Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Life Caves In

I heard a story about a girl from a poor family that had an alcoholic and abusive father. The mother died when this girl was eight, and two years later the father abandoned the two children. Shortly after the two kids were sent to a foster home, the brother died.  And on top of all that, earlier at the age of three, the girl was having vision problems which eventually became worse in spite of multiple surgeries trying to save her sight. Her vision became so bad that they had to send her to the school for the blind. I remember asking myself, what kind of God would let this happen to an innocent girl?

I read another story of a  black eight year-old girl, also from a poor family, who was molested and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, which psychologically traumatized the girl who became mute? Years later when she was 17, she became a single mother and had to work as an exotic dancer to make ends meet. What kind of karma could she have gotten as a little girl to deserve all this?

It happens so often.  At one time I was an optimist, but life has battered me down enough times to temper this optimism down a bit. I try to balance being an optimist with being a realist, but sometimes I find myself being quite pessimistic.   People are in accidents, people get ill, people die, people are abused.  Good people.  Innocent people.  And the more that I live and see what Life can do to people and what it already has done, the more I question.   Sometimes I question the notion that God cares.  Sometimes I even question the notion of God.

As I question and struggle I think, if I am honest, I find myself at least a little disappointed with God.  Ever find yourself there?  I think almost all of us do at times!  And in our pain and confusion we cry out!  “Why?” we ask, “Where are you God?” we demand! 

When we are in this place, we are in good company.   Since the dawn of time people have  been frustrated and confused by God.  Even the most dynamic and faithful of God’s people have had their moments.  David, for example, in a moment of despair cried out to God:  “Be merciful to me Lord, for I am faithful; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony, my soul is in anguish.  How long, O Lord, how long?  Job, a man of great faith was driven to say, “know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me.  Though I cry, “I’ve been wronged” I get no response; though I call for help there is no justice.”

It seems almost inevitable.  There will be times when faith is shaken and battered by what happens to us, or around us.  It is not really a question that moments like that will come.  The big questions seems to be, what do we do when such times come?  How do we respond when life caves in, and God seems unfair, or silent?

We can be pretty creative in trying to deal with this reality.  I Goggled “bad things and good people” and found a whole series of sites that used a very interesting approach to deal with this problem.  Here is a sample from one of those sites.  “Technically speaking there are no good people. The Bible says in Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one.” The reason there are none who are good is because God alone is truly good… God is the standard of righteousness, and all of us have fallen short of that standard (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, there really aren't any good people and bad things to happen to them.  OK, I’m sorry, that doesn’t help me. 

Others try to make sense out of what has happened.  They decide that God must have had a reason for allowing this thing to have occurred.  This is the causal question, the question of “why?”   And it is a powerful and important question.  

But I would like to suggest that to begin by focusing on the causal question may be to make a profound mistake.  For the “why” question is often unanswerable.  Sometimes we simply will not be able to make sense of the things that happen to us or around us.  In fact scripture warns us that it will be this way.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Chances are we will never understand.  So if we begin our efforts to deal with our struggles by trying to answer the question of “why” we will never get beyond the question.  And getting stuck on the question we will get stuck in our disappointment, our confusion and despair.  And, we will be frozen.

I think this suggests we need a different starting point.  Let us look at the case of Job.  Now Job has all kinds of complaints and questions.  “Why, Why, Why, Why….. Its not fair!”  Are his questions really answered?   Ever?  No!  Job is never given a reason for all that has happened.  His losses are staggering.  7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 5000 oxen, 500 donkeys, servants, 7 sons, 3 daughters, his health… but no one ever tells Job why it all happens.

This is God’s answer to his complaints. . .  “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know.  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

The passage goes on and on, but you get the point.  What is God saying?  Look not at the event.  Look not at the causal question.  Look – at me!  Who am I?  What have I done?  What am I like?  What can I do?  Look at me, and believe, and trust, and keep living.

The same dynamic was present in the upper room at the last supper.  This was not the romantic, wonderful time we often try to make it.  It was dark, ominous, confusing.  We have Jesus talking about betrayal, defeat, and yes, death.  And the disciples are bewildered and frightened.  All their hopes and expectations have begun to crumble beneath the harsh realities of rejection and betrayal.  Their very souls are screaming… This is wrong!  This is not fair!  This can’t be!

How does Jesus respond to their dilemma?  Does he offer another explanation of the ways of God?  Another theological dissertation on the implications of the cross?  An apologetic?  A reminder that there “are no good people?”  No, he simply says, “trust in God, trust also in me”   Wow!

Trust in Me.  Remember, who I am, what I am like, what I have done, what I have promised.  Look at me, put yourselves in my hands, and keep moving!  And you and I will go through it all, the good the bad, the ugly….. together. 

Ann Lamont, in one of her books, talks about a time when she was having a Job moment, a moment of confusion, frustration, and hopelessness.  She said to a friend, “I want to know what to do!”  He answered,  “left foot, right foot, left foot, breath.   We breathe, we eat. We remember that God is present whenever people suffer.  God is here with us when we’re miserable.”  “But” she said, look at the suffering, it seems like people are abandoned by God.  How do we not lose our minds?”  The friend replied, “you take care of the suffering.”

In short, you keep living, and loving, and caring, and helping.  You keep going with God.  As the story unfolds Ann goes to a store that day, and in an odd twist of luck, wins a ham.  A huge ham.  She hates ham.. but she decided to be positive, so she acted excited and loaded a huge ham into her cart, and headed into the parking lot.  She said to herself “If God is giving me a ham, I’d be crazy not to receive it.  Maybe it is the ham of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

In the parking lot she ran her cart into a car, an old rusty wreck.  She then noticed that an old friend was at the wheel.  It was a woman that she had known for years, who had gotten sober with her, and had a child at the same time she did.  Ann said to the woman, “Hey,” how are you, it’s my birthday.”  The woman responded, “Happy Birthday” and then started crying.  After a moment she said, “I don’t have money for gas,  or food.  I have never asked for help from a friend since I got sober, but I’m asking you.”  “No the woman said, “I don’t want a handout.  I just need gas”  Ann responded.  It’s not a handout, it’s my birthday present.  And she thrust money into the woman’s hand.  And then she said, “Hey, do you and your kids like ham?”  And when Ann gave the ham to her the woman cried again, for a different reason.

Ann did not let the fear, the anger, the disappointment, the frustration win.  She trusted God. She trusted, and kept loving God, and with God’s help kept moving, kept loving, kept caring for others… and she touched another life. . . she became a healer.

It works that way.  I have always loved the words of Paul.  “All things work together for good for those who love God.”  Not all things are good.  But out of whatever happens, God begins to draw forth, something new, fresh, good.

There is more evidence.  Remember the stories of the two girls I used at the beginning of this talk? The orphan girl that was becoming blind did not lose her vision completely, and she eventually became the valedictorian of her class. Eventually Anne Sullivan became a tutor and mentor for the blind, and her life experiences helped her to connect to this one particularly difficult blind, deaf, and mute student named Helen Keller.

The mute girl that became a single mother is not a mute anymore and eventually moved on into theater, music, and poetry. Her words have been credited to heal and inspire many generations of people. She has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She has been on two presidential committees and even read one of her own poems for a presidential inauguration.  Maya Anglou touched many people’s lives.

When we go with God, gifts, graceful surprises emerge, even when everything is going wrong.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This moment

This moment
Suspended in time
One tiny piece of a whole history
Moment piled on moment

This moment, ready to be grasped
Shaped and formed
Enjoyed, savored

And yet
I reach and cannot find it
I cannot grab hold of this moment
As in my head demons scream
Filling me with regret for the past
And fear for the future

In the tormented swirl of thoughts
This moment is lost
It slips from my grasp

And then there is stillness
And emptiness

I am undone
My eyes look but do not see
I walk through time barely participating
Barely present in my own body
In my own life

I am frozen in time
and from the empty coldness
a lone tear
issues forth
and glistening
slides down my rigid cheeks
etching in my very flesh
all the pain and emptiness
that lies with in

that is going to leave a scar!

And Jesus said, "Trust in God, trust also in me"
I am trying God!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on love

The topic today is love
I talked about love on Sunday, and specifically about Agape love
God's kind of love
About love that "creates value" rather than "seeks value"

But its not that easy is it.
How can I love, lets say, Newt Gingrich, whose policies I believe to be deadly to the vulnerable?
How does a woman who has been abused "agape love" an abuser?

It gets complex doesn't it?
How does one love someone, without allowing that person to escape the consequence of their behavior, if consequences are necessary?  How can one love someone who as abused them without enabling further abuse, and getting sucked back into a relationship that is ultimately destructive?

I don't have any good answers.

But I will come back to these thoughts about love

Agape love creates value and doesn't demand it
But agape love also challenges us to be who God created us to be.

Agape love has compassion, and moves us to be concerned for and pray for even those
we don't like, or who are a mess.  But it doesn't mean we have to enable those people in those behaviors 
that aren't good and are destructive (especially to us)
Sometimes we have to love at a distance...
Agape love should move us to action.  But not (again) to action that enables.  More importantly not to actions that enmesh us and erodes us.  Enabling and co-dependence may be the fake versions of agape love.

On our end... we know God's love when God fills us, and makes us more
We know we are loved by another when they fill us with affirmation and strength and make us more....

I am thankful for the concept and reality of agape
even if I don't totally get it 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Secure in God's love

In the upper room Jesus knew that beyond the door of that room lay Gethsemane, and the arrest, persecution, and the cross.  He knew this was his last opportunity to tell these people, who were the very people who would need to carry on his ministry, the most important things he had left to share.

And one of the key topics is love!  
Ah love!  What the heck is it?

I used to love Peanuts. In fact my first couple churches got sick of me using Peanuts illustrations.  But they were great, really!  I remember one cartoon where Schroeder, the intellectual pianist is intensely practicing the piano.  Lucy, who is his greatest admirer and longs for his attention interrupts him with a question.  “Schroeder” she asks, “do you know what love is?”  Schroeder stops his practicing, stands to attention, and in a very somber manner says, “Love, noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or attachment to a person or persons.”  The quickly he returns to his practicing.  Lucy gazes into space, and the sighs, “On paper he’s great!”

Love.  Jesus starts this time, where he is giving the disciples the most crucial things they need to know by talking about servanthood.  About being healed and being healers.  And then he talks about love

Love.  Think back to a time when you really felt loved?  What was it that made you feel so loved?  On the basis of that experience, create your own definition of love?

So love, what is it?   Here are some definitions that have been offered.

Love is a feeling you feel when you feel like you’re going to feeling you never felt before. (That’s not love, its hormones).

Love is a perpetual state of anesthesia. (No way, if anything love makes us super sensitive)

Love is never having to say you’re sorry. (That is just crazy, for “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words for keeping love alive).

What is love really? The ancient Greeks, who felt they could not define love with just one word, had a number of words that they used, and I’d like to look at three.

One word is EROS. This word stands for the romantic aspect of love. This is the surge of emotion, the feeling you feel…” Eros is important, and it’s great. What fun would life be without a little eros? But there is a problem with eros. It comes and goes. Sometime it’s there, sometimes it’s not! It is fiery, but it can burn out quickly, because it is emotion and chemistry

A second word is PHILEO. This might best be translated into friendship. It comes when people have common goals, dreams, interests and beliefs. This too is important. It is good when people have things they like to do together, and common values. When people like to talk, and share, and laugh, play . . .  work, accomplish… together This is all part of phileo.

Finally, there is AGAPE. This is a unique word that is used in the bible to talk about Gods love. It is a love simply given as a gift. With agape love one is not loved because one is beautiful, wise, rich, or powerful. One is just loved. It is not based in earthly value, it creates value.  If you can see each other with eyes that create value, eyes that always see the other as good, beautiful, then you are loving with agape love.

Christ is saying that we have to love others with agape, with that no strings attached kind of love

That is not easy is it?  Because that is not the way this world works.

Any one every get asked to write a paper answering the “lifeboat question” while in school?  I did.  The lifeboat question goes this way.  “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbage man, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?”

Well?  Tough question.  But what is interesting about that question is that the second we hear it we start to think about how has value, and who doesn’t.  The idea that all people should be seen as equally valuable rarely comes up.  It is always a matter of establishing a pecking order with us as humans.  Kind of like horses… I have three mares.  They know their
Pecking order.  Sadie, oldest, thoroughbred, is the queen… followed by Tigerlilly, next oldest and definitely the grumpiest, and then Lady, best riding horse of the three, a beautiful horse, but a the bottom of the pecking order.  No doubt

When we are wrapped up in this pecking order thinking, are we loving with agape love?  No!
When we are in that judging, valuing, pecking order thing we can’t really love.  Because we are too busy trying to find our own value, establish our own value. 

And why are having to work so hard at finding and establishing our own value?  I think it is essentially because we aren’t secure in God’s love.  That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it!

And I also believe this.  That the only way we can really love, is if we are secure in love.  Or rather secure in the fact that we are loved.  God wired us that way.  Actually God wired us so that we were defined by our relationship with him.  In that relationship we are defined as one who is loved, valuable and beautiful.  Outside of that relationship? 

Outside of that relationship our value isn’t inherent --  it has to be earned.  By how we look.  What we do.  How much we have.  Back to the pecking order… or perhaps the lifeboat.  And this is true even spiritually.  If our focus isn’t on grace, on how much God loves us.  If our focus is on rules, and formulas, the our value to God has to be earned.  Follow the rules.  Do the right rituals…

The bottom line is that we need someone who loves us so much we don’t worry about the human pecking order.  And don’t worry about death, or our status, our place in society, or how we look…..  When we realize we have a God who loves us extravagantly with agape love we are freed from having to worry about who has the power, whose important, who will help us, and we are freed to move toward loving  people purely.. and see everyone as valuable.

And we have that kind of love!!

That is what grace is all about.  That is what Jesus is all about.  We were separated from God.  The relationship was broken, and then, as Donald Miller puts it, “the most perfect and loving Being possible, God, did the most selfless thing possible.  He came in Christ to come and get us, to save us from the death that would take place in our souls if we were not in relationship with him.”

When we let God love us with this love, this agape love, this love that sees us a valuable and amazing, that sees us a precious children we are filled with that love.

And that changes everything.  Being full we are not hungry the way we were for other stuff.  We are not empty, and in need of having to establish ourselves.  Make a place for ourselves.  Find our place in the pecking order, which means, in most cases, trying to put others below us.  Being full, we are secure, being secure….

This security, this fullness changes the way we see others 
Think about others
And ultimately treat others

Secure in God’s love.. we can love with agape love.

And this is what it means to be a disciple.  It’s not about political issues.  Moral stances.  Rules.  Rituals.  It’s about love.  We show we are God’s not by what we believe, but by how we love.  Not by how we worship, but by how we love.  Not by how well we follow all the rules, but by how we love.

Donald Miller sums up the message of this section in John really well in his book “Searching for God Knows What”.

“What we really need is God.  What we really need is somebody who loves us so much we don’t worry about death, about whether we feel lonely… we need this; we need this so we can love other people purely and not for selfish gain, we need this so we can see everybody as equals, we need this so we can stop kicking ourselves around  we need this so we can lose all self-awareness and find ourselves for the first time, not by realizing some dream, but by being told who we are by the only Being who has the authority to know, and by that I mean the creator.”

We need to be love by God
We need to love God
And then… we can love each other.  Or at least give it a good try J

Friday, January 20, 2012

Finding the sacred within, and maybe one's self

I have been thinking a lot lately, and writing a lot lately, about the need to go inside. To go to the core of who we are, and find there the sacred presence that is there, and connect with that presence, and then, in the context of that connection, seek to find one's deepest self.  I have become convinced this is the key to spirituality, and to becoming what we were created to be.  As Paul writes, "The secret is this, Christ in us the hope of glory."  (Colossians 1)

There are many who point to this process as being critical to life.  People as diverse as a secular psychologist (Laurel Mellon), a very spiritually oriented psychologist (Wayne Muller), and even a very intensely Christian ex-priest (Brennan Manning) all suggest that connecting with the sacred within, and in that context finding ourselves is the key to fullness and joy.  Many years ago Elizabeth O'Conner wrote a wonderful book about getting to a place where one can live a life of meaning.  The title?  "Journey Inward, Journey Outward".  First we must go to our core!

This afternoon I went for a walk.  It was not a great day (36 and gray), and so I thought I would use the walk as a way to try and get in touch with my own center.  It has been admittedly a difficult week.  As I walked I began to develop a set of phrases that I used as a tool to get in touch with my inner self.  I walked, and breathed, and repeated the phrases.  And it made a difference.

I began to feel the tightness and anxiety lighten, and a sense of warmth and openness emerge.  A sense of being connect with God, and yes, even myself.  The phrases were loosely based on the metta phrases that come out of the Buddhist tradition.  I framed them in the context of my Christian faith, but one could change the first two phrases in many ways, to fit many different forms of spirituality.  

At any rate, I thought I might share them.  Play with them.  See if they might have some meaning for you.

May I find the Christ within
May I find myself in Him
In the context of extravagant love
May my soul be healed
May my heart be healed
May my mind be healed
May my body be healed
May I be at ease (or peace)

Blessings Stephen 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Deserts of the Heart

W. H. Auden, in this tribute to Yeats writes some lines that have always haunted me.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

I think that for many of us the phrase “deserts of the heart” resonates
Life is simply difficult.

Relationships are complex and messy
Jobs are frustrating and sometimes unfulfilling
The advertiser and other constantly seek to nurture our discontent

Wayne Muller, in his book Sabbath suggests that the strategies of the advertising agencies expose our emptiness in a powerful way.  In one of the chapters he starts by describing a scene presented in an ad.  In the scene we find a group of young sophisticated women and men lounging about in natural cotton clothing, loose and soft on their sculpted bodies. It seems to be late afternoon and they are gathered in this incredible patio area, in the shadow of a wonderful Victorian House.  Over in one corner a golden retriever sleeps.  It is a picture of perfect happiness.  You can taste the drink in their hands, smell the flowers on the breeze.  The job is miles away, they seem to be inviting us to join them, to become a part of their lives.  They seem to say – This is how you were meant to be…

What they offer is the happiness of being young, rich, at ease, perfect.  Order this blouse, this cologne, this table setting ,this coffee maker and YOU will enter this picture.  Troubles will dissolve, and life will be sweet.  In the end they are saying this and always this:  Buy what we have and you will be happy.  But beneath that text is the real message.  Until and unless you buy what we are selling, you will never be happy.  “See these people?  We know you are not that happy!”  A thousand times a time the ads send this message to us.  You are not enough.  You do not have enough.  You are not happy.  You need more, you need to do more, you need to be more….”

And we buy into it.

So what do we do with this dry heart?
How do we transform the desert into something else
A place were springs abound, and God’s new thing springs forth.

What started all this reflecting were some words from none other than Hafiz
Yes, I get my inspirations in interesting places.

In one of his poems he pens these wonderful lines.

A hole
In a flute

That the Christ’s breath
Moves through

Listen to this music

We, our hearts, our minds, our lives
Are that through which Christ’s breath
(I make that the Spirit) moves
It blows through us
And our lives resonate with the beauty
Of what that that breath creates

The antidote to dryness is Christ Spirit flowing through us
As Jesus would put it in John
He is the living water
He is the living giving Vine, from which, when we are connected to it
Life flows

Christ is not physically here
But the Spirit remains..
And because it does
Our “grief turns to joy”  (John 16:20)


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Secret Goodness

Reading "The Wise Heart" by Jack Kornfield.  In it he talks about the idea that "while tending to our suffering is ciritical, this does not eclipse our fundamental nobility."  The point he is making is that all too often we spend all our energy looking at dark side of human nature.  More specifically, we as human beings tend to focus on our "pathology", those things about ourselves that aren't healthy and whole.

Robert Johnson, a Jungian analyst suggests the same thing when he says that we have trouble seeing those things about ourselves that are good.  "Curiously" he writes, "people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than he hide the dark sides."

Perhaps this has something to do with the dominating idea of sinfulness that comes from Christian theology.  "All have sinned" writes Paul.  And we all nod and agree.  But the problem is that we are not all bad, any more than we are all good.  We are not "either/or", we are always "both/and".  We are good and bad, weak and strong, sinful and holy.  We cannot ignore our dark side.  But neither can we let it define us.

We are God's children.  Each one of us is "Abba's Child."  We are beloved sons and daughters of God.  Because of the God in us. That sacred presence that is in us as God's children, we must see ourselves as people with value, potential.  We have to seek that deep person.  That person God created us to be.  In that way, instead of always looking back, we can move forward.  Instead of our pasts always becoming our present, we can grab hold of that 'new thing' God wants to bring forth in our lives.

Getting the balance right, between seeing ourselves as those have "fallen short" and those who are amazing, and wonderful and can have liberated hearts is difficult.  Falling out of balance either way, denying our weakness, or denying our capacity, can have its consequences.  But I think most people I know are way more aware of their issues and problem then they are of their strengths, their potential.

The beautiful thing is that when we see the secret goodness in ourselves, something beautiful begins to happen.  We begin to see the secret goodness in those around us.  It is then that we can begin to do what Jesus commanded.  Love God, AND love our neighbors as ourselves.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Last Words

Last words.  Over the years people have said everything from the ridiculous to the sublime.  Let me share with you the last words of some famous folk.

See in what peace a Christian can die ~~ Joseph Addison, writer, d. June 17, 1719

Now comes the mystery ~~ Henry Ward Beecher, evangelist, d. March 8, 1887

I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis ~~ Humphrey Bogart, actor, d. January 14, 1957

Damn it . . . Don't you dare ask God to help me (To her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud)
~~ Joan Crawford, actress, d. May 10, 1977

I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.
~~ Leonardo da Vinci, artist, d. 1519

LAST WORDS are very important.   When a person knows he or she is going to die, and has an opportunity to talk to those people who are dearest to one’s heart, one speaks from the heart, and talks about those things that are most critical.

Think about it for a moment.  If you had one last chance to talk to the people you love, what would you say to them?

In the upper room Jesus knew that beyond the door of that room lay Gethsemane, and the arrest, persecution, and the cross.  He knew this was his last opportunity to tell these people, who were the very people who would need to carry on his ministry, the most important things he had left to share.

And he started this time by washing  his disciples feet
What is the point of this lesson, this crazy radical act, where the Messiah, the King of Creation
God with us… washed the dust of the road off of the feet of his followers?

Talk about role reversal! 
Jesus, the King, took the role of a servant!
What was the point? 

The point was that the disciples had a need – a need for cleansing.
You know, we all need to be cleansed
Let us take a moment to think about the ways in which we need to be cleansed
What in our lives isn’t “right” ?

This is where the gospel is challenging.
We don't like to think we need to be cleansed.  We are a bit like Peter who insisted, "you will never wash my feet"

But Christ made it clear to Peter that he needed to received God's love, God's forgiveness, God's grace.  
And Peter finally got it, and typical Peter stated... "Then then wash all of me.  I want it all !!"

Washing is receiving.  God's cleansing power.  God's acceptance
Washing is about grace

It is not by accident, it is the first point Jesus wanted to make in his farewell discourse.

So there are really two questions.  In what ways do we need to be cleansed?  And what is keeping us from accepting our acceptance, and letting the Christ cleanse us?


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Extravagent Love

In John 12 we find Jesus in a room with a very interesting mix of people Now this is a powerful time.  Jesus has just raised Lazarus.  The buzz around Jesus is started to grow, for good and for ill.  Some are saying he is the Messiah and praising him.  Some are plotting to kill him.  He is headed to Jerusalem.  The triumphal entry lies just ahead.

But now he is in the room with a select group of people.  And all of them are, in essence, interacting with him.  And from this moment, we learn a lot.  Because these diverse people represent many ways of being engaged with Jesus.

One of the people in the room is Judas.  I think it is not too hard to figure out that we aren’t supposed to be like Judas.  We all know how that turned out.   But you know, in reality, a lot Christians are kind of like Judas.  Judas is the keeper of the resources.  He has the money.  He is the one who parcels out what the disciples and Jesus have to work with.

And his mind set it clear.  He sees himself as part of the inner core, he is.  He thinks he and Jesus are “like this”.  He sits there next to Jesus and from the position of perceived privilege and power, he looks out on the rest of “those” people, and he judges.  He thinks he can be a gate keeper of God’s love, even perhaps God’s grace.

In this case he is not happy with what he sees.  When he sees Mary anoint Jesus with expensive stuff, he is frankly, offended.  “What a waste!” he says.  And he judges.  Instead of celebrating Mary’s love of Jesus, her honoring of him, he judges.   Sometimes Christians get like that.  They have their place.  They are part of the in crowd. And from that positive they judge.  

Then there is Lazarus… resurrected, given new life.  The person powerfully touched by God.  It is interesting that Lazarus is quietly present, as those who have been touched powerfully by God’s love often are.  There is a place for this I think, and I like Lazarus better for his reserve.  He doesn’t put himself in the forefront.  Doesn’t do what some seem to do, almost boast in what God has done, as if it is somehow about them.  He is just accepting, and rests quietly in the presence of Christ.  There are certainly those of us who are in this place.  And that’s OK.  But it is clear Lazarus is not the focus of the story.

Then there is Martha, busily doing her acts of Service.  Doing the right things. Cleaning, feeding, making it all happen.  There is a place for this too, of course.  But Martha the doer is also not the focus of this story.  In fact in some of the other versions of the story, Jesus actually gently rebukes Martha, for being too concerned about doing things, and thinking that her value to Him was in what she did.  In Luke 10 Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Which brings us to Mary.  She doesn’t help.  As far as we know Jesus hasn’t done anything big in her life, like raise her from the dead.  But what she does do is offer, amazing, extravagant, forget about the cost, forget about what it looks like, forget everything, kind of love. 

The most important here thing is the extravagance! Mary took a most valuable thing, this amazingly expensive perfume, and she dumped it all over Jesus’ feet.  We’re used to giving tokens of our affection and love as presents, and there’s nothing wrong with that as it shows that the person to whom we’re giving means something to us. But it is different when the giving gets costly and extravagant.  A matter of giving all.  A matter of going above and beyond what is rational and reasonable.

Then there is Mary’s humility! Notice where Mary is?  Simply at Jesus feet.  What do we think of when we think of a person at another person’s feet?  Arrogance?  A person trying to pu themselves in a position of power?  I think of a child at the feet of a parent.  Or we might picture a follower, a learner. 

But what really jumps out at me is how unselfconsciousness Mary is! We read that Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Now we might think that was an odd thing to do, wouldn’t it have been better to have wiped his feet with her hands or a cloth? But it was more than an odd thing to do, because in Palestine no respectable girl would appear in public with her hair unbound – loose hair meant a loose woman! But Mary didn’t think about that, she was in a world of her own with Jesus, and couldn’t care what people thought!  

Mary gave the greatest gift a person can offer God
Extravagant love
We know god loves us loves us that way… that God’s love is extravagant, even scandalous…and extravagant love calls for extravagant love.  Nothing more, really to say

Extravagant love….
That is what Mary offered Jesus,
And this tells us, that this is where we must start
Before we worry about what God has done from a practical perspective…
Before we start making ourselves the moral keepers of the world..
Before we start worrying about what we need to do….

We are to turn to Christ with extravagant love

Donald Miller points this out in one of his books suggesting that the entire Bible narrative is about our love relationship with God.

“Perhaps the reason the scripture includes so much poetry in and outside the narrative, so many parables and stories… is because it is attempting to describe a relational break people tragically experienced with God, and a disturbed relational history people have had since then, and further more a relational dynamic people must embrace in order to have a relational intimacy with God once again, thus healing themselves of the crap they get into while looking for a relationship that makes them feel whole.”

Its about a relationship, a love relationship… this thing we call faith
And so being Christ’s is all about - Extravagant love
Flopping ourselves down at the feet of Christ
And making holy fools of ourselves
For the sake of our love for Christ…..

Think about that as the starting place
Extravagant love….
That is what Mary offered Jesus, and for that
She earned a place in all the Gospels… all of them
As a model of faith
As a role model for us