Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

last supperToday’s Lectionary Passage:  John 31: 1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Can you feel the love tonight?  Can you feel something beyond where you were?  It’s a hard night.  We know what is coming tomorrow.  We have read the story over and over again–the story of loss and betrayal, of the disciples sleeping, of Jesus’ surrender, of Jesus being dragged off to the house of Caiaphas on this very night.  We have over and over and over experienced regret and bewilderment and grief.  But, do we ever remember the love of this night?  They came together for a passover dinner.  I always thought that they were alone, gathered in some sort of stuffy upstairs room with Leonardo da Vinci standing on the side painting the scene for posterity.  But then I saw, even if it was a “traditional understanding” of the place, the Upper Room.  It was big, bigger than I had ever imagined.  What dawned on me was that this was Passover, the community gathering.  Jesus wasn’t just there crammed into some sort of painting with the disciples; he was there with the community, sharing life and and community and food.  But at some point, he sat down with his closest friends and it became intimate.  It become a dinner of love on that last night.  They shared food; they shared wine; and Jesus washed their feet.  Jesus showed them what intimacy and love for another human really meant–that one would become vulnerable, would do for another what perhaps was not the most comfortable thing to do.  Love became not a caring or a sharing but an entering, an entering into the life of another.

This foot washing thing is hard.  It is way too intimate for us westerners.  After all, we are pretty private, seemingly reserved; we honor each other’s imaginary space.  But once a year, St. Paul’s does this at the mid-day Maundy Thursday service.  It’s a small service, intimate really.  I remember the first year we did it.  We were retiscent, hesitant to trust that people would come through.  So, admittedly,  we had a couple of “ringers”.  Well, the ringers came and then the rest did.  I sat there on the floor moved by something that I had never experienced.  I was touching people’s feet.  They had removed their shoes at the pew and had walked barefoot to the seat where we had the plastic tub in which water would be poured over their feet.  It was incredible.

And then Caroline came.  Caroline–in her full Nigerian dress and her permanent posture of prayer.  She came and she sat and she placed her foot in the water.  I picked up her foot.  Caroline and her family were part of the Nigerian freedom movement.  She had come from the tribes and had wanted more.  She had worked hard, always putting aside her own desires for what she thought was important–others and God.   I looked at this older woman’s foot in my hands, deep with lines of life and passion, and I had tears my eyes.  I was holding life.  I was not holding someone’s foot.  I was holding their life.  I was affirming them, praying for them, washing away for them all the things that got in the way of what they so treasured.  As I was gingerly washing Caroline’s foot, she looked up into the ceiling and she began to pray.  They were words that I did not understand and composed a prayer that I understood completely.  It was incredible.  It was love at its deepest level–love for Christ, love for humanity, love for each other, love for God and all that we have together.  Caroline died a few years ago.  She left the most incredible love.  At her memorial service, I remembered that day.  I remembered that day that  was filled with love, that was filled with the Presence of Christ on that night.

You see, love is a funny thing.  It is not perfect.  Jesus knew that on that night.  He and the disciples did not sing “Kum-ba-yah” and then leave.  In Jesus’ life, love meant rejection and exile, frustration and misunderstanding, Presence and turning, welcome and redemption.  This very night, Love would be apathy and betrayal, surrender and pardon.  But, in this moment, love was a bunch of friends who had a dinner together and had their feet washed–feet filled with lines of life and passion.  Jesus washed their feet and held their life.  That’s all love is about.  Love is Life.  Love brings us together in a way that does not subdue us into one but embraces who we are.  Love takes all that we are and creates Love.  Nothing else can create itself.

Ruins of Caiaphas' House, Jerusalem, Israel, 2010
Ruins of Caiaphas’ House, Jerusalem, Israel, 2010

On this night, we take all that we are, sinners and saints, kings and vagabonds, the betrayer and the beloved, the anointed and the one who anoints, the nay-sayers and the ones who miss the signs of the sacred,  the pharisee and the rule-breaker, the faith-filled and the doubter, Caroline and me–we are all here, gathered together showered in the most incredible love imagineable.  Can you feel the love tonight?

Tomorrow we will kneel at the cross.  But, tonight, in this moment, can you feel the love?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Splitting Seeds

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comToday’s Lectionary Passage: John 12: 20-36

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

The twelfth chapter of John contains most of what Jesus had to say about his own death in that Gospel. And this is where we sort of start shutting down, isn’t it?  We liked sitting there listening to accounts of his birth, the stories of his calling the disciples, and those wonderful little parables that fill the Gospel-readings with drama and wisdom and sometimes leaving us with a knot in our stomach as we begin to see ourselves through Jesus’ eyes.  We even liked the beautiful story yesterday of the extravagant anointing of our Savior.  But this…this is coming a little too close to the edge.

Do you remember running through the sprinkler when you were kids?  You want to do it.  You want to feel that cool, refreshing feeling right after you do it.  But it’s that first blast of cold, paralyzing water that takes your breath away that you dread and so you put it off.  And then, finally, you hold your breath and run through it as fast as you can.  That’s almost what we have a tendency to do with the cross.  We dread it as we slowly walk toward it, dragging our feet a bit, not really wanting to experience it again—the memories and reliving of the horror, the violence, the suffering, the pain, the loss, the grief, the ending of all we know.  And as we approach, we then let our minds run quickly through it toward Easter morning when everything will be OK again.

But now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  For, as Jesus says, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just single lone grain, worth nothing; but if it dies, it bears fruit and lives on.  You see, wheat is as a caryopsis, meaning that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected.  The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge.  If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed.  It is dead and gone.  In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed. So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain; in other words, if we expect everything to go back to the way it was before—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.

Jerusalem 17This week of remembering is not an historical accounting of the events so long ago;  this is not only Jesus’ journey to the cross; it is ours.  You see, the tide has turned.  Jerusalem is there before us, the cross probably almost fully constructed at this point.  The problem is that we’re supposed to believe without faltering in the cross. We look at that big gleaming cross in the front of the sanctuary.  We see them on the doors to the church and on the sign outside.  Good grief, we even hang them around our necks. But, contrary to what most of Christianity holds out there as “belief”, I don’t think we were meant to worship the cross.  We were meant to worship God, to hunger and thirst in the deepest parts of our being to encounter God.  Well, we can’t see God.  If we could there’d be no need for faith.  But we can see Jesus, the One who points the Way to God.  But this Jesus is more than a leader.  He is more than a teacher.  Jesus is the One on the Cross.  And at that moment, God will do something incredible.  God will take the worst of this world, the worst of humanity, the worst of proof or sensibility, at a cost that no one can fathom…and recreate it.  In that moment on the Cross, God takes the worst of us and the best of God and reconciles them, redeeming us into oneness with God, pouring the Divine into humanity for all time.  But you have to be willing to let go, willing to change; you have to allow that seed that you are right now holding so tightly die away.

So as we walk through this holiest of weeks, remember that this is not Jesus’ journey that you walk; it is yours.  Let go that you might finally see what God has in store.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

How Much is Too Much?

anointing-jesus-feetLectionary Passage for Today: John 12: 1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.3Mary 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.4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”6(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.)7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”9When 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.10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Perhaps no one noticed when Mary got up and left the room.  Perhaps no one noticed when she quietly returned carrying a jar full of oil.  But then they noticed…With drama befitting a king, she raised the jar, broke the seal and in one movement, poured the entire bottle onto Jesus’ feet.  Then as the oil slowly 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. And the empty jar is cast aside.

In our faith understanding, the Sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of our life as a Christian, a new life in Christ, the beginning of a journey toward oneness with God, toward the life of Christ.  The waters of Baptism remind us of God’s ever-Presence in our lives, of God’s claim on us, and of the great love that God has for us that was revealed in Christ.  It is sacramental because it is God’s love made visible for us.  Through this sacrament, we enter this journey with God.  And the Eucharist is, for us, an entering into that Presence of God.  It makes God’s Presence real.  We don’t understand it.  It’s a wonderful holy mystery.  But somewhere in that bread, somewhere in that juice, is the very real Presence of God.

But you can’t help but listen to the story of Mary’s anointing without hearing the same language—Mary took, poured, and wiped.  We will hear those same words this Thursday in the account of Jesus’ last meal:  Jesus took the bread, poured out the wine, and wiped the feet of the disciples, and through these common gestures and such common touch, Jesus shows us what true love is.  And as Mary takes, and pours, and wipes, she shows that same love toward Christ, and as the storm clouds begin to gather outside, this small crowded house in Bethany becomes a cathedral, the bottle that held the oil becomes a font, and this simple meal becomes a Eucharist. Through her touch, through her love, the ordinary becomes sacred.  Mary enters Jesus’ life and he becomes part of her.  Her life becomes an extravagant sacrament that shows Jesus’ love to the world.  And she, with Jesus, is on the journey to the Cross.  And the whole world is now forever filled with the fragrance of that perfume.

So, how much is too much?  Where did Mary cross the line?  Where was the point when someone could have reasonably said, “stop, that’s enough”?  Well, the truth is, I wish I could be more like her, wish I could give all of myself without holding back, wish I could break the jar and break the rules, and do something extravagant for love rather than for the right reason.  Because in this moment, Mary began walking with Jesus to the cross.  In this moment, she abandoned herself and poured everything out.  In that moment she became sacrament.  I don’t think it was too much.

In this holiest of weeks, become sacrament.  Do not count the cost.  Break the seal and pour yourself out.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Procession

palm_sunday_roadToday’s Lectionary Passage:  Luke 19: 28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I love Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s.  I love starting on the Plaza out in what hopefully abundant sunlight and just enough of a breeze to cool us off without wrapping the banners around us.  (That happened to me one year as I turned the corner along Main Street.)  It is grand; it is glorious, taking us into the sanctuary with celebration, waving our palm branches and singing the well-known Palm Sunday hymns.   And yet, we know what’s coming.  We know that the celebration will end and reality will set in.  So there’s a sense that we love the processional while wanting to hold back just a bit, stay in the procession just a bit longer, basking in the excitement.

Jesus is in the bustling capital city.  He is no longer in the villages and open country of his home.  The celebratory parade is also a protest march.  The disciples should have known what was happening.  Jesus had already laid it out for them.  But they still did not comprehend what he had said.  At this moment Jesus begins the sharp descent down the Mt. of Olives, winding his way toward Jerusalem.  The road that he walked is a steep decline into the Garden of Gethsemane and then begins to ascend toward Mt. Moriah and then to the place of the temple. At this moment, the crowd sees him as a king, as one who will get them out of where they are.  So this is a parade that befits a king.  “Hosanna”, “the Coming One”, the one who restores Jerusalem. 

Jesus enters.  This is the moment.  This is it.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus entering from the east brought them something that they had never had before—the dawn of peace, truth, justice, and love.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus had indeed come to restore them not to what was but to what should’ve been all along.  So,sadly, the parade would fizzle.  As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives.  And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.

Well, of course, we know what happens after that.  The stage is set.  The characters are in place.  The next five days would play out in a way that is, of course, NOT “in a way befitting”.  But, for now, this procession, this entrance, is important.  Processions always are.  They are transitions.  They take us from place to the next. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing.  Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place.  It is scary because we know what lies ahead.  We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be.  It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

Eastern Golden Gate of JerusalemWe are always in procession, always moving from one way of being to another. We are moving from darkness to light, from living with a fear of scarcity to living with an embrace of the abundance that God offers, from self-centeredness to self-surrender, from a certainty of who we are and who we should be to faith in a God who will lead us to a new thing.  In this procession, we are moving from death to life.  There, up ahead, there are the gates of the city. The waters have parted.  The question is, is this the point where we drop out and go back to our lives? Or do we stay in procession, walking with Jesus, walking through the gates, knowing what lies ahead?  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”  This is our wilderness.  This is our movement from slavery to freedom.  This is our procession to life.  So, keep walking. 

…Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…It is a time for preparation…The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday.  Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin. (From “Holy Week”, by Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Climax

clouds-floating-over-a-mountainScripture Passage:  Mark 9: 2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

How did we get here so fast?  Everything seemed to just fly by.  Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we were reading of the birth of a child?  Wasn’t it just awhile ago that Jesus was beginning his ministry and calling the disciples to journey with him? In the big scheme of things, we’ve gotten to this point pretty fast.  Here it is—a child born into anonymous poverty and raised by no-name peasants turns out to be the Son of God.  He grows up, becomes a teacher, a healer, and capable of hosting large groups of people with just a small amount of leftovers.  Then he asks a handful of people to become his followers, to help him in his mission.  They leave everything they have, give up their possessions and their way of making a living, they sacrifice any shred of life security that they might have had, and begin to follow this person around, probably often wondering what in the world they were doing.  And we’ve essentially read through all of this in a matter of a few months since early December.  And then one day, Jesus leads them up to a mountain, away from the interruptions of the world.

Now, this is sort of interesting.  There is no proof of an actual geographically-charted mountain.  It is presented as if it just rose up, uninterrupted, from the terrain, as if it is rather a part of the topography of God.  Even for people, such as myself, who cannot claim a single, stand alone, so-called “mountain-top experience” that brought them to Christ but rather came year by year and grew into the relationship…even for us…this IS the mountain-top experience.  And there, on that mountain, everything changes.  The clothes that Jesus was wearing change, taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding, white, whiter than anything that they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appeared Elijah and Moses, representing the Law and the prophets, the forerunners of our faith, standing there with Jesus.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings to house them.  For me, that’s sort of an interesting part of the story.  Dwellings…I guess because that would keep them here, essentially bound to our way of living.  Dwellings…to control where they were.  Dwellings…to somehow put this incredible thing that had happened into something that made sense, to bring it into the light of the world where we could understand it.  But, instead, they are veiled by a cloud and from the cloud comes a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  “Listen to him!”  And then they were gone and Jesus stood there alone.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to us that it should be the climax of the Jesus story.  After all, how can you top it—Old Testament heroes appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  But there’s a reason that we read this at this point.  In some ways, it is perhaps the climax of Jesus’ earthly journey.  Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now.  This is the ultimate in thin places, those places of liminality, “betwixt and between” what is and what will be, those places that if we dare to enter, we experience that glimpse of the sacred and the holy.  The light is so bright it is blinding.  God’s glory is so pervasive that we cannot help but encounter it.  And these Old Testament characters?  They show us that this is not a one-time “mountain-top” experience.  It is part of life; it is part of history; it is part of humanity.  Rather than everything of this world being left behind in this moment, it is all swept into being.  It all becomes part of the glory of God.

And then the lights dim.  There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God stops talking.  And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem.  From our vantage point, we know what happens there.  And he asks us to follow and gives us all the portions we need to do just that.  And we can.  Because now we see the way to go.  Let us now go to Jerusalem and see this thing that has happened.

The journey to Bethlehem was much more to my liking.  I am content kneeling here, where there’s an aura of angels and the ever-present procession of shepherds and of kings who’ve come to kneel to the Newborn to whom we are newborn.  I want to linger here in Bethlehem in joy and celebration, knowing once I set my feet toward Jerusalem, the Child will grow, and I will be asked to follow. The time of Light and Angels is drawing to a close.  Just when I’ve settled contentedly into the quiet wonder of Star and Child, He bids me leave and follow.  How can I be expected to go back into darkness after sitting mangerside, bathed in such Light?  It’s hard to get away this time of year; I don’t know how I’ll manage.  It’s not just the time…the conversation along the way turns from Birth to Death.  I’m not sure I can stand the stress and pain; I have enough of those already.  Besides, I’ve found the lighting on the road to Jerusalem is very poor.  This time around, there is no Star…

view-of-city-of-jerusalemThe shepherds have left; they’ve returned to hillside and to sheep.  The Magi, too, have gone, having been warned in a dream, as was Joseph, who packed up his family and fled.  If I stay in Bethlehem, I stay alone.  God has gone on toward Jerusalem. (“Looking Toward Jerusalem”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 14-15.)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23b)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Encounter

"Women at the Well", part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia
“Women at the Well”, part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

The journey has shifted.  No longer are Jesus’ words limited to those in his immediate circle.  He leaves the confines of what he knows and begins to turn to outsiders, those who tradition and cultural and societal norms have rejected. First on the list are the Samaritans.  The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So, here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional religion.  He, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  He speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  And he speaks to the enemy. The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  This woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in the shadows of humanity.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class woman who is a Samaritan becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.

Now, the woman does miss Jesus’ point.  She looks upon Jesus as some sort of miracle worker, rather than seeing that he offers a new way of being.  Even this story deals with suffering—the woman surely suffered.  Good grief, she was there by herself—couldn’t even face the crowd.  And Jesus—well Jesus was just thirsty.  “Give me a drink…I thirst.” We all have needs; we all have fears—that is the nature of our true humanity.  And maybe the story teaches us that from our need we will realize who God is.  Maybe, in fact, it is IN our very need that we find God, those times when we are unsure of ourselves and not quite so confident that we are heading the right direction in our lives.  So, this woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ true identity.  Maybe that’s our problem.  We are still looking for the Jesus that will make our lives easier rather than the one who will give us new life.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will affirm where we are rather than leading us to this new thing that God is doing.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will become our own personal Savior, our own private Messiah, rather than the Salvation and Life of the world.

Our faith journey is not just ours.  Contrary to what some may tell you, you are not carrying the sole responsibility for “getting it right”.  The journey, rather is made up of encounters with those that God places in our path.  At each turn, we grow, we change, our pathway broadens.  The procession to the Cross has already begun.  We are walking together, gathering others into our midst as we walk.  This is what Jesus did.  The journey to the Cross began long before the gates of Jerusalem at the end of the Palm Sunday Road.  The journey began “in the beginning”.  The journey weaved through a garden, into the lessons learn from the stories of an ark, and was there as its followers were carried into exile.  The journey held deliverance and led us up to a mountaintop.  It has held prophets’ voices and the wisdom of sages.  On it were two women named Naomi and Ruth who held each other through their trials.  It was the road for kings and judges and those who were trying to figure out why a life had fallen apart.  The journey turned into a small town outside of Jerusalem where life and clarity and salvation were born.  It returned us to the place of exile, which this time held deliverance.  The journey is one of water and wine and welcome for all.  This journey has taught us how to love and how to thirst.  It has shown us what it means to have faith and not need certainty.  It has taught us that questions are part of it all.

We are still gathering in.  And now it turns…one more mountain to climb and then the procession will enter Jerusalem.  But that is not the end; there is always more up ahead.  But we do not travel alone.  God has already gone before us and still walks with us to show the Way.  So, as our Lenten journey nears Jerusalem, remember from where you’ve come and remember what you have received from those that you have encountered on the way.  Remember who and whose you are.  Remember that you do not walk alone.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Add Water and Stir

wedding-feast-cana-ic-4025Scripture Passage:  John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution.  Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)  But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.  She expects him to fix it.  Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things.  Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this?  I mean, really, wine?  Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor?  Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain?  Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do?  Now THAT would have been a miracle.  But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, the first of his signs, creates a party, a feast.  Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more.  Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life.  And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself.  It begins as ordinary grapes.  Well, not really.  If you go even farther back, you start with water.  Everything starts with water.  And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed.  And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary.  And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait.  They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait.  We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine.  Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift.  Water and a miracle…So this story of wine makes a little more sense.  Wine is water—plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water.  No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself.  Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation.  No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine.  Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.  And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different.  God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us.  We, too, are water plus a miracle.  13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.”  It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle, God-breathed, holy and sacred.

So in this week “between”, that week when you don’t want to essentially jump into the Passion stories way too soon, we are moving–moving from Bethlehem through Galilee to Jerusalem, moving from birth through growth to maturity, moving from life to death to life again.  This is the week in which the Procession begins.  And here we remember, we remember this child born among us; we remember this child delivered to us; we remember our baptism.  And, now, we remember that that baptism calls us to be something, calls us to be water plus a miracle.  The water has been added.  Now start stirring.  Let your Lenten journey be one that moves your life into what it should be–a miracle.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli