Tag Archives: lent

The smell of death filling the room

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

Of all the stories of Jesus’ ministry that we have heard until this point during the pandemic, this scene may feel the most unsettling. Not because the story itself is strange or off-putting. But because of where we currently find ourselves. Having lived and continuing to live cautious lives and only considered careful measured forays into social settings. 

And the thing that sticks out to me more than anything is that it must have been almost hard to breathe. 

The smell of the perfume would have stuck in the room. It would have overwhelmed the noses of all present at the celebratory meal. In the before times, we all know someone who wears too much perfume or cologne, whether it is that strange aunt in the family, or teenage boys wearing too much body spray cologne. But I cannot remember the last time that I smelled someone else that doesn’t live in my house. Masks and social distancing have had the incredible effect of isolating us from the smells of being in community. 

Smells can overpower us like no other sense can. And certain scents can immediately recall memories long buried to time with incredible vividness. They can remind us more powerfully than a picture of past events, places or persons than just about anything else. The smell of chlorine can take you right back to that first time swimming in an indoor pool. Or the smell of pine trees can take you back to beloved Christmas memories. 

The smell today, the perfume that anoints Jesus’ feet cannot be taken lightly or be overlooked. A pound of perfume is not a delicate scent, and that seems to be Mary’s point. On this day, Jesus, his good friend Lazarus, and the disciples are being treated to a celebratory meal. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and this is the first time that Mary, Martha and Lazarus have seen Jesus since the miracle. Martha, as usual, is serving the dinner. She is giving thanks in her way. But Mary decides to give thanks in a different way. She wants to express her deep gratitude and her love for Jesus. It is the kind of emotional display that makes most of us uncomfortable, like two lovers passionately kissing in public. As Mary anoints Jesus feet, and then wipes them with her own hair, the rest of the guests at the party were probably feeling awkward. Washing feet was something that servants do. And using one’s hair as the cloth… well, that was just strange. Mary’s act is as extravagant and wild and passionate as it seems. Probably something that should have been saved for a private moment with Jesus. 

In the midst of this beautiful moment, this act of love and gratitude that Mary is giving to Jesus, Judas pipes up. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”. The moment is ruined. Judas has re-interpreted this lovely scene to his own ends. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the display of affection, or perhaps as John suggests, he has other intentions for the money. Whatever Judas’ reasons, he wants to disconnect from the intimate and personal moment. He tries to make it about the impersonal and distant and abstract idea of how money should be used. Judas tries to make the moment about practicality and he almost steals away Mary’s extravagant love, diminishing her by rebuking her feelings. Judas tries to dismiss Mary’s love and gratefulness with his distant and impersonal righteous indignation. 

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I can very much get Judas’ discomfort, you probably do too. Having a display like Mary’s  can intrude in our space and feelings and sense of what is appropriate. And like Judas, we can seek to create distance, through power and manipulation, between ourselves and this deep display of affection. We fear what Mary is doing. We fear letting go of ourselves to God’s love and call for us. We fear the ways in which we might be changed, we might be vulnerable and unsafe, the ways in which our world and lives may become uncertain. 

And at the heart of our distancing, is our desire for control. We want to be in control of where we begin and end, to protect our bodies and feelings and tribes from risk and hurt. And we use whatever power we can. Money, judgement, shame. Mary’s act is not safe, it is wild and untamed. It is extravagant and passionate. This is not the way we think the world should work. “Don’t waste the money” we declare because we are uncomfortable with risk. “Don’t be so emotional” we cry out because we know loving so deeply can lead us to getting hurt. 

Our fear of being close, our need for control, gets in the way of opening ourselves to God’s love and call. Our discomfort puts practicality or pragmatism before others, before people. Judas only sees dollars being poured on Jesus feet. We often get bogged down by the resources being expended on our family, on our neighbours, on the church, on ourselves. Judas doesn’t see that what Mary is doing for Jesus is worth more than any amount of money. Often we find it hard to see that the families, friends, neighbours and ministries that we give our time and passion as being worth of the expense. It can be hard for us to let ourselves take  the risk being close, the risk of following and loving Jesus, the risk of being people who care about God’s mercy for the world too much. We know that all of that is very uncomfortable.

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For five weeks we have been immersed in the season of Lent. Immersed in this journey exploring the relationship of power and love.  We began with the powerful reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday. We hear the stories of temptation, lament, another year of grace, and prodigal love. We have kept from singing Alleluias, we have sung Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy instead. And on this final Sunday before Palm Sunday, the deep symbol of death enters into our sanctuary. 

There is a pound of pure nard on Jesus feet. This perfume is one meant to keep the smell of death at bay. It is suppose to disguise the smell of a decaying body while it waits to be buried.  

Yet, so often the thing meant to distance and disguise, to protect us from reality comes to symbolize the very thing it is trying to hide. The perfume becomes the smell of death.

Jesus does not miss the symbol. Mary has anointed his feet with the smell of Good Friday, the day that we are slowly building to as we get closer to Holy Week. 

Jesus does not see waste, Jesus doesn’t need to distance himself from Mary. Jesus sees love, lavish, wild and untamed love. Jesus sees the future. “Leave her alone” he says, ”She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Mary is not anointing a king, or prophet. Mary is anointing a friend, teacher and son, who will be soon prepared for burial on Friday evening, and Jesus is reminding his disciples and friends one more time of all of this. The ministry, the parables, the miracles, the teaching in synagogues, the traveling the countryside. None of it is about the bottom line, none of it has been about being practical with money, none of it was about God staying distant and safe from creation. This moment is a foretaste of God’s imminent future.

When the time comes for Jesus’s body to be put into the ground, God will be accomplishing something new, something never seen. Something glimpsed as Lazarus stepped out of his tomb. God is accomplishing something new before the women even have the chance to anoint Jesus’ body on that Easter morning. God is about to turn the world upside, to bring new meaning to creation. Preparing for burial will no longer be preparing for death, but preparing for New Life. 

Here in this perfume filled room, where passionate and impulsive Mary has shown her love and thanks in her way, Jesus gives the whole world a new sign. God’s future is now about us. Jesus burial is about us. On Good Friday Jesus will be anointing the world with New Life. And God is bringing us all right into the middle of it, God crossing the bounds of our discomfort in order to love us.

What a contrast the walls and obstacles we put to protect ourselves, to our seeking to distance from God’s wild and untamed love. We try to protect ourselves by appealing to power, money, and supposed morality all because we are uncomfortable with God’s love. God risks it all, even death, to come close, to take on and wear our flesh, so that we will know love. 

Judas is uncomfortable with the perfume filled house, he wants to step back and distance himself. Make things about money, or poor people, or whatever else that is safe to feel. But Jesus stays present and near for Mary’s gesture of love, and then Jesus tells us that God is only coming closer. Coming in the familiar smells of Holy Week. 

Like any powerful perfume, there is no distancing ourselves from God’s love after this. Today God’s Love comes near to us in perfume that anoints Jesus feet, it will come on palms branches next week, it was waft from the table at Maundy Thursday. And it will comes so close on Good Friday, we will nail it to the cross to distance ourselves from it.

But after three days, God’s love will burst forth, uncontrolled, untamed, wild, passionate, extravagant. And it will be love that we can see, touch, taste and of course, love that we can smell.

Parable of the Prodigal Son or Prodigal Father?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
So Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

The definition of the word prodigal is: a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way. Or someone who is wastefully extravagant.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could use some wasteful extravagance in my life. For two long years we have been living small, keeping to ourselves, pairing down. Nothing these days happens with reckless abandon. Everything is cautious and circumscribed. If that prodigal son was feeling even a bit like we do, it is no wonder he was looking for signs of life elsewhere. 

This story of the prodigal son is a familiar story that most of us could probably retell the if we were we put on the spot. In fact, the term “prodigal son” can be applied to a person or situation, and most people will know the meaning. Even if most Christian images and symbols are being forgotten in culture, the prodigal son and his story endures. There must be something about this story that bears familiarity to our own experience and lives. 

But the problem with familiarity is that meaning can be reduced and simplified. The power of the parable can be lost. And the prodigal son, like all good parables that Jesus tells, is not meant to be a simplistic, straight across comparison where the Father equals God, and the son equals humanity. Instead, good parables demand that we put ourselves in the shoes of all the characters, that we put God in the shoes of all the characters, and even consider that we or God might not be any of the characters. 

A few years ago, a good friend who is also a pastor, shared about his experience teaching his confirmation class the parable of the prodigal son. To help the class embody the parable, he had the students act out the story. They found it easy to play the prodigal party boy son and the dutiful older brother. But when it came time to be the father who ran out to welcome home his lost son, the students would stand and wait with hands on hips, a frown on their face. Or they would scold the returning son for making his father worry. Some even grounded the son when he returned. They just couldn’t imagine a parent who welcomed a delinquent child home without some kind of reprimand.

This well-known parable maybe has something much deeper and radical to say to us that we usually remember. It is easy to assume that the parable of the Prodigal Son is a moralism about doing the right thing. Older son good, younger son bad. Don’t be a younger son, we think is the moral of this tale. But that judgement is not one the text actually makes and to really hear what the parable is saying, we have to step away from the morals and lessons that we assume from the get go.

As with all the parables of Jesus, we need to consider the audience. There are two very different groups that Jesus is speaking to. The first is tax collectors and sinners. Those who owed debts and those who collected, but both of whom were believed to be excluded from God’s forgiveness and mercy. Contrast them with the second group, the Pharisees and scribes, the virtuous religious authorities and leaders who controlled access to God forgiveness and mercy. An audience who represented two very different experiences of God’s love. 

With these two groups in mind, Jesus tells three parables about lost things, the third being about a man with two sons. The younger son asks for his share of his inheritance to strike out on his own in the world. But before we can set to the task of judging this son for his dissolute living, it is important to understand Jewish inheritance practice. In Jesus’ day, it was the norm that the elder son would inherit a double portion of his father’s wealth. The older son in this story would get two thirds of the inheritance, while his younger brother just one third. But not all things were divided this way. As land belonged to families or tribes, the older son would become the one in charge of all the land of his father. He would control not only two thirds of his father’s wealth, but all of his father’s land, his father’s tenants, workers and slaves. And this would include his younger brother. So while we assume that the younger brother is some party animal or that he can’t wait for his father to die to get his hands on his money, it might actually be the case that the younger brother just doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working under his self-righteous jerk of an older brother. 

And while it might be easy to assume, like his older brother did, that the younger son went and lost his inheritance by immoral living, we don’t really know. It could have been a combination of circumstances, such as poor choices, famine, or being alone in a foreign land. 

Yet, to put the weight of the parable’s meaning on the younger son’s repentance and return home is to miss a key feature of good Hebrew story telling. The last part of the story is often the point. 

And the last part of the story is all about the older son. 

The older son’s refusal to celebrate his brother’s return is more than a mere attitude problem. This older son has fundamentally missed the point. As his father invites him to the banquet, the older son stands in judgement of both his brother and his father. He is indignant. He believes that he is the righteous one. He believes that he has earned his rightful place in his father’s house. He thinks his hard work and obedience entitles him to his father’s wealth and lands, to his father’s position and power. He complains that his father hasn’t recognized his virtue, not even with a modest young goat to enjoy with his friends. Yet, his father has killed the fatted calf for his delinquent brother. The injustice! Never mind that every goat and calf, every robe and ring, every slave and servant (including the younger brother) will one day belong to him. 

It is easy to see the parable of the Prodigal Son about one good son and one bad, yet when we set our assumptions aside and unpack the depths of the story, we can see that it is both sons who are equally lost. And we can see it is isn’t about trying to be more like one son over the other. Instead, we see that there are times in our lives where we have felt self-righteous and indignant, like we have earned our place in the world and more. And there might be other times where we have felt unworthy and unloveable, like we couldn’t possibly be shown mercy and compassion. 

Still, even with a perspective shift in how we see the sons, we are just as unable as those confirmation students to see the radical love of a parent, who loves without reprimand or condition. Yet, the newly understood lostness of both sons helps to sharpen for us just how loving this father is. 

The name western Christians have given this son says much about how we understand this parable: The Prodigal or Wasteful with Money Son. But the Eastern Orthodox church calls this parable the Loving Father. 

Whether it is the son who thinks he is unworthy and undeserving of his Father’s love or it is the son who is indignant and believes that he has earned more than he has received, the father seeks out his sons. Both sons. The well-to-do land-owner father runs down the road in a very undignified fashion welcome his lost younger son home. The generous and compassionate father still goes out to plead with his ungrateful and resentful older son, despite his son’s rejection. This father does not judge, this father does not reprimand, this father does not set condition on his generosity. 

Even when younger takes advantage of his father and loses all that he has been given. Even when older cannot see that he has not actually earned anything, but that his father has freely given all that he has to his son. Both sons are given love and mercy and grace by their father. If anyone is prodigal, if anyone is wastefully extravagant it is the father who is lavish with his love. 

What a radical image of God’s love and forgiveness for Jesus’ audience? A reminder to the Pharisees, Scribes and those of us who think we have earned it, that God’s love cannot be earned because it is already given freely. A reminder to the tax collectors, sinners and those of us who feel unworthy or undeserving, that God’s love is given freely and does not need to be earned. 

This Lenten season we have been confronted again and again with the relationship of love and power. Today, we are shown an image of God’s love that is more generous than we can imagine. 

Today, our Prodigally loving God shows us just how far God will go to find us.  

Love that couldn’t care less for power

Luke 13:31-35
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

King Herod was not a well liked King. 

He was a puppet King for the Roman who didn’t really care about who was King over the backwater province of the empire, Judea. The people of Israel didn’t care for Herod, knowing that he was all about power. But like most people in power, Herod made the right allegiances; with Rome and with Hebrew the religious authorities. 

So when the Pharisees come to Jesus with a Message, he knows they too are puppet authorities, doing the puppet King’s dirty work in order to hold on to their own power and privilege. 

Today, on the second Sunday of Lent we continue with Jesus who can’t help but be confronted by people who think they have power. Last week, it was the Devil tempting Jesus to misuse the power of incarnation, the power that comes along with being God and being God in flesh. The Devil’s temptations set the stage for the recurring theme that Luke’s gospel holds up for us this Lenten season. The Devil tries to offer Jesus power. And now the Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning. They sound sympathetic, maybe even concerned for Jesus. Herod is out to get you, they warn. And it just so happens that getting rid of Jesus might also be convenient for them. 

Herod, the unpopular King and the righteous yet conspiring Pharisees, are concerned about their power. They are concerned about Jesus’s impact on their power and privilege. They have worked to build alliances, with their unpalatable overlord Romans, and with each other. Their power is tenuously held and only maintained by fear and division. With soldiers who intimidate, with control over money, over the temple, over the city of Jerusalem. 

Yet, no matter their work to maintain their power, they cannot gain the confidence and support of the people. Yet, Jesus who doesn’t seem to be looking for any power, is wandering the countryside, living off the generosity of others. Jesus is popular and therefore powerful in the eyes of Herod and the Pharisees. And while he hasn’t made a play for their power yet, they know it will come. And so they conspire. They will frighten Jesus off. Just as they frighten the people with soldiers or unrighteousness. They see Jesus as a threat who must be dealt with. 

Like the Pharisees, our world too is full of misuse of power. As we watch an awful and tragic invasion of Ukraine, we see a desperate despot casting about for power and former glory. Closer to home we also see politicians and corporations pandering to our consumerist desires in the hopes of acquiring our votes and our dollars. We also look about and see our unhappy neighbours, friends and families lashing out at the world, frustrated by all the ways they feel their power and freedom slipping from their grasp. We look at this community and other churches like it, and we see something that once occupied a place of central power and importance in the world, being slowly sapped of energy and resources, crumbling before our very eyes. 

Power does that. Power makes the powerful manipulate and play games. The loss of power splits, divides and demoralizes. 

And in all of that, the powerful King Herod, the power hungry Pharisees and we who feel as though we are leaking power, all share in one thing:

We all feel threatened by Jesus. 

There is a something inside of all of us that gets anxious and concerned when Jesus starts talking about what God wants for us. A thing inside of us that is tangled and twisted. That thought in the back our minds, that feeling that makes our blood pressure rise. It is the thing inside of us that makes us fearful of our neighbours. It it the thing that makes us resentful of having to change our lives for the sake the world around us. It is the thing that inside of us that closes us off to people who think differently than we do. The twisted tangled thing makes us shout our opinion louder, makes us wall ourselves off to the other, makes us fear difference, makes us angry when we feel aggrieved. 

The twisted, tangled thing is what Martin Luther called the Old Adam, the Old Sinner.

It is sin. 

And the sinner inside of us bristles when Jesus starts talking about the first being last, and losing our lives to save them. The sinner doesn’t like the idea that God’s forgiveness isn’t deserved, that we aren’t entitled to it.  

The twisted tangled sinner is the part of us that thinks power will save us. That controlling the world around us will keep us from being hurt. That protecting ourselves from anyone different from us is the way to be safe. 

And when Jesus starts talking about giving up power, the old sinner feels threatened. And when Jesus starts talking about prophets being stoned and hinting at crucifixion, the old sinner will have none of it. Like the Devil who thought power was the purpose last week, the old sinner thinks power is our salvation. 

The pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is willing to kill Jesus for the sake of power. 

Herod is worried that his power could be taken by the popular preacher Jesus. 

How wrong can Herod and the Pharisees be?

How completely off the mark can the twisted, tangled sinner inside of us get?

Jesus has come in weakness, not power. 

Jesus has come to be open, not closed off. 

Jesus has come to be vulnerable, not fearful. 

Jesus has come to show love. 

Love that will change us. 

Love that will undo the twisted, tangled thing inside of us. 

Love that risks being hurt, being unsafe, being weak in order to come close and near. Love that gathers and holds us together under its wings. 

Love that couldn’t care less for power. 

Herod and the Pharisees don’t live in a world of love. They don’t know how to let go of the little power that they have. They can’t see that Jesus hasn’t come for power, they cannot see how Jesus is trying to show God’s love to the world. 

And Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that the same crowds will chant “Blessed is He who comes in the same of the Lord” on Sunday, will shout crucify by Friday because they want a King of power, not a King of love. 

Jesus knows that the Pharisees who are warning him to get away will soon cry to Pilate to do their dirty work. 

Jesus knows that the King Herod will defer to the power of Rome to finally rid his Kingdom of this popular preacher. 

Jesus knows that their desire for power will lead to death. 

It is the way of the Old Sinner. 

But Herod and the Pharisees don’t know that Jesus is willing to die for the sake of love, willing to die to save the world. 

But we do. 

And still this Jesus who saves the world, who endures our greatest power of death to show love, still threatens us. 

Because the old sinner within us who pushes us to fear, to resent, to be closed off, to divide and to control… this old sinner, this twisted and tangled thing knows that the love of Jesus will change us. That love will untwist and untangle. That love will forgive and show grace. 

And Jesus knows that love makes us anxious, that old sinner, the twisted and tangled thing doesn’t want to be loved. Jesus knows that loving us will transform us. Jesus knows that loving us will make us care less about ourselves and more about others. Jesus knows that love will make us less afraid, less closed off, less divided, less controlling, worry less. 

Jesus knows love will make us let go of power… 

Herod wasn’t a well-liked King and the Pharisees weren’t well-liked religious rulers. We are people threatened by love.  

And Jesus isn’t either of these things either. Not puppet King, nor religious overlord, nor symbol of power and influence. 

Jesus is a mother hen with nothing but love to give. Love for sinners who feel threatened. Love for tangled and twisted people who get anxious. 

And just like stubborn chicks who need their mother hen, Jesus love will gather and change us too.

Why we need this 3rd Pandemic Lent – Pastor Thoughts

The season of Lent began this week with Ash Wednesday. This is the 3rd Lent to take place during the pandemic. 

There are many similarities between Advent and Lent, both are seasons of preparation that culminate with one of the two most important celebrations or feast days of the church year. 

I love Advent. Everything about it speaks to me. The shades of blue, big and small stories from the bible, images of light and dark, the hopeful anticipation in the midst of struggle. Advent is an exercise in contrasts. 

Lent on the other hand is not nearly as playful or vivid… sigh…

While Advent arrives with winter when it is new and exciting, Lent usually comes when we are ready to say goodbye to the snow. And before Lent takes us to Easter, we have to go through Holy Week. Holy Week which is intense, emotional and draining. 

Lent is less like preparing for the Holidays and more of a spiritual spring cleaning or exercise regime. 

Last year, as our second pandemic Lent arrived, many commented on how it felt like Lent had never ended. We had simply wandered in the wilderness for most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. 

Yet today in March of 2022 when the pandemic that has dominated our attention for the better part of 2 years, it is about 4th place in terms of headline news right now.

Someone on Twitter commented that if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were in a horse race, Famine and Death would have been strong for a long time. But Pestilence made a big comeback 2 years ago, only to have War surprise everyone in this homestretch. 

With all that is happening in our world these days – war, protests, economic disaster, disease and more – it can be hard to feel like our small Lenten practices are of any impact. It is a lot easier to watch, listen to, or read the news and feel hopeless about the world. 

And yet, I wonder if taking on a Lenten practice this year might be just what we need more than ever. It can look like giving something up like chocolate, coffee, tv or meat. It can be taking something on like daily prayer and scripture reading, giving alms, or watching mid-week Lenten services (Wednesdays at 7PM on the Facebook Page). 

Having something small and out of our usual routines to focus on each day as a way to draw our attention back to God may be just what is needed these days. When the problems of the world are too much to bear, those small reminders that we do not walk in this wilderness alone can carry us through to the promise of Easter. 

In the early church, Lent wasn’t just a season to wallow in the wilderness waiting for Good Friday. Lent was (and is) the season when catechumens (essentially adult confirmation students) would finalize their preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. And usually all those already baptized would join in the preparation as a reminder of their own baptism. 

Lent and its seasonal practices are meant to provide little disruptions in our lives. Moments and practices that wake us up from the rest of life, and turn us back to God. Turns us back to the promises of God found in baptism of forgiveness, life and salvation. 

Promises that we certainly need reminding of right now, week to week and day to day. 

And so I invite you to consider what your Lent will look like this year and what it might include for you.

Pastor Erik+

Behind-the-Scenes-Philip and the Greeks who Want to See Jesus

John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 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…

Lent has been long and hard on us this year. Lent has been a long and hard year. Usually, this 5 week season of preparation for Holy Week is about opening us up to Jesus’ work in the world, helping us to see just where God is doing important work in our world. Instead of that, this year has felt like stumbling through the wilderness, learning to trust that God is leading us somewhere, even if we cannot see the way. 

We began Lent as Jesus showed us that wilderness is not the scary place we imagine, but where God meets God’s people. We continued as Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death, and we were shown how our fears get in the way of seeing God’s work. We then watched as Jesus overturned tables in the temple, accusing people of selling God and we were shown that our own tables have been turned right side up. 

And last week, Jesus reminded us that the familiar verse of John 3:16 is not exactly the verse we hope to use to convert those around us, but instead comes in the context of a reminder of how we are condemned already… and it is in our dark world that God shines a light, even if that light stings a little. 

As Lent concludes this week, the disciple Philip is milling about the busy religious marketplace of Jerusalem. This scene actually comes after the triumphant entry, where Jesus rides into town on a Donkey. 

Unlike Peter, James and John, Philip is not a leader among the disciples. He is more of a background kind of guy. Peter is the one who speaks up as the leader of the group, even if he is putting his foot in his mouth half of the time. James and John are vying to be Jesus’ second in command. The three got to go up the mountain with Jesus. But Philip is behind the scenes. While Jesus is teaching the masses, Philip is finding the boy with 5 small loves and 2 fish to feed the 5000. Today, Philip is away from the action, from the crowds surrounding Jesus. 

And this is where some Greek Jews come to him. They are from far away. They have come to the Holy city for passover… perhaps this will be their only chance in a lifetime to be in Jerusalem for the festival. As foreigners, they are unfamiliar with the city, but they have probably heard about this rabbi and teacher who rode into town like a King.”Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they ask. 

Philip, uncertain, goes to Andrew. Together, they leave the Greeks behind to go and talk to Jesus, who gives them a long speech.

If Philip were a church member today, he would be an usher or greeter. He would be one of those volunteers who likes behind-the-scenes work. Peter, James and John might be up front preaching, reading the lessons, conducting the choir, or on church council. Philip would be in early to make coffee, he would probably have picked up some doughnuts for a snack after church. While others are up front leading or taking charge, Philip was the disciple looking for a place to eat or sleep, he is the one making sure that people are looked after and that everyone has what they need. 

But when the Greeks come looking for Jesus, when that visitor walks in the door of the church, he knows how to pass out a bulletin or a cup of coffee… but he isn’t so sure about taking people to meet Jesus. 

If I had to guess, it would seem that many church members are Philips. Faithful people diligently working behind the scenes, caring for each other.

And up until a year ago, we knew how to care for each other. We had tools and habits that we could rely on to maintain community. The chit chat with a sibling in Christ while setting up communion or washing coffee dishes. The conversations in the narthex following worship, or before choir practice, or in the parking lot after a committee meeting. 

And like Philip, the faithful and diligent behind-the-scenes disciple, we find ourselves out of our normal context. Our usual habits and tools for building and caring for community have been ripped away from us. Instead we have been forced to build and maintain community in the comments section of a Facebook video, and over sometimes awkward zoom calls “Gladys, I can’t hear you, you are on mute!”

And we have had to learn to be intentional about reaching out with phone calls and emails and check-ins. We have had to find new ways to be together and collaborate as community. Finding that nice spot in a house to film yourself doing a reading, singing hymns into your iPhone hoping that it can all be mixed together for Sunday, delivering sermon packages and hymnals, teaching an elder relative in faith how to zoom, sharing the peace with text messages and praying over the phone. 

And even as we have been worshipping from home, we have also been revealed to the world in perhaps uncomfortable ways with our worship being on social media, viewable by people across the world. 

Just when our old familiar tools and habits for being church have been ripped away, we have been joined by folks coming to us, wishing to see Jesus in our midst. 

Like Philip, every instinct tells us to go to Andrew instead. In the before time, we might have pointed a visitor asking for Jesus to the bathrooms, showed them how to use a hymnal, waved the pastor over hoping to make quick exit. These days, being out in the open and in the public space of social media might make us uncomfortable or uncertain about what to do when people we don’t know “show up” for worship. 

Before this past year it was easy for us to forget why people walk through church doors in the first place. To forget why we keep coming back again and again. To forget that the volunteer roles we sign up for, the jobs we agree to do, the relationships that become so important to us, the community we form and become a part of are not the things that make us the church.

But this past year has revealed to us a truth more important than ever. That even with all those things that seemed to make a community, those relationships and connections, those habits and tools, those jobs and behind the scenes things that bonded us together… even with all of those things mostly taken away, here we still are still gathering together, still a community of faith.

This past year has revealed the thing that binds us together… the One who binds us together, the One at the centre of the shared faith we confess… the one who has been dragging us through this long season of wilderness. The one that those Greek Jews asked Philip to see. 

When the always helpful Philip goes to Andrew, and the two go to Jesus not sure what to do with these foreigners… 

The Greeks are looking for the King who rode into Jerusalem. 

Yet, Jesus takes their question and steers it in a new direction. 

Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

God is busy drawing all people. All nations. All kinds, young and old, new and familiar, those leading up front and those behind the scenes… God is drawing all of us to the Christ who is lifted up on the cross. God is the ultimate reason that we are all here regular or visitor, seeking and searching or committed and devoted. 

God is gathering us together, and God who is we are ultimately looking for when we show up at church. God is who makes the church the church. God is who finds us, even as we are uncertain at times with what to do with that question, “We wish to see Jesus”

Today, Philip, even though he is not sure how to answer the Greeks, is still trying to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus. 

And Jesus recognizes that too. 

Jesus knows that even when our communities are thrown into turmoil and we have to learn completely new ways of being a community and gather using unfamiliar means and struggle with what to with when people come to us ask “We wish to see Jesus,”… Jesus knows that even with all that we are still trying to be faithful. 

And so God keeps gathering us. Gathering us around the word, proclaimed and shared in the most surprising of ways.  

God works with our faithfulness as it is. And from there, God draws us all to the cross. To the place where Christ will be crucified and will die.  

And yet also the place where death will drag us through the wilderness to the empty tomb. To the place where God’s faithfulness is fully revealed, to the reason that we continue to be and gather as community despite all odds.  To the place where God’s faithfulness is on full display when Jesus is lifted up, drawing us all to God’s love.