jerusalem kills the prophets and stones the people God sends to it… and yet, God wants to gather the city together protectively and lovingly like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Jerusalem is ambiguous. The city isn’t clearly sinful nor godly.

Jesus loves to speak in “parables” and parables are anything but clear. They’re like a kaleidoscope that let us see things in new ways. As soon as we solve a parable, we think of a new something that makes us review it again.

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees to return to Tetriarch Herod and tell him that Jesus is going to keep doing the work of healing and casting out demons today, tomorrow, and then finish on the third day.

What?

Like – seriously – Jesus does not work for two days, then sleep on the third. He continues going around for some time healing and preaching and casting out demons. When he enters Jerusalem, it takes more than 3 days for him to “finish” the work.

If this refers to the three days for the resurrection… where was Jesus healing and casting out demons while dead?

If this refers to the fullness of God here on Earth… why hasn’t it happened, yet? Why did Jesus say none of us would perish before he returned?

Ambiguities! Riddles! No easy answers.

I’m… kinda glad scripture doesn’t hand us easy answers. Because life sure doesn’t.

I try to be ethical when grocery shopping. Right now, a dozen white generic eggs are 88 cents. Cage free brown eggs are 3.50. Cage free organic eggs are 4.50 And cage free, organic, vegetarian eggs are 5.50. Which is the most ethical choice?

I happen to be a bird person. I love birds and chickens of all kinds. I’ve been to LaRue and seen the factory egg farms. I know those 88 cent eggs come from birds that have their beaks clipped too short, never see sunlight, can barely turn around in pens, and will be killed for bone meal in 2 years. It’s incredibly inhumane.

But if I get those cheap eggs, then I have more money to get fruits and vegetables for my daughter – and help out her life.

But then I support the cruelty in LaRue and Croton.

So I look at the far end. Organic. Cool. No chemicals. Free range. Well, factory free range means they’re not in cages… but they’re not running around all over the yard like their picture shows. Still better. Maybe. Vegetarian-fed.

Now, if you’ve ever been around chickens, you know… they LOVE meat. I’ve seen them catch mice and eat them. Maybe the good is that these chickens didn’t eat any other chickens who were turned into bone meal… but, speaking for all the birds I’ve ever raised, chickens LOVE to eat chicken, too.

There’s a reason baby birds are given red brooder lights. Its so they don’t eat each other.

The ethics on just selecting my eggs are hard. Ambiguous. Now, that is just getting eggs. All of life is this complicated and ambiguous.

Thank God that God has come to us and shared our common lot. Thank God that God knows how confusing it is to be human. Thank God that God doesn’t relate to us in all or nothing, black and white, simple ways.

God is complex.
Scripture is complex.
And we are complex.

During Lent, we deal with one of the most complex and ambiguous stories of the Bible: the scandal of the crucifixion of Jesus. We’ve been struggling to understand the death of Jesus for 2000 years, and we’re going to keep struggling until Jesus returns. Even then, I think Jesus will likely explain it in more parables and ambiguities… because simple answers just aren’t satisfying.

As soon as we say Jesus died to forgive our sins… then who is God that God couldn’t forgive sins without murder?

As soon as we say we killed Jesus with our desire for violence and earthly power… then why does Jesus predict his death and say this is God’s will?

As soon as we say the cross was destined… why did Jesus pray for the cup to pass?

As soon as we say the cross was not destined… what more could Jesus have done if he still lived bodily to a ripe old age?

There’s no easy answers. There’s no single answer. There’s ambiguities and confusion. There’s complexity. Because we need a faith that is full of depth. Full of different meanings for different times of our lives. We need a God who is like a mother hen.

Mother hens are both the image of sweetness and terror on two legs. On one hand, I picture the sweet image of little baby chicks with their fluff peering out from under their mother’s feathers. But on the other hand, a mother hen is an insane little berserkers. I’ve watched a silkie mother tear into a squirrel who deigned to step into HER chicken run like she was a hawk. All claws and pecks and calls of “BWAAAAAA!”

No animal has had the nerve to go back into my chicken run. They’re terrified of that 4 pound silkie. People say hen’s teeth are rare… I think if they had teeth we’d never let these little monsters into our barnyards.

Anyways, I think of God like that – loving and mild and frightfully, ferociously protective of us.

But ambiguously, scripture also presents God as jealous, as one who orders Moses to have the Israelites kill all who worshiped the Golden Calf. As a god who turned a woman into a salt pillar.

God is… complex.
And we are complex.

Sometimes we need God to be a warrior and sometimes to be a comforter.

Some of us need God to be fire and brimstone. Some of us need God to be shepherds and rainbows.

And who we need in our parent God changes over our lives.

Much as who we needed our earthly parents changed over our lives. Sometimes we needed them to change our diapers and keep us from killing ourselves. Sometimes we needed a mom. Or a dad. Or a friend. Or a counselor. Or a prayer leader. And others of us needed space! Our relationships on earth change.

Our relationships with God change.

Lent gives us time to reflect on ourselves and our relationship with God. Who is God to you right now? Who did God used to be? Who might God be to you in the future?

Lent gives us time to embrace the ambiguities in life, and ourselves, and be okay with our journey and sitting with our questions.

Amen.

Call to Worship: Lent 2 C / Philippians 3:17-4:1

(Paraphrase of Philippians 3:17-4:1)
One: Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe each other who live as examples of Christ,
Many: For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
One: With tears I tell you of these enemies.
Many: Their end is destruction. Their god is hungry greed. Their glory is shameful. Their minds are stuck on Earthly things.
One: But our citizenship is in heaven.
Many: From heaven will return our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
One: Christ transforms us from living in humiliation to living in glory.
Many: Christ does this with the same power Christ uses to reconcile all things to God.
One: Therefore, my sisters and brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown: stand firm in the Lord.
All: We come to stand firm before the Beloved and declare all who come in the name of the Lord are blessed.

Offertory Prayer: Lent 2 C

Promise-Keeping God, you are faithful and generous. In Abram’s childlessness, you brought him children to begin a nation. In Paul’s imprisonment, you inspired him to write letters that encourage us to this day. In Jesus’ life and death, you bring us resurrection and citizenship in Heaven with Christ. Generously, we offer these gifts because of your faith and generosity to your mission to fulfill all the good you have planned for the world. Amen.