Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter ... ready ... set ... go!


Matthew 28:1-10

About three years ago I committed to the Narrative Lectionary.  It is a four-year cycle that takes the congregation through each gospel writer in the winter and spring months, basically from Christmas to Easter.  I am a self-confessed lover of Luke’s gospel.  Last year we were in John and I approached his gospel with a little hesitancy but came to fall in love with his gospel.  This year we have been in Matthew and have had the same reaction I had with John’s gospel.  Matthew is chock full of simple amazingness.  From boundary crossing, to proclaiming that God is out there among those we don’t even know, to surprising us with his account of the resurrection.  His Easter story is breathtaking and unique and so powerful for the church in the United States today. How did I not see it before? 
I’m not sure many have.  I did my usually internet search to get inspired for the children’s moment in worship only to find that so many of them combine the gospel narratives.  Yet they each had their own unique audience and were called to write their own account of how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has brought them closer to God and has opened them to the movement of the Spirit.

In Matthew’s account, the two Mary’s arrive empty handed and I have to wonder why?  Did they not expect to find a body?  Did they already believe in resurrection?  Or were they sure the stone would be immoveable? So why bother bringing spices and oils to anoint their Lord’s body and finish up the funeral preparations that were paused for Sabbath rest?  When they arrive, they experience an earthquake, see the stone rolled away and converse with an angle. While the guards shake in fear and are like dead men, they look inside the empty tomb and then they are off.  There is no lingering, no weeping, no hesitating, no leaving only in fear, not to mention there are no disciples running or coming up after them. Not a single disciple shows up.  Allow that to sink in.
It is just the women who come, looking for something they had lost (as the Greek implies) and they find it!  Into their fear they find joy!  Unexplainable joy that has them off, like a marathon runner, to the disciples and then onto Galilee.  The bold, courageous Mary’s are the first in Matthew’s gospel to be entrusted with the Good News!

What Matthew is telling us is that God isn’t in the grave tending business.  Rather God is in the resurrection business.  Providing us with ways around impossible, fear-filled situations.  Breathing life among the dead parts of our lives and our communities, including our churches.  Matthew seems to want to offer us something beyond grief, a quickened response.  There is no time to grieve what had been, only time to rush forward to see the new thing God is about to do.

How might this empower our congregations to move in new directions?  To look forward, expectant? To know that God is out ahead of us, leading the way forward? 

Today is Easter.  May you be open to the new thing God is doing in your neighborhood!  May you quicken your pace as you push past fear and allow joy to enter in. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

An extravagant gift


John 12:1-8

John’s gospel will call us to examine how the God of the cosmos who graciously created all that is,
calls us to be good stewards of this creation. 

Even during Jesus’ final days, it is brought to light.
John is good about highlighting contrasts:
Light and darkness
Good and Evil
Life and Death
Abundance and Scarcity

John fleshes out this final pairing by sharing stories of an alternative economy contrasted against the old existing one, in our passage for today. 

John is full of stories of this alternative economy
that is rooted in the abundance of God. 
He lends so much detail to the stories
that we can begin to believe
that the old economy is really the myth that we have bought into,
a myth that tells us that there is not enough to go around, we have to look out only for ourselves,
we have to hoard, protect and hold onto.

Mary however leaned into this alternative economy. 
She had allowed it to seep into every fiber of her being
until she was breathing it in with every inhalation
and back out into the world with every exhalation.

It began when she sopped up Jesus’s teachings,
like one might use bread to make sure all of the delicious sauce on your plate makes to your taste buds.
While her sister Martha was frantically cleaning the home, Mary sat and listened intently. 
It is here that Jesus first speaks up for Mary,
defending her choice to sit and listen to him teach,
after Martha chastises her for not lending a hand
with the household chores.

This abundance took on new life
when her brother who had been dead for four days,
now emerged from the tomb to live again.

To live in the alternative economy is to participate in the abundance of God.
The outpouring begins with an invitation
for Jesus and his disciples to dine with Mary and her family, Martha and Lazarus.  
They offer up a feast for her brother
that was dead and now is alive,
in response to the abundant gift Jesus has given them.

Yet the food doesn’t take center stage,
instead it is Mary’s additional abundant gift that does. 
She takes an extraordinary amount, almost three quarters of a pound of very expensive perfume
and anoints Jesus feet with it. 
I can only imagine it poured off onto the floor.

Seeping in the cracks,
absorbing into her hair as she dried his feet,
removing the excess. 
I imagine it like a toddler that has gotten into his mother’s nice face cream and has it thickly caked onto his hands, oozing everywhere, making an unbelievable mess.
Leaving’s its imprint everywhere he curiously touched.

The aroma of this gift fills the air as Mary acknowledges
the kingship of Jesus and his abundant kingdom.
Mary’s fierce commitment to the abundance of God is contrasted against Judas. 

Judas you see lives fully in the world of scarcity.  Where there is never enough to go around.  Where we have to look out for ourselves.

How easy it is to vilify Judas here,
believing we would never utter such nonsense. 
How easy is it for us to neglect to notice
when we are like him. 
When the walls of scarcity press in against us,
when we have closed off, turned away,
or refused to help. 
Because in helping we would have to acknowledge when and how we have contributed to the larger systems
that allow some to have and others to go without.

We are not immune to scarcity thinking
just because we have lived into the alternative economy
in small and big ways,
scarcity has way of seeping back into our lives,
filling the nocks and cracks …
or flooding back in if we find ourselves
in a new fearful situation
washing out any abundance
we had begun to live into
welcoming our immersion back into scarcity. 
Scarcity can generously permeate everything
if we allow it to. 
It is good at building walls,
of keeping some in and others out.

Scarcity constricts the flow of forgiveness
and is unbending to the hard work of reconciliation. 
It causes us to love conditionally …
it restricts the gift of mercy and compassion …
it licenses our hatred and sanctions our prejudices …
it permits us to hold onto
that which we possess and choose to be possessed by because we believe the myth of scarcity
that there just isn’t enough to go around. 
It causes us to count and quantify,
measure and weigh every ounce
that we are willing to release.
Even at the table of perhaps what was an abundance of funeral casseroles now turned into a celebratory meal
for the once dead and now alive,
Jesus continues to embody this alternative economy. 
How could he not?

Freshly anointed, he directs even the greatest skeptic to enter into this alternative economy.

The radical abundance of God calls for a response.
It calls us to loosen our grip on our own theology of scarcity so that we can respond graciously and abundantly
to God’s over flowing goodness and generosity
in our lives and in the life of our community.

It calls for us to believe deeply that there is enough, there has always been enough to go around. 
It calls us to respond in ways that help to live in the kingdom for which we pray, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

It calls us to make sure there is enough room
at the table for everyone. 
For it is at the table where God’s feast of welcome is realized, where abundance flows forth,
and grace is embodied,
where there is always enough to go around. Always enough.

Easter ... ready ... set ... go!

Matthew 28:1-10 About three years ago I committed to the Narrative Lectionary.   It is a four-year cycle that takes the congregation t...