First Congregational Church
March 31, 2013
"The Odd Easter Version"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
John 20:1-18 NIV
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
In the spirit of the day, Q: What's the difference between a bunny and a lumberjack? A: One chews and hops, the other hews and chops. Q: What do Easter Bunny helpers get for making a basket? A: Two points, just like anyone else. Q: How does Easter end? A: With an r. Q: How does the Easter bunny get all the eggs painted? A: She hires Santa's Elves during the off-season. Q: What has big ears, brings Easter treats, and goes hippity-BOOM hippity-BOOM? A: The Easter Elephant.
It is a great day - all over the world. From Russian high church masses, complete with incense and chanting, to a little white clapboard worship service, to the enthusiasm in an earthen building on the edge of the African bush, to the little groups meeting in secret - places where Christianity is illegal - it's all about an empty tomb and the risen Christ. There are entities that would like us to think it's about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, but we know the basic Easter story.
Sesame Street has taught children how to distinguish between things with a little ditty called "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others." When it comes to the four Gospels, the one that is not like the others is the Easter account read at the beginning of the service from the book of John.
Unlike the other gospel accounts, John begins the Easter story in the dark, the absence of light. We're not really sure why Mary came so early. Maybe she came to anoint his body or to ensure that no one had stolen it. Maybe it was because she'd been up all night with grief anyway, and somehow it was just easier to mourn at the gravesite.
If there was any year that we needed to hear this version of the Easter story, it's this one. There are so many individuals that have spent the last few months in the dark - not just physically - as in nearly sunless Benzie county - but in the darkness of mind in the land of depression. At least I am apt to create a picture of Jesus more like the one on the cover of our bulletin - one where he stands in the light. Or a picture of Jesus standing outside the tomb with a big ol' "ta dah!' We don't associate the revelation of Jesus with the morning dark.
The Gospel of John's Easter account is amazing in how much running happens compared to other versions. Mary Magdalene discovers that the tomb is empty and runs to the disciples. The disciples then run to the tomb. One runs faster than the other, but both run as fast as they can. Interesting that Jesus doesn't run alongside them. Interesting that we don't ever find Jesus in frantic activity.
We spend so much time running, running, running. We run to work or to school, we run through our work, we run home. We run through our errands, our chores, and our jammed schedules. I've known more than one "retired" person that has run from doctor appointment to "vacation" in this place to trying to get everything done in Traverse while we're up there. We even race through the experiences that are meant to relax us. And I don't mean those statements as indictments. They are just truths.
And yet, sometimes our running may be a search for the missing Jesus. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they laid him.” Perhaps you, like me, am prone to getting caught up in what we think we should do, rather than embracing the example Jesus has given us. I - we - know better than hustling all of the time with the idea that surely Jesus can keep up with me. Irony of ironies, Jesus finds us when we are too tired to keep running.
Commentator Lucy Hogan put it this way. "Another possibility is that our frantic activity actually assumes that Jesus is still dead. And if we only hurry through life and work hard, we can take over for him as Savior. But some of the best news of Easter is that Jesus is alive and well, and the job description of Savior is still filled. So you don’t have to be Jesus now. You can enjoy your true calling, which is to witness how his salvation continues to unfold."
John also oddly mentions "the other disciple" - the one Jesus loved. Apparently John assumed that everyone knew "the disciple Jesus loved." Some Biblical commentators think it may have been Lazarus, or John Mark, or John the son of Zebedee, brother and fishing partner of James. Could it be that the beloved disciple is unnamed because, as one biblical scholar has suggested, this person is to represent us? Later on, when you are having trouble falling asleep, put yourself into that scenario, running with Peter. What do you see? What do you smell? What strikes you as odd?
And then there's the oddity of the rhetorical questions, "Why are you crying?" The angels ask it and Jesus asks it. This is one of those situations where it would have been so helpful if the writer would have given us a little direction in the "hearing" of those questions. Since Jesus - and angels - are less about belittling and more about dignity, I doubt the question they asked had a tone similar to what a parent would take toward a child. Or the dismissive tone we might hear in the follow-up statement, "Knock it off."
So often - too often - I hear apologies for tears. And I've made those same apologies. But when our hearts hurt, we were given the gift of tears to lessen the pressure. Mary had lost her friend, and it was still so fresh. In the physical finality of death, Mary's tears are representative of the tears of all humanity. All of us are altogether too familiar with death. Jesus himself knew that he and Mary both needed the tears if the truth of what had just happened was going to come to mean exactly what it still means: we have the hope of new life smack where we need it most: in the midst of a world full of death and dying.
One of my favorite preachers, Craig Barnes said, "No one is ever ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. Easter is the last thing we are expecting. And that is why it terrifies us. This day is not about bunnies, springtime and girls in cute new dresses. It’s about more hope than we can handle."
And John's is the version where Jesus says, "Do not hold on to me." This is not my favorite part of the Easter story. If I were writing this drama, I would have included a long tearful hug, followed by Jesus saying, "Find the others and tell them I’m back. We’re getting out of here and going home." But Jesus doesn’t say that. He says, "Don’t hold on to me."
I'm sure she wanted to hug his neck and not let go. I'm sure she wanted to grab his hands and then just sit there, staring into his eyes. Now that she had her beloved Lord with her once more, she never wanted to lose him again. Yet Jesus said she had to.
He says instead ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ What an odd way of stating that he had work yet to do on this earth. What an odd way of saying that where he was going, we would go.
Some months back I asked a couple of questions in our newsletter. "What is Easter? Or where do you see signs of resurrection life?" I had only one answerer, and it struck me as one that maybe few pastors have recognized or embraced. The person's answer was "It's a happy and sad day for me. It's sad because of what happened. But it's happy because I know I will get to see those I love again. I start getting excited for Easter before it gets here, and that's the good part, too. But when the actual day is here, there's always an element of sadness to it."
Such a steady statement of honesty and faith. Perhaps much more in line with this odd, understated version of the Easter account from John, with no pre-dawn earthquakes, no soldiers fainting dead away, no precise moment Jesus emerged from the tomb. John's version gives us an Easter that can go back home with you when you leave here this morning.
If Easter's joy and proclamation required the blare of trumpets, the thunder of pipe organs, and the shining brightness of fresh flowers - if that type of setting were the only place where Easter could thrive - then who among us could take that back home with us? Who would want to take it home? Who among us would claim that just about every single evening when we walk through the door after a day at work, we launch right into the "Hallelujah Chorus" because it had been such a wondrous day? How many of us ride the crest of a joy wave most every moment of the average week? Maybe a few of you do lead that kind of singularly lilting existence, and if so, God bless you in it. But some of the folks I know wake up many mornings "while it is still dark," and they're not sure they can outrun the shadows - the balance of the day, either.
Which seems like a perfect place to pray. Gracious God, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts that you give us good news we can live by and live with. Thank you that in the shadows of our lives, a truly risen Savior is lurking, bursting with new life. Thank you that the darkness of this world does not need to lift completely - in ways no one could miss - for the truth of Easter to be ours. While it can be odd to thank you for giving your son to die, we do so because we understand that it means we live - here and in eternity. So thank you, Gracious, Loving God for so loving us. And all your people say - Amen!
First Congregational Church
March 24, 2013
"In Looking On the Details"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It was Palm Sunday, but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Johnny stayed home from church with a his older sister. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Johnny asked them what they were for. "People held them over Jesus' head as he rode by on a donkey," his father told him. "Wouldn't you know it," Johnny fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up AND they had donkey rides!"
I recently came across a version of this day's event that I'd not heard before. It was Palm Sunday and Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. He was riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rode along. He was looking for trouble. The people that he passed on his way were in awe of such a beautiful animal but they were even more awestruck by the man who was riding it. As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, "Who was that masked man?"
There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had a job to do. As he rode into Jerusalem he quickly sized up the situation and formed a plan to capture the troublemakers. There was a short scuffle and Jesus won handily over all of them. He hog-tied them and threw them all in jail.
As a large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about, Jesus mounted his horse and pulled on the reigns. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice, "Hi, ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go." As Jesus road off into the sunset, you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background. Du du dunt. Du du dunt. Du du dunt dunt dunt.
I'm sure few, if any, of you have heard that version, either. If you think about it, isn't that the way you would have done it if you were Jesus? Maybe many of you, like myself, hadn't even thought about an alternate way of envisioning the famous Palm Sunday event from 2,000 years ago. I'm certainly glad that a minister named Roger Griffith from New Mexico, put "his" version on his website under the sermon title "Not the Lone Ranger, But the Lone Savior.
Luke 19:28-40, Rob Burch, reading
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Thank you, Rob. As "crazy" as Roger Griffith's version of Palm Sunday is, so was the original version as it happened. Through time we can forget the political electricity that filled every corner of Jerusalem and beyond. The Jewish people of the day knew full well the prophecy from Zechariah, ""Lo, your king comes to you triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). For 500 years they had been watching and waiting for a savior. This was most certainly the one?
Most of the time, we get to this point in the scripture passage, and we hear about the people in the crowd cutting down palm branches and spreading them on the ground in front of Jesus and his donkey. Palm branches reflect honor and nobility. Solomon used them as part of the sacred carvings in the temple. Roman coins sometimes used palm branches, just to remind people who was in power and who should be respected. Did you happen to notice what was missing from our scripture for this morning? Palms. Interesting omission, Dr. Luke.
Did you notice another absence in our passage? No "hosannas." "Hosanna" was a desperate cry from an oppressed people living under Roman rule that means "Oh Save" or "Save us now". The book of John has the inclusion of "hosannas" and palm branches, but nothing about Jesus sending disciples to find the unridden donkey. What's up with the omissions and inclusions? The simple answer is, "I don't know." And I don't know of anyone that would have any conclusive answers, either - this side of heaven, anyway. But looking back over Luke's version, there are some things we can glean - detail sorts of things that can help us in our day-to-day lives.
In our hindsight, we can pick up the fact that Jesus had a plan, a map - as it were - to get him from point A to point B. So does God have a plan for each of us - to get us from heaven to earth and back to heaven again. (It's that "We're spiritual beings having a human experience thing.) In some parts of that plan, there are distinct details, like when and where and how and even what to say. In all parts of the plan, God gives us the freedom to 'go here' and 'go there.' But maybe when we get "specific" directions from God, we might pay closer attention, because it may be that God has a "way" for us to get through what might be called a tough or hard time.
It's interesting, too, that Luke includes the line "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Now when was the last time you heard something to that effect? Last Christmas? Interestingly, it was Luke who mentioned that "suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and say, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." Maybe it's like a frame around Jesus' life - one of joy and gratefulness to God. Perhaps one of the reasons we hold baptism, memorial and funeral services is to frame our lives in gratefulness - and even joy. (By the way, that's why I prefer to call them "celebrations of life" - in reference to the joy part.)
Being so far from this time and place, we may also be ignorant of the physical aspects of that first Palm Sunday. When Jesus mentions that if the disciples can't praise God, then the stones will cry out, I always thought he was referring to the rocks on the road, and maybe he was. One pastor over there at desperatepreacher.com mentioned that as one descends from the Mt of Olives, you pass through a cemetery with ancient gravestones. Some estimates are that there are as many as 150,000 past priests, prophets and observant Jews buried in that graveyard. That understanding brings in the idea that even if you hush the living, the faithful dead buried there will speak out. How sad it would if stones - rather than living, breathing human beings were all that were available to give God praise and thanks for the blessings we enjoy. What an opportunity Holy Week becomes, that we can offer our gratitude, in the midst of remembering, for all that Christ went through on our behalf.
There may be some people who get all knotted up about Luke and John being so different in their accounts of that first Palm Sunday. But when we stand back, and look at this piece of Jesus' last week, we get a better idea of it being just the beginning of a week we might hardly call 'holy,' yet it is exactly that which it has become, what it always has been. Palm Sunday is the first step of a journey that we take - we need to take - to get to Easter. We can come up with a thousand reasons to avoid Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, and many of those reasons may well be good and valid. But most of the time, we are just as glad to celebrate the beginning of the journey and the end, because the middle isn't always so "fun."
But we don't have beginnings and ends without middles. We don't have Palm Sunday and Easter without Jesus' last supper, his betrayal and arrest, his whipping and beating, his crucifixion, suffering and death. If he didn't go through all that, the Easter resurrection would be worth nothing of the sacredness that it is. If he didn't go through the ugliness, we wouldn't fully appreciate the beauty. And so we don't get to skip the hard parts of life, either. But we can go through those time with God.
(Sung in Russian, "Via Dolorosa")
Down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem that day
The soldiers tried to clear the narrow street
But the crowd pressed in to see
The Man condemned to die on Calvary
He was bleeding from a beating, there were stripes upon His back
And He wore a crown of thorns upon His head
And He bore with every step
The scorn of those who cried out for His death
Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King,
But He chose to walk that road out of
His love for you and me.
Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.
Let us pray. God of life and what we call death, we are grateful for the sacrifice you made in sending your son to live among us - to save us. We confess that we aren't always so good at fully embracing the depth of that gratitude, because it can make us uncomfortable, even sad. But the great thing is, is that you already know how we feel, God. You've been there to an even greater degree than we have. So grant us enough faith in your plan to follow you not just into your Holy Week, but through it. May we hear of that plan with eager hearts. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 17, 2013
Fifth Sunday in Lent, St. Patrick's Day
"The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: Have you heard the skunk joke? A: You don't want to; it really stinks! Q: How do you make a skunk stop smelling? A: Plug up its nose! Q: What did the judge say when a skunk entered the courtroom? A: Odor in the court! Q: What do you get when you cross a robot and a skunk? A: R-2 P-U! Q: What is red and smells like blue paint? A: Red paint.
Smells. There's nothing like fresh cut grass, homemade bread baking, clothesline dried sheets, or a man with a really good cologne. Then there is the smell of the rain - a week ago last Thursday - that had so much spring in it. Or the wafting of old-fashioned lilac and lily of the valley on a warm, early summer day. It is terribly sad that we have millions and millions of children that will never come to love the smell of burning leaves.
Living in paradise as most of us do, we tend to forget certain smells until we're driving through farm country. There's just nothing like the smell of a pig farm. Or skunk, or moldy basements. I would be surprised if there was anyone here that didn't have their own particular "nasty" smell that you will avoid at nearly all cost.
"They say" that decomp - the smell of deteriorating human flesh - has it's own little category in smell-land. I would guess that one of the original reasons for the Jewish custom to bury a dead person before sunset would have a fair deal to do with endless sunshine and warm temperatures. I will go out further on the limb and guess that the physical situations in the Middle East were the reason that after three days in a tomb or grave, a person was considered dead. After three days in such an environment, the chances of a person coming out of a coma - rather than being dead - were slim to none.
John 11:1-44 NIV
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Thank you, Jim, Signe and Bob. I have to admit, when I started working on this morning's message, when I came across the title, "The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness," I smiled. What a delightful play on words - and the passage about Lazarus. I also have to admit that I almost cut the scripture passage down, simply because it is really long. But then I began to look at the over-riding theme of all three chunks, and it became clear that we needed to hear the whole thing.
It is not a favored topic - death. And yet, not a single one of us will escape it. It's so much easier, nicer and convenient to not think of it at all. Those closest to Jesus didn't escape it. Jesus didn't escape it.
We aren't all that gung-ho about grieving, either. It's sort of crazy, too, that is so easy to think that grieving can be linked to a lack of faith. A wonderful part of this passage is that even Jesus grieved - wept. There's no indicator here that in his weeping for his friend, Jesus had less faith than before. If it was good enough - normal enough for Jesus, then it should be so good and normal for us. God wouldn't have given us tears if we weren't meant to use them. If for no other reason, then tears of grief can remind us of Christ's faithfulness - to God and to his friend - in the midst of his sorrow.
But are other parts of this passage that speak to The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness, too. Just after Lazarus had died, Jesus could have gone on from where he and the disciples were. But he said, "Let's go back to Judea."
Before he uttered those words, Jesus knew that there were folks in Judea that weren't crazy about him. Okay, so there were people in Judea that had wanted to kill him. And usually, that sort of rage doesn't go away too quickly. But Jesus needed to be faithful to what he knew God needed of him. So, too, the disciples knew they needed to be faithful to Jesus, even if Thomas was the only one brave enough to speak to the elephant in the living room. If any disciples were to go to Judea with Jesus, chances were pretty high they would be killed, too. And yet, they went.
While Jesus was patient in doing what he needed to do with Lazarus, he acted rather quickly when it came time to risk his own life. The point is that Jesus didn't just go here and stay away from there. He listened for God's timing. And so should we.
We all get those "opportunities" that we would rather avoid. A root canal can become a pleasant contemplation if it meant that - at least I - could avoid a discussion I just don't want to have. But the conversation needs to be done and in my heart of hearts, I know it is the right thing to address the situation. (Don't worry - I'm not talking about anyone or anything specific.) But in those instances, if there were any way for God to "take our cup" from us, we would welcome the opportunity. But sometimes we know we need to go to Judea, and in so doing, we can know that Christ knows just how hard it is.
The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness does not mean that life won't get stinky and smelly from time to time. But it does mean that God knows how hard it can be for us to remain faithful in doing what we know to be right. And it means that Jesus knows how hard life can be, including grief and death of those dear to us. The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness can also mean that God can revive those situations and hearts that seem dead - no matter who impossible we may think it. In our faithfulness to God's planning and timing, we can rest in God's ulterior motives in allowing certain things to come to pass.
And like the savoring of a smell comes in the remembering, so does the savoring of God's faithfulness come in remembering. So let us pray.
God of memories and smells and hard places, we thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus and how it is an example for us on which we can rely. In thinking back on those times we may call "hard," thank you for being with us, guiding and directing that the timing and realization of those situations were as beautiful as they are. As we get closer to the celebration of Christ's resurrection, help us to count what might be difficult as part of the Sweet Smell of Faithfulness. For all your blessings, all your people thank you with a great, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 10 2013
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
"Have You Ever....?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Have you ever tried to figure out how miracles happen? Take for instance, Ole, who had decided to give up meat on Fridays for Lent. He thought it a good test of discipline, but he lived on Lake Minnebelle, and was surrounded by folks that hadn't made such decisions. So every Friday night after work, Ole would fire up his grill along with all the neighbors, and while he did fish, all the neighbors grilled the venison they had caught the previous fall. And don'tcha know dat da delicious aroma from the grilled venison wafted all da vay from Cokato, Dassel and Cosmos. It vas drifing him mad!
But den Ole remembered when he changed church affiliations when he married Lena. He had attended some classes and after much study, Ole attended a mass where the priest sprinkled him with holy water and said, "You were born a Lutheran, and raised a Lutheran, but now you are a Catholic."
So the next Friday night came along, and der vas Ole, out der grillin' along wit all de neighbors. And on his grill vas a venison steak. And yust as he vas about to take it off da grill, he carefully sprinkled some holy vater on it and pronounced, "You vuz born a deer, you vuz raised a deer, but now you is a valleye." So I'm wondering if maybe Jesus feeding all those folks with bread and fish?
Before we get to our scripture passage for this morning - which is not at all about fish or venison - have you ever put yourself into each of the characters of one of Jesus' parables?
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 Scripted For Six Readers
Narrator: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Have you ever imagined who is in that group of tax collectors and sinners? Have you ever imagined yourself in that group? Have you ever imagined how much "sin" it would take to be "included" in that group? Have you ever considered yourself to be a Pharisee or scribe type of person? Have you ever considered who would be the "in" group at a dinner with Jesus and "sinners" - or who would be the outsiders?
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 Scripted For Six Readers
Narrator: So he told them this parable:
Jesus: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father,
1: ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’
Jesus: So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said,
1: ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
Narrator: So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him,
1: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Jesus: But the father said to his slaves,
ickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
Jesus: And they began to celebrate. Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied,
3: ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’
Jesus: Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father,
4: ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
Jesus: Then the father said to him,
2: ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”
So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said,
‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves,
‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
And they began to celebrate. Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father,
‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”
Thank you, readers. Have you ever gathered all you had and traveled to a distant country - really or metaphorically? Where did you go? Why?
Have you ever had to hire out to feed pigs, i.e., do a job you would otherwise think beneath you? Did you learn anything in that job? If you could do your life over again, would you do that "job" again?
Have you ever "come to yourself" and realized you needed to go home?
Have you ever had to humble yourself before someone in a way like the younger son? What lesson did you learn from it? Have you - in that situation - realized your "sin" against heaven?
Have you ever longed to hear the words "get the best robe, a ring, sandals and let's have a big ol' barbecue"? Have you ever wanted to be "found?" Is there anyone you know that needs such a party, sans robe, ring and sandals - maybe just a cupcake or dinner?
Have you ever been excluded - ultimately discovering that you weren't so "justified" in your feeling of exclusion? Have you ever been jealous of the sibling/person that got the calf or goat when you didn't get one yourself?
Have you ever come to your senses and realized realized that you have always had everything (God) with you, and that all God has - was/is yours? Have you ever known anyone who was dead and came back to life, was lost and had been found?
Who have you been in this parable? Who would you like to be? Realizing that the world "prodigal" means spending resources or money freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant, have you ever read it with the understanding of God being the Prodigal Father? How does/would that change the parable for you?
Have you ever thought of Lent as a wonderful time - to remember who we are, where we've been, and to look ahead to the place where we are going. Have you ever thought of Lent as a time to get cleaned up?
Have you ever visited your sister's house, where there are normally five people living - and the very day you arrive, the family is putting in a new vanity in the only bathroom with a shower? And this little cosmetic fixer-upper reveals black mold, which results in a total bathroom demolition, complete with jack-hammering out the floor and concrete shower base. And naturally, wanting to get the black mold out as soon as possible, especially because of a 7 and 4 year olds living in the house, the shower is destroyed three days before you are to leave. Have you ever really wished for a winter storm to come, that would hasten your get-away - to someplace - any place - that has a shower? And even after bathtub rinses, and sponge baths, have you ever felt anything so good as getting under a real - hot - shower - to let all that dust and probable mold and who knows what else - go right down the drain? Have you ever - in a similar sort of situation - discovered that you didn't even realize how grimy you felt until you got done?
Lent presents us an opportunity to get rid of the grime that some how finds itself attached to our hearts, minds and souls. Whether it's unwise decisions, feelings and actions of grandiosity, exclusion, or any other attribute that leads us away from God's truth, Lent is such a perfect time to shower off -what we call sin - with God's grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. There's a beautiful line in the Lutheran liturgy that says, "Forgive us, God, for what we have done and what we have left undone."
We may know we need to talk to God about setting some things straight, but it can be so easy to get distracted by venison that becomes walleye. So today we will take the opportunity to do what we may have left undone - and finish it - with the Responsive Lenten Litany in the bulletin insert page opposite the Announcements.
We were sin-sick, O God. Our illness was terminal. The prognosis ... death. God, we know that you love us, yet we sometimes travel far away from you. Forgive us for our wanderings, and show us your way.
Yet, O merciful Physician, you have inoculated your world. You have injected us with the serum of your grace; sending your Son. Continue to work your remedy in us, O God. Heal our bodies. Cleanse our hearts. Drive sin away from us. Make us contagious carriers of your grace.
We know that you have always cared for is, yet at times, we live carelessly and recklessly. Forgive us for not respecting you and ourselves the way we should and help us to live a life that honors you. Keep us from the temptation to judge, lest we disapprove of your mercy like the elder son.
We know that you have always looked out for us, yet we have so often taken your protection for granted. Forgive us for not always recognizing how much you have done to keep us safe, and help us to put our trust in you whenever we are in danger. We know that you are waiting to embrace us, yet we have so often found ourselves in the clutches of the Evil One. Forgive us for the times when we let evil have a stranglehold on us, and help us to find a way of escape from it.
We know that you rejoice over us. Forgive us for not always rejoicing in our relationship with you, and help us to let joy and gladness reign in our hearts and in our lives. In your mercy, forgiveness and love, all your people say, Amen!
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.