What follows has the feel of a testimony … perhaps, more than a sermon. And I pray…. That it is useful to you.
I TWO PARTS. FIRST PART:
What inspires me about this scripture… Second part… I’ll share one way I think it can make a difference in our lives….
- Today’s reading is from the gospel of John—John’s gospel inspires me. It has made a difference in my life. It is quite different from the other 3 gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus uses parables to teach. Not so in John. In John, there are several passages that feature intimate conversations between Jesus and strong women, including The Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, and his mother Mary. In conversation, Jesus and those women see each other, they appreciate each other, they care for each other, they listen to each other. That’s what I mean by intimate. They are in relationship. They are transformed in relationship with Jesus, with God. We are transformed in relationship with Jesus, with God. This is essential to John’s gospel. In the second part of this testimony, I’ll share how it can be transformational to be in conversation with each other.
- One important way John’s gospel is distinct is in the emphasis on believing in Jesus. The theologian Sandra Schneiders reminds us that belief in the time of Jesus meant something very different than it does today—today it means assent to intellectual propositions. Such as …I believe in the constitution. I believe in democracy. I believe the Mariners are in for a crazy year. I have a belief that Chris Peterson is a good football coach. What’s something that you believe in? In Jesus’ time believing was a verb, not a noun, as in belief. Believing meant giving one’s heart and whole self to God. It is wholehearted commitment. Mary in today’s scripture exemplifies that.
- I want to share something that happened 24 years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle… the gospel of John touched me, and helped bring me into deeper relationship with my family. And the blessing of that time still lives in me.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. That phrase from John 16:31/ KJV was painted on one of the walls of the Northgate Bible Church up on 125th & 15th Ave NE. I’d walk over to the QFC from where I lived around the corner, and I would see that wall. “Believe on”— is a strange construction to my ears…. But it has the feel of something solid. Something to stand on. I lived near that church with my ex-husband Don, & our 3 kids as he was dying of cancer. Don’s sister Sue also was living with us. [imagine 3 adults, 2 teenaged sons, & 9yo daughter, & one bathroom]—Aunt Sue was very conservative in her faith & critical of mine and she started attending that bible church. Those folks helped take the edge off of Sue’s criticism by being in relationship with us. They’d come by and visit. One lovely couple in particular – Bob and Judy. After Don died, Judy invited me to come to their house for several months to practice piano. They supported us with kindness and practical generosity. One of their members was a counselor and he helped Don and me listen to each other when we disagreed about disciplining the kids. Those church folks believed. They gave themselves to the command to love one another. …Don had cancer of the mouth, and he couldn’t talk anymore, or sing, which he loved to do. I hadn’t been going to a Christian church in those days. But those Jesus people helped “save” me in that intense time. I stopped criticizing Don. He listened to me for the first time. And so in the last 7 months of his life, we became friends--after being divorced for ten years. When he died, Sue and I washed his body together, to honor him. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Be in relationship with God, with Jesus, with one another, and you will be saved. Every time you let your heart be broken, your heart and your life and your world get bigger. Richer. Filled with love.
- Mary is a believer. She gives her whole heart to Jesus.
- She is a follower of Jesus, a disciple. (You may recall an earlier Martha & Mary story where Mary is the one who sits at his feet to listen and learn.)
- I’m inspired that Mary, one of 3 main characters in today’s reading, is a powerful woman.
- And, she gets what is happening with Jesus,.. that he is going to be arrested and executed. They are about a two hour walk from Jerusalem. She has heard what’s happening. There is no indication that she is afraid. In the Message version Jesus tells Judas …. Leave her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial.
- I’m inspired that Mary breaks the rules of propriety to honor Jesus in this moment. (I like breaking rules myself.) She lets her hair down to wipe his feet with the nard. Women didn’t undo their hair in public. She touches him. Women didn’t touch men.
- Mary loves Jesus extravagantly. She spends big $ on the nard. About a year’s wages for a laborer in that day.I can’t imagine being that generous. Honestly. Can you??? That could be why it was hard for many or at least some in the story, to understand. But I don’t want to let myself …or us …off the hook either. We can pray to be that generous. We can pray to be up for those moments when much is asked of us.
- This is—we all know—an extreme moment in the life of Jesus. He is close to the time of his death. It is easy to draw a parallel with the moment that WE are living in.So let’s do that.
II The life of human beings on the planet is facing an extreme moment. It is an extreme moment in the politics of our country. In many other countries as well. Fear and hate have risen to the fore. …. In this context, how do WE be like Mary? How do WE love extravagantly? And make a difference in the world. How do we be followers of Jesus? Mary anointed the body of Christ. WE are the body of Christ. How do we anoint one another? And this—by the way—is YOUR question. It’s in your working covenant. I’ll read it to you from your bulletin….. “We covenant to be anointers of Christ’s body, the earth and of all life…” What inspired you to say that??
After the election in 2016, I chose to invest myself more deeply at Broadview church. I just knew that I needed to be with like-hearted people to support any kind of contribution I would be able to make to our beautiful yet aching world. Something is going on in our Conference of UCC churches that is laying the foundation for us to support one another – actually, to anoint one another. ….. I am very grateful that our PNW Conference chose to create the position of Minister for Vitality. This is an investment of time and money in exploring how, at a time when the status and power of the church seems to be at an all-time low…. How we can be revitalized, how we can dig deep, open to God’s transforming action in the world and let God use us to do a new thing.
Courtney Stange-Treager, our conference minister for vitality, over the past 3 years, has given us a vision of A) deepening our relationships with one another, and then B) with this strengthened tie with each other, reach out together to make a difference in the world. All the while, deepening our relationship with God. The foundation for serving our communities is weaving ourselves more tightly together. She has had us sharing stories with each other in our conference committees, and at annual meeting. Our clergy retreat two years ago was all about deepening trust by sharing stories with one another. What is something you are proud of? What is a challenge and a joy in your life right now? What’s something you would take on if you weren’t afraid? At Broadview church we used those questions in a womens’ retreat last May. Our little church had 15 women attend, aged 14 to 96. And vitality was present! People were excited to connect on a deeper level.
How can we crank up the ways we see, care for, listen to, and appreciate one another? How do we love extravagantly? Like Mary did? I invite you to: Let others support you, to say and think things you haven’t said or thought before. To play with expanding your comfort zone. I invite you to look someone in the eye and say, what do you need? How can I make a difference for you? I invite you to forgive and acknowledge each other, to create a new dream together… Share your stories. Let others see you. We are transformed in relationship with Jesus. With God. We are transformed in our relationship with one another—when we invite God in.
Through a conference email connection, you could sign up to receive daily Lenten essays, written by people in the conference. Here’s what Jim Castro-Lang from eastern Washington wrote:
I have devoted countless hours over decades to strengthen “us” – groups with a life and cause I believe in- knowing we can do so much more together than we can ever do alone or fragmented. It is the vision of Paul that we can be the Body of Christ – the community that embodies the Christ consciousness, you know the one from John, chapter one, that spoke this love creation into being,…became flesh in Jesus and now lives through us.
May it be so! Amen!