Sermon for 3/29/20 John 11:1-45

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary’s lament seems a little too familiar these days, doesn’t it? In these times, we may look at what is happening in our state, in our country, and in our world and be filled with grief. We may be weary, I know I certainly am. We may even, dare I say, be lacking hope. That can be a scary place to be. As we hear news stories, read articles, hear from family members or friends in other places, or even as the reality that our first case of Coronavirus in Clinton County was confirmed earlier this week, it may feel like we are looking out over a valley of dry bones. “Mortal, can these bones live?” I don’t know, Lord. These bones are kind of tired, how about yours? 

The story of the raising of Lazarus is a good one for the time we find ourselves in. Combined with the reading from Ezekiel, and, well, we’ve got ourselves a doozy today. I am not going to beat around the bush here, my beloved. This illness is serious. I think we all know this. It is responsible for grinding a lot of things to a halt and requiring of us to really think about every movement we make. That door handle, do we know who last touched it? Chris sanitized our groceries after I brought them home the other day, which was a new experience. At the funeral for Anna Paarmann I couldn’t pass the peace or comfort the family with anything but words. But the starkest and harshest reality is this: people are dying from this. People will continue to die from this. One of my greatest fears is that I will have to bury one of you because of this dreadful virus. “Lord if you had been here….” 

I think it’s good for us to listen and feel the lament of Mary and Martha. After all, I know so many of you are faithful in your prayer life. I have no doubt that many of you have beeseached God to stop this virus, to heal people, to cure this illness, to turn this all around. And every day the numbers go up. And every day more people die. And every day the market is a roller coaster. As the psalmist says “out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” This isn’t just a passing prayer, but a guttural lament. This comes from our souls. This is a prayer of desperation. This is the prayer of weary, dry bones. This is the prayer of Mary and Martha. This is the prayer of all of us who don’t know when or if we will go back to work or school. This is the prayer for all who stand outside nursing home windows waving at loved ones. This is the prayer of those waiting to hear test results. This is the prayer of tired, overworked health care personnel on the front line. How long, O Lord? If you had been here! 

Mary and Martha are not like so many of you: faithful. They knew what Jesus was capable of. This is why they lamented that he had not been there to save Lazarus from his death. And, as we’re told, by the time Jesus does show up to express his own grief, Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Martha and Mary expected healing. They didn’t immediately get one. Yet, they remain faithful. It is perfectly acceptable to be faithful and disappointed at the same time. The two do not negate one another. Did you hear? Almost immediately after Mary’s lament of “if you had been here” she says “but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” She remains faithful despite her lament and disappointment. 

Is it possible then, my beloved, that God is calling us to such discipleship at this time? It is perfectly acceptable to lament. It is perfectly acceptable to be angry. It is very normal to be overwhelmed. In the midst of that, however, is God’s faithfulness in the midst of death and destruction. Where are the signs of God’s faithfulness that will restore life in the midst of death? Where can we point to the dry bones that have life in them once again? Remember, Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Even in times of agony and death, illness and destruction, God wants for us abundant life. 

And just like Lazarus, in the middle of uncertainty, Jesus calls our name. Jesus knows us by name. Every single one of us. Jesus knows you whether you know it or not. Jesus calls you by name. And when the call comes, we are all brought back into community, back into healing, back into wholeness. Lazarus had air in his lungs and his bones were no longer dry. These times may last for a while, my beloved. It’s important that we name that reality and the fear that accompanies it. This may last for a while. We don’t know when we will see one another again. But one day, the rock covering our tombs will be rolled away and Jesus will call our names. We need not fear death. Because in Jesus there is life. Life abundant and life eternal. In this time of confusion, death, destruction, hypocrisy, and too many questions to name, don’t be afraid to roll all those stones away and listen to the only thing that can give life and defeat death. Jesus. He calls your name. He calls my name. He calls and claims each one of us. 

Sermon for 3/15/20 John 4:5-42

What a strange week it’s been, hasn’t it? I feel like January was 7 years ago already. It feels like 57 days have passed since we last gathered for worship. I made no less than what feels like 26 different decisions regarding worship in the span of 72 hours. And, as the Holy Spirit does, I found myself relating a lot to our reading this week. I sat for long hours at the wells of television, radio, and internet longing for information. I sat at the well of the grocery store and Wal-Mart, longing for goods. I sat at the well of my family and friends, longing for relationship and love. So, like the Samaritan woman, I came to the well. Over the next few weeks, my beloved, I think we will all come to our metaphorical wells a lot. 

What we don’t hear in the first few verses of chapter 4 is that Jesus left Judea and headed back to Galilee. And in verse 4 it says “But he had to go through Samaria.” No he didn’t. Geographically going to Samaria didn’t make any sense. It would be like going to Iowa City through Cedar Rapids. It doesn’t make sense geographically. But Jesus needed to go to Samaria to have this encounter with this woman. 

Jesus didn’t meet this woman just anywhere. He met her at a well. For us, the reaction may be “so what??” A well was a crucial meeting place in the Old Testament. Listeners would have known this. It’s where Isaac first met Rebekah; Moses’ daughter, Zipporah met her husband at a well. The well was what we now know as The well equaled relationship. The Gospel of John is all about relationships and abiding! But a relationship for this woman? First things first, she was a Samaritan. At the time, that was the worst kind of person. Samaritans were undesirable in every way. And this was a woman, so she was automatically less than. And to top off her level of undesiring, she had been married 5 times. This means she was either widowed or divorced. And if she was divorced it was because she was barren. This woman at the well (we never get her name, by the way) is a Samaritan, a woman, and someone who has been cast aside more than once. 

Then along comes Jesus. And Jesus sees her. This is really important. She was hoping she wouldn’t be seen. She went to the well at noon, the heat of the day. The water collecting had already been done for the day. The well wouldn’t be busy. The woman could go, collect her water, and leave without being harassed or without being reminded that she was, for all purposes, broken and damaged goods. Not only does Jesus see her, he sees her. He asks for a drink of water. This may seem strange to us. Didn’t Jesus bring his own cup? He’s Jesus, couldn’t he get his own water? But instead, he asks this woman for a drink. He is starting to establish a relationship. He is also giving her power. Jesus, a man is giving a woman, a Samaritan woman married 5 times at that, he is giving her power. He is starting to see her as the human being that she is. 

What is interesting is that she doesn’t give him a drink and then leave. She continues the conversation. She continues with questions and a bit of a theological discussion. And so the relationship grows. See, conversations are built on relationships. You enter into conversation with the expectation that you will listen and be listened to. There is an unstated trust and at times, even an unspoken vulnerability. And the more the woman and Jesus talk, the more we find out about the both of them. The woman quickly starts to pick up on the fact that this man isn’t any normal wanderer. And Jesus lets on that he knows her on a very intimate level. He knows that she has been married 5 times. For her, that has to be one of the most painful truths of her life. And so the relationship deepens. 

Then, then, THEN! Despite the fact that this is a woman, despite the fact that this is a Samaritan woman, despite the fact that this is a Samaritan woman who has been married 5 times (by no fault of her own, by the way), Jesus offers her what she really needs and wants: she wants to be in relationship and she wants to belong. And Jesus offers her a relationship with him and with God and offers to bring her into this community of believers. Jesus knows the ugly truth of her life and still gives her what she needs and desires: to be seen, to belong, and to be loved. And really, isn’t that what all of us want?

As I said, I anticipate we’ll all go to the well several times over the next few weeks. If we are not able to physically gather for worship, what well will you draw from? If you are not able to work (and that’s your main source of social interaction), what well will you draw from? If your kids are forced to stay home from school, what well will they draw from? Faith over fear is important, my beloved. It will be tempting in the weeks ahead to draw from wells that are full of fear, misinformation, hoarding, xenophobia, and anxiety. Satan alone fills those wells. It is important to stay informed, yes, but it’s also important to stay faithful. Know that Jesus is the living water. Jesus will always provide us with what we need. Notice I said that Jesus will give us what we need, not what we want. No matter what happens to you, Jesus sees you. Jesus sees your value, after all, Jesus named you and claimed you as his own. So, as you thirst in the coming weeks ahead, practice caution when gathering around the well. Not all wells offer the the water of life that Jesus does. Jesus is the life giving water. May we drink and splash often and be fed, refreshed, and reminded. 

Sermon for 6/2/19 John 17:20-26; Easter 7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Alright, so I want to start today by asking you some questions. I will give you your choices first and then we’ll do a little informal polling. These questions aren’t meant to shame you or get you in trouble. It’s more for just my information. Here we go. The first question is this “when it comes to my prayer life, I (1) pray daily (or on a semi-regular basis) or (2) I only pray when things are overwhelmingly good or pretty darned bad. Next question. I prefer to pray (1) quietly. Almost a whisper. Or silently in my head. Or (2) out loud. Final question. If I had to pray out loud I would rather pray (1) for myself or (2) for someone else. So, just in case you wondered, we’re going to talk about praying today. And why? Because that is exactly what Jesus is doing in this text.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is probably one of the most confusing passages in scripture. It’s like reading the directions from an Ikea television cabinet in Swedish. What’s frustrating is that this passage is so beautiful and what is going on is amazing. And yet, the language makes it hard, if not impossible to understand what actually is going on. Jesus is praying. He is praying out loud. Unlike other places in the Bible, Jesus has not gone off by himself to pray. He is praying for the disciples. And the disciples can hear him. What is most amazing about this passage (and quite possibly my most favorite thing about this passage) is that Jesus is praying for you. Out loud. Let that sink in for just a moment. Jesus is praying for you. I know what you may be thinking “how is that even possible?”

For reference I am talking about the very first sentence of the reading for today. It says “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” The translation found in the Message says “I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me.” Remember, Jesus is praying and he is doing it out loud. Anyone and everyone present would be able to hear him. In this instance, it is the disciples. Jesus says that not only is he praying for the disciples but also anyone and everyone who will come to believe in Jesus through the works and words of the disciples. Jesus is praying for all the future Christians that are to come. This means that Jesus is praying for you. But it also means that Jesus prayed for your ancestors and Jesus is praying for your loved ones that are yet to come. Jesus is praying for your loved ones that may not even be a thought in your mind; or at least, not at this time. For example: with this prayer, Jesus is praying for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and my great great grandchildren. That thought alone has enough power to make my brain hurt.

We know that Christians didn’t just come to be magically. There were followers of Jesus, yes. But, we know so much of Jesus message and ministry was spread by the disciples. In fact, there’s an entire book of the Bible dedicated to this: Acts. You being a Christian didn’t happen by accident. And you aren’t here just because you are the third, fourth, or fifth generation to attend this church and be Lutheran. You are Christian, I am a Christian, we are all Christian because after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples went from town to town, from village to village, and made more disciples. This is core to what it says in Matthew 28 “go and make disciples of all nations.” That is exactly what the disciples did: they made more disciples and more Christians just by telling the story of Jesus.

Then, year after year, generation after generation the stories got told and Christianity grew. All along, Jesus prayer covered all of those believers. If you read carefully, you’ll not hear an expiration date on Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said that he is praying for “those who will believe” in him through the words of the disciples. While we weren’t literally there, there is something really powerful and humbling in knowing that Jesus prayed for me. Jesus prayed for you. Jesus prayed for all of us. Jesus prayed for everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Jesus prayed for everyone who will call themselves a Christian.

Here’s the thing, my beloved. Yes, I am a Pastor. Some might think that I am like a professional pray-er or something. Some might think that I am spiritually healthy. Like some kind of spiritual marathoner. But, I am just like you. There are times when my faith struggles. There are times when my belief is more unbelief. There are times when I look at all the world has to offer and I have no words. And in case you’re new to getting to know you may not know this: I am horrible at asking for help and I’m horrible at asking for what I need. In those moments, I think about this scripture. In fact, verses 20-21 hang in my office. I need to know that Jesus is praying for me. I need the comfort that comes from prayer. When I can’t even pray for myself, for whatever reason, I know that Jesus has prayed for me.

This has been especially comforting to me these last few weeks as it seems like every time I look out the window it’s raining. And my heart breaks. My heart breaks because I love you all so deeply and I can’t even imagine what this rain is doing to you and to your planting. I have no words. And then I remember: Jesus prayed for you. I want that to be clear. But, especially for those of you, my beloved, that are farmers or a farming family, Jesus has prayed for you. For everyone who relies on farmers (and that is all of us, by the way) Jesus has prayed for you. In those moments where you were calculating acres and days left, Jesus prayed for you. In those moments where your bones ached from being in the cab for hours much longer than usual, Jesus prayed for you. In those evenings where your loved ones sat down to a dinner table with an empty chair and bedtime happened, again, without you. Jesus prayed for you. And when the weather report came on quickly followed by crop prices and all you could do was have a sigh that was too deep for words, Jesus prayed for you. I know it may feel like the world has no idea the impact of all of this rain has had on you, your family, and your business, but Jesus knows. And Jesus prays for you.

When we gather around water and splash one another with baptismal promises, we can feel Jesus’ love. When we gather around this table and we are fed with Jesus’ body and blood, we can taste Jesus’ love. But in this holiest of moments, when we are meant to overhear, Jesus prays for us, and we can hear Jesus’ love.

Sermon for 5/26/19 John 14:23-29

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) It seems a strange thing that we have had the Easter story in all of its glory and for a few weeks now we seem to have been going backwards. This week is no exception. We continue to hear from Jesus during what is known as his farewell discourse. It is 3 long chapters of almost continuous speech from Jesus preparing the disciples and us for his ultimate death. Despite all of that, the disciples (and us, honestly) still seem woefully unprepared when the time actually comes. Maybe the reason why we get these texts after Easter is a gift of hindsight. We can look at what God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing and also remember what Jesus told us would happen before, during, and after his death.

At the same time, what Jesus leaves us with isn’t easy. I remember when I was old enough to start staying home by myself (also serving as a babysitter at times for my brother and sister) I was left with a list of to-dos (and some not to-dos). Don’t answer the door! Don’t use the oven or the stove. Remember to start the washer! I have no idea what I would have done if my parents said to me “keep our words… peace we leave with you.” I would have been left with a lot of questions. So perhaps it’s understandable that the disciples don’t fully understand. But, let us not kid one another, my beloved, we don’t always understand either.

Jesus doesn’t play around or sugar coat things. He says “those who love me will keep my word.” For Jesus, there isn’t an option. There’s no gray area. We either keep his words or we don’t. And here’s the thing, we are inundated with the rhetoric that everything we hear is nothing but lies. Our administration loves to use the words “fake news.” It’s also possible that every news source, no matter if it is television or print, does have a bit of a slant. It’s also possible that, at times, we may only read and hear what we desire to absorb. With all of that in mind, what does it mean to keep Jesus’ word? What does it mean to keep Jesus’ word especially in a world that (1) isn’t familiar with Jesus and (2) may not want to hear Jesus’ word? Maybe the better question is what in the world is Jesus’ word anyway? How can we keep Jesus’ word if we don’t even know what it is. After all, there is an entire New Testament full of Jesus’ words, which ones do we keep?

I believe that the basis of all of Jesus’ words and commandments can come down to one simple word; the same one I touched on last week: love. Love one another. If we love Jesus as we say we do then we will love one another, we will love the world, we will love ourselves. That last part can be especially hard and tricky. I don’t know about you, but it is difficult, if not impossible at times, to keep this word that Jesus demands. I believe in truth telling. I think Jesus calls me to do that as well. The truth-teller side of me wants to tell the truth that I don’t want to love everyone and even if I tried, it feels like an impossible task. What about those people who wish to do me harm or who have harmed me in the past? Do you think I want to love those people?

There’s a saying that goes “speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” I think about that a lot as I prepare to preach and as I pray about where God is leading me in this world. Keeping Jesus’ words means that we might have to say difficult things, encounter difficult people, step into difficult places, and, ultimately, find ourselves in the places we previously ignored. When your message is “God so loved the world” you’re not always the most popular person. God so loved the world? Fake news! This can feel especially true if you are the one that is experiencing some distance from God or you feel as if God has forgotten you. This can feel especially true if society tells you that you are unlovable. This can feel especially true if you just don’t believe that God’s love is for you too. It’s easier to chalk that up to fake news than to trust that God keeps God’s word and that the love God spoke of is for you. Perhaps, my beloved, the hardest part of keeping Jesus’ word is just keeping it (that is, believing it) for ourselves. After all, a hurting world isn’t going to believe our message of love if we don’t embrace it in its fullness for us.

While all of this love does seem an impossible task, Jesus assures us we will not be alone. Jesus is sending us a friend, a companion, an advocate: the Holy Spirit. And my goodness, is she tricky! That Holy Spirit will turn your life upside down in the most amazing ways. When your hearts are troubled or when you are afraid, there is the Holy Spirit to remind you of all the things Jesus said and did and to continue to teach us Jesus’ ways. The Holy Spirit, when we are open to her and willing to listen to her, will guide us in the ways that show the world that Jesus’ words are not fake news. Jesus’ words are not an idle tale. Jesus’ words are more than lip service. Jesus’ words are life giving, life changing, life enhancing words. And when the Holy Spirit stirs, and she will, and it takes us to places we couldn’t even dreamed of going, the message of love will be one that is so sorely needed.

If this message of love isn’t welcomed, which, if we’re honest, it probably won’t be, then there’s a chance we (and others who love Jesus) will be put out to the margins. We’ll be swept under the rug. We will be put in a corner until we can learn to behave and recite the company line that power and riches equal happiness. We will be kept out of populated places where our crazy ideas of love and mercy can’t taint the waters of discrimination, sexism, and classism. This message of love, my beloveds, has the chance of putting us in or at the margins. Lucky for us, we serve a God that does the best work on the margins.

We have story after story of God taking marginalized people, lifting them up, and then doing great things through them. Esther was a woman and should have never risen to power, yet there she was. Jonah avoided God and God sent him anyway. Peter was a fisherman and denied Jesus three times! John the Baptist was eccentric and ate locusts. Ruth was widowed. Elizabeth was said to be barren. Mary was an unwed teenager. God did amazing things through all of them. Even the psalmist today says that God’s ways will be “known upon the earth, your saving power among ALL nations” (emphasis mine). When we keep Jesus’ word, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is “how big is our God?” Because “God will not be restricted to people who look like us. Anything less than the entire world is not worthy of the death, burial, resurrection [and ascension] of our Lord. God refused to be the private possession of one group of people in the New Testament, and God certainly cannot be contained or controlled by one group now. God is for all nations, then and now” (Feasting on the Word, p 483-485, Self).

We keep Jesus’ word not because it is easy, or even because it’s the right thing to do. We keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. Our love will never be enough for sacrifice Jesus paid. But we keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. We keep Jesus’ word because this world needs more than fake news. We keep Jesus’ word because the Holy Spirit continues to stir and we are co-instigators in the Holy uprising of love!

Sermon for 5/19/19 John 13:31-35

If this text sounds familiar, it’s because we heard it not too long ago. This text is always used on Maundy Thursday. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus gathering his disciples around a table and eating one final meal with them. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends, washing them in humble service. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus explaining all of this love to those gathered, even Judas(!) the one who would betray him. We aren’t that far removed from his trial, the denial of Peter, the nails in his flesh, all of it. We aren’t that far removed from Joseph of Arimathea carrying the dead, lifeless, crucified body of Jesus away and laying him in the tomb. We’re not that far removed from a display of love so hauntingly beautiful and yet so unbelievably disturbing. We’re not that far removed from any of that. We’re also not that far removed from the empty tomb. We still have alleluia’s on our lips.

It’s difficult to hear this text during Lent and reflect on the commandment given. Especially as we start to gaze towards the cross. The display of love that will be nothing short of a state sanctioned execution leaves us mournful, confused, and maybe anything but loved. After all, if Jesus loves us, why would he leave us? If Jesus loved us, why would we have to watch him suffer? If Jesus loved us, why make us wait and wonder for three days? But now! Now we are resurrection people. We’re empty tomb people. We’re “we-know-the-end-of-the-story” people. We’re alleluia people. And once again Jesus tells us that we should love one another. Now, here’s where the rubber hits the road. Here’s where I am going to lay it on you and I can’t promise it’s going to be easy. What difference does the resurrection make? What difference does the empty tomb make?

If we can’t love one another during Lent, what makes us (or Jesus) believe that the resurrection is going to change our ways? If we are only going to be resurrection people one day a year, instead of all 365 days a year, then why even go to the empty tomb? Why declare that death has lost its victory and sting? What I mean is that if you’re going to wave hi, acknowledge me, invite me to coffee, and give me a hug on Sunday but you ignore me all the other 6 days of the week, then what difference does the resurrection make? Because here’s the thing: when Jesus said we should love one another, it was not an option. When Jesus said we should love one another, it didn’t have parameters. When Jesus said we should love one another, he didn’t say “only if you feel like it.” Jesus said love one another. Period. End of story. But oh how often we want to add to that story. “Love one another, but…” or maybe “love one another, if only….” What about “love one another, until…”  

I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t place a period where God puts a comma. I’d like to propose that we not add qualifiers to Jesus’ commandments. If we take it seriously that God so loved the world, then we ought to see what that looks like played out through us, for us, because of us, and DESPITE us. See, before Jesus’ death, perhaps we might have been a little unsure about this love stuff. Perhaps it was hard to conceptualize such love because we hadn’t seen the cross. We hadn’t seen the thorns. We hadn’t seen the nails. We hadn’t heard the dice being rolled and his clothes ripped from his body. But now, now my beloved, we have seen and heard too much to go back to lukewarm love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to qualifier love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to thinking that the love Jesus spoke of was just for us, from him. No, see the empty tomb changes our story and we have seen too much.

Do you know why Jesus leaves his disciples and us with this commandment that we should love one another? It’s more than just a nice thought. It’s more that something you might find embroidered on a fancy throw pillow. It’s more than just lip service. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because he will ascend into heaven. He will no longer physically be with us. Jesus tells us to love one another because the world needs love and we are the ones to give it. Jesus tells us to love one another because we are empty tomb, resurrection, on the road to Emmaus people in a world that is still bound and determined to stand at the tomb and bask in confusion and the pungent odor of death and defeat. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because we live in a world that believes death is the end of the story. Jesus tells you that we should love one another because so many LIVING people are already stuck in tombs of death and it is to us to roll that stone away.

We need to love one another because the noise is too loud and love is our mute button. We need to love one another because the world tells us our bodies aren’t loveable. We need to love one another because the world tells us our contributions aren’t enough. We need to love one another because hateful rhetoric is more commonplace than civil discourse. We need to love one another because too much blood has been spilled in the streets, on our college campuses, in our elementary schools, in our places of worship and religion all in the name of power and white supremacy and neither can be our God. We need to love one another because people are starting to believe the lie that hate can win. We need to love one another because we have seen too much, heard too much, felt too much, and the world needs to know a different story.

We need to love one another because we are resurrection people. We need to love one another because death will never have the final word. We need to love one another, my beloved, really, and maybe most importantly, because the alternative is just too damn dark and depressing. People don’t want to hear about our Jesus; this Jesus of love. Instead they want to hear about a Jesus that looks like them, talks like them, thinks like them, votes like them, legislates like them, worships like them, and loves like them. But Jesus loves like Jesus: without barriers, without exception, without even anticipation that love will be returned. Jesus loves with service, with humility, and with hospitality. Jesus loves like the cross mattered but the empty tomb is our glory song. And if we so “love to tell the story” but our actions show anything but love, our words are useless. Love one another. It is an action. Not an option.

Sermon for 5/12/19 John 10:22-30

I love that this text falls on this Sunday of all Sundays. The Sunday when we celebrate our graduates. The Sunday that reminds parents that soon you will send your own sheep out into the world, trusting that the shepherd will guide them. This is also the Sunday when the sheep (perhaps) are excited about the next step and can’t wait for the shepherd to fall asleep because there’s a ragin’ party happening in the next field over. Now I am sure parents of new or soon to be graduates won’t like what I’m about to share. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t real sure what I wanted to do. Same with college. When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to be a dentist. No joke. One semester in and a review of all the math and science classes required quickly talked me out of that. When I graduated from college, I knew I was bound for further education, like a Masters degree, but I had no idea what I was going to do in the meantime. But, God knew. God always knows. Because God knew me, called me by name, and I followed. Maybe God had to repeat my name several times and point me in the right direction, but eventually, I followed.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing over and over again, but, to be honest, some things are worth repeating. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, and if so, it’s good to hear it again. If not, this will come as good news, I hope. God knows you. And I don’t mean that in a “that’s cute…are we Facebook friends?” kind of way. I mean that God knows you. God knows all your highs, everything you brag about even when you’re trying to be humble. God knows all of your lows; the darkness, the secrets you try and even hide from yourself. God knows it all. And God calls you by name. This is a relationship, my beloved. This is a relationship of love and caring, and yes, abundance. There isn’t anything at all, not even death, that can come in between you and your relationship with God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been in a mission since early on. We hear from the very beginning that God so loved the world (see John 3:16). Not only does God love the world, but God sends us Jesus so that we may have life and have it ABUNDANTLY! Not only that (!) but God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but save us and grant us eternal life. That is Jesus’ mission: to love the world. And the world includes us. The call to discipleship also includes us. We are part of Jesus’ flock, we are Jesus’ sheep. So, how will we respond to the mission to love the world?

Unlike actual shepherds, Jesus always has room for more in his flock. There is always more room for the lost and forsaken to be in his care. And should we be the ones to wander off, should we be the ones to become a lost sheep, Jesus’ voice will always be louder than anything else. No one and no thing can ever keep us from being in the care of Jesus. I think this needs to be heard loud and clear, my beloved. No one and no thing or event will ever snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. And my goodness, we have no shortage of things or forces in the world that desire to snatch us out of Jesus’ hand.

If we just take a cursory look at everything society tells us should keep us from church. Heck, sometimes the church tells us that these things should keep us from church. Divorced? I’m sure you’ve been told some things by the church. I have a mental illness. There are some who might believe that maybe I just haven’t prayed hard enough. That’s a nice thought but have you tried Zoloft or Prozac? Financial difficulties? Well, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Society (and at times, church) is so concerned that we only display and show our best selves that anything other than our best selves is considered a failure. If you think I’m wrong, consider this. Instagram (a photo-sharing social media website/platform) has 24 different filters. This does not include the additional abilities to edit, lighten/darken, or change the coloring on each picture. Snapchat (another social media tool) has 24 different filters that can turn your face into a dog or add a halo or whatever and an additional 21 different filters that change the look of your picture (without turning you into a dog or whatever). We always have to show our best selves, don’t we?

That feeling may exist with church too. We have to show our best selves. It’s like cleaning before the housekeeper shows up. It’s the same theory with the people who think they need to get in shape before they go to the gym. We feel like we must do something to ourselves before we are worthy to be in God’s company. “I can’t go to church, I’ve been divorced.” Or “I can’t go to church, I haven’t been clean long enough.” Maybe “I can’t go to church, they don’t know I’m out.” I think the one that breaks my heart the most is “I can’t go to church, the walls might fall down and I doubt God even knows who I am anymore.” Oh my beloved, none of this is true. God knows you. God knows you intimately. God knows you like you know your own children. God knows you like you know your most beloved loved one. God knows you in such a way that you will never be let go. The barriers we attempt to put between us and God are nothing but excuses for Christ to demolish. Jesus stood at a tomb, the stench of Lazarus’ dead body filling the air, and stood there and called. And Lazarus, knowing Jesus’ voice, rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. Do you think Jesus is going to allow our excuses to stop him from searching us out, calling our name, claiming us, tightening his grip on us, and reminding us who we are and whose we are? No. Nothing will keep us from Jesus. And nothing will keep Jesus from us.

Parents, I’m talking to you now, parent to parent. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be concerned. Your child will never go where God is not. Your best defense against anything is prayer. And graduates, I’m talking to you now. This is a time when many wrestle with their faith. I know I did. I tried to do away with God for a while. It didn’t work out well. No matter how much wrestling you do, no matter how much space you try to put between God and yourself, God will never abandon you. God will never lead you astray. God will always love you no matter what.

Fellow sheep, listen up: we are in the grasp of God. We have a shepherd that calls us by name and we follow. There is room in this flock for many many more. So, if you see a stray sheep, wrangle that one in. There is enough love for all. God is our shepherd and provides. There is enough love for all.

Sermon for 5/5/19 John 21:1-19

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) In the second half of this reading, Jesus addresses Peter three times. And each time Jesus addresses him, he calls him “Simon, son of John.” There is something about that identity. This is the third and final time since the resurrection that the disciples have seen the risen Lord in the Gospel of John. Peter previously tried to deny Jesus three times. He has tried to go back to fishing. But, during breakfast, with the familiar smell of a charcoal fire wafting in the air, Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter: identity.

What is your identity? Maybe the better question is how many identities do you have? How many of those can you wear at one time? I have several: pastor, wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, Bearcat, activist, and on and on. But, my most important identity, at least to me, is my baptismal identity. I am Jealaine Rae, child of God. As great as that sounds, I don’t always remember that my baptismal identity is my primary identity. But, it is my baptismal identity that allows me to respond to all of my other identities. It’s easy to forget that though. When I’ve gone from a day of visits, to a council meeting, to home in time to hopefully read stories and do bedtime, grab a late dinner, put a load in the laundry, I forget that in all of that God claims me. I forget in all of what I do that God knows me.

A challenge also arises when we desire to forget, leave behind, abandon, or even deny our identity. While Jesus was on trial and Peter was in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire, those gathered around asked Peter “you are not also one of this man’s disciples are you?” And Peter responded with “I am not.” (see John 18:17, 25) Talk about a denial. But when Jesus appears to Peter and the others after the resurrection, he does not desire to shame or guilt Peter. You notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter for an apology or ask him to repent; neither does Peter offer it. And it may be easy to think that Jesus asks this question of “do you love me” three times to remind Peter that he denied Jesus three times. But, this is not the case. Jesus is simply reaffirming who Peter really is, who Peter has always been, who Jesus needs Peter to be now.

I believe there are times when we all desire to deny our identity. Any parent will tell you that there have been days when you want to scream “my name is no longer mom” (or “dad”). The ladies who helped with Lucille’s funeral can attest that I came back from the burial, grabbed my lunch, and went to seclude myself into my office. I actually said “I can’t people anymore.” At the same time, there may be those times when we flex our identities a little more. My dad is a fan of the idea that whatever he says goes, because “I’m the papa!” For extra emphasis, he’ll sing like he’s in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There has been more than one occasion when I introduce myself I make sure that I emphasize that I am “PASTOR” Jealaine Marple.

But there are those times when we desire to deny our identity out of fear. There is the worry that we won’t meet expectations. There is the fear that we will meet expectations and then more will be expected of us. There is the fear of disappointment. There is the desire to deny our identity because we may be judged on that identity or even rejected. And that hurts. And if we’re going to be honest, sometimes we deny who we are because there is a fear that we won’t be liked or even loved for who we truly are. We don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to be without a community or support system. So sometimes, identities get denied. What happens when we wish to deny our identity of “child of God.” Moreover, why might we want to deny that identity?

Jesus lays it out for us in this conversation with Peter. Just in case you thought this conversation was just for Peter, it is for us too. The resurrection has happened and we are faced with the “now what.” If we profess and confess to love Jesus what is that going to look like on a practical level? If we believe that “God so loved the world” (see John 3:16) what will that look like as we encounter the world on a daily basis? Jesus is the good shepherd. We hear that in John 10. Jesus even says in John 10:16 that there are “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Meaning, there are sheep, people, who have not yet come to know Jesus but Jesus is going to make them part of his fold as well.

So we fast forward to this conversation and Jesus says to Peter, “feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” For Peter and for us, this is our identity as disciples. This is our identity when we say we are children of God. This is our identity in Christ. We are to care for one another. We are to feed one another. We are to love one another. With an assignment like that, I can understand why Peter may not want to be a disciple. I can understand why going back to fishing, even on a bad day, looked a bit more appealing.

I can understand this because the world can be really hard to love. The problems of this world seem impossible to solve. Hate, violence, injustice, war, and power all seem to be the preferred language. If we’re going to be honest, our identity as children of God and as disciples has the power to just break our hearts over and over again. We are going to run into broken systems, people who feel broken, corruption, and what may feel like speed bump after speed bump. That much hurt has the power to not only make us deny our identity but leave it behind altogether. Sometimes, yes, it would be easier to operate in the world as someone who doesn’t know Christ. Sometimes it would be easier to turn and look the other way. It would be easier to not care.

But Christ calls us to something better and deeper. And yes, it’s going to break our hearts. And God is going to take those broken pieces and use them and keep us moving forward. We don’t do this discipleship thing on our own. While we may desire to leave behind our identity as children of God or identity as disciples, God has made a permanent mark on us. As much as we may try and ignore it, God’s love projects us forward into service to others in the world. The problem with our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ sees it. The joy of our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ see it. Our identity in Christ is secure. God has a firm grip on us, even on the days when we struggle. God has a firm grip on us even in the moments we’d rather have nothing to do with God. Peter has seen what life in Christ looks like: abundance upon abundance. We have seen it too. This is what discipleship is: to witness God’s abundance upon abundance and then make that happen for others.

It’s not an easy identity. It’s not a glamourous identity. But our identity in Christ is quite possibly the most rewarding identity we have. We may not see or experience that reward until we are in God’s kingdom, but the promise is there. We have seen the empty tomb. We have experienced the risen Lord. Soon we will be fed. Then Christ sends us out to feed the world. Our identity is love. Our identity is hope. Our identity is intertwined with the proclamation that alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/28/19 John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) I know that we all have things about us that are unique. But have you ever noticed that there is somewhat of an instant bond among people that find out they share the same unique qualities? It’s like you’ve finally found someone who understands your troubles or just how awesome you really are. I’ve seen this with my twins (my brother and sister) when they meet another set of twins. I’ve seen this with those of you that are left handed (because you make it very clear where you want to sit at dining tables). I’ve seen this with Chris and his fraternity brothers and their special handshake. I’ve also seen this among veterans, no matter the battles they’ve fought. Even if you have nothing else in common with this other person, there’s something to be said about sharing unique qualities. I’m a firm believer in knowing you are not alone. There is power in that. It’s powerful when you find out you share unique qualities with someone else. It’s even more powerful to find you share experiences with someone when those experiences weren’t so pleasant. As I said, there’s something to be said about knowing you aren’t alone.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost the sense of community, the sense of belonging. Now, I don’t mean “we” as in this church. But, more often, I wonder if we as a nation have lost that. That’s an easy thing to lament. When we talk about how things “used to be” part of what we miss is the sense of community and neighborhood. I used to play on the street where my childhood home was located. We would play kick the can for all hours of the day until Jan Corley would yell out her children’s name “EricPattyRobin” and we all kind of knew it was time to go home. This doesn’t seem to be the case any more. We don’t always know our neighbors names. Our kids can’t go outside by themselves and use the streetlights as a signal to come home. I imagine there are several contributing factors to losing our sense of community. Perhaps that’s why then when we do realize we’re not alone, especially during our most challenging times, that a sense of community and belonging is all that more powerful.

I think that Thomas gets a bad rap sometimes. I think he’s not doubting, as his nickname often portrays, but rather, I think he simply wants to know he is not alone. He wants to know he’s not alone in his questions. He wants to know he’s not alone in his wonderment. He wants to know that the wounds left on his heart from mourning the death of his friend Jesus will soon become scars. And as much as we don’t like to see those around us hurting, isn’t it powerful when we’re hurting and we look around and see that others are hurting too? We don’t wish it upon others, but to know we’re not alone in grief, sorrow, and suffering makes the grief, sorrow, and suffering a little softer. I think this is part of why we have funerals. I’ve always said that funerals are for the living. We want to know we’re not doing this alone.

I also often think that sometimes, as a Christian community, we don’t always want to deal with the ugly. We don’t always want to deal with grief. We don’t always want to deal with scars and wounds. I think this is the same reason why people think they can’t come to church until they have their life straightened out. There’s a fear of judgement. Because we’re all so perfect and everything. The church hasn’t always done a good job of meaning it when we say “all are welcome.” But we all have scars. And whether we know it or not, we bring those scars with us every Sunday morning. They aren’t always seen. They aren’t even always acknowledged. But we all have them. And when are scars are exposed to others, then that’s when we really get a chance to be Jesus to and for one another. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I want to be part of a community of faith that has some scars. Because scars are proof that you have lived life. Scars are receipts for the lessons learned. I would rather be part of a community that acknowledges it has scars and wounds than part of a community that works really hard to cover it all up. Scars make us human and when we see and acknowledge one another’s scars, we see and acknowledge one another.

Again, I don’t know about you, but to have a savior who is willing to let Thomas touch his wounds tells me that we have a savior who would be willing to let us touch his wounds. We have a risen Lord that wants us to feel seen, validated, and understood for all of our scars and wounds. And so much so that the risen Lord is willing to let Thomas and us feel his wounds. We serve a God who has been through some stuff! I find a lot of comfort in that. I need to know that the one I turn to the most, Jesus, knows what it is like to show up, again and again and again, over and over and over, scars and all and be willing to be seen. That kind of action gives me courage. Jesus wants you to be seen. Jesus wants you to feel like you’re part of a community. Jesus wants you to feel love. And in order to do all of that, Jesus is willing to show you his wounds. Not his scars. His wounds; still fresh from a state-authorized execution. Once again I say there is power in knowing you aren’t alone. There seems to be even more power in knowing you aren’t alone and your companion is Jesus.

Did you notice what Jesus did? Thomas needed proof. I don’t blame him. Thomas needed to be shown without any hesitation that Christ was indeed risen. Thomas needed proof before he was willing to be part of a community of believers. He was hesitant. I don’t blame him. Jesus didn’t shame Thomas. Jesus didn’t make Thomas feel guilty. Jesus just did what Jesus always had done: he made Thomas feel loved and feel seen. By showing Thomas his wounds and allowing himself to be touched, he made Thomas part of a community. What do you need to be seen, my beloved? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need in order to start letting your scars and wounds be seen? What do you need to tell your story. And your story is your whole story, not just the cleaned up parts that make you sound really good. What do you need to tell your whole story that tells about how despite it all, you’ve been redeemed? Because those are the stories we need to hear. Those are the testimonies the world needs. We don’t need prettied-up Christianity. We need Christianity that’s a little rugged, a little torn at the edges, a little rough, but all real. The world doesn’t need any more clean-cut sparkly clean Jesus. We need disciples who will show the wounded Jesus. Because the wounded Jesus feels like someone that could know our story. The wounded Jesus sees us.

There is power in community. There is power in being seen. There is power in showing up with your scars, your wounds, your tattoos, your stories, your histories, your prison records, your speeding tickets, your indiscretions and proclaiming a risen Lord anyway. The tomb wasn’t empty with an asterisk. The tomb was empty, period. The risen Lord sees you, scars and all, and loves you just the way you are. No catch.

I want to share a quote with you from one of the shows I’ve been binge watching lately. It was the drama series, The West Wing. The Chief of Staff, Leo McGary, played by Jon Spencer tells this story. “This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’ That’s the power of not being alone. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)  

Sermon for 4/18/19 John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Maundy Thursday

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? We should love one another. And for Jesus, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s isn’t a passing thought. He says exactly what it is right there: a new commandment. What that means is that it’s not optional. However, we make it optional; perhaps a little more often than we should. I’ve been thinking about this commandment off and on for the last few weeks, honestly. Knowing that Maundy Thursday was coming up, that’s just how my pastor brain works. And I’ve come up with a theory that I haven’t quite fleshed out all the way yet, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. If we actually, truly, really loved one another the way Jesus commands in this gospel, it would be an act of civil disobedience.

Let’s first start by talking about what civil disobedience is and how I’m using it in the context of this message. So, a common definition is “the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government or occupying international power. … it is a non-violent action” (wikipedia). Martin Luther King Jr is probably one of the best and well known faces and voices of civil disobedience. But he was also known to say that it should be “a display and practice of reverence to the law” (ibid). Since Dr King, there have been several attempts and demonstrations of civil disobedience including women’s marches, Black Lives Matter marches, and marches and demonstrations against school violence, just to name a few. I don’t necessarily think that these protests, marches, and acts of civil disobedience are always a response and distrust of our government, although many may feel that way. But, I really believe that it is the citizens of this country that know our government can do better and so we demand that it does.

Jesus was probably the original example of what civil disobedience looked like. After all, we have example after example of how Jesus didn’t live by the rules of the Roman empire. He also didn’t live by the hard and fast rules of religion though either. If you are able to think back on different Bible stories, we can cite many examples of this: healing people on the sabbath, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, flipping tables, and then facing Pontius Pilate head on, with no reservations, no lies, no excuses Jesus enters Jerusalem. And in what was probably one of his final acts of ministry, Jesus engages in civil disobedience. He does so in a super mundane way (at least for us): he shares a meal with his friends and then washes their feet. Who knew that this act of love could be an act of disobedience, but that’s exactly what it was and that is exactly what it continues to be.

Up to this point, Jesus had more than enough opportunities to turn his back on his disciples or just plain leave them behind. But we know that’s not how Jesus worked. The love and grace that Jesus showed his disciples and us is really disobedient. How? Because since the inception of time, we have been told to fear “the other,” put ourselves first, watch out for number one, and only surround ourselves with people who are good for us and to us. Jesus kind of ignored all of that and surrounded himself with a group of good-enoughs that, even in the end, would abandon him. Despite this, Jesus took the form of a servant and got on his knees and washed the feet of those around him, even Judas, the one who would betray him. I doubt I could have been so brave and so loving.

Let’s look at who is at the table again and maybe the idea of loving these people will start to sound more like an act of disobedience. “Judas, who he knows will betray him; Peter, who will deny him; James and John, who will be unable to keep watch and pray with him; and the others who will forsake him in his hour of darkest need. We will watch in wonder as Jesus’ response to this inner circle that has disappointed him over and over and over again is not to chastise or scold or punish, but to take a towel and a basin of water and gently was the ugliness of each one in turn” (Tisdale, “Feasting on the Word” p279). Society tells us we shouldn’t love the people that surrounded Jesus. But, Jesus does.

Society, the news media, social media, and our government spends a lot of time trying to scare us. Have you noticed that? Fear is a hot commodity in this nation. If I could buy stock in fear, I would be very very rich. But, I’d rather buy stock in love and live in poverty. We are to fear people who have brown skin. We are to fear people who have accents. We are to fear people who even dress a certain way. We are to fear people based on who they love. We are to fear people based on how they vote. We are even to fear people based on their favorite news source. Don’t believe me? If you watch Fox News, you probably have heard that the people who watch MSNBC or CNN are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. If you watch MSNBC or CNN you may have heard that the people who watch Fox News are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. See, it can be said of everyone. This is why, my beloved, when Jesus tells us that we should love one another, it is an act of civil disobedience.

Now, I know that some of you have never engaged in civil disobedience or for some of you, maybe it’s been quite some time since you’ve done that. You may be wondering where to get started. I think Jesus has the ultimate answer in this scripture: sit down with people, have a meal, listen to their story, and then, wash their feet. I mean, “the fact that Jesus spends his last meal with his friends, pleading that they love one another in spite of their own difference and disagreements, is compelling, to say the least” (ibid). I have found that it is almost impossible to hate someone once you are able to see their humanity. When you share a meal with someone and you are able to look one another in the eyes and listen to one another’s stories, it is harder to wish ill upon that person. I understand that we may not be able to literally wash feet, but perhaps we can ask ourselves how we can be in service to one another. Being in service to one another may be another act of disobedience.

Soon, we will all come to this table. We come not because we are worthy or holy, but because God, through Jesus Christ invites us, warts and all. It is a place where we come and Jesus washes us clean, washes all the ugliness out of hearts, and feeds us time and time again. No one is turned away. No one is told no. No one is fed with stipulation. Because bread broken and wine poured is what love looks like. Believing that we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus is disobedient because the world doesn’t want to believe that such a grandiose meal exists! And while this body was given “for you” and this blood was shed “for you” let us remember that is also a plural “you” as in “all y’all.” The same people we are told we should fear get fed too. The same people we are told we should hate get fed too. Allowing yourself to be loved by God is a disobedient act. Who knew disobedience could look like and feel like redemptive love?

Sermon for 4/7/19 John 12:1-8

**nb: part of this sermon was visual. The congregation saw pictures of things that cost around $54,000. This included farm equipment, a boat, 5th wheel camper, jewelry, shoes, and a handbag. **

This is a gospel story about extravagant love. It’s hard for us to understand how much the perfume that Mary rubbed on Jesus’ feet was actually worth. After all, we don’t use denarii anymore. So, to say that she used 300 denarii doesn’t actually mean that much to us. So how about this? Mary rubbed approximately $54,000 on Jesus’ feet. That was extravagant love. Now, I don’t know about you, but even to say $54,000 doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it. I  don’t know what $54,000 looks like. So, I thought I would help us to understand this extravagant love. Let’s take a look at what I found you could get for around $54,000.

Now that we’ve seen examples of that, maybe we have a better idea of how extravagant and obnoxious (in the best way) this act of love really was. We don’t know how much of a sacrifice this was for Mary, financially. After all, we’re never told that Mary is poor. I think we often assume that the followers and disciples of Jesus were poor. And while that may have been the case for some, we aren’t told about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ financial situation. How did Mary manage to get such expensive perfume? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it was about a year’s worth of wages poured on Jesus feet in an act of anointing and love.

Jesus doesn’t say much during this very intricate and very intimate ritual. We don’t hear from him until he tries to quiet Judas. Mary didn’t say anything. Jesus didn’t say anything. But they both knew what was going on. Her actions spoke very loudly. Mary doesn’t talk about how much she loves Jesus. She doesn’t talk about how she is preparing him for death. Mary doesn’t talk about the significance of using pure nard, which, traditionally was used to prepare bodies in ritual cleansing after death. The fact that this nard probably came from India to Palestine made it even more valuable. Mary doesn’t know that in a few days following her washing Jesus’ feet with this perfume, Jesus will show his love to his disciples by kneeling and washing their feet. This was not a thank you gift to Jesus for raising Lazarus. But none of that was said. It was all action. Isn’t that how love is or at least should be?

How might you have reacted? After all, to receive a gift worth $54,000 isn’t something most of us have experienced. Can you even wrap your mind around that idea? And what if the person giving you this gift did it out of love and with no intentions of getting anything in return? I don’t know about you, but I certainly couldn’t have been as calm and quiet about a gift like that as Jesus was. But then again, that is what makes Jesus Jesus. I don’t know that a lot of us know what to do with that kind of abundance. At the beginning of the gospel of John, we are told that Jesus has come so that we may experience “grace upon grace” (1.16). An abundance of grace. An abundance of love. So much so that it may make us uncomfortable. So much so that we may not know how to react. So much love and grace that we may actually be rendered speechless. Jesus loves us in a way that cannot be reciprocated. It’s just not possible. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love Jesus and Jesus’ world and Jesus’ people. But Jesus loves us in such a way and with such an abundance that we can never love Jesus in the same way.

What happens in these short few little verses is actually quite huge. Mary is preparing Jesus for his death. That is an abundant sign of love. Mary recognizes the humanity of Jesus and recognizes his inherent need for love. It isn’t very often that people are able to see Jesus as the human he really is. Jesus is so often in his role as the divine that we can forget that he is human and has actual human needs. And one of those needs is love. We all need it. It is so powerful when we receive it without having to ask for it. It’s so powerful when we receive it without any expectations. Mary isn’t just loving Jesus for who he is but for who he will become. Mary is loving Jesus into his future. Mary is loving him towards his death.

Jesus knows what he has to do. He is turning his heart, mind, and physical body towards Jerusalem. He will enter the week with the waving of palms and then quickly tried and executed. But, it was Mary’s extravagant love that allowed Jesus to show extravagant love to us. Whether you know it or not, we have all been recipients of someone loving us into the next stage of our lives. This is what Mary did for Jesus. In her love, Mary was basically telling Jesus “yes you can do this. You can go to Jerusalem. And I love you.” But remember, none of that was said, it was all felt through action. Mary loved Jesus into his future. And there has been someone in your life who has loved you into yours. There is someone who has loved you $54,000 worth, or maybe even more.

We have all had a Mary in our lives. That person who loves us beyond what we can imagine. That person who loves us in such a way that the “what’s next” seems a bit more manageable. Maybe it was a parent, a spouse, or partner. Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was a friend. But I have no doubt that we have all had that person who has empowered us to believe that we are worthy of love and made us feel love. This is just a small taste of how Jesus loves us. Jesus always loves us into the “what’s next.” We may not know it’s Jesus. But it is. Sometimes, Jesus sends familiar people to love us into the “what’s next.” And when someone loves us into our “what’s next” we are actually empowered to be who God created us to be. Again, when someone comes alongside us to love us into the next part of our lives, it is more than just lip service.

Mary didn’t tell Jesus she loved him, she showed him. There is something really powerful about being shown love. Much like I said last week, when someone shows you love in a physical, healthy way, you are recognized. And there is power in recognition. There is power in being seen. There is power in gaining confidence to move boldly into our futures knowing that we are loved. Who is loving you into your “what’s next”? Are you loving someone into their “what’s next”? Jesus is always loving us into our next thing. Even when we don’t recognize it, Jesus is loving us with more than just lip service. Everything we have in our lives is proof of Jesus loving us into the disciples he knows we can be.

Jesus took all the love given to him by Mary and all of his other disciples with him as he went into Jerusalem. And in his final breaths, in his death on the cross, in his blood poured out, Jesus took that love and gave it back to us. The blood poured out was loved poured out. Jesus has been loving us into our what’s next since his death. And in the empty tomb he showed us once again that we are loved. Because the empty tomb couldn’t hold all of that love. Love ushered Jesus into the resurrection. And, some day, may it be the same for us. You are loved, my beloveds. You are loved with love greater than $54,000. You are loved beyond what you can even imagine. You are loved into your “what’s next” which means you are loved into the person God created you to be. That is some powerful love! Thanks be to God!