You Start at the Very Beginning…

Dawn in the wildernessScripture Text:  Mark 1: 1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Do you remember the song from “The Sound of Music”?  “You start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.  When you read, you begin with A-B-C; when you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.  The first three notes just happen to be Do-Re-Mi. Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti…..oh let’s see if we can’t make it a little bit easier…”  (Yeah, I’m a Sound of Music dork.)  We’re used to that…starting at the beginning, learning our A-B-C’s before we jump headlong into reading Tolstoy or something.  But, the writer of the Gospel According to Mark seemed to just sort of want to get this show on the road.  We’ve become so accustomed to the beauty and poetry of the nativity that somehow that becomes the season for us.  But here…”The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  That’s it.  That’s all you get.  No announcement of Jesus’ birth, no birth story, no stable, no inn, no manger, no Mary and Joseph and the babe, no shepherds, no magi.  Just that.  It’s sort of like the Gospel writer is saying “refer to the previous volumes”.  But, of course, most Biblical scholars will tell you that there WERE no previous volumes of the Gospel but that this one was the first.  So, what is that beginning?

 

Then it goes on:  As it is written….Essentially, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is everything that came before–all the prophets, all the judges, all the Wisdom, all the kings, Elijah, Moses, Ruth, Jacob, Abraham, Sarai, all the exiles returning home, all the burning bushes and parting waters, all the covenants, all those generations upon generations of people who wandered in the wilderness.  And now…now appearing in the wilderness is this wild, somewhat unkempt, bear of a man who clothes himself in camel’s hair and eats what appears to be whatever crosses his path in the brush.  There were certainly those with “proper” upbringing and “acceptable” expression of their religious beliefs that probably would have been a bit embarrassed by the display.  I mean, maybe it would have gone down easier if it had been someone a tad bit more “traditional”.  (But then, really, was Jesus all that status quo?)  And yet, I’m fascinated with this character of John the Baptist.  He knew who he was.  He knew his place.  He was called to prepare the way.  He was called to BE the voice crying out in the wilderness.  He was called to prepare the way of the Lord.

 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Here we are, in the wilderness of our lives, wandering a little aimlessly at times, trying our best to connect to God, to feel God’s Presence in our lives.  And yet, we know that God did not plunk down in the middle of the bustling city of Jerusalem.  God did not come in the way that was planned or imagined.  The Son of God emerged into the wilderness that was already there, already so full of God that the very earth shook.  The truth is, God had been there all along.  The good news of Jesus Christ was always beginning.  The same is true for us today.  What we are living is not some sort of prelude of a life to come; it is the very beginning of the story.  Maybe that’s our shortcoming.  Maybe we live lives limited by the chapters surrounding us.  But God…God came and comes over and over and over again, beginning, recreating, starting us over.  Advent is the season of beginnings–the beginning of the church year, the beginning of us, the beginning of what comes next.  Advent is not a preface to the high holy day on which we celebrate the Savior’s birth.  Advent reminds us that we, even now, are the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  The truth is, the story ALWAYS is at the beginning!

 

When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. (Edward Teller)

 

FOR TODAY:  How are you called to prepare the way for Christ?  How are you called to begin again?

 

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

Holy Patience

PatienceScripture Text (Advent 2B): 2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

 

I must admit that I am not the most patient person I know.  I think it’s safe to assume that, really, few of us are.  The world just moves too fast.  The patient ones, the ones who wait, tend to get left behind.  And yet, those of us of us who are always on the move don’t really get there any sooner.  What is that about?  And then we read this passage that describes God as patient.  Have you ever thought of the Divine, the Holy, the Creator, the One who is always and forever on the move, compelling us to go forward, to live into this glorious Vision that God has, as “patient.”  I suppose the impatient ones of us want God to get this show on the road, already.  After all, where IS peace?  Where IS righteousness?  Where IS this promise of no poverty, no hunger, no suffering?  But wait, it doesn’t say that God is sitting back on the holy laurels and being slow about things happening.  God is not slow to fill the world with glory; God is waiting for us, patiently waiting for us, to catch up.

 

So perhaps our impatience, our living life full-throttle, without stopping, just stopping to see what God is doing, to hear where God is calling, is what is slowing this whole thing down.  After all, God knows where God is going.  God is waiting for us, waiting for our response, waiting for us to perhaps wait to see, wait to hear.  Oh, shoot!  It’s back to that waiting thing.  We CAN’T hurry this along.  We CAN’T live for the next thing.  We CAN’T live as if we are in a season that is not quite yet.  God is waiting for us to stop, to wait on God, so that we can catch up to what God envisions us to be.  It’s back to the Sabbath ideal.  God created times for us to stop, to wait, to let ourselves sort of regroup so that we could move forward down the way we are called to go.

 

You’ve heard the story of the American traveler on safari in Kenya.  He was loaded down with maps, and timetables, and travel agendas.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”  On the first morning, everyone awoke early and traveled fast and went far into the bush.  On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far into the bush.  On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went even farther into the bush.  The American seemed pleased.  But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.  Their behavior incensed the impatient American.  “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”  The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

 

This Advent time is a time of waiting for God.  But it is also a time when God waits on us–patiently and lovingly waits for us to awake to God’s Presence, awake to God’s beckoning, awake to finally see where we were meant to be all along.  We cannot do that if we are too busy impatiently moving through life, always reaching and grasping for the next thing and missing that God is waiting for us now.  If we would be a little more patient, if we could just for a moment stop and breathe in that Holy Patience of God, perhaps God would no longer have to wait another day or another thousand years for the promises to come to be.

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—The rest sit round it and pluck blueberries. (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)

 

FOR TODAY:  Stop moving so fast.  Be patient.  Look.  Listen.  Take off your shoes and be.  God is waiting.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

In the Hours Before the Dawn

dark-before-dawnScripture Text:  Genesis 1:1-5a, 31a, 2:1-3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good…Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 

We’re never really sure what to do with this day.  Everything is so quiet, so unsettled.  Memories of the week before interrupt our quiet thoughts, filling our minds with regrets over things we would have done differently, places we would have said “yes”, places we would have said “no”, places that we would have stood, places that we would have stayed.  The Cross is empty and Jesus is gone, laid in the tomb–forever.  We know that we will have to go on but we’re not sure how to do that. This is a day when once again, we are covered in darkness.  The earth feels out of sorts, almost formless and empty once again.  And so we sit here in these hours before the dawn with no direction, no guide, no journey that we can see.

And, yet, God has done this before, this creating.  God takes a formless voice that is immersed in darkness and sweeps into it bringing Light.  God creates and we become.  God creates and the world begins to move.  God creates and everything is as it should be.  And then God rested.  This seventh day, this Sabbath, this day of rest, is not the low point of Creation but the veritable climax.  It is the edge of everything that will be, the veritable edge of Glory.  This is the day to sit without doing, to sit without trying to “fix” the world, without trying to “fix” ourselves, and let the peace of God sweep over us once again.  This is the day to sit in the silence and hear the voice that is beckoning us to a New Creation.  Whether we can see it or not, this is the day that we are standing on the edge of Glory.  It is not what we planned; it is not what we envisioned; it is new.  Creation is happening now–in the quiet, in the darkness.

So what do we do today in these hours before the dawn?  Nothing…just rest…and let God create you.

The pilgrims sit on the steps of death.  Undanced, the music ends.  Only the children remember that tomorrow’s stars are not yet out.  (Ann Weems)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli