Sunday, March 25, 2007
It is a pleasure to be here this morning. Each time I get up to do this it gets a little easier….but only just a little. There is a point along the way where I say to myself, “ Why oh why did I agree to do this? Is it too late to take a plane to Calgary?” But that only lasts for a while. I would like to thank Ian Gilchrist for his words last week about how when lay people get up to speak we shouldn’t expect a theological argument or some kind thesis because this is not our field of expertise. You know, I have been confused about this before thinking that I was supposed to know about all this stuff …..and some how impart the Word of God to you…. And I always felt like I talked about myself too much (which probably is true). But what Ian said made sense what we have to share is our experience and our stories……I really like that he said that.
Anyway, to me the bible is a book filled with stories and what I would like to talk a bit about this morning is the reading from John 12, which as we heard is the story of Jesus having supper with his friends, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. There are a lot of events going on at this time. It is six days before the Passover celebration, there is much speculation over whether Jesus will be attending. The chief priests are plotting to have Jesus arrested and killed. They’ve become frightened by his popularity and fear the message that he brings to the people. The story prior to this in John is that of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Many people were witness to this miracle and many were attracted to Jesus by it and some fearing it, had reported him to the authorities.
So the fact that Lazarus is at the table is a miraculous one! He had been sick and died and Jesus called him forth out of the tomb after he had been dead for four days. I was thinking about this miracle a lot this week, this Easter story of the victory of life over death – Lazarus and Jesus.
I had coffee with a friend of mine this morning, who, like Lazarus, is back from the dead. He is a man who many of you may have seen two years or so ago panhandling downtown, drunk and stoned, living up on the rocks in the summer and sleeping in an abandoned vehicle in the winter. I had known him for along time and I was one of the people who passed him by and said, “ He is going to die, he is not going to make it back this time, he is too far gone, he is going to die.” Fortunately for him, others acted differently and seeing that he was in fact going to die on the street, put him in the hospital. Once he physically began to recover, he asked for God’s help to stay alive and begin his journey in sobriety again. The first time I saw him after he got out of the hospital, I was so happy to see him. I was amazed that he was alive and at that moment my heart was filled with such joy. A walking, talking miracle of God’s love. I know if we look closely will see this happen in our own lives. A time when we are dead inside and brought back by to life by someone’s love and care. When I asked my friend if I could use a part of his story in today’s reflection he said, “Kathy, my story is your story.” I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s right too! It is my story.”
So anyway, Lazarus is back from the dead and at this meal with his sisters, the disciples and Jesus. I see this as a joyous occasion, Lazarus is alive, they are all together, but one tinged with sadness as well, because they know Jesus is in danger. Martha was serving…. Well of course she was, thank God for the Marthas, thank God for the men and women who make their houses places of warmth and acceptance. Those who provide hospitality and this wonderful gift that they extend to us and that Martha offered to Jesus on this day. We don’t have to think of Martha as the drudge but rather the talented and treasured friend who creates a restful, peaceful place for Jesus and their friends to relax and visit. Mary takes the pound of precious perfume and puts it on Jesus feet. Her heart was full to the brim with her love for her friend Jesus and gratitude to him for the gift of Lazarus’s life. I don’t think we should underestimate the depth of Mary’s feelings here. I think she knows that Jesus is going to be killed, I think she knows that things will never be the same, that this may be one of the last times she will spend with Jesus. She wants to show him how much she cares and she wants to comfort him. I think the disciples were in denial at this time, they didn’t really want to listen to Jesus talk about his death or what was going happen. Mary pours out her love for Jesus in this act. She dries his feet with her hair. Pretty intimate act and risky too, as we can see from the reaction of Judas, not just because it took money from the treasury that Judas wanted for himself because the reading tells us he was a thief but because Mary was acting in a somewhat outrageous manner. She holds the honored place in this story as the one able to comfort Jesus as he prepares for the rest of his journey. She acted out of the compassion and love in her heart. Oh, that I would act this way more. You know when I was writing this I was thinking about all the gifts that have been given to me, one that kept coming back to me was one that was given to me here in this church. As many of you know, my marriage to my husband ended at this time of year eight years ago. I was in complete shock. I felt like I stepped back and the world was gone out from under me
I was so angry at God and angry at the Church, because I had been doing every right and why didn’t that matter? How could this happen to me when I’d been doing everything right? Anyway, I kept coming to Church with my daughter Jessi beside me but on the other side of me was this gap, this space (huge space) that seemed to be screaming for all to see Your Husband is Gone – Look her husband is gone! Made me feel apart from and less than and like I didn’t belong here anymore. Then after a service one Sunday, a woman from our congregation came up to me and told me what had happened in her marriage, shared her pain and what she had gone on to do. She didn’t give me any advice she simply shared her experience with me. And this was her gift to me, she risked telling me something very personal about herself and like Mary’s actions this gift comforted me. She dared to reach across that space and drew me back into our congregation and helped me feel I felt like I belonged. We can never know the result that our actions will have when we take this risk to reach out in love and compassion.
In the end of this passage from John, Jesus tells the Judas to be quiet and we know that he is grateful for Mary’s gift in the present – given while he is still alive rather than after he is dead. In one of the books I was using, titled All The Women of the Bible by Edith Deen she says “Jesus praised her for her gift to Him who unlike the poor would not always be with them. In his appreciation of her gift, Jesus invited others to enjoy God’s many blessings, not only the lovely things of the earth and the sky and sea but also such a creation as fragrant ointment. She goes on to say about Mary “She had poured out her precious ointment in wholehearted devotion to the living Jesus and her broken alabaster vase would fill the world with its fragrance down the ages. Don’t you love that? As it filled the room where Jesus was, it would fill the world with its fragrance down the ages. This beautiful gift of comfort that Mary gave to Jesus. Today let us see ourselves in Mary, a friend to Jesus, able to help him face what is ahead. Today let’s follow Mary’s example, let’s act while we can. Let’s reach out and show the people in our lives that we love them. Let’s not let our fear of ridicule or embarrassment get in the way .
Now, no reflection of mine would be complete without some mention of my father…..we had some difficulties over the years. Although there were times in my life I have feared and hated him, I have always loved him (if you know what I mean). Today whenever I phone him or see him the last thing I say to him is “ I love you Dad.” And he says, “Ummhumm” which means he loves me too. So it has only taken me 50 years to learn to not be afraid to tell him that I love him. Sometimes it takes as long as it takes, but I’m glad he has lived long enough for me to be able to do it. It is a small thing, but I feel like it is one of the major accomplishments of my lifetime.
In closing, I would remind you of the amazing gift that God gave us as it says in John – For God so loved the world God gave us Jesus – Bread for the Journey. Amen.