Alleluias and Jazz Hands

Pastor Jay’s Sermon from Easter Sunday.

Readings: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12.

I’m not sure how many of you know this, or how many of your will be shocked by this, but I was in theater in high school. In fact, I am an award winning actor for my work in high school. But before you think I’m going to break into song, I just wanted to impart a little wisdom that our director always told us: no matter what happens in the middle always end on the right note. And throw in jazz hands. Jazz hands always help.

So…what does that have to do with the Resurrection we celebrate this morning? Well, I can’t help but think that those men in dazzling clothes were sent by someone like my director. No matter what has just happened or what kind of mess these women show up to not knowing what happened to the body of their dead teacher, these two men show up in sequins and gold lame, stand on either side of the tomb, and wave their jazz hands.

* He’s not here. Yeah. *

But I have to say, if all we care about is ending on the right note and throwing some jazz hands, and we don’t care about all the mess that comes before it, muddling through rough notes and forgotten dance steps, we kinda miss the point.

The women arrived at the tomb having been through quite a weekend. They had come in with the disciples and Jesus on Sunday. They had plucked palm branches. And they washed all those garments that had been thrown all over. Then they cooked dinner. They didn’t mind, they had been doing it since Jesus had started his ministry. They followed this rag tag bunch around and they were used to providing for their needs. But, you know, that was in Galilee. They were on their home turf. They knew the neighbors and knew they had somewhere to stay.

Now here they are in a city not their own and they’ve been staying with friends and family, but still they have spent a week at least not sleeping in their own beds, not cooking with their own pots. They’re a little off kilter. And then they follow the disciples and Jesus into the garden one night and they perhaps brought along a little water, maybe some wine, thinking it was a lovely night to sit out and chat under the stars. And then the mess begins. They start forgetting the dance steps. Or…they didn’t rehearse these dance steps. And the next this they know, having la la la’d their way through a rough night, they’re standing outside of Pilate’s headquarters and their watching their teacher being mocked and sent off to death.

But, stalwart and steady as they are, the women followed Jesus even in steps they didn’t know and singing songs they had never been taught. And they watch from a distance as Jesus dies before their very eyes. And still not giving up, they follow Jesus’ body to the tomb and watch the body being laid inside.

And now they know the steps. They’ve dealt with death before. They go home and prepare the oils and the ointments and the spices and the linen. They’re getting ready to give Jesus a proper burial and not just that hurried burial he got last night.

And they know the steps of Sabbath. And they rest and they worry and they stay. They stay with friends and family and perhaps even strangers in this strange city. And they wait. And then when they can’t stand it anymore, they dance the familiar steps to the tomb they had been to before. Not a tap, not a joyful dance, but a solemn funeral procession. And they get their and everything they had been through up to this point blanks in their heads. They don’t know the lyrics, they don’t know the steps.

And then the show stopper: two men in sequins and gold lame show up and let them know just what happened: Jesus is not here. He has risen. And they throw some jazz hands. And the women slowly remember what it means for them, they slowly remember that they have been given the songs to sing and the dances to dance and they rush back to the disciples full of the dances and songs they had learned with their teacher. And the disciples are just as baffled as they were.

But somehow, together, they stand up and start to learn the steps. The lyrics begin on their lips. And before you know, they’ll be belting out the refrain that we’ve been singing for millennia since.

And here we are today, still singing the same song, still dancing the same steps. Year after year, generation after generation. It’s that good of a message, the song is that catchy, the dance is that much fun.

Don’t think for one minute it hasn’t changed a little through the years. And certainly there are times when we stumble a little or our voices just aren’t in the song. But the great thing about being part of the cast is that there is always someone to sing. Sometimes it’s you and sometimes it’s someone else. And there are always new folk to welcome to the cast, more and more folks to help with the singing and the dancing. And thanks be to God they always add their own lyrics and dancing in their own unique ways.

And no matter how much we may fumble along the way, no matter how much we may have to la la la through the lyrics until they are again flowing off our lips, the song will be sung, the dance will be danced. It can’t help it. If we are silent the stones will sing it. But you know that words now, today is the day we sing: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!]

and don’t forget your jazz hands.

 

Dayenu

Pastor Jay’s Sermon from the Easter Vigil.

Have you ever been to a Seder dinner? I don’t mean a Church thinking it’s holding a Seder on Maundy Thursday but have you been invited into the home of a Jewish family and sat through scripture and song and prayer and food? Have you been to a Seder?

I am blessed to have several Jewish friends who always end up inviting me over for Seder every year. I think mostly because their grandmothers love talking to a Christian pastor during dinner. It’s something new. But I have been to more than a few Seders. I’m actually quite excited that this year Passover falls a whole month after Holy Week—they so often fall at the same time of year—but because of the joys of a leap lunar calendar year and the addition of a whole month, Passover isn’t for some time. And I’m excited because the invitations have already started.

And I’ll be honest, while I’m excited for the variety of Matzoh ball soup and roasted chicken and the ritual and the prayers and the family, I’m excited for the singing. And I’m excited for one song in particular. The song is Dayenu. If you’ve been to a Seder you’ll know this song. It’s the one thing I’ve found every Seder had regardless of how different they may all seem from one another. The whole family takes turns around the table to read pieces of the Exodus story, and right after they read about the passage through the Red Sea, right after hearing about Miriam and the women and their tambourines and their singing in safety, the family joins in singing Dayenu.

There are a lot of verse to Dayenu. It’s a long song. Depending on the household there can be upwards of fifteen verses. And they are broken into groups. And they build on one another. There are five verses about leaving slavery and five verses about miracles and five verses about living with God and then there can be more about the place of women in the story of the exodus and perhaps some added in about the later exiles and prophets. But regardless of the numbering of verses, they all follow the same pattern:

If God has brought us out of Egypt. Dayenu.

If God had executed justice upon the Egyptians. Dayenu.

If God had executed justice upon their gods. Dayenu.

So on and so forth.

I suppose I should explain that Dayenu is Hebrew for “it would have been enough.”

So you sing: If God brought us out of Egypt and had not carried out justice upon the Egyptians. It would have been enough. If God had carried out justice upon the Egyptians but not upon their gods. It would have been enough. So on and so forth.

The point being that in the story of God’s relationship with God’s people, God is always about more. Freedom would have been enough. Passage through the Red Sea would have been enough. Water from the Rock would have been enough. Manna from Heaven would have been enough. Passage to the Promised Land would have been enough. Giving of the covenant would have been enough. So on and so forth.

Why have I spent so much time describing a song we don’t even use? Well, my sisters and brothers, I would like to suggest that Dayenu is our refrain this night. It is why we gather and sit around this pillar of fire and tell again the stories of our relationship with God from The Creation to The Resurrection Dawn. We remind ourselves that at each step along the way it would have been enough. And yet, as is always the case with God, there’s more.

If God had but created us. It would have been enough.

Had God but saved Noah and the animals from the flood. It would have been enough.

Had God but given the covenant to Abraham. It would have been enough.

Had God but freely offered salvation. It would have been enough.

Had God but given us God’s wisdom. It would have been enough.

Had God but placed a new and right spirit within us. It would have been enough.

Had God but breathed new life in our dry bones. It would have been enough.

Had God but gathered God’s people from the ends of the earth. It would have been enough.

Had God but delivered Jonah and spared Nineveh. It would have been enough.

Had God but clothed us with salvation. It would have been enough.

Had God but shown forth the sovereignty of God over the golden image. It would have been enough.

Had God but sent Jesus. It would have been enough.

Had God but taught us how to love. It would have been enough.

Had God but died to save us. It would have been enough.

Had God but risen from the dead. It would have been enough.

Had God but shown forth power of sin and death. It would have been enough.

Had God but called us to follow. It would have been enough.

Had God but made us a part of the Body of Christ. It would have been enough.

But with God…there is always more.

And that, my sisters and brothers is what we gather around this night. We gather around the story of God’s relationship with God’s people which has been since before the beginning and will be to everlasting. A relationship that is full of blessing and love and grace and mercy and peace. A relationship that is for you and for me. A relationship that is more than we can expect and more than we can deserve. A relationship that bursts through death and the grace, that draws us up out of ourselves to live in the Resurrection Dawn even when it is night all around us. A relationship that gives us life in abundance and forever.

And here we sit having just passed through the Red Sea. And we remember that it would have been enough. And it would have been enough.

But wait…there’s more.

For that, thanks be to God. Amen.

There She Stood

Pastor Jay’s Sermon from Good Friday*

Readings: Isaiah 52:13-52:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42.

Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and you, a sword shall pierce your own soul, too.

Woman, here is your son.

And she treasured all of these things in her heart.

How had it come to this? It seemed like only yesterday, she had been wiping away the mess of birth. Okay, maybe not just yesterday, but surely it was only yesterday that she had been wiping the blood away from a scraped knee. And now here she stood, watching her little boy, her special gift from God, dying, there was way more blood than she could wipe away. And the scars were deeper than even her mother’s kiss could heal. But she was here.

She was glued here. Where else would she be? She had been following along for years now. She had seen him grow into a consternate teenagers who spoke back and kept walking away to go to the Temple. She had watched as he journeyed to visit his cousin in the Jordan. She had seen the skies rent open and the dove…that dove…always that dove…land ever so gently on his shoulder. Just as it had rested ever so gently for her all those years ago. And now here, here the heavens were rent open again but no doves were descending. No lights or voices from heaven. Just her sobs rising and his heaving breaths barely escaping his lips.

Here she was, her eyes affixed to her son. Watching as he slumped heavier and heavier upon that cross. She watched as he was barely breathing. And she thought back to all those times she had picked him up when he fell. And she prayed she could reach up and pick him up one more time and carry him home and put him to bed to sleep it off. But here she was watching. Where else would she be? She’d always been there. Always in the background, or helping to serve the meals, or washing out his tunic. She had watched as he taught a new thing, as he gathered a band of followers. She had been caught up in all of it as she dreamed the dream of a new kingdom where her son would rule. And now here, under that taunting sign, she was watching him take his last breaths. Struggling with the basic necessities of life. If this was what being the favored of God means, she didn’t want it anymore.

But here she was, where she had always been. Just out of the way but close enough to sooth a fevered brow, calm a raised temper, encourage a frustrated boy, watch as her son became a popular teacher, someone with power and influence over the masses. She watched as her son healed the sick and suffering, gave hope to those who were forgotten, and taught and encouraged his followers to do the same. And now here he hung, gasping for even a sip of water in his anguish. And she was transfixed.

Here she was watching her little boy turned teacher turned leader, here she was watching the one who dreamed and promised a grand kingdom of topsy turvy mercy and grace from God, here she was watching the one who with every fiber of his being had assured even the most unlovable that God’s infinite love was even for them. Here she was watching her little boy turned teacher turned leader as he became her savior. Here she was watching her son die that she would never herself know the power of death. Here she was watching her son show the ultimate power of God in his weakest moments. Here she was watching as even with his last breaths her little boy showed more strength than the whole Roman Empire and all the establishment she had known up until this point. Here she was, watching as with breath that could barely escape his lungs, her son breathed life in abundance into the world.

And here she was as she heard her name. And in that moment, Mother, she returned to the squalls of a cold baby in a stable in that wretched full town of Bethlehem, she returned to the Temple and that strange old man who seemed to know the torment she was experiencing here at the foot of her son’s cross, she returned to every stubbed toe and scraped knee, and she yearned with her whole body to ease his immense suffering. And she burst forth in sobs as his only words to her were for her to be taken care of. And she knew that even in this moment, even when she wanted more than anything to take care of her son, her little boy, here he was taking care of her. Here, even in his dying moments, he was making sure she knew love and protection and life.

And she knew. She knew in this moment just how miraculous this man who was her little boy was. She knew in that moment that this was her savior. And that no matter what she had expected, no matter how much she thought she could prepare for this moment, no matter what she wanted, she knew in that moment that God works in wonderful and unexpected ways. She knew that in death God brings life. She knew that God shows power even in this extreme weakness. And she was wracked with grief, she sobbed in the beloved disciple’s arms, she curled up with her tears and the dark sky and leaned on the cross. Knowing, somehow, that even though she hated that bloody and callous piece of wood that somehow here was where she could let it all out.

And again, again Mary stands as a testament through the ages of just where we are called to be. From her example of discipleship in saying yes to the life God called her to; to standing her with all her grief and burdens and tears and letting them out at the foot of the cross; and we will see to the empty tomb itself, there she is pointing always to the sign of our salvation, her little boy, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Even here, in her grief, she points the way to the one who provides for us, who shows us love and life, and who in this moment of his ultimate weakness shows the triumphant and glorious power of God.

For the saving wood of the cross and for all those who throughout the years have pointed to its power, thanks be to God. Amen.

*This year, Good Friday falls on The Feast of the Annunciation, 9 months to Christmas, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear God in her womb. This is the last time these two great feasts of the church fall on the same day for over a century.

Feet

Seminarian Kelsey’s Sermon from Maundy Thursday.

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116, I Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Maundy Thursday:
for the past month In adult forum we’ve talked about journey’s. We’ve shared where we’ve been,
where we see ourselves presently and where we want to be in the future. we’ve spent sunday
mornings sitting in community around a table and talking about how difficult it is to do this whole
thing.
Pondering how Christ could possibly continue his journey knowing what was to come
Questioning, how as a broken society, as mosaic people christ could fill in our cracks while
breaking his own body
Asking… how in the world does feet come into this equation?
Well, Maundy Thursday is perhaps my favorite service of holy week
Not because I have some sort of foot fetish or that Good Friday leaves me wanting more
it’s just I’ve always felt connected to feet
I prefer to do most things without shoes on
playing in the grass with friends, walking along the beach at night and preaching.. yes preaching
i’m standing in front of you barefoot trying to feel every part of the ground in the hopes of
grounding myself in the very way God intended – standing up straight, proclaiming how humble
our God is and dirtying up my feet
This night… breaks boundaries
It causes some to shudder at the thought of someone else touching their feet
Someone knowing them in such a personal and holy way
but Christ has called us in the book of John to do likewise
to humble ourselves and to get down to the nitty gritty
He gathered his friends in a room
got them well fed and then dropped the bomb
taking off his outer garments and wielding a towel
He told his friends to get in line and they were scared.. well maybe not scared but certainly
confused
Simon Peter… sounds like many of us gathered tonight questioning “Hey buddy, you’re going to
wash my feet?”
a little aphrenrsive but then begs for Christ to wash his hands and head as well, his whole self.
not knowing what his friend was doing… what he was preparing for
It’s uncomfortable for someone to know us that close up
to hold our body in such a vulnerable and holy way
to take the time to stoop down
to be Christ like and to wash
to wipe the crust and the dirt
the “sin and burden”
the day and the night
and the old to usher in the new
We’re going to do this. we’re going to enter into that holy rite. We’re going to look into each
others eyes and know that through Christ’ selflessness, through water and through love we are
made clean
Feet are scary, they are the thing that makes the most contact with the world. they are how we
make our mark here
I know that not everyone is comfortable and that’s why tonight I implore us to step outside of
ourselves… to journey towards the cross… to go kicking and screaming…. to be scared and to
do it anyway.
This whole Christian thing is scary
the journey is long and tiresome
but there is God at the end
there is water the runs clean
there is time to weep and there will be time to rejoice
there will be resurrection… at least I hope there will be
but for now……. there’s feet
AMEN

Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Crucify Him!

This Sunday was Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion. There were two gospels, one the Gospel of the Palms and the other the Passion.  There was no sermon. You are invited to read both gospels below. May you be blessed this Holy Week as we journey the last days of our Savior and remember, worship, and rejoice:

The Gospel of the Palms

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

The Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Luke 22:14-23:56

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’

Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

The Extravagant Love of God

Pastor Jay’s sermon from the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, Luke 12:1-18.

Mary took a jar of nard and poured it over Jesus feet and the whole house was filled with the fragrance.

A whole jar of nard. A whole jar of perfumed oil that Mary just poured out over Jesus feet. She probably only needed a few drops. I mean, really, who needs a whole jar for one pair of feet? And it wasn’t a small jar either. It cost more than one year’s wages for this jar of nard. And here she is pouring over Jesus feet.

And we get it. Jesus accepts her anointing as preparation for what is to come. In just a little while he will leave Lazarus’ house and, as we will hear next week, just outside the town he will get on a donkey and ride into Jerusalem where he will face the last hours of his life. But still, even knowing that, did Mary really need to use a whole jar? I mean, Jesus’ feet would have been fairly clean having probably had them washed when we entered the house, so it’s not like she was washing them. She was making them comfortable, soothing the sores and cuts they might have had, making them smell good. And here she is stinking up the whole house with a whole jar of oil.

But, then, perhaps it is more than a sign of devotion to a beloved rabbi and friend. Perhaps Mary is a sign, the oil she extravagantly pours out is a sign, the connection to Jesus’ death is a sign of the loving relationship we have with God.

Last week we heard Jesus’ parable of the family made whole, the parable of the wasteful, the prodigal, father and his love for his son and we heard of how God longs to pour out love and mercy and grace on us in abundance—more than we can desire, more than we can deserve, more than we can expect. And we rejoiced in that. We continue to rejoice in a God who pours out blessing and love and grace and mercy in abundance.

But living into that truth doesn’t let us off the hook. We are called to trust in that love, and live into it. We are called to live into the love of God poured out for us. And we are called to share in it. And I think Mary is our example. Mary holds nothing back. She knows that this man whose feet she is anointing is proof of just how much God loves her. God loves her so much that God comes to her in a face she can recognize and in a person she can hold onto. God comes as a human being, just like her, and lives with her as a sign of how to live into the love of God for all of us. And she holds nothing back in showing her love for this one who comes to her.

And that is our call, sisters and brothers. We are called to live into the love that God so extravagantly pours out on us. We are called to hold nothing back. And I think that is why it is so important that Jesus makes the connection between Mary’s seemingly simple act and his own death. In both we are given signs of a loving relationship that holds nothing back. God holds back nothing in love for creation, not even life itself. God dies for us, giving everything including his last breath. And we, in turn, are called to hold nothing back in love of God, pouring out the abundance of our devotion to God. Isn’t that what we often short hand to one another? That life as Christians is about loving God and loving neighbor? Well here we are given an example to follow, the example of pouring it all out for God. Because you know what, when we pour out devotion for God, when we worship at Jesus feet, when we gather around the table with Jesus, everything else—the love we are called to share with our neighbor falls into place. And we cannot help but live our lives everyday sharing that love. Because in our loving relationship with of God we are again and again shown examples of and filled with the extravangant, fragrant, cleansing, preparing love of God that overflows in us and which we are called to pour out extravagantly in the world.

The loving relationship we know with our God is full of abundance and extravagance. And here, crouched under the table, pouring over the feet of Jesus, we are given a reminder that it is not just a one way street. God pours out loves and blessing in abundance for us and holds nothing back in the process. We will be reminded of that in almost no time when with his last breaths Jesus proves the love and mercy and providence of God even in death. And we in turn, filled to overflowing with the love are called to pour ourselves out for the world. What better way to show our love of God than to share the love we have been given!

For a God who comes to us time and again and fill us to overflowing with the abundant, extravagant, fragrant love we need to live everyday, thanks be to God. Amen.

The Parable of the Family Made Whole

Pastor Jay’s Sermon from the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, II Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-32

The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was inviting those people to the table and they weren’t happy. So, in response, Jesus tells them a parable. And the rest is history. Isn’t it? Maybe not.

This is one of those stories that Jesus tells that is told over and over again. Even though it only shows up in Luke, it still somehow gets told year after year in Sunday schools around the world for generations. It’s a famous one. It’s even one with a title. And I bet you all know what it is: (The Prodigal Son).

Right. For generations beyond number, this has been known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. And that’s an interesting title. Nowhere does Jesus call the younger son prodigal. In fact, prodigal doesn’t come up in the story at all. Then again, prodigal isn’t exactly a word we use very often as it is. Frankly, this is the only place I think I’ve ever used it. Well…except when referencing this story. A few times I have heard—or said myself—ah, the prodigal has returned. And the implication in modern day is that the one who was gone or turned their back has returned. But prodigal means more than that.

Prodigal is about wastefulness. Extravagant living could be seen as wastefulness. Desire to have an early inheritance could be seen as wastefulness. But then, forgiveness without qualification could also be seen as wastefulness. A feast for a selfish child could be seen as wastefulness.

So I wonder if we could say this is the story of the prodigal father. The father who is wasteful in the extravagance of his love for his sons. The father who is wasteful in wanting his family whole and together and feasting. The father whose love seems to know no bounds—forgiving before being asked for forgiveness, reaching out when his son was still far off, killing the fatted calf—a calf that he had put plenty of time and resources into. The parable of the wasteful father.

And certainly the Pharisees and the scribes would agree with that. The younger son did not deserve his father’s love but the father gave it anyway. What a waste.

But here’s the thing, I think giving any person in this story the title of Prodigal misses the point. In fact, singling out any one person in this story misses the point. And I’ve sat for a while and thought about what I would call this story if I were given the pen. And here’s what I came up with:

The Parable of the Family Made Whole. The Family Made Whole.

Because that’s what this story is really about. The family is not whole the second the younger son walks out the door. There is someone missing at the dinner table. And even when the younger son returns the family is not quite whole because the older son refuses to even come in from the field. There is someone else missing from the dinner table.

That’s what Jesus is trying to get across to the Pharisees. The Pharisees and scribes like their rules. We know that. And here they are using their rules to dictate who should be welcomed at the table that Jesus sits at. Any self-respecting rabbi would only allow worthy folks at the table. But Jesus tells them a parable…three actually. This parable comes after the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. And it comes after the widow who loses 1 coin and lights all her lamps and sweeps her floors until she finds it…even when she has 9 perfectly good coins. And then the story of the younger son who was not lost, but who chose to leave, chose to live his life in a way his father would not necessarily approve of. And in all of these stories, the point is clear: the family isn’t whole until we are all sitting around the table.

God desires the whole family to gather at the table. Now, let’s not fool ourselves. There will be squabbling and hurt feelings; there will be anger and misunderstanding; there may even be people who refuse to talk to each other. But, then, if you’ve sat around any family table for any length of time, doesn’t that just sound like home? The point is that whether we all agree, whether we all can even speak to each other, the family isn’t whole until we are all there. There will always be someone missing from the dinner table. And God desires more than anything that we all can gather together and share a meal.

Sadly, from the headlines and news articles lately, especially in this highly charged political time, it seems impossible that everyone can sit at the table together—let alone get along. There is rhetoric in abundance that speaks directly to this, rhetoric and hate spewing out that sounds an awful lot like the Pharisees and the scribes and the older son. And it’s easy to find ourselves agreeing. It’s a basic human instinct to categorize, label, and judge. It’s part of who we are. We always want to be the older son, we want to be the one who is faithful and hard working and deserving. And the easiest way is to make someone else the younger son. And yet the same could be said for anyone else. There is always a younger son. Everyone wants to be the older son.

But again, labeling anyone as older or younger, deserving or not, prodigal or faithful, is missing the point. When there are members of the family missing, the family isn’t whole.

It’s a tough place to find ourselves. It’s a tough calling we have. To work for a place where the family can be whole. To strive to sit at the table with those we may never want to look at, let alone scoop out the same mashed potatoes with. But, then, that’s the beautiful crazy thing we call the Kingdom of God. It is for the younger and the older, the prodigal and the faithful, the lost and the found. And in Christ, luckily, mercifully, as we sit at the table and share, we see that the commonality of our family is way more important in the end.

Because in Christ all of us prodigals are welcomed home. In Christ, the family is made whole. In Christ, love abounds, even when we just don’t want to. Whether we like it or not, the love of God we know in Christ is somehow able to gather the whole family around the table.

And there aren’t labels. And we just don’t see the need to judge others. And no one is called unworthy. And no one is called prodigal, wasteful, well, except maybe God. And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.