Thursday, April 4, 2019

What do you smell?

What do you smell when you walk into your Church building?? I ask the question because of something that is in the Gospel this weekend (John 12.1-8) – that the act of blessing and preparing Jesus for what is about to happen in his life, is fragrant and it fills the entire house. That is very different from what it was not that long ago when Lazarus died and Jesus wasn’t there to prevent. The house smelt and felt of sadness and fear. It smelt of anger and disappointment. After all, Jesus good have made things better and stopped all that nonsense.

But then what is going on in the house is both weird and a reversal of the first time that Jesus was in that house. Martha is in the Kitchen cooking and given directions to others. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus and the apostles, learning for the Teacher. Stop. Think that one through. A man that was dead and laid in the grave is learning and sitting at the table with Jesus and the others. How wild is that!

And then Mary does something to turn the situation on its head yet again. She takes something that is of great worth in her life, a pottery container of pure nard. Her family would have saved up for it to present it as part of her dowry when she got married. She breaks off the top and pours generous amounts of it on the only part of Jesus’s body that she can easily reach: his feet and shins. Mary lets down her hair and begins to rub the oil into his legs and feet using her hair as a towel. The fragrance fills the entire house with the scent of the nard. Mary understood what was happening and she responded to it by using what she had in the situation. She recognized the moment as a moment of blessing and of grace and she seized the opportunity to show kindness and caring for her Teacher. It was a sacred moment. For the two of them and for those who watched the encounter happen.

Then enters in Judas Iscariot who is noted as a thief and he attempts to steal the moment and the joy by being spiritual. He points out that the nard is now useless to sell and has been wasted on an act of devotion. The Gospel points out that Judas would help himself to what was in the purse. Why would Jesus allow the treasurer to steal from the group… doesn’t he know that Judas is a thief? Is it not possible then Jesus is trying to give Judas every opportunity to turn things around and really believe in him rather than leave him in his own agenda? Let’s face it: sin, left unchecked and undealt with through confession and absolution, festers and grows into death.

That is why we celebrate Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross. He has paid the price and offers life to those who will live in him. He did in his life what was necessary for us to have life. He made an oblation of himself, once offered. A full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. God visits and redeems his people.

And I ask about what you smell because in my last parish when it was raining after a short period of sun, you could smell the incense in the woodwork. It would come wafting out as a reminder of the presence of God among his people as they pray. A reminder of why we worship and why we pray. Thanks be to God.                                      


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Crossing the Threshold

It might surprise you to know that God is more interested in the brilliance of your repentance that in the darkness of your sin. It is not about how bad you’ve been but about how ready you are to live the life that you were created to live. And he is interested in inviting you to his home and to his Father’s table that you would come in, sit down and dine with him. (Luke 15.1-3; 11-32) Please understand that there are going to be other people there, they might not like it – that Jesus invited you to come and sit down. They might not like you, but then, I remember once hearing that you can pick your friends, but God chooses your family. They are going to have to learn to live with it. The parables of “the lost and found” are to help communicate to people who don’t know what it is like to be lost or dead, though many of them are lost and/or dead themselves.

The parables tell us about God: who God is and the nature of God. Parables tell us about how God acts and what God does. So, if we think about the home of this family and the two boys, one ought to ask which boy is lost? Surely it must be the younger one and so he was. He needs to discover what it was that he had with his father and he did not have on his own – love and compassion. What about the older brother, what does he need? What about joy? He has everything else in his life that people say they want: a nice home with parents who love him. He has a job and wealth. He has peace and security. But there is no joy in his life. He is so busy trying to be good and to be faithful and to not be the family black sheep that the joy of living life is pretty much removed from his existence. Both of those boys from a good home are lost and dead on the inside.

What is the saving grace? The fact that the Father is not willing to sit on the sidelines, wringing his hands and do nothing. He wants to have better and deeper relationships with both of his sons. He wants to be able to show his sons just how much he loves them and takes pride in them and their accomplishments. This is why when the Father sees the younger son coming home, he rushes to greet (and kiss) him as a sign of peace between them. He welcomes the boy home and returns him to his place of honour, puts a robe on him and places a ring on his hand to display his sonship and authority within the household.

He then crosses the threshold to go again to the older boy who is hiding out in the barn having heard the celebration in the house and being told that his little brother is back. He laments that his Father never gave him anything like this – not even a goat to prepare and have as a meal with his friends. He has failed to enter into his Father’s life and to participate in it and in doing so to learn how to rejoice over the lost being found and the dead being found alive. His Father tries to draw him into the house, to leave his selfishness behind but then leaves him to stand in the middle of the yard and allow his conscience to argue with him. After all, brothers are brothers.

When it comes to me and you, I often hear people say things like, “Oh, I am not religious, I am spiritual.” And they’re more likely to believe in “The Force” than in an everlasting Father. Yet God is moving over the threshold to come and draw us into the house so that we too can join the celebration. God desires to welcome us home so that we can have what we were made for: a relationship with him and with each other. It is what we hope and long for.