First Congregational Church
April 24, 2022
Holy Humor Sunday
“Holy Humor Sunday: It’s Not What You Think”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When Forest Gump died, he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, “Welcome, Forest. We’ve heard a lot about you. Unfortunately, it’s getting pretty crowded up here and we find that we now have to give people an entrance examination before we let them in.”
“Okay,” said Forest. “I hope it’s not too hard. I’ve already been through a test. My momma used to say, ‘Life is like a final exam. It’s hard.’”
“Yes, Forest, I know. But this test is only three questions. Here they are.” 1) Which two days of the week begin with the letter ’T’? 2) How many seconds are in a year? 3? What is God’s first name?”
“Well,” said Forest, “The first one is easy. The two days of the week that begin with the letter ’T’ are Today and Tomorrow.” St. Peter looked surprised and said, “Well, that wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but you have a point. I give you credit for that answer.”
“The answer to how many seconds there are in a year is twelve,” said Forest. “Twelve?” said St. Peter, surprised and confused. “Yes, sir. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd. . .”
St. Peter interrupted him. “I see what you mean. I’ll have to give you credit for that one, too.”
“And the last question,” said Forest, “What is God’s first name? It’s Andy. I learned it in the church by singing “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am His own.” St. Peter opened the gate to heaven and said, “Run, Forest, Run!”
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it can also be that sometimes, one cannot improve on what is already stellar. Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford of Heritage Presbyterian Church of Acworth, (Ack-worth) Georgia began her sermon like this.
“There are a lot of words we use to describe God: Creator, Omnipotent (All-Powerful), Lord, Loving, Present, All-Knowing (Omnipresent), All-Seeing (Omniscient), Ruler, Amazing, Victorious, Wonderful, and the list goes on. Many of them come from our understanding of God revealed in the stories of Scripture, and, of course, our own experiences of the divine. And yet, with an immense vocabulary and wealth of resources, there is one word I think we don’t often include in our list of acclamations for who God is: funny. If such an adjective strikes you as odd, you’re probably asking “does God have a sense of humor?” If so, what does that even mean? Our image of God tends to be more serious, more stoic, and more dignified than a God who rolls around giggling.
And yet, over and over again, scripture tells us about a God who sends God’s people out with shouts of joy and jubilation. To be filled with such joy must mean that there is also brightness and lightheartedness to God. And given the immense playfulness of the works of God’s hand, I would argue God has got a funny bone or two. Take a look at creation. From the aardvark to a colorful array of flowers, God has a creative touch that crosses over into whimsy or even ridiculousness. Given God’s interaction with people throughout the biblical narrative, I would also argue that God has to have a good sense of humor in order to put up with the ridiculousness that humankind has created.” (Perceptive lady)
In the celebration of this First Sunday after Easter, one might be tempted to think about God’s “humor” or joy is related only to the New Testament. Somewhere around 600 years before Christ’s birth, there was a war in which Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were captured and Solomon's glorious temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. It would take roughly 50 years before a new temple would be built, and it may well have been the completion of the new temple, or sometime shortly thereafter, that this Psalm was written. The Negev that will be mentioned is the Negev desert in southern Israel.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of[a] Zion, we were like those who dreamed.[b] 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 4 Restore our fortunes,[c] Lord, like streams in the Negev. 5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Thank you, Marti. Since there’s an element of name-dropping this morning, it’s interesting that one of the important comments about laughable joy comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” St. Chrysostom is said to have said, “Laughter has been implanted in our souls.” The great Aquinas said there s a time for “playful deeds and jokes.” Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith,” and Calvin pointed out that “we are nowhere forbidden to laugh.”
Francis de Sales: “humor is the foundation for reconciliation.” I don’t know which Wesley, but one of them said “A sour religion is the devil's religion.” Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard, “Humor is intrinsic to Christianity.” Flannery O’Connor, “Christianity is a strangely cheery religion.” It is interesting that some people stay away from this service because it is deemed irreverent. I’d think that it’s more about discomfort.
It may seem awkward or insensitive to take a Sunday to focus on the joy that stems from God’s great joke over death when you put it against the backdrop of those who are dying, the injustices of the world, the pain and sorrow that weigh people down.
Mrs. Abraham, Sarah, laughed at the news that she was to have a child in her old age, right in the face of outlandish possibility. And when she had the baby, she named him Isaac, which means, “He laughs.”
Rev. Milford, from earlier in this message, wrote that “laughter is a holy act, connecting us to one another.” What other holy things connect us to one another? Communion and Baptism. How often does it happen that a celebration of life, a funeral or a memorial ends up including stories, often rather funny ones, that cut through the tension of grief, opening the way to remembrance? And thank goodness for those moments, because without such stories and laughter, it is possible to be overwhelmed to the point of really hard and even harmful stuff.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Holy Humor - on any day of the week - is that it’s silly, or an insult to the higher intellect. Holy Humor can be those things, but it can also be the recognition of making a day better - or brighter.
Someone on social media wrote “I was searching for a parking space in the city where parking spaces are rare. Just as I found one and set my blinker another guy coming from the other direction set his too. We looked at each other undecided. Then I signaled a rock, paper, scissor game through my window. He immediately understood and we played one round. He won the game so I still had no parking space, but the interaction made my day!”
We can’t buy joy, except that we can buy fishing poles, and that’s almost like joy. We can’t buy happiness, but puppy kisses come pretty close. And every once-in-awhile, even a television commercial can cause our hearts to rise and our in our soul we can say, “It is well.”
Christ’s resurrection wasn’t a glorious magic trick or a sideshow intrigue. It is a serious event that reminds us that we can take ourselves more lightly, along with the others around us, and maybe, just maybe, through some prayer and work of the Holy Spirit, we might be able to help this world out of the fear and angst and hopelessness that can so easily enable us. For that, and a million other reasons, we can pray.
Holy, Holy, Holy God, thank you for sending your son, for your presence with him - and us - and his resurrection to eternal life. Thank you for the assurances and peace that is too often difficult to express. Help us to embrace the fullness of the life you’ve given us - not just today or this week, but in all our days - even the ones in infinity. Enable us to allow our hearts to allow contentment and peace and delight to leak into our daily lives, that others may also live so fully. For all your answers to our prayers, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 17, 2022
Easter Resurrection Sunday
Scripture: Various Gospel Verses
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Scripture Compilation (T: Matthew, K: Mark, L: Luke, J: John)
K16:1-8 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, M16:9-11 the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons., Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body.
K16:1-8 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb, L24:1-11 taking the spices they had prepared. K16:1-8 On the way, they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” L24:1-11 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. T28:1-8 Suddenly there was a great earthquake!
T28:1-8 An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. T28:1-8 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. T28:1-8 The guards shook with fear when they saw him and fell into a dead faint.
T28:1-8 Then the angel spoke to the women. T28:1-8 “Don’t be afraid!” he said. T28:1-8 “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. T28:1-8 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. T28:1-8 Come, see where his body was lying.
J20:11-18 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. L24:1-11 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes, J20:11-18 one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.
L24:1-11 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. L24:1-11 Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone alive? L24:1-11 They went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
K16:1-8 The women were shocked, but the angel said, J20:11-18 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. J20:11-18 “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
K16:1-8 “Don’t be alarmed. K16:1-8 You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. K16:1-8 He isn’t here! K16:1-8 He is risen from the dead! K16:1-8 Look, this is where they laid his body.
L24:1-11 Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” L24:1-11 Then they remembered that he had said this.
T28:1-8 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples, including Peter, that he has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. T28:1-8 You will see him there K16:1-8 just as he told you before he died.” T28:1-8 Remember what I have told you.”
J20:11-18 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. J20:11-18 It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. J20:11-18 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. J20:11-18 “Whom are you looking for?” J20:11-18 She thought he was the gardener. “J20:11-18 Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” J20:11-18 “Mary!” Jesus said. J20:11-18 She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
J20:11-18 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. J20:11-18 But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
T28:1-8 The women ran quickly from the tomb, K16:1-8 trembling and bewildered, T28:9-10 And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. T28:9-10 And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. T28:9-10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! T28:9-10 Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
T28:1-8 They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. K16:1-8 They said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.
J20:1-2 They ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. J20:11-18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” J20:11-18 Then she gave them his message.
K16:1-8 briefly reporting all this to Peter and his companions, M16:9-11 who were grieving and weeping. J20:1-2 She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” M16:9-11 But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.
J20:3-10 Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. L24:12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. J20:3-10 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. J20:3-10 He stooped, looked in, and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.
J20:3-10 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. J20:3-10 He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. J20:3-10 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. J20:3-10 Then they went home.
Thank you, Phil. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m coming to appreciate - more and more - the combination of all the Gospels when it comes to Holy Week, especially Sunday. The writer of Mark says there was one angel. Mark has a short ending and a long ending. Luke has two angels. John spends very little time with the women at the tomb but gives us that intimate moment of recognition between Jesus and Mary. By and large, the Gospels were written some thirty years after Jesus’ last week. What do you remember about April 17, 1992?
And then there have been a few things that have happened even since last year even. From the road being rebuilt in front of Family Fare, to masks on masks off, to the Ukrainian war, to the loss and gain of individuals in our own families and that of this church family, a lot has happened. So it’s good to be reminded of our roots, when it comes to the scripture passages, and the reminders we get from them.
I confess that I did something I’ve never done before: I went to Meijer’s on Good Friday afternoon. I had some unavoidable dental surgery about noon, and feeling well enough, there were some things on my list that would be good to get while I was there. Oh, my heavens! It was packed! If Christmas carols had been playing, one might have thought it was Christmas rather than Easter.
While I was passing along that area in the main aisle near the seasonal, aka, summer stuff is, there were oodles of people around the pallets of candy and Easter-mabobs. It was interesting that there were no jelly beans or those malted milk ball eggs. Not a package to be found. Easter Snickers, Easter Kit Kats, all those sorts of things were there, but no jelly beans. In full confession, I know they had them in previous weeks, but there was nothing left, that’s for sure.
So maybe the candy bars were all that was left - the eggs being sold out. Or maybe there has been a shift in the Easter palate. Whatever the reason, it was different. And we don’t always do well with different or change. One of the best understandings of how we deal with change is in the famous line, especially as it pertains to churches, is “Change? My grandmother gave that lightbulb.”
It’s true that churches can get stuck sometimes, just like any other living entity. But that’s why it’s good to go through Holy Week and Easter, to be reminded of the Good News of that which is foundational and unchanging: God’s overwhelming love and grace to and with a world of individuals that don’t always warrant those things.
It’s not even that we’re so bad all the time, but just human, in need of One who is greater than ourselves, because having the responsibility of life - all life - is way too much for any of us to handle on our own - as mere mortals.
The God who raised Christ - and us - is not One that creates us and then leaves us alone, but is with us in each and every breath we take: in us and outside of us and all around us.
We celebrate, too, that this God we worship isn’t vindictive or pedantic, but gracious and faithful. And God created us to be in relationship not just now, but for eternity. So God gave Christ - for that one point in time - as well as the Holy Spirit - for all the points in time. God - and Christ - didn’t have to go through all the events of that last week, but chose to do so, that we could know all that grace and love.
God allowed for all that surrounded Christ’s last week so that we could know that we are not alone or unloveable but deeply loved - beyond comprehension, beyond the everyday love we experience with those around us, which, in turn, can give us the strength to go through even the hardest moments that life can present to us.
I read of odd behavior that happens between Canada geese and hail. Apparently, instead of trying to shield their heads, the geese pointed their bills skyward, directly into the path of the hail. The geese point the smallest surface area of their sensitive bills, the narrow tip, into the hail — minimizing the impact and the possibility of getting hit.
When we look at Christ’s last week and all of God’s love for us, it’s like we point our beaks at life’s difficulties, exposing the smallest surface area of our hearts to pain and disappointment, minimizing pain’s impact. We’ll still get hit with the hail of life from time to time, but practicing our faith and strengthening our relationship with God and the three persons of God allows for the hardships of life to be lived through. And if that was all that our faith would do, that would be well and fine.
But strengthening our divine relationships makes our human relationships just that much better, too. Revisiting Holy Week, Christ’s death, and resurrection helps strengthen our muscles of care, our tendons of understanding, and our bones of compassion.
Our God is an awesome God, who reigns, and will do so forever, loving us eternally with more heart than we will ever be able to comprehend. And we know this because of an empty tomb. So shall we pray?
Holy God, Holy Christ, Holy Spirit, thank you for loving us with all that you have. We sometimes fail to fully appreciate the enormity and impact of such love, but this day reminds us to at least take a glimpse of it all. Thank you, Christ Jesus, for doing what we could not have done, bringing down the barriers to the very One who created us. And to you, great, Holy Spirit, help us to ride on the waves of this love long into the coming weeks. For such love and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 10, 2022
“The Big ’T’ of Faith” (Trust)
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I don't have confidence or trust in elevators anymore. They always seem like they're up to something, but they also let me down quite often. Never trust an atom. They make up everything.
If I were to tell this story as I have read it before, I would use the term “old lady” for the woman in the story. That term is way too close to home, not to mention sexist and ageist, and not polite at all. So there was a woman who was pulled over for speeding. The officer gets out of his car and goes to her window. “Is there a problem, Officer?”
“Ma’am, you were speeding.” “Oh, I see.” “Can I see your license please?” “I'd give it to you but I don't have one.” “Don't have one?” “Lost it, four years ago for drunk driving.” “I see ... Can I see your vehicle registration papers, please?”
“I can't do that.” “Why not?” The woman says, “I stole this car.” “Stole it?” “Yes, and I killed and hacked up the owner.” “You what?” “His body parts are in plastic bags in the trunk if you want to see.”
The Officer looks at the woman and slowly backs away to his car and calls for backup. Within minutes five police cars circle the woman’s car. A senior officer slowly approaches her car, clasping his half-drawn gun.
The senior officer says, “Ma’am, could you step out of your vehicle, please?” The woman steps out of her vehicle and asks, “Is there a problem sir?” The senior officer says, “One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.” “Murdered the owner?” “Yes, could you please open the trunk of your car?”
The woman opens the trunk, revealing nothing but an empty trunk. The Senior Officer asks, Is this your car, ma’am?" “Yes, here are the registration papers.” The officer is quite stunned. The Senior Officer says, “One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving license.”
The woman digs into her handbag and pulls out a billfold and hands it to the officer. The officer examines the license, looking quite puzzled. He then says, “Thank you, ma’am. One of my officers told me you didn't have a license, that you stole this car, and that you murdered and hacked up the owner. She replied, “And I bet he told you I was speeding, too."
If I was a betting woman, I’d bet a lot of cash that Jesus didn’t speed into Jerusalem on that famous Sunday. For one thing, there would have been way too many people there for the Passover celebration, some scholars estimating between 200,000 and a million individuals. Then don’t forget that there would have been hundreds and maybe even a million sheep and goats, because families would purchase one, take it home until it was the day of Passover, to be cared for a loved, washed and groomed and played with until it would be given up for the sacrifice.
We don’t know what the weather was like, but there was probably a fair bit of dust in the air with all that movement, and there weren’t port-a-pots like we have, so there was the smell aspect, too. The cherry on the top was the talk of this Messiah that was quickly becoming a hero, the one who would free everyone from Roman tyranny. The day was nothing like the pictures we’ve grown to associate with this famous day.
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!”[a] “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, Judy. Imagine that you were one of the two disciples tasked with getting the colt, or the donkey as other gospel writers called the beast of burden. Imagine, even today, going to a farmer or ranch owner and telling them that “the Lord needs it.” I can’t imagine a person alive that would wonder just what kind of kool-aid you were drinking.
The wild thing is that the animal owner didn’t resist the request. What was going on his or her mind and heart? Did the Holy Spirit do something to this person that allowed perfect strangers to take a valuable animal for who knows what purpose? What was it that allowed this livestock owner to trust that you and the other disciple would use the animal the way the Lord had need of it? Wouldn’t the most logical thought from the livestock owner be that you and your accomplice were really stealing, that this request from the Lord was a ruse, and that he was getting scammed?
And there wasn’t just the doubt that would have accompanied you on your task, but the history of all the crazy stuff Jesus had done. Changing water into wine, healing people, speaking to outcasts, raising a dead person to life. What on earth would he do with a colt or donkey?
In any of the accounts of that day when Jesus returned to Jerusalem, there was a whole lot of trust going on, and I think we miss it all too often. And it was a trust, not based so much on history and familiarity, but because Jesus was who he was - and continues to be.
I’d be willing to guess that we human beings have always had trust issues. Maybe we’ve trusted too easily and been hurt too often, so we find it hard to trust. Or the rampant fear that runs unchecked in our world makes trust a casualty.
If I’d ask for people to raise their hands if your trust with another person has been broken, I’d guess that probably every hand would go up. That’s when we are reminded of how delicate and treasured trust is and how hard it can be to be restored.
And then there are those times in our lives when our trust is questioned. I don’t remember specifics, but over the last few years, events have taken place or things said to me that sound like - to this brain and heart - like I can’t be trusted. Even after twenty-three years of living here, ministering here, working here, it hurts when someone feels like they can’t trust me.
I’m not looking for pity here, but to acknowledge that lack of trust happens, and sometimes it’s not really about anything that I’ve done or not done, but because of something going on in the other person’s life that makes them fearful of trusting someone else to have their best interest at heart. Nine times out of ten, when I’ve remembered to think about that one finger-wagging at me has three pointing back to the one that seems to be struggling with trust, I’m reminded that we all struggle with issues - at least from time to time - that cause us to wonder about humanity.
We don’t know what Jesus was feeling or thinking as he rode into Jerusalem, but at the very least, he would have felt the unrest in the air and known a little about the desire for someone to right the wrongs of Roman domination over the Jewish people. Being Jesus, tho, I’m guessing that he had some sort of understanding or idea that things weren’t going to end well that week. How many times had he foretold his death and resurrection?
As much as Jesus might have doubted God’s leading, Jesus trusted - even when he knew it wasn’t going to end well at all. Even as the events of that holy week unfolded, at any point in time, God being God and Jesus being Jesus, could have called the whole thing off. There was a lot on the line, for sure. All Jesus had to do was to say, “Uncle,” or “Abba,” or “Yahweh,” and God, being respectful of all our desires, even if we don’t get them, would have honored Jesus’ request to stop. But Jesus trusted that there was a bigger purpose, a bigger plan and that he was a part of it.
When the news is full of people hurting one another and horrible deeds are done or happen to innocent people, our hearts and minds and souls can take a beating, and we can wonder why we even bother to care anymore. That’s when we have to summon our knowledge and faith that God can be trusted, that ours is not a god of mistrust, but one upon whom we can trust - even if the way looks as dark as it did for Jesus back then.
I don’t doubt that God gets disappointed when our trust relationships are broken. But those moments are exactly why the glue of grace was created, to put it back together, even if it’s not exactly the same as it was before.
Trust, feeding our trust, and strengthening our trust is nourished when we grasp the length and breadth and depth of Holy Week. Even though we won’t gather together in person for services this Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, I encourage you to find a computer and a few moments of time each of those days, to flex your own trust muscles as you observe those of Christ. If you don’t have a computer, let me know. I can hook you up.
Three chapters before the one of today’s scripture passage, as he was trying to explain what was coming down the pike for all of the disciples, Jesus said, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
That absolutely profound and lovely pastor at First Congregational Church of Frankfort says, “This week is our time of work in building our trust, walking in Christ’s grief, that we are able to more fully engage in the deeper celebration of the Easter Resurrection.” In fact, she has invited all of us to go through this week with a sense of it being a gift from the One who created us to have emotions and to experience all of them. And we can trust the process of this week, because God holds it, supported by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. So shall we pray?
God, Jesus, Spirit, thank you for partnering with us to experience a deeper and meaningful way of life, as well as our relationship with you. Strengthen our trust, so that it becomes stronger, as a friend that goes with us on our journey of life. Thank you for trusting us to do good and to offer our best, even when you know the potential for our failure. And then thank you for the glue of grace that can restore that which is broken and allows for the celebration of you and each other, in ways that may be new and richer than ever before. For these gifts and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
There is a book entitled, “Break a Vase” by Richard Meyer. In it, he tells the story of Bob and Elizabeth Dole. Apparently, while on the campaign trail, Bob Dole received a letter in response to an article that appeared in a magazine in which Bob and Elizabeth Dole were making their bed together.
The writer of the letter to Mr. Dole expressed his disappointment that Dole would allow himself to be photographed in such a "compromising" position, making the bed with his wife. Senator Dole wrote the man back, saying, "You don't know the half of it; the only reason Elizabeth was helping at all was because the photographer was in the room."
In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, Lazarus had died, Laz’s sister, Mary, had lashed out at Jesus for “letting” him die, and Jesus ultimately raised Laz to life again. Against the background of all that happening, the chief priests and Pharisees were meeting to figure out what to do about this Jesus guy, because if people started following him, turning their allegiance from Emperor Tiberius to Jesus, then the Romans could come and take away the Jewish temple and ultimately, their nation. While conspiracy was slinking around in the background, Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and others were celebrating life.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”
Thank you, Laurel and Mason. One of the joys of my time away was doing what many adults of all ages have done throughout time, watching middle school and high school weekend basketball tournaments. So one early Saturday a.m., watching 14-year-old boys do what 14-year-old boys do on a court, I happened to tune in to a conversation between a mother and her little daughter next to me. I wrote it down, word for word because it was so good.
Out of the blue, the little girl says, “Mom, yesterday I had an itchy thing on my shoulder.” The mom asked, “Is it gone now?” The little girl said, “Yes.” And that was it. It cracked me up as it was so random, so disconnected to the moment, yet so very important. And the deeper joy was that the mother looked away from the game to interact with the little girl, validating her and accepting the little “gift” from the girl’s everyday life.
There are so many instructional bullet points in today’s passage, but a couple we maybe don’t always think about are 1. the setting and 2., Jesus’ acceptance of the gift.
This glimpse into a single episode of Jesus’ life took place in an easy two-mile walk from where Jesus grew up in Jerusalem, Bethany being the hometown of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. For reference, that’s from here to the causeway on the way to Elberta. Even without bicycles in his day, I’d be willing to bet that Jesus knew Bethany pretty well, being a kid without television or gadgets and needing something to occupy time.
Being one of the siblings’ best friends, Jesus probably didn’t just recline at the table with the others like what one might have done at weddings and accompanying degrees of politeness. Maybe the siblings’ abode was more of a second home to Jesus.
During my time in Minnesota, I stayed mainly with my dad at this southern suburb of St. Paul home. But between every weekend and every other weekend, I would spend a few days with my sister, who lives an hour away from dad, in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis. The two houses are very different from each other, and yet at each house I slept in a room that they called “my” room. And to make for easier references, I even referred to those rooms as mine.
The houses are obviously not mine, but I had a little space in them where I could escape if necessary, lay my head down in peace and navigate even beyond their homes because of the rest I was able to enjoy. The last week of my time away I spent at an Air B and B in Boyne City, where I, again, had a space that allowed me to put my feet up and unwind at the end of the day - if not for entire days.
I have to admit that I cut my time short at the B and B by a day, because I was really missing my own bed. Yes, I was curious about how the parsonage looked after it’s amazing transformation. But more than anything, I was wanting that place I call home. I think that happens to a lot of us, at the end of trips, when we’re eager to get back to the familiar and comfortable.
I don’t know if everyone has caught on yet, but for a long time, I’ve referred to this gathering of people as a church family, in part, because that’s what we are. But also, because in our coming together as often as we do, it becomes a second home for all of us, that allows us rest, even if sometimes it’s not in our favorite pew, even when someone different sits next to us, because this is “our” space, even if there are people here with whom we might have differing opinions on topics from potato chips to politics and beyond. Whether watching from a special place at home, or here in person, this space is really important and special and vital to the living out of the rest of our lives.
I’ve been thinking about this day for weeks, anticipating the joy of being home with all of you, and doing the sacred thing that we do as followers of Christ in communing with one another. Envisioning this day came easily as I visited different churches that had some sort of significance in my BF days - Before Frankfort.
Regardless of the number of people I knew - or not - in any given church, it was so interesting how I was welcomed - or not. I walked into one church where I knew only two people of the couple dozen attending that very cold day, and they were the only two people who interacted with me. No one invited me to coffee, there was nothing in the bulletin to invite me in. How we operate with this space we call home is important, too, because there may be people wanting - needing - to be part of a family, just like we are.
There is some dispute among Bible “experts” as to who this particular Mary was who anointed Jesus’ feet, and her identity isn’t maybe so crucial as Jesus’ response to Judas. It’s easy to understand the money aspect of Mary’s gift, but there is also Jesus’ acceptance of her gift and the subsequent acceptance of Mary into this setting.
Dining in Jesus’ day was a little different in that they literally reclined - lounged on one arm, on cushions the ground - around a table. If you are eating like that, your feet are likely the furthest part of your body from the table. So Mary’s anointing was at the fringe of the gathering, maybe in a non-verbal way of asking to be allowed “into” the family eating together. Telling Judas to leave Mary alone certainly carried a great deal of significance on the surface, but just below the surface, it was an even larger and more crucial response.
It’s easy to appreciate the idea of home, especially in a time when having such a place is hard to find for a lot of people - regardless of income. A lot of times, we come close to the topic of home with Mothers and Fathers Days, but then, they can be a little loaded with emotion. Today’s passage is not without emotion, either. But we have this time to think about our own spaces and our places in those spaces - and here - and to pray for and give God praise for our places of restoration and refreshment.
And we have this meal this day, the one that Jesus gave us, one for which most of us just have to receive. Whether we are the usual meal maker or someone else in the household is, there is that point when everything is ready and it’s time to ‘come and get it.’ It’s time to prepare our hearts as we come to get the meal that reminds us of sacrificial, eternal love and grace and mercy.
Let us pray. Holy God of home and hearth, heart and honor, thank you for claiming us and preparing for us and being with us as a valued person in our lives, regardless of where we call home. We pray for those who have lost their homes this week, their places of safety and rest. Send your Holy Spirit with special gifts of good sleep and peace and comfort, regardless of specific situations, that we may all meet our tomorrows better equipped to help others in our lives. Thank you for your Son, who showed us over and over, what love looks like and what it means, including us in that love - that love in which we are always “home.” For these and the food of the earth we bless to your name, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.