Saturday, 21 April 2012

To the people of St. Augustine's,

          In many ways this feels like leaving home all over again. I felt just as wordless then as I do now. I'm not a fan of goodbyes. I don't like crying in front of people. I don't mind tears, but I don't like losing my voice and I really don't like that thing my lip does when it curls up and gets all quivery. If it was someone else I would say, "If God didn't give us tears for now then what did he give them to us for?"  It's harder to be on the receiving end of those words.

          I guess I mostly don't like goodbyes because I don't like thinking about not having people I care about within arms reach. I don't like thinking about not being able to poke my head around the corner of my office to tease Denise. I don't like not being able to walk out the back door of the office after a parish council meeting late at night and have James show me the stars and planets, or to discuss a point of pastoral craft. I don't like not being able to joke with Len. I don't like not being able to vision with Cathy about the church and culture, or Jim Long poking his head around the corner to say something to make me laugh. I don't like thinking about not making supper for the youth and laughing in the kitchen with those who come early. I don't like thinking about Alan not giving me another Psalm lesson, or not playing games with Eliza and the middle school gang. I don't like thinking about not climbing into the pulpit to exercise the privilege of preaching the Gospel to people I love. I don't like thinking about not saying the words, "the Body of Christ given for you" in this building and placing the sacrament into familiar hands. I will miss you all so much!        

          I think one of the best descriptions of the church is "God's family". It feels like I'm leaving home all over again. Thank you for taking me in and loving me when I sat in the back pew in September of 2003. You have treated Crystal and I like family. You gave us all kinds of love and support when we went to Toronto. Thank you for welcoming me back as your priest and for teaching me to be one. You have never ceased to care for us and support us with kind words and your felt love. You have been so easy to love back. You have showed us the living, breathing, singing, laughing, body of Christ!

          I know that this is not the end of our relationship, but it is a change. The Family of God will eternally grow closer together and draw more into their fold. So I want to console myself with that eternal hope.

          God's peace and blessing be with you all!

Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                                                                                                   Chris Roth     

Ghost stories Luke 24

Luke 24: 36-48
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

            I have to admit that I find ghost stories really interesting. I'm not exactly sure what to do with ghosts theologically, but I like hearing stories about them because they point to reality being deeper and more complex than we often think. There is more to reality than meets the eye.

            One of my favorite ghost stories was a story I saw on TV. The show interviewed an older retired man, Jim, who always woke up earlier than his wife, Kay. Jim had retired from the military and he was a real no-nonsense kind of guy. If I was to guess at his worldview I would say he was a materialist- what you see is what you get- that's it. There is no depth to reality beyond what can be measured and observed. So, when his wife started talking about experiencing strange things in the house he really passed them off as her overactive imagination.

            One morning Jim was up early reading the paper downstairs and Kay was still asleep upstairs. If Kay needed him upstairs she would often ring a little ceramic bell. Well, one morning he heard the bell and he went up the stairs, which he was accustomed to doing when he heard the bell, but this time he found his wife still sleeping. She didn't ring the bell. This happened three times in total on different mornings. So Jim and Kay decided that he wouldn't come up the stairs anymore unless she rung the bell three times. The next morning he heard the bell ring three times. He walked up the stairs to find his wife still asleep. She didn't ring the bell. He walked out of the room baffled and just then the bell rang again. At this point telling the story this retired military man broke into tears.

            I'm not saying that what he experienced was a ghost. What I'm fascinated by is Jim's reaction to this experience. Why would he cry about a ringing bell? No one was hurt.  It seems like a silly thing to become emotional about, especially for a tough ex-military man. ... What he was actually bothered by was the destruction of his worldview. Suddenly he came to believe that there was more than just the physical universe. Suddenly he came to believe that there were forces active in the world that he couldn't explain. His tears were because his materialistic worldview was smashed to pieces and he had to find a new way to look at the world that took into account these new experiences.

            We all have a concept of how the world works, and it can be painful if that concept is broken. Sometimes we call this concept a "worldview". It is how we view the world. It is the assumptions we have about life. It tells us what is valuable and where authority comes from. For example, if someone has a materialistic worldview they would basically believe that 'what you see is what you get', there is nothing more. All that exists is the material universe. If it can't be measured or observed it doesn't exist. ... There are plenty of other worldviews. There is a Buddhist worldview, a Hindu worldview, a consumerist worldview, a postmodern worldview. Basically a worldview is how you understand the world you're living in. It helps you make priorities and it helps you decide what is valuable. These worldviews will often overlap to varying degrees.

             The experience Jim had with the ringing bell was painful for him because it didn't fit into his worldview. If we have experiences that don't fit our worldview we either have to twist our experience, or we have to go through the pain of having our worldview shatter and find another worldview that can account for the new experience. So Jim could have really tried to convince himself that he was hearing things, or that he was experiencing hallucinations and had a medical problem. If Jim convinced himself of that he wouldn't have to change his materialistic worldview- 'what you see is what you get'. However, Jim believed this experience was the real thing and so needed a new worldview that includes mysterious events like his ringing bell. His materialistic worldview shattered and Jim entered into a new worldview that included a little more mystery.  We sometimes have to change our worldview to account for new experiences that don't fit into our old worldview.

            The disciples had a similar experience. After Jesus has been killed on a cross and placed in a tomb, suddenly three days later they experience Jesus present with them. ... He has died, and now they see him speaking to them. To make Jesus fit into their worldview they had to label him as a "ghost". That's the only way they could make sense of their experience.

            If our worldview is the way we see the world- the way we process the world- then it's natural that we will take whatever our experience is and try to fit that experience into our worldview. So we really can't blame the disciples for thinking Jesus was a ghost. Jesus died and now they see and hear him. In their worldview, that means "ghost". So Jesus challenges their perception. In their understanding a ghost isn't solid, so he gets them to touch him and see that he has flesh and bones. He shows them his wounds from the cross. A ghost can't eat, so he asks to eat something and they give him a piece of fish, which he eats in front of them. Suddenly Jesus doesn't fit into their worldview as a ghost anymore. Ghosts can't be solid and they don't eat food.  Their worldview has to shatter and be remade to take the resurrected Jesus into account.

            We sometimes do this as well. We try to make Jesus fit into our worldview. I remember asking a friend of mine who doesn't go to church what he thought Jesus was like and he said, "Well, I think he would just be a humble, ordinary, good guy. He'd be easy to talk to." Basically he was describing himself. He fit Jesus into his worldview. (Notice that one of the consequences of that is that if Jesus is like me, then I'm okay just as I am. I don't have to change.)

            Jesus is often held up as a beautiful person and a great teacher and so there can be a tendency for us to want to claim him as our own no matter what our worldview is. There are some Hindus who will fit Jesus into their worldview by seeing him as a Sadhu, a holy man. Muslims fit Jesus into their worldview by calling him a prophet.  There are political activists who fit Jesus into their worldview by making Jesus into a political activist. If we twist Jesus into our worldview our worldview will remain unchallenged and we will remain unchanged. ... But, Jesus didn't come to fit into our worldviews- leaving us where we are. If we accept Jesus as he is, he will shatter our worldview into a million pieces. Which is what happened to the disciples. Our worldview is too limiting for Jesus.         

            We really can't make Jesus fit our worldview unless we dramatically alter who Jesus is- and that ultimately becomes a lie, and maybe even an idol. The only worldview that fits with Jesus is the worldview that has him at its centre. When we try to fit Jesus into a worldview something else is at the centre. The only worldview Jesus can exist in comfortably is a worldview he creates, where he's at the centre.  And if he's at the centre then we are the ones who have to change.

            Under the old worldview the disciples are rightfully scared. Under their old worldview Jesus is a false messiah because he didn't take control of Jerusalem and run the Romans out of town. Under their old worldview they should be scared. They were on the wrong side of the law, and maybe even opposing God. But, Jesus gives them a new worldview with him in the centre. Under that new worldview they don't have to be afraid, but they do have to change.

            After convincing his disciples that he wasn't a ghost Jesus says to them, '“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things."

            Suddenly they came to a new understanding of everything they previously thought they new. They entered a new worldview with Jesus at its centre. The Scriptures were about him. Their minds were opened. As one commentator puts it, "something new had occurred in Christ. This 'something new' was not to be contained or comprehended by current modes of thinking about nature."[1] And now they were called to be different. They were called to be a people of hope. They were to spread the message of God's peace- Repentance and the forgiveness of sin. And they are to be witnesses to the world of the truth of God's worldview, which is that Jesus is God incarnate. The world was made for him, and through him, and that all things find their purpose in him. This is the Christian worldview and we are continuously needing to conform ourselves to it.

            We all operate according to a worldview. What we truly deep down believe about the world is what will determine our actions. That will determine who we are.  When we run into one of Jesus' hard teachings like "love your enemy", or "do good to those who hate you", or "do not judge", that is often when we recognize our need to readjust our worldview. Something besides Jesus might be trying to sneak into the centre. When we have a teaching that seems impossible, or impractical, it might just be that we need to readjust our worldview. We need to reorient our worldview around Jesus.  

            The disciples had to reorient their understanding of the world around Jesus. It is not an easy things to do, but that is what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus. They had to be willing to give up their old ways of looking at their lives and how the world worked. Jesus called them into a new way to look at the world, and that meant becoming a new kind of people in the world, who were filled with Good News to share.

[1] Stephen Cooper, Feasting on the Word

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Morning- John 20

John 20

The Empty Tomb

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sermon idea:

Mary's tears become her Joy

Jesus' suffering becomes his glory- cross becomes a symbol of hope

Our Suffering will be viewed as the cross is viewed.

          It's hard for us to understand how low the disciples must have felt after Jesus' Crucifixion. Just a week earlier Jesus was riding into Jerusalem. He came as their king. The people were singing and shouting, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the king of Israel!”. Those who had been with Jesus for the last 3 years had been hoping and waiting for this day. Finally, Jesus will take his place as the people's true king- the Messiah. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? What was it like to be with Jesus entering the city, believing that this will change everything? Justice. Peace. A good King. No wonder they were waving branches and singing and laying their coats down on the road.     

          Suddenly things change. Jesus is betrayed. He is arrested. His followers are frightened. Jesus stands before the authorities under the weight of heavy accusations. Suddenly the man they had put their hopes in is being made to look like a criminal. The injustice, and cruelty, and corruption Jesus was to defeat as King, now have Jesus in their sights. The goodness of Jesus is being overshadowed by accusations of heresy, blasphemy, and treason. The true King is being mistreated by cruel leaders and a corrupt system. The sunny day has become dark. Jesus is whipped bloody and is nailed to a cross as an example to those who think there is hope against the powers.  His bloody body is hung like a flag, as a signal, against all hope of God bringing justice.

          The few disciples who haven't scattered and hid watch the strongest, and greatest man they have ever known die slowly and painfully- as a symbol of criminality. With him dies their hopes. With him dies their dreams. With him dies their future.

          And that is where we meet Mary Magdalene. She is crushed. She goes to his tomb because... what else are you going to do? The choices are to sit and cry at home, or sit and cry at his tomb. When she gets there she sees that his body is gone. It is one more insult. It is salt in the wound. They can't even let him be dead in peace. They need to pull him out of his tomb and humiliate his memory even more. She goes for help and Peter and John come to investigate, but all they find is the burial shroud his body was wrapped in. They go back home, but Mary stays at the tomb. Cry at home or cry by the tomb. What difference does it make?

          Mary's tears drench her face. There is no consolation- seeing two angels doesn't seem to console her. "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him". Put away all your images of Stoic grief. There is no stiff upper lip here. This is wailing- deep, profound, bottomless weeping.

          A mysterious thing happens. She doesn't register the angels in her grief. And now suddenly Jesus is standing in front of her and for some reason she doesn't see that it is him. Maybe it is the grief. Maybe it is that there is something about resurrection that transforms the body of Jesus. She doesn't see him until he says her name... "Mary". Then she sees him.

          Can you see her eyes- squinted, red, and puffy from crying for three days? Can you see the wrinkles on her forehead and around her eyes? Suddenly she hears her name and she sees that it is him and her eyes widen in amazement. Her mouth transforms into a smile. Can you imagine a greater emotion than the one she was feeling? Do you think you have ever felt anything as amazing as what Mary was feeling the moment she saw Jesus alive?  Do you have anything in your life that can compare to what she was feeling?

          It's amazing. Jesus is alive. He is well. He hasn't just survived. He is not hobbling on crutches, or pulling himself along the ground. He is well. He has gone through death and has come out the other side. He is more alive than ever. The story hasn't ended. Her hopes and dreams for the future that died with Jesus, have now been resurrected with Jesus.

          Before Mary saw Jesus resurrected the cross looked horrible. Could she even look at it without becoming angry? Or without tears welling up in her eyes? The cross was evil. It was horrible and ugly. It was created by a cruel empire that was very good at killing and humiliating. It was created as a torture device to show the people what happens if you don't behave and kneel before your Roman rulers. It was the most horrible and shameful thing they could think up. The Cross was a symbol of brutality, evil, and shame. It was a symbol of power and if you were on the cross that power wasn't yours.

          Something amazing happens on Easter morning. Despite expectations, the tomb is found empty. Despite it not fitting their worldview, people start saying that they have seen Jesus. We sometimes think that because they lived a long time ago that they are more likely to believe unbelievable things. These are not stupid people.  They know that people don't just come back from the dead.  ... They say they have conversations with him, and eat with him, and touch him. Large groups see him. Small groups see him. Individuals see him. Enemies see him. And suddenly instead of being scattered and scared the followers of Jesus become bold and confident. They go public saying that 'Jesus is alive'.  The reply from the hostile authorities isn't to exhume Jesus' body for everyone to see and to disprove the claim. They can't find his body. They actually accuse the disciples of stealing the body. However, the followers of Jesus continue to build in their boldness and confidence that Jesus really and truly is alive.  

          Have you ever wondered how strange it is that we wear crosses around our necks, and put them on our walls? Have you ever considered wearing a gold electric chair around your neck? Or maybe a gold hangman's noose? Or, maybe a little silver guillotine? We have made an instrument of torture into jewelry. How did that happen? How did a symbol of death and shame become a symbol of hope and comfort? ... It is because of the resurrection.

          From the point of view of Good Friday the cross is brutal and horrible, but after the resurrection the cross becomes a symbol of Jesus' victory. In that act Jesus took on the world's evil. He took on the corrupt political system. He took on the injustice and cruelty. He took on evil itself. He took on death... and he won. He defeated it all. He took it all on and he won. After the resurrection the cross becomes a symbol of hope. It becomes a symbol we can wear around our necks to remember the victory of Christ over evil and death. The cross becomes a symbol to remind us that no matter how bad things seem, God will have the last word- and that last word will look like resurrection.

          Incredibly, Jesus has invited us into his resurrection life. He has invited us to be a part of his story.  In Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians (ch15) he says "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." Paul is saying that part of being wrapped up in Jesus' life and story means that you will have a resurrection like his. Jesus' resurrection is like the first apple of the season. It is a sign that more apples are to follow.

          There is something amazing and mysterious about the resurrection life that Jesus invites us into. Imagine the most horribly painful thing that has ever happened to you. What in your life symbolizes pain, shame, and cruelty? ... From the point of view of our resurrection we will look back on those things as symbols of our victory as children of God. Just as Jesus and his followers can look back on the cross as a symbol of victory and hope, so those hurtful events in our lives will become symbols of victory for us. Just as Mary's tears at the tomb are transformed into joy by Jesus' resurrection, so our horrors will be transformed into symbols of our victory.

          The incredible thing about this is that we don't have to wait until our resurrection to look at these moments with a sense of victory. Because of Jesus' resurrection we can approach those difficult times in our lives and have a sense of hope and victory as we are facing them. ...

          Some of you are thinking that this all sounds good but terribly impractical.  Let me give you an example. Athanasius lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries. He lived while Christians were being persecuted. So you might have heard about Christians being thrown to the lions to be devoured for the amusement of bloodthirsty crowds. This is when Athanasius lived. This is what he says of Christ's victory over death, " is the very Saviour that also appeared in the body, who has brought death to nought, and Who displays the signs of victory over him day by day in his own disciples. For ... one sees men, weak by nature, leaping forward to death, and not fearing its corruption nor frightened of the descent into Hades, but eager with soul challenging it; and not flinching from torture, but on the contrary, for Christ's sake electing to rush upon death ... [Christ] supplies and gives to each the victory over death ... For who that sees a lion, ... made sport of by children, fails to see that [death] is either dead or has lost all his power. (on the Incarnation, xxix.3-5) ... So weak has [death] become, that even women who were formerly deceived by him, now mock at him as dead and paralyzed." (xxvii.3) "For man is by nature afraid of death and of the dissolution of the body; but there is this most startling fact, that he who has put on the faith of the Cross despises even what is naturally fearful, and for Christ's sake is not afraid of death" (xxviii.2).

          Athanasius is speaking about Christians who were tortured and killed because they were Jesus followers. These Jesus followers laughed at death. These people were not suicidal. They did not hate their lives, but they no longer feared death. Even their children didn't fear death and would make fun of the lions that were about to kill them. Athanasius is saying that this is  another evidence that Jesus has defeated death- his followers no longer fear it.  

          We might make another mistake and think that these Christians were all about going to heaven when they die, but no. Their lack of fear meant that when a plague hit a city, instead of fleeing, many of them stayed to help the sick, even if that meant getting sick and dying themselves. It meant that they were willing to stand up for what was right and just even in the face of cruel kings and rulers. They knew that whatever they threw at them would become their cross and because of Jesus' resurrection, their torture - their very death- would become a symbol of their victory.  Jesus' resurrection allowed them to live amazing lives free from fear. These Christians saw the resurrection as having very real day to day application for how they lived their lives. They were able to live their lives free from fear.             
          We don't face lions, or persecution at the hands of cruel kings. Some Christians do face horrible deaths even now because of their belief in Jesus. There are places in our world where what we are doing right now is illegal, or even if it isn't illegal we might still worry about our safety being gathered together like this. We might not face persecution like this, but we have our own worries and fears. We fear cancer. We have disease. We have abuse and betrayal. We have the death of a loved one to face. We have financial issues to face. Some of us fear commitment, or rejection. ... What are you afraid of? What horror or crisis have you faced? Or maybe you're facing it right now. Could it be that when you look back on this from the point of view of your future resurrection that this moment will be a symbol of victory in your life? ... Could you live believing that victory even now? Even in the midst of your pain? We need to celebrate every year, every Sunday even, because we need to be reminded that we don't have to be afraid. God will have the last word in our lives, and if we are followers of Jesus, that will be a word of victory. We know this isn't just wishful thinking because we have seen it happen to Jesus.      

          Mary's tears on that Easter morning were transformed. Her grief was transformed at the sight of Jesus. Her fear was released and replaced with joy. Jesus offers the same to us. Jesus asks us to be his followers. He asks us to give our lives over to him and truly find life. We are invited into a life free of fear- free of anxiety. We are invited into a life where our worst horrors are transformed into symbols of victory over evil, sin, and death. we are invited to look upon the cross and know that Christ invites us into his victory.   

Friday, 6 April 2012

Maundy Thursday John 13

One of my favorite things about this night is the tension in the air. Our lives interweave with the Gospel and the whole drama of Holy Week. I love being caught up in the story. I love finding myself on the dusty roads- Waving Palm branches with the crowds- overhearing Jesus' teachings in the days before the crucifixion.

            Tonight especially I love the tension in the air. Peter says to Jesus, "You will never wash my feet." and Jesus answers him, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Jesus is saying Peter will no longer be a disciple ... unless he washes his feet.  Now, tonight the Youth Group was washing feet at the entrance to the church. Some of you snuck in and tried not to make eye contact with them. Some of you wore nylons so it gave you a reason not to have your feet washed. And then you heard Peter's words and then Jesus' words and then you felt that tension inside you.

"You will never wash my feet".

"Unless I wash you, you have no share with me".

            I'm not saying this to make anyone feel guilty. I'm not saying that you have rejected Jesus if you didn't let the Youth Group wash your feet. I'm sure some of you have medical reasons for not having your feet washed, for example. I'm someone who would sneak by if I could. But I love the tension in us, because it is Peter's tension. That tension draws us into the story.

            Our tension is slightly different than Peter's though. Our tension comes from us being embarrassed. Maybe we are embarrassed of how our feet look. maybe we feel like it is too intimate to have someone touch our feet- Our feet are sensitive.  For many of us it is too socially awkward. But the tension for Peter was a bit different.

            Foot washing was a very hospitable thing to do in the first century. There were no cars, so you walked a lot unless you were really well-off and had an animal you could ride. Most people walked everywhere along dusty roads. After being on your feet all day it meant a lot to have your feet washed. It was refreshing. It was a very hospitable action. It was also a bit of a demeaning action for the person doing the washing. It was the person on the lowest rung on the social ladder that did the foot washing.

            If you happened to be visiting someone who had servants, it wasn't just any servant who washed your feet. It was the lowest ranking servant who washed your feet. It was the lowest of the low who washed your feet. And that is where Peter's tension came from. It was as if Peter was accepting Jesus as having a lower social rank than him. There is no way that the one they just welcomed into Jerusalem as the true King and Messiah should be washing anyone's feet. That's Peter's tension.  

            And of course that is the point. Jesus, the true king, becomes a servant. He is the highest, but for our sake he becomes the lowest. He is the greatest king, but he took on the lowest position- dying like a criminal, shamefully nailed to a cross. Jesus' foot washing is how we understand his actions on the cross. His action on the cross is his washing us. And if we do not accept what he did on the cross as being for us  then we have no part with him. Like Peter not wanting to have his feet washed, if we don't accept that service from Jesus on the cross we are not his disciples. If we want to be the subjects of this particular King, we have to allow him to serve us.    

            Another surprise is that Jesus even washes Judas' feet knowing that he was going to betray him. Jesus knew that Judas, his friend, who he has spent three years with, was going to betray him. Have you ever had a good friend betray you? Have you ever felt taken advantage of by a friend? Ever felt used and abused by them?  ... Especially a good friend who you trusted. have you ever had a spouse commit adultery? I don't know that pain. I can hardly even imagine that pain. Maybe those of us who don't know that pain got a hint of it as teenagers when a boyfriend or girlfriend cheated on you. ... It feels awful. Now imagine being betrayed and that betrayal leads to your death. How would you treat that person? ...     

            We don't know why Judas did it, but we read that Jesus knew about it before it happened.  Jesus knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing death. And knowing this, Jesus kneels at Judas' feet. He pours water over the feet that will shortly walk into the darkness to betray him.  Not only did Jesus wash Judas' feet, but Judas also sat at a place of honour during dinner. He is seated so close to Jesus that Jesus can whisper to him and hand him bread. Judas is seated in a place of honour at this meal, even though Jesus knows.  

            There is no way to understand the love Jesus shows Judas in any kind of worldly way. When we are betrayed, everything in us wants to sneer, spit, scream and get revenge, but Jesus washes his feet. ... And of course, this is what Jesus does for us. When we are at our darkest, when we betray Jesus by acting as anything but his followers and representatives, even then, he washes our feet. He serves us. Even when we are at our darkest- he serves us. This is amazing love.


            Shockingly, disturbingly, and amazingly Jesus draws us into this love. Jesus has set this serving-love as an example for us to follow. If we call Jesus "Lord" and he serves by washing feet, so should we be washing each other's feet. If our master is willing to serve in such an undignified way then we too should be willing. If we think we are above such service, we think we are above him who did such service. Jesus is giving us our primary identity here as his Disciples.  Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." Jesus, in his act of washing feet, calls us into an amazing love- A love that is willing to put loving service above dignity and social-standing.

            That is why today is called "Maundy" Thursday. Mandatum is Latin for 'Commandment'. Think of the word 'Mandate'. In John 13:34 Jesus says, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus commands us to love each other- even if it means appearing undignified, or if it means crossing social lines. We are to love as he loved.  Our main identifiers as Jesus' disciples is our love for each other.  It is both beautiful and frightening, and it is impossible unless our love is really God loving through us.
            We are called to walk in the steps of the self-giving God. We are called to lovingly serve eachother despite social status. We are called to serve eachother even in ways that we might consider demeaning if it means loving service. We are called to walk the way of the one who gives his life for others- And not just for friends and family, but we are called to serve and even die for the Judas' in our lives. How amazing. How terrifying, and how beautiful.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Kenosis of Mary

            Mary glimpsed something amazing. Our gospel reading tonight isn't the first time Mary has fallen at Jesus' feet. In the previous chapter Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There we met a grief-stricken Mary. In John 11 we read 32 "When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.""  having lost her brother, Mary wept at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus wept with her. Many here know the emotions Mary felt. She cared for  her brother, Lazarus, as his illness progressed. At some point they realized that Lazarus was not going to recover. They felt helpless- their cures, their efforts weren't enough.  They called for Jesus hoping he could help, but he didn't come. Lazarus died and they entered into grief. Mary was 4 days into her grief when she fell at Jesus' feet.   

            When we meet Mary in the next chapter she is in an unbelievable situation. She is at a banquet. She is once again eating with her brother, who is alive, and Jesus who brought him back to life. What would you do? How could you say, "thank you". How could you possibly thank someone like Jesus?

            Mary got a glimpse of who Jesus is. She saw that he is not just a carpenter. He is not just the man she has known as a family friend. He is more. Mary saw Jesus clearly when he gave her her brother back. In that moment she caught a glimpse of God.

            How do you respond? What can you say? what can you do? In the hymn "When I survey the wondrous cross" (Isaac Waats) there is a line I love, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small". What do you offer God that is not already his? In our offerings we often pray a verse from 1st Chronicles ch 29- "all things come from you, and of your own have we given you". We cannot give God anything that is not already his.

            So Mary contemplates... She asks herself, "how do I respond? How can I respond to a man that has brought my brother back to life? How do I respond to a man that has shown me God in himself?"      

            Mary got a glimpse of who Jesus really is. She had wet Jesus' feet with her tears and now she soaks his feet with expensive perfume- and she wipes them with her hair- hair she usually kept covered out of modesty. It is incredibly intimate and incredibly inappropriate to those who haven't glimpsed the reality Mary has.

            Mary poured perfume on Jesus feet worth $40,000 or $50,000- a year's wage. I wonder if she used this perfume to anoint Lazarus' dead body. Perhaps it was her savings? Perhaps it was her dowry? Maybe it doesn't even matter how much it's worth. It was the best. And maybe that's the point. Oscar Wilde once said a "cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". We think so much in terms of money. That is Judas in our story.

            Judas is our voice here. Judas heaps our judgement on Mary. Judas speaks out of our discomfort and cynicism. What a waste. How inappropriate. But, that is that part of us that hasn't seen what Mary has. It is sad that Judas doesn't see it. Better to balance the books than spend time in prayer. Better to make money for the poor than spend time in church in Sunday. [God is present in, but not limited to the poor. It is out of worship that we find ourselves and find God in the poor.] 

            Mary gives everything to Jesus because she sees him clearly. The perfume poured out is only a symbol of Mary pouring herself out in love to Jesus. I'm sure Mary even felt that wasn't enough- even that wasn't enough to show the love and devotion that Jesus deserved.

            I didn't finish the verse I quoted from the Hymn, "When I survey the wondrous cross". It goes "Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all." Mary poured herself out to Jesus. This act was Mary's Kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word for emptying. Mary poured herself out. She gave everything to Jesus in loving worship. She held nothing back. 

            Mary offered everything to Jesus, who was God's kenosis. The Son of God emptied himself as Mary poured out her perfume. 

            Paul writes in Philippians 2,

[The Son] made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!        

            This is God's Kenosis- his self-emptying.  Mary poured her perfume on the one who left his heavenly riches to be poor among us.  Jesus sees her action as pointing to his coming death- the ultimate act of God's self-emptying. She is anointing him for his burial.

            The fragrance of the perfume Mary poured out on Jesus' feet, offered in worship, filled the whole house. The fragrance of the outpoured life of the Son of God has filled the whole world. And just as Mary smelled of the perfume because of her act of worship, so we have the fragrance of God's outpouring. Paul says in 2 Cor ch 2:15 "For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved..."  

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