Reflection: "Mysterious Callings"
Following the tumultuous entry by Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his shocking crucifixion on Good Friday and his miraculous resurrection on Easter Sunday, Peter and some of the other disciples had gone back to doing what they knew best – fishing – and, early one morning, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a man appears on the shore asking if they’ve caught anything.
They actually hadn’t had any luck at all that night, so, when the man tells them to throw their nets onto the other side of the boat and assures them that they’ll catch some fish over there, they were extremely doubtful.
But, when they did – my goodness - they could hardly pull the nets in, because there were so many fish in them.
It was only then that John recognised the man as Jesus and said to Peter “It’s the Lord!”
This was the third time that Jesus had appeared to Peter and the disciples.
The number 3 may have been significant, as Peter had denied knowing his Lord three times on the night of the trial of Jesus and it’s also consistent with the number of times on the shore that Jesus then asks Peter if he loves him.
When Peter assures Jesus three times that he does, the Lord gives Peter a call to action.
He tells Peter to “Look after, feed and tend my sheep.”
The sheep in this reference are the growing band of people who were becoming followers of the Christ.
Peter did, in fact, go on to demonstrate his love for Christ, becoming the head of the church in Jerusalem, and also preaching the Gospel widely, as far away as Antioch and even in Rome.
He would eventually be taken somewhere that he didn’t really want to go - to his death on a cross - for proclaiming that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.
His obedience to the task that Jesus gave him, would bring glory to God, and help to spread the Christian message throughout the known world.
We can see that the events of Easter dramatically changed things for the disciples.
Not only for those left behind when Jesus ascended to be with his Father, but for all of us, too.
We’ve been charged with the responsibility of looking after others, feeding and caring for them, both physically and spiritually.
There’s no going back once a Christian makes the decision to follow Jesus Christ.
We can only move forward as a response to the call of our risen Lord.
When things get difficult in our lives, we, too, like the disciples, find it tempting to go back to safe, familiar surroundings, but Christ calls us to go out, commanding us to go forward into unfamiliar territory, onto shaky ground.
We’re called to obedience, to put ourselves and our own security, to the back, pushing on in Christ’s name.
We know that Peter wasn’t perfect, before or after this encounter with Jesus, but he was obedient and he moved forward, unafraid of whatever would come his way.
This passage from John’s gospel can also be a great text for personal prayer.
I encourage you to read it that way and try imagining Jesus asking you “Do you love me more than these?”
Then ask yourself whether you can respond as Peter did.
Listen in silence to hear what God reveals to you.
Then determine who you know that’s in need of love and your help.
Form a plan of action for how you can assist them.
Ok, it might seem difficult, even scary at first, but going forward will glorify Christ and we should remember that he told the disciples (and us) that he will go ahead of us and prepare the way.
Our calling might not be exactly what we had imagined, and it might take us to some strange places.
It’s all part of what I’m referring to as “mysterious callings”.
In a similar way, as we hear from the book of Acts, that Saul, also known by his Roman name Paul, was another one who couldn’t possibly have imagined the future that God had in mind for him.
He was a Jew’s Jew, a Pharisee, well trained in the Jewish religious ways and at the time following the death and resurrection of Jesus, he was actively persecuting Christians.
He’d even been implicated in the stoning of Stephen, one of the disciples.
We read in the book of Acts about his miraculous and mysterious encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, where Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting him.
This encounter left Saul blind for 3 days and during that time, he fasted and prayed to God.
When the Lord commanded Ananias to go to Saul, tasking him with the power to restore Saul’s sight, Ananias was understandably hesitant, because he’d heard of the many bad things Saul was doing to the Christian brothers and sisters around the land.
Despite his hesitancy, Ananias did as he was instructed and from that time on, Paul’s eyes were opened (in more ways than one) and he proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, preaching far and wide around the Mediterranean, reaching out to both Jews and gentiles, telling them of God’s love for them all.
Paul was so convinced of the truth about Jesus, that he endured many hardships, including times in prison and under house arrest, finally dying in Rome around 66AD.
He was also a prolific writer to the fledgling churches he’d established, and these letters make up a large section of the bible’s New Testament.
Maybe we don’t feel called in the same ways as Peter or Paul were, but I’m sure that God has a plan for all of us and we’re charged with the responsibility of determining just what our role is in God’s Kingdom, here on earth.
I’m sure we won’t find these plans written down anywhere, but I believe that in our prayerful conversations with God, he will reveal them to us.
Then, with his help, we can start putting the plans into action.
Remember that Jesus assured us we won’t be asked to do anything that God hasn’t prepared us for, so we need to have faith, trust him and move forward with the support of the Holy Spirit.
So, let me ask you: “Do you love the Lord?”
“Are you prepared to follow him?”
“Will you help spread the gospel, the good news about Jesus?”
I pray that you can answer the Lord by avowing “You know that I do and that I will”,
to which he will say “Follow me”.
Go now in peace to love and serve your Lord……………Pastor Rick
Reflection: "The Peace of God"
This year, the commemoration of ANZAC Day falls very close to our celebration of Easter last weekend.
It may seem a little incongruous to talk about “peace” after these two remembrances of rather gruesome events, but we’re going to talk about God’s peace. The concept of God’s peace is not what many of us may think or expect.
“Shalom” says Jesus to his disciples when he appears before them on that day, just after his resurrection.
Shalom roughly translates to “Peace be with you.”
Now, peace was probably the last thing the disciples were thinking about at that stage.
After all, they’d just been on a huge roller coaster ride - seeing the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem only a week before, the changing of the traditional Passover Meal into the sacrament of communion, the traitorous actions of Judas Iscariot - one of their own, the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, his trial and crucifixion, death and burial, the empty tomb and now, his rising from the dead and appearing before them.
Surely, they would have been really confused and scared, not knowing where to turn, or what to do.
Therefore, peace was EXACTLY what they did need.
To top it off, Jesus tells them that he’s sending them out into the world with something called “the Holy Spirit” to guide and protect them.
All was coming to a fulfilment. Jesus had assured them earlier that he would bring them comfort and joy (John 17:12-13). He would give them an advocate, "the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father" (John 15:26).
And with that Spirit, he would send them into the world to continue the work and spread the message.
Using the words he used when praying to His Father, he said: "that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23).
Now, in their presence, Jesus breathed on them, and they were touched by the Holy Spirit.
At this time, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were a closed, inward-looking group, but he turned them into an open team of missionaries, sent out into the world.
The disciples were told to go out and forgive people’s sins, just as Jesus had forgiven sins when he was in his 3 years of ministry around Galilee and Jerusalem.
He even laid it on them that if they didn’t forgive the sins of others, then their sins would not be forgiven.
Quite a responsibility for a bunch of simple fishermen, tax collectors and the like.
Could they do the same work as Jesus had done during his ministry on earth?
Would it work, or would the people just scoff at them, or worse still, stone them for blasphemy?
Speaking of scoffers, there were, and still are today, those who wouldn’t believe that Jesus and died and risen from the grave after 3 days.
In fact, even one of the 12, Thomas, refuses to believe that Jesus is alive, as he wasn’t in the room when Jesus first appears to the disciples.
The words he uses are: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Not an unreasonable assertion, given the circumstances and one that you and I would probably make too. Even the disciples seem unable to recognise Jesus the first time he appears before them.
It wasn’t until he shows them his hands and side that they recognise him. Does that make Thomas a “doubter” - or a realist? He saw Jesus nailed to the cross and he saw him die, so, you really can't blame him for wanting a “real” encounter with a “really risen” Lord, just like the other disciples had been privilege to.
When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realise that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn't the exception but the rule.
No one - even after all the predictions - no one says, "Welcome back Jesus", or "We knew you would do it", or even "What took you so long?"
No one anticipates the return of Jesus and when he shows up, everyone doubts.
To make sure that he includes all of his closest followers, Jesus appears a week later, in the same room, although this time John says that the door is closed, but he doesn’t mention the word “locked”.
Jesus doesn’t chide Thomas as he allows him to put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the gash made by the centurion’s spear.
It’s then that Thomas utters those profound words “My Lord and my God!”, recognising Jesus for who he is.
Then we get that lovely and poignant declaration from Jesus that: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Isn’t that what “faith” is all about?
We weren’t there 2,000 years ago, yet we believe that the events occurred and were faithfully recorded and passed down through the ages.
Like Thomas, we’d like to be able to have some physical signs of God’s presence, but, instead, we must rely on our faith and be part of the greater number of people who “have not seen and yet believe”.
So, to all the scoffers, I say that there must have been a cataclysmic event that changed the scared, hiding disciples, into bold advocates for the Gospel – the good news about Jesus.
I believe that it was this meeting with the risen Jesus, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, that gave them the courage to go out there. Most of them ended up being killed for the words they spoke.
Would they have done that if the Easter message had finished on Good Friday, with their leader being crucified?
I think not.
From the immortal poetic words with which John opens his gospel “In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God” - sending the reader back to the "big bang" of the creation of the universe, to this final intimate moment of comfort and assurance, John wants us to know that we didn’t have to be there in person.
We didn’t have to walk the paths with Jesus.
We didn’t have to witness the miracles first-hand.
We didn’t have to be in that closed room.
Through the reading of John's message, and others like it, we can hear the stories and believe.
And, in believing, we can have life eternal.
As John says in the concluding verses of today’s reading: “these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That’s pretty deep, isn’t it? Not just that we may exist, but that we may have life in his name. Be wholly devoted to him and live our lives to glorify him. And that we can live in harmony and peace with other believers.
I like to think of us as Resurrection people - that is - people who don't need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or before helping a neighbour, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we'll probably never get started.
Because, frankly, don't you ever wonder if your acts of mercy, or kindness, actually make a difference?
We know that there are so many hungry people in the world - will the few we can help really change things?
There’s so much hurt in the world - does the hand we extend, or listening ear we offer, really change that?
I believe they do, but I, like you, at times wonder…..and have doubts.
And yet, because we are Resurrection people, we believe, as well as doubt, and in believing, even in this more fragile way, we act, we reach out, we feed, we care, we tend, we struggle, we work, we love, all without any guarantees, just a promise from the Lord who continues to bless those who believe amid their doubts and keep the faith, amid all their uncertainties.
John 14:27 tells us that Jesus brings us peace. Not the sort of earthly peace that we’re used to, but the eternal peace that only he can give. He tells us not to be afraid, he has gone to be with his Father and we should rejoice.
Can you remember when there was a time that Jesus brought peace to you?
Close your eyes now for a short time and see if you can feel the peace of God flowing over you.
The peace of the Lord be with you…………….Pastor Rick
Reflection: "He's Alive!"
Whilst the majority of this reflection is taken from the gospel of John, the story is also told by Matthew, Mark & Luke and also in Acts, so I won’t only be sticking just to what John says.
Let’s set the scene in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday morning:
One of the disciples runs in breathlessly to meet the others, who were hiding away, fearful for their lives, following the death of their master, a few days earlier.
“Have you heard the good news? He’s alive! The master’s alive! The tomb’s empty and he’s risen from the dead – just like he told us he would! He said he’d go ahead and meet us in Galilee, so let’s go and tell the others.”
I guess that’s how the disciples would have reacted on that Easter Morning after they had gone to visit his tomb, only to find that the stone, which had been blocking the entrance, was rolled away and the tomb was now empty.
Instead of finding the dead body of their Lord, they found two angels outside the tomb, who asked the women why they were looking for the living among the dead?
The angels told the women that Jesus had done as he had told them and gone ahead to meet them in Galilee.
The disciples, however, were still a bit unsure and some, like Thomas, even refused to believe the words unless he saw Jesus himself - touched his body - and put his fingers in the nail holes.
Over the ensuing years, many Christians have scoffed at Thomas and thus the expression “doubting Thomas” came into existence.
To be fair to him, I think many of us would react the same way, if it were to happen to us today.
Some people just have to see things for themselves.
Jesus knew that and said to them “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Only a few days earlier, on that first Good Friday, the world of the believers had come to a shattering standstill, because their Lord and Master had been killed – crucified by the Romans - at the insistence of the Jewish High Priests, who were jealous and afraid of the popularity that Jesus had with the common people.
Jesus had become well known as a preacher and teacher in the area around Galilee and Jerusalem and he’d attracted a huge following – over 5,000 men, plus the women and children, had come to remote places to hear him speak.
Many strangers had approached him, asking him to heal them, or pleading for healing on behalf of their family members. This hadn’t escaped the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, who were worried about how popular Jesus was becoming.
They thought that if this situation continued, he might even take over the roles that they performed – and they certainly weren’t too keen on that.
They were so entrenched in their religious rules and regulations that they had forgotten, or moved away from, the agreement, or covenant, that their forefathers had made with God, all those thousands of years earlier.
Then, along comes Jesus, a seemingly simple woodworker from Galilee, who, although he hadn’t been specially trained in their religious ways, seemed to know all the old scriptures and, worse still, quoted them back at the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees whenever they challenged him.
They tried their hardest to make Jesus look silly and uneducated, to trap him into blaspheming, or to perform some other activity that they could arrest him for, but he always managed to get the better of them in discussions.
They realised that he was becoming so popular with the people, that if they tried to do anything against him, the crowds would probably turn on them.
Instead, they hatched a devious and political plan to get the Romans to kill Jesus on their behalf by convincing the Procurator, Pontius Pilate, to crucify Jesus for them, so that the blame could not be attributed to them.
I’m sure that they would have considered that they had, in fact, won the day by having Jesus killed.
That they had rid themselves, and the world, of a meddlesome troublemaker.
However, we now know that it was actually a part of God’s larger plan.
The Son of Man may have allowed himself to be killed, but he astounded everyone, including his closest friends and followers, by rising from the grave on the third day, just as had been prophesied in the old scriptures and had, indeed, been espoused by Jesus when teaching his disciples.
But he wasn’t an apparition, a ghost, as many must have thought.
He even ate and drank with his disciples and let them touch his body, to see that he was really there.
And he didn’t just disappear on that day, never to be seen again, being observed on many occasions, by many followers, over the next 40 days - before he ascended into heaven to be with his Father.
Oh yes, there were sceptics and scoffers then and there still are - even today - who say that it was all a big confidence trick - that he never really died.
But think about it for a minute - and this is the thing that really convinces me of the truth of what was written in the gospels about the death and resurrection of Jesus - remember how his followers had hidden themselves after the crucifixion and were afraid for their lives.
They were terrified that the religious authorities would come after them – to stamp out any remnants of the followers of Jesus, who had called himself the Messiah, the Christ, God’s son.
But following his resurrection, after they had seen him in the flesh, seen the nail holes in his hands and feet, and the gash in his side, then and only then, did they become brave.
Brave enough to publicly proclaim him, and his message of love, to anyone who’d listen.
And not only in Jerusalem, or even Galilee, but throughout the known world.
Apostles like Peter, Paul, Andrew and John travelled widely and preached the gospel – about how God loved everyone, not just the Jews, and that he wanted to be in a relationship with them.
The apostles were so sure of what they were doing, that they were prepared to die, rather than deny Jesus.
And in most cases, they WERE killed, sometimes very violently.
And that’s still happening today, as we hear, all too often, that Christians in persecuted countries prefer to be killed, rather than to renounce their faith.
The gospel didn’t finish with the martyred apostles, or those who’ve given their lives over the years.
It’s grown and spread around the world to a point where billions of people have heard it and believed.
Ordinary people, like you and me.
So, what should we do with this knowledge?
Should we just keep it to ourselves and feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Or should we, too, go out into all the world and let others also share in the Gospel - the good news about Jesus?
I’ve made a decision to follow that course of action. Would you also like take part in the proclaiming of God’s Kingdom here on earth? I won’t deceive you - it’s not an easy task, but we’re much luckier here in Australia, as we can proclaim the gospel without fear of persecution. That’s not always the case outside of our great country.
Each and every one of us can do something to make this story known to others outside the Christian faith.
Search inside yourself, talk to God in prayer, and see what you can do – today, tomorrow, and for every day of the rest of your life.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Happy Easter............Pastor Rick
Reflection: “Hosannas Before the Storm”
Let’s imagine that it’s Cracker Night (when it was still legal, that is, a number of years ago).
You take a cracker, a nice big one, a “bunger”, get your match, light the cracker and throw it away into a clear space.
You wince your body, cover your ears, and wait, but….…nothing happens.
So, you walk over to it, kick it with your boot, look at it a little more carefully and sense that it’s gone out.
You pick it up, break it in half and now you know for sure that it’s a dud.
Well, I think that might have been a bit like how Palm Sunday went, all those years ago, in Jerusalem.
Jesus came into town riding on a young donkey, a colt - and the expectations of a big bang event were high.
But it all ended up being a dud, just a plain fizzer.
Let me explain.
On this day, when Jesus came riding into town, there were heaps of people in Jerusalem.
That’s because, it was a requirement for all Jewish men to make a pilgrimage to the Passover festival in Jerusalem, at some time in their life.
We know now that Jesus had a much higher motive than this for his visit.
As Jesus slowly entered that city, people were jamming the streets and they were yelling,
“It’s the Messiah. Hosanna, it’s the Messiah, the Messiah is coming, just as it’s been promised in the scriptures.”
They’d heard about him and were excited about what he was going to do to help them out of their predicament – the occupation of their lands by the Romans.
Of course, they were expecting a warrior king - but that’s not the message that Jesus planned to bring to them.
Soon their voices became one and they chanted together, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
They ripped the clothes off their backs and tossed their cloaks on the ground in front of Jesus, grabbed palm branches and were waving them with gusto.
As Jesus approached the centre square of the city, the crowd was intense, shoulder-to-shoulder.
Jesus got down off the donkey, and the crowd were wondering what he was going to say and do next.
Wondering if all the angels from heaven were going to come down right now.
But Jesus simply got off his donkey, walked into the temple where he had taught so many times before.
They probably said to one another:“Maybe the temple will fall apart; maybe it’ll explode.
Who knows what’ll happen next?”
The Pharisees, who were afraid that the Romans would not like all the commotion, asked Jesus to stop exciting the crowd, but Jesus replied that even if the people were silent, the stones would shout out.
Well, that may have been how it was on that first Palm Sunday.
What had happened, they would have wondered?
Why did it turn out to be such a non-event, such a dud?
It seems like the people of God had misunderstood the promises of God.
It has happened throughout history and is still happening today.
In the early days of the relationship with God and his people, as we read in the Old Testament, God promised the people that he would give them the Promised Land.
God promised to give his people the land of Israel, a good land, a beautiful land, a lush land.
But what did the Promised Land turn out to be?
It was filled with all sorts of other people who were happily settled in the land, so it took 200 years to conquer it.
200 years of fighting to make the promised land their own.
Was that part of God’s promise?
The Jews had heard only the part of the promise that they wanted to hear.
The part they liked was where God said: “I’ll give you a land filled with milk and honey.”
The Jews didn’t hear, or didn’t want to hear, the hard part where it would take 200 years to conquer it.
We still twist the promises of God and only hear what we want to hear, omitting the hard parts of the promise.
Everywhere in the Old Testament there are promises of the coming Messiah.
The Messiah was going to be a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, an everlasting father, and the prince of peace.
This new Messiah was going to bring justice and peace to the land.
Then, along comes Jesus, riding into town on a donkey, just like the prophets had foretold.
But what did the promise turn out to be?
Did this person turn out to be a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father and prince of peace?
Not in their eyes, because they weren’t looking for such a person - as I said earlier, they wanted a warrior King.
This Messiah turned out to be a carpenter who rode on a jackass and got himself killed by Friday afternoon, so it didn’t work out the way they wanted, at all.
He didn’t meet their expectations.
Once again, the Jews picked out only the best parts of the promise, the best parts of the passage, the flower of the rose (but not the thorns), the best parts of the scriptures, omitting all the other parts of the promise.
All throughout history, we’ve taken the promises of God and twisted them to meet our own ends; we twist the promises of God to meet our own happiness; we twist the promises of God to meet our own expectations.
So, what is it that we want?
Well, we certainly want to avoid anything that has to do with suffering, death, struggle or sacrifice.
We omit all those parts of the promise.
To use a floral analogy, we want the rose blossom, but we don’t want the thorny stem.
We want the top glorious red, pink. yellow blossoms, but not the thorns.
We always want ‘Palm Sunday’, but not ‘Passion Sunday’ – the Sunday leading to the passion of Christ on the cross.
And that’s what happened on that first Palm Sunday.
God promised Passion Sunday, but the people wanted the drama of Palm Sunday.
The people of God didn’t want to hear about anything that had to do with executions, crosses, suffering and death.
It seems to me that whether it’s a promise about peace, or abundant life, or freedom, all these great promises from God involve struggle, suffering, discipline, death, and injustice.
There are always big thorns on that rose bush, and we, the people of God, intuitively want to avoid that.
We want to delete that part of the promise.
God has promised us a new kingdom, so let’s not distort what he’s offering by just looking on the rosy side.
We also need to take the hard parts with the good.
Make no mistake, this new kingdom will be beautiful.
It surely was an extremely testing and trying time for Jesus.
It was the culmination of his ministry and the basis for the faith of those of us who are called Christians, his disciples.
Let’s thank God for his generosity to us, by working hard to build his kingdom here on earth.
And so, we await the passion of Jesus as it unfolds before us in the coming Holy Week.
He endured all of this for us, so that our sins are forgiven and we can join him after we pass on from this mortal life.
Blessings on this commencement of Holy Week……..Pastor Rick
Each Sunday in Lent is carrying us closer to the horror, but also the glory, of Easter.
Today’s Gospel reading shows us Jesus having a time of respite, in a kindly home at Bethany, not far from the Holy City of Jerusalem and we know that it wasn’t long before his time of betrayal.
The awareness of his impending suffering is obviously constantly with him.
In a sense his final passion was already upon him.
In this setting, one deeply sensitive woman, Mary, massages his feet with expensive oil, and in a wonderful outpouring of love, wipes his feet with her hair.
It seems to me that in any other situation and especially in these days where awareness of sexual harassment is at the fore, this could be seen as an act of Mary getting too close to Jesus.
The expensive oil, the massage, her unbound hair, would point to something erotic - but not here.
This is the expression of profound agape; an outpouring of “other-centred” love.
At this point I wish to draw a distinction between the acute understanding of this woman and the ongoing confusion in the minds of the men who followed Jesus.
It seems to me that the male disciples where in stubborn denial regarding the coming arrest and trial of Jesus – which led to his crucifixion and death.
With a mind-set which is unfortunately common among men, they didn’t want to think about the possible upcoming disaster, and they refused to face the loss of their leader.
It’s as if by denying the unpleasant truth, it would go away.
From the time at Philippi when Peter made his statement that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus had tried to make the men see that his rejection by the religious leaders was inevitable.
From that time, he began talking about his cross, but they stayed in denial and didn’t want to know about it.
The only trace of acceptance among the men comes from my favourite disciple, Thomas.
On the road, Thomas openly expresses his belief that the journey to Jerusalem will end in death.
“Come on,” he says to the others, “let’s go and die with him”.
Here we see a grave consequence of this denial by most of the men, because hiding from their own deep fears about the possible death of their Master, meant that they couldn’t give Jesus the emotional support he needed in those last weeks and days. They wouldn’t allow themselves to be in tune with his soul. When he needed them most to understand and to support him in his resolve to keep the faith in the face of death, the men were not emotionally there for him. Jesus must have been an extremely lonely man at that time.
Thank goodness for the women who were also followers of Jesus.
Some of these were financially well-off and provided for Christ’s travelling mission out of their own pockets.
I wish more information had survived about his aspect of our Lord’s support group.
I reckon there was a lot more going on than the scant references that survive in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, however, I rejoice that the record of this incident (that is, our Gospel focus for today) has survived.
We cherish the record of that evening meal at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Mary was unpretentiously empathetic, prepared to bear the pain of admitting to herself the tragedy of what lay ahead for Jesus, the loveliest person she had ever known, who was going to fall into the hands of cruel men and be butchered.
This understanding must have been breaking her heart., however, she faced it stoically.
No denial here - she was ready to show some expensive, expansive love.
Because she wasn’t in denial, she was able to comfort Jesus as he rested in their house at Bethany.
She didn’t care what the others thought, she didn’t care whether her sister, Martha, understood or not, she just did what her intuition told her to do.
Kneeling down before him, and with the most expensive of oils, pure Nard, she anointed and massaged his feet, then wiped them with her long dark tresses.
Jesus knew what she was doing, understood the significance, and was remarkably comforted by a woman who dared to be true to what her heart was telling her.
Jesus and Mary knew that his impending death was for real.
“Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”.
Judas had just blurted out that pious blabber about selling the perfume and helping the poor, but everyone knew that he wanted the money for himself.
It would be silly of me to use this story to superficially categorise all men as not being able to deal with sensitive, emotional issues.
Likewise, all women cannot be put into the category of the sensitive nurturers.
We find some of each gender in both camps.
However, it’s no secret that, over many years, social pressures have tended towards shaping men to hide their emotional side, while allowing women more room to express theirs.
My main conclusion, therefore, doesn’t lie in pointing the finger only at men.
I’m suggesting that both female and male cannot truly support one another unless we stop the denial game; unless we take the risk and make ourselves sensitive to the feelings of others and to our own feelings in response to theirs. We must deal in emotions, not just ideas, with profound listening.
Not speaking platitudes to just quickly cover our own discomfort.
I remind you of the penance we’re offering during Lent - that we should get to know ourselves better, so that we can be better servants to God.
This story has the same theme, plus a consequence:
Know yourself and you will be better able to know others and stand with them in their time of need.
It’s that expensive love, agape love, other-centred love.
It’s high-risk love that allows both the highest joy and the deepest grief.
I pray that you allow the lovely Mary to be your tutor.
While others were in denial, she identified with Jesus and gave some of the comfort he desperately needed.
Mary took half a kilogram of expensive, perfumed oil, massaged it into the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Then the whole house was filled with the fragrance.
What can you do for your Lord this day?
"People of faith, watch for what God is doing in the world.
See what is here and now.
Hear with sensitivity.
Love with deep care.
Be the person God calls you to be.
Move forward with hope, for there is so much more than we will ever understand.
Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer God is in us, around us and before us.
Let us go out with joy as we watch for the new thing God is doing. Amen"
Lenten Blessings………………..Pastor Rick