Scripture Text: John 12: 1-11

12Six 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.

Holy Week has begun. We have walked this wilderness road to the cross throughout this Lenten season—letting go, acknowledging our discomforts, fears, and losses, and changing, most of all, changing–and now it is upon us. Most of us don’t really know what it is that we’re supposed to do with this week. We have gone through this season hearing its call to repentance, to emptying, to looking at things differently. But, still, the ending is beginning to loom bigger than we imagined it would be. What is it, exactly, that we’re supposed to do with this week?  After all, this is the week that Jesus surrenders and lets himself be handed over.

We are not used to a Christ who does nothing, who just surrenders. We are, rather, more comfortable when Jesus is showing us how to do what we’re supposed to do as followers. We like a Jesus who is strong and confident leading our team.  We are not accustomed to such a passive Christ. I looked up the word “passive” in an etymological dictionary. The root is the Latin passiuus. And then, surprisingly, it says “See Passion.” The etymological root of passion, the term that we use to describe Jesus’ suffering journey to the cross, is the Latin passionem, or suffering. And it says “See Passive.” The two words are related. The “Passion”, this time of suffering and letting go and being “handed over”, is a movement from planned and intentional action to no longer being in control. All of Jesus’ actions are accomplished. It is finished. It is a time of waiting—waiting for others’ response.  Jesus has shown us how to let go, how to surrender.

In the reading for this Holy Monday, we find this 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, 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 onto the floor, she bows and wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of a combination of mint and ginseng, sickeningly sweet.

Well, the disciples just couldn’t leave it alone. What in the world was she doing? 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!

Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands. I do not have long to be with you. She knows where I am going. And she responds. This woman loves Jesus. In fact, she loves Jesus so much that she defies the expected and instead pours out the abundance of her life and anoints Jesus for his burial. This is not the time to talk about budgets or the ways things are normally done. This is the time of Jesus’ waiting and her response. As she anointed Jesus, Mary entered Jesus’ Passion and understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ.

There are those in our society that would describe that breakthrough as being “born again”. But that phrase, commonplace and probably overused and misused as it is today, was not even around over a hundred years ago. Instead, the words that were used to describe this coming into who Jesus is was to say that one was “seized by the power of a great affection.” Isn’t that an incredible phrase—to be “seized by the power of a great affection”? You see, we 21st century folks usually think we have it all figured out. We know what we’re called to do to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We live our lives as best we can within the framework of what God wants us to do. And we do what we can for others by reaching out in the name of Christ. All of that is wonderful. But are we truly “seized by the power of a great affection”? Why do you think Jesus did everything that he did while he was on this earth? Was it just to show us what it is we’re supposed to do? No, Jesus was more than merely an exemplary human being put here for us to emulate. Jesus came to reveal God’s love, to show us how much God loves each of us and how much God desires us, to make known once and for all the affection that God has for all of God’s Creation and for us as children of God. Jesus was God made known, Emmanuel.

There is a story from the Sufi mystical tradition of a disciple that comes to an elder for direction“Where shall I find God?” the disciple asked the elder. “God is with you,” the Holy One replied. “But if that is true,” the disciple asked, “why can I not see this Presence?” “Because you are like the fish who, when in the ocean, never notices the water.” It is not that God is not with us; it is that we are unaware of that incredible PresenceWhen we finally stop doing what we think we should be doing, let go, and listen for that which God is calling us to be we will become aware of that extraordinary Presence that is God. And in that becoming, we enter the anointed Christ-life.

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.

In much the same way, Mary poured the oil upon Jesus. The act was sacramental. Mary understood that love. She entered that love. Indeed, she was “seized by the power of a great affection”. And in pouring the oil, in wiping his feet, she entered Jesus’ Passion. She became part of Jesus’ journey to the cross. In Baptism, God uses water to make God’s love visible to us. And as Mary poured the oil on Christ, she made her love visible to God. And immersed in that love, we will find ourselves “seized by the power of a great affection.”

This is the week when we come to the end of all our doing. This is the wilderness week when we let go and walk with Christ through betrayal and suffering and last suppers and final endings. This is the week when we finally realize that we can do nothing else. And on that final day, as the passive Christ is handed over, there is nothing more for him to do other than wait for our response. Who will follow me? Who will come to me with all your misery and your sins, with all your trouble and your needs, and with all your longings to be loved?  Who will follow me through the wilderness? Who will hand over their lives just as I have done that you too might be raised to new life? Because it is then that the oil will be poured out for you in much the same way as you are immersed in the waters of your Baptism.

This week is not an easy one to walk. Sometimes we are still not sure what it is that we’re supposed to do. But this week is not about us; it is not about what we do or how we do it; this week is the week that we are called to be “seized by the power of a great affection”, to become one with Christ, to enter Christ’s suffering and passion and waiting, to make our very lives a sacramental journey. And as we come closer and closer in this wilderness to what seems to be a final ending, we will finally be aware that we are never really alone. God calls us. God is waiting for our response.  Let go and let God.

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)

Grace and Peace,


Gather Us In

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-12 (Lent 4B Psalter)

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south…

17Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;18they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;20he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. 21Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

This psalter is one of thanksgiving, thanking God for the promise of deliverance and for deliverance and redemption itself.  We left out some of the other trouble (in the verses that were skipped) but these words deal with illness and distress.  It also reminds us of the reading about the snakes in Numbers and God’s deliverance and healing.

I love verse 2 and the image of God gathering in the redeemed from all the lands, from east and west and north and south.  It reminds us that though there are many ways that we are separated from God—illness, desperation, our own transgressions—there are even more ways TO God.  And maybe the words of this Psalm are meant to remind us of that.  After all, we are human.  We tend to get mired in where we are.  When things are going well, we forget to reach for God.  And often when the darkness descends upon us, we often deem ourselves “not ready” to do the reaching, as if we need to “clean our lives up a bit” before we let God back into them. 

Whichever applies to us at any given time, we somehow identify with “some who were sick”.  Other translations read “some were fools and took rebellious paths.”  In some ways, that’s even more uncomfortable for us.  After all, we can blame “sickness” on something else.  But when we play the fool, it somehow is laid completely on us.  But, regardless, God redeems.  God ALWAYS redeems.  We don’t have to wait until we’re better, or cleaned up, or “prepared” to let God in.  God is just there, always ready to either deliver, redeem, or just walk us home.

But the Psalm continues.  The Lord sees and knows our pain, our distress.  God delivers us, sometimes picking us up and setting us on our feet headed toward the way that God calls us to go.  And then we give thanks.  We give thanks individually and corporately.  The whole community rejoices with thanksgiving and retells what God has done with great joy.  (That sounds like the Communion liturgy, doesn’t it?)

Worshipping together…that used to be so easy.  You just got up early (and once a year even an hour earlier!!!)  and went to church and planted yourself in a fairly comfortable pew (probably the very same pew each Sunday) and you did your thing.  But the last year that has changed.  We have been forced as a community to revisit what worship is.  I think (and, I have to say, I even hope) that it will change the way we do “church”, the way we look at “church” forever.  For most of my life, church has probably been somewhat inconvenient.  There’s been a wrestling with the surrounding culture for “Sunday” and “church” has had to increasingly share its day with professional sports events and, increasingly, other activities. (Like we forgot that our Jewish brothers and sisters have ALWAYS shared a day!) So, churches have entered the realm of competing for an audience.  (Ugh…THAT’S not good!  That’s getting a little too close to that merchandising God thing again!)

Maybe the pandemic has finally made us realize that we have been asking focusing on the wrong thing.  Corporate worship is not about attendance; it is not about measuring success on how many “butts are in the pews”, so to speak; it is, as the Psalm says, about gathering, gathering in from all directions, gathering in those that are hurting, those that have given up, and those that think they have everything figured out.  And gathering involves opening—opening up the doors, opening up the streaming services, opening through Zoom connections. 

This Lenten season as we wander in the wilderness of not only a journey to the cross, but also a journey through a pandemic, a journey that is sometimes a lonely one, let us focus on gathering.  Let us focus on ways to gather, ways to worship, ways to be together, and then find the myriad of ways that we can tell people what God has done and is doing in our lives.  Maybe if we shift our focus to “keeping Sabbath” rather than “going to church”, we will discover a God who has been there all along—wherever we are present.      

Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (Barbara Brown Taylor)

Grace and Peace,



This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage:  Mark 1: 29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

So, this Scripture has LOTS of stuff going on, doesn’t it?  In one passage, Jesus leaves the synagogue, goes to someone’s house, heals a woman, eats dinner, cures all these people that showed up at the door, and then finally (finally!) in the dark of the early morning gets to go off by himself to pray. Jesus is depicted as a never-tiring, all-encompassing, always-present healer and teacher that was always open to offering his heart to others in love.  If this is the life that we are supposed to live, I don’t know about you, but as much as I want to live a life based on the life of Jesus, it sort of seems a little exhausting.  Is this what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

This story seems very chaotic, almost a frenzy of chaotic clamoring as people try to get to Jesus.  And the disciples were no help.  I mean, Jesus had already cured everyone who had been brought to him and they apparently ran out and gathered more.  In fact, the passage says that the “whole city was gathered at the door”.  The whole city?  (“We need you.  Come now.  Houston is at your door!)  But this time, it says that he cured “many”—not all–many.  So maybe Jesus’ purpose was not to do everything for everyone but rather to show us a way to live that aligned with the life that God envisioned for us.

And, so, in the morning, before dawn, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place, a place without the crowds, a place where he could pray and be alone with God.  I think this is the high point of the passage.  Because here we see a very human, very vulnerable, and (I would think) very tired Jesus who seeks direction and deeply desires to spend time with God.  We see a Jesus that needs to stop and spend time alone in prayer and thought—just like we do.  And there he prayed…

But, alas, even Jesus did not have the luxury of unlimited time for himself and his prayer life.  We are told that Simon and the others literally hunted him down. (Hunted him down?!?)  You can imagine it: “Come on, Jesus, everyone is looking for you, everyone needs you…what are you doing out here by yourself when there’s so much work to be done.”  (OK, I think this is rather humorous!)  Jesus’ answer?  (Wait for it!)  “So, they’re all looking for me in town?  OK, then let’s go somewhere else.”  (GREAT answer!)  Because after all, his mission was to spread the Gospel, not to get “bogged down” in answering every need of the town.  I mean, that’s why he had called all these disciples.  What were they doing? What a great lesson this could provide for us!  Jesus did not feel the need or the compulsion to be “all things to all people”.  His mission was to be who God called him to be. 

So what does this mean for us?  We understand that we are called to serve others, that we are called to healing and teaching and loving our neighbors, that we are called to be part of changing the world. Jesus showed us that.  But Jesus also showed us that we are also called to a deserted place, to prayer and solitude, to a close and personal relationship with God.  And, for most of us, that deserted place is much harder to find amidst the crowds that are lined up, clamoring and chaotic, outside our own door.

But then the words of the commandment return to us.  “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.”  Sabbath rest is not vacation.  It is not a nap or even just a break from the day to day.  And it is not even limited to a specific day of the week.  It is rather setting aside a time with God so that we will experience re-creation, just as Jesus did away from everyone else.

The Hebrew term for “Sabbath” is Shabbat, which essentially means “to cease or desist”.  It means to stop: to stop work, to stop worrying, to stop possessing, to stop running, to stop trying to be God and working so hard to ensure our future as we would like it to be.  It means to stop creating, which is exactly what God did in the first chapter of Genesis.  It means to stop and look around and see all that there is to see.

The term Shabbat also means “to rest”, to enter into the rhythm of life in which God created and invited us to live.  Our fast-paced, driven society often tries to convince us that this is a sign of weakness, of laziness, a characteristic of someone who will never succeed or get ahead.  But we often forget that life is about rhythms and cycles that support and renew each other.  Jesus knew that and, in this passage,, tries to show the disciples and ultimately us just that.

In her book “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”, Marva Dawn tells the story of a wagon train on its way from St. Louis to Oregon.  Its members were devout Christians, so the whole group observed the habit of stopping for the Sabbath day.  Winter was approaching quickly, however, and some among the group began to panic in fear that they wouldn’t reach their destination before the heavy snows.  Consequently, several members proposed to the rest of the group that they should quit their practice of stopping for the Sabbath and continue driving onward seven days a week.  Well, this proposal triggered a lot of contention in the community, so finally it was suggested that the wagon train should split into two groups—those who wanted to observe the Sabbath and those who preferred to travel on that day.  The proposal was accepted, and both groups set out and traveled together until the next Sabbath day, when one group continued while the other remained at rest.  Guess which group got to Oregon first.  You’re right.  The ones who kept the Sabbath reached their destination first.  Both the people and the horses were so rested by their Sabbath observance that they could travel much more vigorously and effectively the other six days of the week.

We are not meant to just go and go non-stop.  God didn’t create us for that.  In fact, God didn’t create ANY of creation for that.  All of creation is full of seasons, full of that rhythm of doing and resting, growing and fallow, birth and death.  Jesus knew that.  And so even though there was still more work to do, he went to a deserted place.  And there he stopped, and rested, and prayed…

A legend relates that “at the time when God was giving the Torah to Israel, [God] said to them:  My children!  If you accept the Torah and observe my commandments, I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.  And what, asked Israel, is that precious thing which Thou will give us if we obey Thy Torah?  The world to come.  Show us in this world an example of the world to come.  The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.”  Abraham Heschel says that “unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath [rest] while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.  Sad is the lot of [the one] who arrives inexperienced and when led to heaven has no power to perceive the beauty of the Sabbath.”

That is why Jesus went to the deserted place—not to just run away from the crowds, but to bask in the beauty of Sabbath rest, to glimpse the mystery of the world to come and have a clearer vision of how to live.  And that is why we are all called to our own deserted place—to our own times of ceasing and rest and basking in Sabbath holiness.  Because the only way to prepare our bodies for healing, our minds for teaching, and our hearts for loving is to set aside a time when our souls can become one with God and just for a moment glimpse the beauty of the world to come.

Aristotle once said “we are what we repeatedly do.”  So do we want to be this wild, chaotic, almost frantic way we often live our life?  Or do we want to breathe in the presence of God, who fills us and leads us to life?   So go to your deserted place and be blessed with Sabbath joy, renewed in Sabbath holiness, and enfolded with the eternity of Sabbath peace.  Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  It is the world to come.  It is that home to which we journey. It is who you are. Breathe…

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. (Etty Hillesum)

Grace and Peace,