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Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Safe Place to be Vulnerable–Lent 5

5th Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8

 So, what do you think of Mary of Bethany in this gospel text? She takes perfume that’s worth almost a full year’s salary, ad pours it on Jesus’ feet—the work of a slave. Then she wipes it with her hair—a scandalous act for a woman. What are one or two words you might use to describe her? Free spirit? Grateful? Overly dramatic? Devoted? Wasteful?

The word I think I would use is “authentic.” She is being herself in a very unique situation. Her brother, Lazarus, has just been raised from the dead by Jesus and she is responding to that. And she’s doing it in her own, unique, genuine, and authentic way. John writes that her anointing of Jesus’ feet with this expensive perfume is a preview of his being anointed for burial. Of course gospel-writer John would find deep meaning in this act and relate it to the cross. That’s what he does. But I’m not sure in this story that Mary of Bethany had that in mind at all. Her actions are her own, with her own motives of gratitude and devotion. She is being, well, Mary. And she’s not trying to impress Jesus, Judas, or anyone else. She is responding to her brother’s restored life in an authentically “Mary” kind of way: by breaking open an extravagantly expensive jar of perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet with it, then wiping his feet with her hair.

Her response doesn’t meet Judas’ approval—even though many would say that Judas has a point. Judas is one of the twelve insiders whom Jesus picked, but his criticism doesn’t stop her at all. It doesn’t even matter to her. Her response to Jesus compassion isn’t influenced at all by what others think. Not only is that authentic, but it’s courageous. Because by acting in an authentic way, she’s opening herself up for public ridicule. She’s quite vulnerable to that right now.

Jesus, however, loves her response with the perfume. Not because it’s the right one or one that he approves of, but because it’s authentic for her. Her response to Jesus’ compassion comes from the core of her identity. It’s not meant to gain approval, not for anyone else, but just a response that comes from deep within her heart.

And that’s why we usually don’t behave authentically.

When you respond to Jesus (or anyone) in an authentic way, it leaves you vulnerable. Look at the criticism Judas levels at Mary. It’s harsh. He’s not just criticizing her actions, because her actions are coming from the depths of who she is. He’s criticizing her as a person. And if it wasn’t Judas saying it, how many of us would agree with him (because if he says it, it must be wrong)? How many of us would look at each other, roll our eyes, sigh, and whisper to one another, “There she goes again. She is just so strange.” And then we’d avoid her, gravitate toward others who also think she’s strange, and end up excluding her.

Mary is taking a tremendous risk by being authentic. Authenticity makes you vulnerable because it opens us up to pain that is so easily inflicted by those around us.

We live in a culture that doesn’t want us to recognize—much less admit—our vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be weak. It is considered wimpy. Buck up, we say. Be strong, we say. Tough it out, we say. Our heroes are people of strength and power. They aren’t vulnerable, they never back down, they never give in, they are never weak.

Mary has the courage to be authentic in the face of what others think about her. She does this extravagant thing because she has been touched by Jesus’ compassion and grace. When you are most vulnerable and you are met with compassion; when you are most vulnerable and are met with love, you are given new life.

I think that’s the church at its best. A place where you are met with compassion and love when you are most vulnerable. You see, that’s how Jesus continuously meet us—when we are weakest and most vulnerable, he comes to us in love, compassion, and grace.

At our Lenten devotion time last Wednesday, those at our table were talking about this text. The question we were dealing with had to do with Mary of Bethany’s extravagant gratitude. What were we grateful for, the question was asked? Many said that this congregation was pretty close to the top of the list. Several people shared that when they were living their lives in hard places, this was a safe community for them. They were welcomed, cared for, and held without any expectations or assumptions. They could be authentic in their pain, in their weakness, and in their vulnerability without much fear of reprisal or criticism. A safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

I have a friend who experienced the death of a family member a while ago. She has spent the last several months being very vulnerable with a group of friends who’ve held her, walked alongside her, prayed with her during her journey of grief. She has cried, anguished, lamented, and shared her journey—trusting that no one would tell her to be strong, or to quit being so tearful, to get on with her life. Her grief is authentic, and her journey through it is just as authentic. Not looking for approval, just a safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

Can you imagine the freedom that would come with that kind of safety? To know that you can express what truly in your heart, knowing that you will only be loved in return? That’s who we are in Christ. That’s what it looks like when the church is authentic.

I pray you would find this to be an authentic community here at LCM. I pray you would feel free to be authentic here. Jesus has touched us with compassion and love, we are free to respond in an authentic way. We are free to live in an authentic way. We are forgiven; we are loved; we are free. In that, we are given new life.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Sermon

 

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God Loves Dysfunctional Families–Even Yours: 4 Lent

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Of all the parables Jesus tells in the gospels, this is, I believe, my favorite one. For some reason, God has captured me with this story. No matter where I am in my faith journey, God speaks to me in it.

Let me tell you what God is saying this time. This story is not about a son repenting but about how deeply the father loves him. This is not about the son coming home but about the father’s joy at feeling whole again. This is a story about the joy of a father overflowing out of himself into the whole town! He’s grieved the loss of one of his sons. He’s longed for both his children be in the house, was desperate for his love to be made complete in a relationship with both kids. And now it seems to have happened! The son who left has come back. The one who was lost is found. His family is restored! Broken relationships are whole again! They get to start anew, all is well, all is forgiven. Though the younger son has a speech all practiced, the father isn’t even listening—because the father’s deepest desire is fulfilled: his relationships with those he loves are whole again.

But there’s a new problem that develops at the end of the story. At the beginning of the parable the younger son removes himself from a relationship with the father; now at the end the older son is doing the same thing. He cannot share his father’s joy. He is separating himself.

Isn’t that the way with families, though? You kind of get one relationship doing OK and another one fractures. In spite of the love you share, something goes wrong, a misunderstanding takes place, a word is spoken carelessly, an unwise decision is made, and everyone is affected. It just seems like when one relationship is finally doing OK, there’s a new misunderstanding with someone else.

Families are complicated. They’re messy. Every family at a deep level understands itself to be somewhat dysfunctional. Quirks, weird behaviors, painful issues that aren’t talked about, unresolved resentments that can stay under the surface, situations where you kind of have to walk on eggshells to keep the peace. Families are difficult. They can sometimes be hard work.

The only thing families have going for them is love. If the basis of family relationships is everybody behaving well, then no family has a chance. It’s not good behavior, it’s just loving each other. If in some imperfect, broken way, we manage to do that, that’s the best we can do. Everything else has to fit somehow around that.

That’s expressed in this parable. A strained family with damaged relationships. Two different brothers, each with his own brokenness. One runs away to find his own life, the other thinks good behavior will give him life. But it is the father’s great love for both of his sons that is the point of the story. Simple unconditional love for his two very different sons. A love that reaches out to each one, that includes each one, that drives his relationship with each one.

If good behavior was the foundation of their relationship, the older son would be the favorite. If individuality and self-expression was the foundation of their relationship, it would be the younger son. But that’s not the case. The father just loves his children. Period. That’s all the matters, it’s the bottom line, it’s the foundational piece.

So, of course the father will welcome the prodigal son back home. Of course he’ll run out to him in a very undignified fashion, give him robes, rings, parties, fatted calves.

And, of course the father goes out to the son who has always been obedient to bring him into the party. The father doesn’t love this older son any less, doesn’t appreciate him any less. But this is a celebration of the father’s love and joy that that has been restored and simply can’t be contained. It’s spilling out everywhere! The father thinks everybody should be celebrating! A fatted calf is way more than one family can eat; the whole town is included! Everyone is invited to share in the joy of the father, because this son of his—one of the sons that was lost and that he loves so deeply—is now found.

Whether that son leaves again or not isn’t the point. Whether the other son continues comes to the party or not isn’t the point. The father loves them both, no matter what. When love wins out, that’s a cause for celebration.

This is a story of the power of a father’s love. Of God’s love.

And it’s not based on good behavior; it’s not based on obedience. It’s not based on fixing brokenness or repentance or anything else that we do or don’t do. It’s a story of God’s love for each one of you. Prodigal, obedient, reckless, faithful, inside, outside, connected, on the fringes. You cannot make God love you more with obedience or repentance, and you cannot make God love you less with disbelief or selfishness. God’s love for you simply cannot change. Period. God has a death and resurrection invested in you. God’s love isn’t going anywhere.

And here’s where it gets fun. Sometimes, we see God’s love win out. Sometimes we get to see one of God’s beloved children get a new start, experience real forgiveness, recognize that they have been touched by grace. Sometimes we even get to be part of that. But always, we are invited to celebrate. God speaks in this parable. And the point isn’t to call sinners to repentance as much as it is to invite everyone to celebrate God’s love.

If we do nothing else in worship, we should at least celebrate the reality of God’s love that has made us new. Sometimes we get to see that in real ways. Always we get to celebrate it. God’s love is for all people. God’s love wins out. You are forgiven, and we’re all invited to that celebration.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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