Tag Archives: Sermon

Plan B, C, D or E for the Church

GOSPEL: John 17:20-26
Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

It was three days before my 30th birthday, and after 3 and half years of being a pastor, I felt like I had preached too many times on mass shootings in my short time in ministry. But the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting felt different, the unspeakably tragic nature of that event seemed like it would finally change the gun culture of our neighbours to the south. 

Instead,10 years later, is both too easy and too hard to recount countless shootings in nightclubs, hotels, places of worship, high schools and again another elementary school. 

And so here we are this week reeling from another mass shooting of children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. 

Where will it end, O Lord?

Today, is the last Sunday in the season of Easter, but it hardly feels like a time to celebrate. And yet, in the midst of tragedy, we remember the horrific events to which the empty tomb is revealed as the good news. As the world has a way of laying death before our feet when we least expect, Easter has a way of turning even that reality upside down and revealing to us that new life that comes from the grave. As we ask when the violence will end, God reminds us that Easter is God’s answer for us in the midst suffering and death. 

And so… for these seven weeks we have been walking along with the disciples through their initial surprise encountering the risen Christ and then God’s calling these followers of Jesus as they are transformed into the Body of Christ – the Church. We have heard again how they were and we are being prepared to be the body of Christ in the world. And with all of it coming to a head on Pentecost next week, as we mark the birth of the church. 

But before we get there, we are left with two seemingly contrasting stories about where the early followers of Jesus were headed. 

In one, we are silent eavesdroppers on a conversation, a prayer between God the Father and Christ the Son. In it Jesus commends this little band of misfits, outsiders and the least likely leaders to his father. And what comes from this handing over is a promise that this community of Christ’s followers are not left alone, and that those who belong to Christ are brought into the life of the Trinity, into the mission and activity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

And then in the other story, we see the unfolding and surprising ministry of Paul and Silas as they go about the Greek world. As the two make their way to Phillipi with the intention of ministering to the fledging community there, they are interrupted by a slave girl who has been given the gift of divination. 

The slave girl and her interruptions soon become an annoyance to Paul… and so he decides to cast out the spirit possessing her. This gets Paul into trouble, and the slave girl’s owners set to Paul and Silas to beat them and have them thrown in prison because they have just lost their lucrative source of income. 

Once in prison Paul and Silas start another new ministry to the prisoners only to have that interrupted by an earthquake and then a fearful guard contemplating taking his own life, for whom Paul must again change course and do something about. 

While maybe not obvious at first, the contrast between the two stories is striking. In one Jesus promises divine providence for the community of his followers. In the other, every plan for ministry that Paul has goes off the rails because of interruptions rooted in tragedy and suffering. 

The promise that God will provide glory and providence for the community of faith and the reality of how ministry is experienced in practice seem to diverge quite a bit.

On some level we know what Paul and Silas were experiencing. We too tend to have certain visions for ministry. We bear expectations for what church, for what our community faith, should look like. And yet, we also know what it is like when those expectations and visions aren’t realized. We know what it is to have our visions for church interrupted by the wrong kind of people, to have suffering and tragedy interrupt our plans. 

Another mass shooting, ever increasing cases of pandemic-19, run away inflation, war in Ukraine all seem to make us feel as though God is far away from us. 

The struggles of work, family life, young children, aging parents, retirement planning, declining health, and figuring how to re-enter into an uncertain pandemic world get in way of taking time for faith. 

The realities of tight budgets, tired volunteers, and a past that seems better than the future, expenses that keep going up and dollars that didn’t go as far as they used to keep us from looking forward with hope and believing that God has good things in mind for us. 

Our visions and expectations for ministry are so easily interrupted these days, and along with brothers and sisters in faith here in the pews, across Winnipeg and Manitoba, across Canada and North America we don’t know what to do about it. 

Paul didn’t know what do either… and maybe that is the point. 

There is, of course, an interesting thing about the story of Paul and Silas: while they were being interrupted by the slave girl, she was telling everyone that these two men knew about salvation. And while Paul acted out of annoyance, he freed a suffering girl from possession. And while Paul was busy trying to minister to the other prisoners while in prison, it was the jailer who needed to hear the good news. 

Even in the midst of some of the worst things imaginable, some of the worst suffering – slavery, exploitation, violence and false imprisonment – the gospel finds a way through. Even though it was not what Paul was expecting, even though it wasn’t even according to plan B or C or D… the gospel broke into the world precisely in the midst of the interruptions of human suffering. 

It is not say that the good news only comes when there is bad stuff happening, but rather than in the midst of the mess and chaos of human life, the gospel has no problem breaking in. And the gospel doesn’t need our plans to be realized to be preached and to be heard. 

In fact, our plans seem to have relatively little to do with where the good news of Jesus who died and rose again for us is made known. 

Paul had one idea for Philippi, but God had another. 

And just maybe that is the promise that Jesus is talking about with the Father. Not a promise that our visions and expectations will be realized, but a promise that in the midst of the real messiness and chaos of the world, the gospel will break through and break in. 

The good news of this upside down, unexpected God found in Jesus wouldn’t make sense if it could only be preached when all the plans come together, when all the visions are realized, when all the expectations are met. The good news of this Jesus makes perfect sense preached in the midst of our plans gone wrong addressing the realty of our suffering world. 

Jesus’s promise that suffering and death are not the end makes sense when it comes to us in the midst of shootings, pandemic, inflation and war. 

God’s naming and claiming as God’s own in the waters of baptism reminds us of who we are as we navigate the struggles of daily life, of family, work, community, health, retirement and on and on. 

Christ’s presence among us in the Body of Christ remains the same even as congregations struggle to keep up with this shifting and changing world. 

The forgiveness and mercy of God help us to change and grow, even as we don’t always understand the people and things around us and how to adapt to them.  

The good news of this Jesus makes perfect sense preached in the midst of this community of misfits and outsiders called the body of Christ, it makes prefect sense that it comes to us in Word, Water, Bread and Wine shared here in our imperfect, messy, and chaotic community of faith. 

And so, on this last Sunday of Easter that doesn’t really feel Easter-y we hear two seemingly contradictory stories that fit perfectly together. That remind us that God always comes in our imperfections and plan Bs, Cs, Ds, and Es and struggling messy moments of suffering and surprise… because that is where we are. 

And where we are is where God in Christ breaks through to find us and tell us again of God’s promise of New life for us. 

Walking to Emmaus and re-learning the story faith

GOSPEL: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad….

Everything about the Easter Sunday story suggests that it should wrap up the story of Holy Week. All the way back from when we shift from Christmas and Epiphany telling the story of Jesus’ birth, to the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday on which Jesus is set on the path of his ministry of the Kingdom. From that moment on as we journey through Lent, the climax of Good Friday is in the background. Lent is not a 40 day long Good Friday, but there is a narrative arc that we recognize. Like an epic movie everything along the way serves to hurdle us to the big confrontation moment on Golgatha beneath the cross of Jesus. 

The empty tomb should be like the hero emerging from the wreckage, the moment of celebration that brings the story to a close. 

Except it isn’t. 

The Easter morning stories are full of confusion and uncertainty and more questions than answers. The resurrect Christ doesn’t spawn a “hero escapes death so don’t ask too many questions just be happy” moment, but instead a whole new wrinkle to a story that supposed to be wrapping up. 

And here we are on the 2nd Sunday of Easter still unpacking just what on earth is going on. 

It seems that the story of Jesus is less like an epic movie and more like a serialized TV season that ends on a cliffhanger, and today we starting season 2. 

We pick up the story right after Peter has gone to verify the unbelievable story of the women last week. Two disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a town near to Jerusalem. 

On the way, these two are met by another traveller. This travelling companion incredibly seems to know nothing about what has just happened over the past week in Jerusalem. Yet when the disciples recount the story from trial and crucifixion to the morning reports of the empty tomb from the unreliable women.

To which the unknown travelling companion proceeds to explain to them how the events of holy week fit into the Scriptures. And still these two disciples don’t recognize that the one travelling with them is Jesus. 

It seems a bit absurd that these two wouldn’t be to recognize their teacher and master. Was Jesus wearing a disguise? Were they blinded by their grief? Did God close their eyes to seeing?

I think there might be another explanation, one that relates to us and this moment in time. 

2000 years on from the first Easter we are stilling figuring out how this story unfolds and works together, let alone those first disciples who had just lived through it. Stories are how we understand this world. Stories and narrative help us construct meaning. Stories are the vehicles for us to make sense of things. It is why we go back a rehearse in our mind the events of an experience that we cannot make sense of, it is why we rely on eye witness testimony so heavily, it is why we are enraptured by good movies, books, tv shows, songs, artwork or a good story teller. 

So these two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t understand the story of Holy Week yet, they couldn’t see Jesus because they didn’t know or understand the story of how he could be walking with them. 

Throughout our journey we too are sorting out just what all we have lived through means for us. As pandemic waves rise and recede with different degrees and risk to our health…

As War in Ukraine and elsewhere stretches out into a longer and more horrific than we every imagined reality…

As we navigate global, national and local uncertainty from the price of milk to the dangers of gas ranges to ongoing and persistent weather and climate crisis… 

As we ponder and wonder and worry about the future of our local communities here, even here at Sherwood Park…

We too do not know the ending of our story. We don’t know how to piece it all together yet and there is no precedent, no version that we have heard before that will provide the guidance we so desperately want. 

And so seeing Jesus among us is just as difficult. Even as he walks with us along our paths we may be just as oblivious as those two disciples. 

Just as Easter wasn’t the end of the story but the next season or next chapter, our story is nowhere near ending…but instead how it will all shake remains to be seen and lived. 

So when Jesus join his disciples on their walk down the road to Emmaus, they have more questions than answers. But rather than just coming out with who he is, Jesus takes the disciples back to the beginning, back to the stories they do know. The stories of God’s people. To the scriptures, the stories of faith. Stories told to children from the moment they are born. Stories told in homes and in the synagogue, stories that help to mark the passage of the days and the years, stories that gave frames of meaning, symbols, images and metaphors that helped them to understand their lives and their world. 

And just as the prophets foretold the coming of Messiah, just as John the Baptist preached out the wilderness, just as Jesus himself preached in the towns and countryside while doing miracles, Jesus begins with the stories they know already. And then Jesus interprets the stories in light of the promised Messiah. 

Yet, still the disciples don’t recognize Jesus. 

So finally when they reach Emmaus, Jesus takes the disciples back to Maundy Thursday. To the breaking and blessing of bread, where Jesus had been revealed to his disciples anew in the ancient familiar meal of faith – the passover meal.  

And all of sudden, these two disciples have a story to tell. They have seen this moment before. They have seen this One breaking the bread before. They know this stranger, they recognize the Christ. The Christ who has come to give them a new story of faith to tell. A story that begins at the Last Supper, that descends to arrest, trial and crucifixion and seemingly ends on cross. But now a story that continues on the Third Day with empty tombs, appearances behind locked doors, and revelations in the breaking of bread. 

Jesus has tied all the events of the last week to their familiar stories of faith, and Jesus has given these disciples a new story to tell, a story that makes sense and meaning of crucifixion, death, resurrection and new life. Jesus brings together the ancient stories of faith to the story of the crucified and risen Messiah.

The story of faith that we have been telling for 2000 years since: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. 

The story that Jesus is taking us back to in this moment, even in the midst of our crisis, our inability to make sense of things and to understand this moment. 

The story of faith that is grafted onto our bones from the moment we are born and then reborn in baptism. The story that is told in homes and at church. The story that helps us mark the passage of days and years. The story that gives us the frames of meaning, symbols, images, and metaphors that help us understand our world. 

And Jesus reminds us that this story of faith has room for us and our recent string of uncertainty and struggle. We might not have been here before, but the Christ who meets us on this journey has. 

Jesus walks along side us in our confusion and uncertainty, reminding us that our familiar stories of faith still have room for our unknown stories of our present. And Jesus promises to see us through, to see us all the way to the new reality that awaits us in this new world of ours. Jesus promises that even this world of frequent tumult and regular uncertainty is nothing new or out of the ordinary for God.

And from here, Jesus takes us back to our beginnings, to the familiar story of breaking bread that we know so well. And in this moment, in this story Jesus is present and known to us, even when we don’t fully understand what is happening and where we are going. 

And so as we search for our story to tell, for the story that will tell us how to live in this new upside down world, Jesus reminds that there is a story that we already know. It begins with the breaking of bread, and continues through suffering and death, but surprises us again and again with an empty tomb, new life and a risen Christ. 

Who Gets to Tell the Easter Story?

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

We have arrived. Through this long season of Lent, through the challenges of Holy Week. We have arrived at the day of the resurrection, the empty tomb and promise of a new creation. 

And yet there is some discomfort. This isn’t like Advent that builds to the birth followed by a couple of weeks of holidays over Christmas. Easter morning brings a lot of discomfort. If Maundy Thursday was the funeral lunch, and Good Friday the burial. Today is the moment of wondering, “Okay, now what?”

But it is more than just not knowing what comes next. It is more than sorting through all that has taken place. It is wondering about how this story will be told? Who will tell it? Who gets to tell it?

We can see already, that the question of who gets to tell the Easter story was there on the first morning. The disciples didn’t believe the first reports, they had to verify. 

And some 2000 Easters later, the question remain. Who will this Easter story? Who gets to tell it? Who should tell it? Questions that add some unexpected discomfort to our Easter experience. In a world of Pandemic, Protests, Inequality, Racism and Colonialism, War, Violence and death… who tells this Easter story is still a question we have NOT truly answered. 

Being uncomfortable with this story and who gets to preach it is not something new. In fact, Luke tells us that discomfort with the resurrection story and the ones telling it is as old as the story itself. 

Three women have gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. It was only on Friday, three days ago that they watched Jesus die on the cross. And because of the sabbath (Saturday), his body hadn’t been properly prepared for burial. They were on their way to do this last thing, one final act of love for Jesus. 

But they arrive at the tomb, and the stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. Luke says the women were perplexed, but that hardly seems to describe what these women were probably feeling. 

And then a couple of guys in dazzling white clothes show up and tell these “perplexed” women that Jesus has been raised from the dead. 

This isn’t an “Aha” moment. This is more of a “Holy (you fill in the blank)” moment. 

And in that “holy” moment the women are snapped from their grief, their perplexity, their terror and are reminded of what Jesus had been telling them the whole time. 

And they go racing back to tell the other disciples. 

And it is at this point that Luke really starts to get interesting. 

The women go back to tell their news to the “male” disciples. But the men think it is nonsense. Now what the english translation says is that the men think it is an “idle tale.” You know, the kind of inane chit chat of no importance that men think they can just tune out because it’s the womenfolk talking. But that is not what the greek says. The greek says the men hear the story as nonsense or crazy or nuts. The kind of story you hear someone tell and you respond by saying, “No way, that’s not possible, that didn’t happen.”

And then the english translation says the men didn’t believe the women, as if the men actually took the time to consider the content of their story. But the greek says the men didn’t trust the women. The story wasn’t believable because of who was telling it. The men didn’t bother listening to the story right from the beginning.

And then there is the last bit about Peter. Peter runs off to check the tomb for himself. Why would he do that if he didn’t trust the women enough to listen to their idle chit chat in the first place? Well, in most bibles there is a little footnote that comes at the end of this verse about Peter’s “checking on things” at the tomb.

The footnote that explains that verse 12 (this whole bit about Peter verifying what the women had reported) is not included in other ancient manuscripts. Or in other words, the verse is likely an addition to the story. 

So here we have this story of the resurrection that is hard enough to make sense of on its own but the real problem with this story seems to be not with the story itself, but with the people who have been chosen to tell it. The disciples think the women’s story is nonsense because they are untrustworthy women. Recent English translators, who still have a problem with the fact that women are the first ones to tell the story, try to turn the nonsensical report into an idle tale – something not even worth being listened to at all by the men. 

And to top it off, the early christian community added this bit about Peter verifying what the women reported so that somebody credible would be the one telling the story of the resurrection. Because Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Jesus’ own mother Mary weren’t credible witnesses on their own because they were women.

Oh, how things haven’t changed.

As hard as it is to makes sense of somebody being raised from the dead, our real problem is still with who gets to tell the story. 

Christians have spent a lot of time and energy in the past 2000 years telling people who can and who cannot tell the story of Jesus. And it’s not just women. Christians at various times have told people of colour, LGBT people, poor people, uneducated people, and even lay people that they are not among God’s chosen story tellers. 

For some reason our issue has been less with the content of the resurrection story itself than the character of the ones chosen to tell it. 

Because it is hard to believe that of all the people to find the empty tomb, God sends the very people who were considered untrustworthy and unreliable as witnesses. 

How would this story have been different if the disciples simply trusted the women?

When the women arrive at the tomb, early on that Sunday morning they were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Mary’s son, Mary Magdalene’s and Joanna’s friend and teacher. They expected to be anointing a body with spices and oils. They were expecting to finish the Jesus story for good, one last goodbye to the one they loved. 

They most certainly did not expect that all that crazy talk that Jesus had been going on about for 3 years to be true. Betrayal, trial, crucifixion… and now resurrection. They did not expect to find the living among the dead, they did not expect that Jesus had been raised. 

They didn’t yet understand just what Jesus’ death and resurrection had accomplished. They did not know yet that the Risen Christ overturns and undoes the established orders of the world. The first order of which is the established order of death. The Risen Christ upends the order of death and replaces it with a new order, a new system, a new way – Resurrection and New Life. 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. The Risen Christ also overturns the established order of power and privilege. It cannot be understated just how significant it is that the first witnesses (and therefore preachers) of the resurrection are those without power, those on the margins, those whose testimony is discounted before it is even given because they cannot be considered “trustworthy” by decent and proper folks.

When these women are met with news of the resurrection, they would not have expected that of all the disciples that they would be the ones called upon to deliver this news – Jesus has risen. They weren’t the leaders, the gifted ones, the talented ones, the respected ones. They weren’t even considered trustworthy by the disciples who knew them well. They were just women. They were forgotten, unimportant, unworthy. They were not the kind of people anybody would expect to be called upon to carry out such an important task. They were the wrong people. 

But for the Risen Christ, they were the right people. Because the God of New Life has turned the world upside down. Death is now Life. The Powerful are now the powerless. The weak and lowly are lifted up. And the wrong people to deliver this news, the wrong people like those women… for God, they are exactly the right people. 

The Risen Christ completely changes our world and our reality, Christ’s death and resurrection turns everything and everyone upside down. All the old orders, all the ways in which we told others and in which we were told we aren’t good enough – those orders, those ways are ended. And the Risen Christ says the good news of new life is for not just for the right people, not just for the wrong people. The Good News is for all. Resurrection and New Life is for us. 

And maybe that is crazy nonsense in a world like ours. 

But it is not crazy nonsense for God. 

Good Friday is neither special nor unique

John 18:1-19:42

Good Friday is neither special nor unique.

What happens on Good Friday is no different than what happens others days. 

One falsely convicted man killed by a merciless and cruel government is barely even news-worthy in our world. 

Jesus was no unarmed black man killed by the cops, causing marches in the streets, social media hashtags and widespread shows of support. Jesus’ followers hid away after his death. 

Jesus was no Ukrainian family shelled in from of new cameras by careless or cruel Russian military. Only a few devoted followers wept for Jesus. The whole world weeps for Ukraine and the atrocities committed there. 

Jesus was no missing and murdered indigenous woman, no victim of residential schools. His beating, his death did not spark an inquiry. His unmarked grave did not spark an apology from the Pope himself.

There were no news reports for the crucifixion. There were no hashtags like #PrayforJesus. There were no flags to put on profile pictures, no pundits or reporters or commentators who talked and talked and talked. 

Good Friday is not special. It is just another day for us. 

Good Friday is everyday in our world. 

Just in the past year we have come up with so many new names for Good Friday, so many new names for the violence and death that we simply cannot end:

Kyiv, Bucha, Kharkiv, Mariupol. Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Sacramento, Kabul. Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan.

Putin, the Kremlin, Zelenskyy, COVID-19, Variants, Omicron. Convoys, protests, truckers. Inflation, housing, poverty. January 6th, Capitol Riot, Insurrection. Residential schools, reconciliation, climate change.

Our list of new Good Friday words is so long we forget what we were listing off in the first place. 

Our list of new Good Friday words is so long that we forget them almost as soon as we create them. 

Our list of new Good Friday words makes us numb. 
Our list makes violence and death feel normal. 

The first Good Friday was not special. One man died on a cross. 

One man who angered those in power, so they go rid of him. 
One man who didn’t give the chanting crowds their King, so they started shouting crucify. 
One man whose own followers betrayed and abandoned him in his worst hour.

Jesus died like the rest of us, 
Jesus suffered violence and cruelty and hate like the rest of us,
Jesus was just another person to suffer an unjust and merciless death, 

The cross of Good Friday was not special.

Except that not being special is what makes Good Friday special.
We didn’t think that God would be on that cross. 
We didn’t think that God would die at our hands. 

The cross of Good Friday was not special, the violence of the death was not special, the ones who condemned were not special. 

The one who died was. 
The one who died changed everything. 
The one who died was God.

Today, God has died. On Good Friday God has died. 

And all those other words for Good Friday, for death and violence in our world. Those words from that list so long we forget. Those words lose their power. All those days of death and violence and suffering that seem to come at us unrelentingly from the news, from around the world, from our backyards.

All those Good Fridays that seem to happen far too often. 

They lose their power. 

Because the God who died, died with us. 
Because the God who died, lived with us. 
Because the God who died, loved with us.

God died on Good Friday.

But death did not destroy God. 
And God is not forgotten.
And God is not finished. 

Good Friday and all our other words for violence and death are not bigger than God is. 
On Good Friday, God who is bigger than death showed us something new. 
On Good Friday God gave us truly new words. Words that change the world.

Words likes:

Mercy
Forgiveness
Compassion 
Grace
Love

New words that God uses to change us. 

On Good Friday God dies with us.

But what is ended,
What is finished,
What is over is,
the power of death.

On Good Friday death is ended. 
On Good Friday death is no more
On Good Friday death will never have the final word.

Today, on Good Friday, God has a new word. 

One word that changes everything.  

Life. 

__________________________________

Artwork –  Golgotha by Edvard Munch, 1900.

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.