Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Shirley Veale and Nancy Styer

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 7, 2022

Shirley Veale and Nancy Styer 

          We do not often have the opportunity, the privilege, of celebrating two lives at the same time.  Yet today, we celebrate the lives of both Shirley Veale and Nancy Styer, who were equally sisters and friends.  Both gave generously of their time to a variety of organizations, including their churches.  Both had tremendous senses of humor and loved bridge.  Both had friendships that went back for decades.  They were both deeply devoted to their family, and, I would say, their family was deeply devoted to each of these women to the very end of each of their earthly lives. 

          As we gather to celebrate the lives of Shirley and Nancy and to commit their eternal lives to God, to hear powerful readings from scripture and sing some of the great hymns of the church, I am reminded of the way we gather on All Saints Day in November of each year.  On that day, we celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us.  We try to notice what we have learned from our loved ones and the saints of the church about being the people God calls us to be, both as individuals and collectively.  Today, as we gather to celebrate Nancy and Shirley both individually and together, what might we hear about the people God calls us to be?

          In the reading from Isaiah, we hear about the feast God will make for all people.  Later in Isaiah, we are told that God will draw people from the north and the south, the east and the west, from all over the earth.  God’s desire is that we go through life in community with other people, connected with family and friends, as well as the whole human family.  So much of Shirley and Nancy’s life was about that connection.  Humor binds people together, sometimes in ways too deep for words.  Bridge is not played alone but in community with others.  The generous giving of their time to their family and the organizations and churches that were important to them connected them with both friends and people beyond their immediate circles.  The reading from Isaiah reminds us that in a diversity of people coming together, we experience a taste of salvation, or as the reading from 2 Corinthians puts it, a taste of the mortal being swallowed up by life.  In their love of family, their love of friendships, their love of a good laugh, and their love of drawing people together, I believe you experienced that taste of salvation.

          Nancy and Shirley both lived long, happy, loving lives.  There is so much to celebrate and you have many stories to tell.  But we also gather to grieve this double loss.  The reading from Isaiah also promises a time when God will wipe away the tears from all faces and will swallow up death forever.  But that time is not here yet.  Mortality has not yet been fully swallowed up by life.  You, Shirley’s and Nancy’s family, have lost two women that you have known your entire lives, who loved and nurtured you in good times and hard times, and through whom you experienced something of the love of God.  Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, his friend.  So we have no shame in shedding our own tears at the loss of loved ones, no matter how long, or rich, or full the life.  We gather to grieve together just as you have gathered to mourn other losses together and to celebrate so many things together.  Shirley and Nancy taught us the power of being together.

          Lastly, we have gathered as people of faith to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and to give thanks that in their baptisms decades ago Shirley and Nancy were joined with Jesus in his death and resurrection and have now been raised to new life in him.  In the gospel reading, we heard Jesus say that he is going to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, there we may be also.  In their deaths, Shirley and Nancy have joined Jesus in that place, together.  The challenges of recent years are over.  What was mortal has finally been completely swallowed up by life.  For that, we give God thanks and praise.

 

                                                                             Amen.

Audacious

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 1, 2022

3 Easter C 

          On Sunday, April 10 of this year, our Outreach Ministry Team launched the Christ Church Easter Chromebook Challenge, with a goal of raising $5000 in two weeks to purchase 25 Chromebooks for the International Institute of Akron and their work to resettle refugees in Summit County.  I said at the time that this was an audacious goal.  However, audacious is what we do at Christ Church.  Less than 10 years after a major disruption in the life of this church, we took on a significant building project, completely renovating our parish hall and creating new restrooms.  The construction itself was begun and completed during a global pandemic.  And these are just a couple of examples. Big challenges require big responses and as a church, we generally rise to those challenges. So, with a goal of raising $5000 in two weeks, by working together with gifts of all sizes, we raised $5470.  Audacious goal, check!

          This morning’s Scripture readings are all about God doing big, audacious things.  First, there is Saul’s dramatic experience of the Risen Christ while traveling on the road to Damascus.  One moment, Saul is storming into the city to arrest the followers of Jesus.  The next moment he is blind and has to be led by the hand into Damascus.  After three days, Saul is healed and converted through the ministry of Ananias.  Through out the rest of the book of Acts, the man now called Paul takes the gospel to all of the known world. 

          In the reading from Revelation, God gives the writer a tremendous vision in which the elders sing a new song, and they sing together with all the angels in a choir thousands of voices strong “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”  At the end, the elders are so moved, so transformed, having experienced something so utterly beyond themselves, that they fall on their faces and worship. 

And in the gospel reading, after Jesus has been crucified and has risen, the disciples figure they had best get on with their lives, so they go back to fishing.   However, the disciples do not seem to be very good at fishing, since they worked all night and caught nothing.  When an apparent stranger suggests in the morning that they cast their nets to the right side of the boat, low and behold they catch 153 fish and recognize the risen Lord in their midst.  Jesus cooks them breakfast on the grill at the beach and there is no doubt in their minds that they are with the risen Lord.

In each story, the main character is God.  The stories are about God’s work in the lives of Saul, the writer of Revelation, and Peter and the disciples.  In each case, God does something big and audacious, and while these are incredible stories, they can leave us feeling a bit unsettled if God has never acted in our lives in quite such a dramatic way. 

There is another human character, however, in the story from Acts who deserves our attention.  That character is Ananias.  Ananias, we are told, was a disciple who lived in Damascus.  Ananias was just a regular guy, minding his own business when the Lord calls his name in a vision: “Ananias!” 

God tells Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul of Tarsus so that he might regain his sight.  Ananias knew all about Saul, and from Ananias’ perspective, a Saul without sight who was neither eating nor drinking was to be preferred.  But God is insistent.  So, through the quiet ministry of Ananias, Saul’s sight is restored, and much to Ananias’ great surprise, Saul is baptized, and he begins to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying “This is the Son of God.”

Ananias was a regular guy but through the simple act of a single person who was open to God, something big happened.  Saul was converted to Christianity.  Saul needed someone, some person, to be the hands and voice that made the experience of risen Christ life changing and real.  God chose to work through the prayers and action of a single ordinary individual to make the word of God known to a broken world.

As a church, when God asks us to do something hard, something clearly audacious, we rise to the challenge.  But sometimes God choses to work through us in less dramatic but equally important ways to make the presence of the risen Christ known in the world.  We are called to be the ones who notice the light, who see the stranger feeding the hungry, who recognize the longing and the experience of something beyond ourselves, and name the Risen Christ in our midst for those around us. We are called to simply show up, for God and for each other, week in and week out, never knowing when our presence and a kind word or thoughtful gesture will make a life changing difference for someone.  We are called to form ourselves and our children as people of faith so that we are open to God’s call on our lives as Ananias was open.  What God will choose to do when we offer ourselves is beyond our wildest imagination. 

If we believe that the only time God is at work when we take on some crazy, audacious goal, and that our simple presence day in and day out, the love of God spoken through our sole voice, and the everyday gifts and dreams that we each have do not matter, we are fooling ourselves and hindering God’s work in the world.  Ananias reminds us that God will use each of us and all of us, as God has used people throughout history, in ways large AND small, for the audacious work of making the good news known in the world.                                  

 Amen.

Marilyn Hansen

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
April 30, 2022

Marilyn Hansen 

          “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and place for everything, and the writer gives us a fairly exhaustive list-from planting and plucking to weeping and laughing to tearing and sewing- most of which Marilyn could have accomplished by lunch time.  So long as the activity was in some way about serving others, Marilyn would take it on.  She was on the Woodridge School board for 42 years, caring deeply for students, faculty, and staff.  She was a swimming instructor for 20 years, and on ski patrols for over 60 years.  She served in countless ways at Christ Church doing everything from serving as treasurer to running the dishwasher after funeral receptions.  She donated 49 gallons of blood during her lifetime.  For reference, there are about 1.5 gallons of blood in the human body.  Marilyn was passionate about the employees at Hudson Extrusions and I cannot tell you how many times she stopped in my office with a new idea for helping other people.  At the age of 88, Marilyn Hansen had amazing energy for getting things done, as well as getting down the ski slopes.  Even from her hospital room in her last weeks, she showed up on Zoom to pray for peace with us, kept up with the church project to send brownies to our college students and made sure we did it right, and ran Hudson Extrusions.  When we would exchange text messages, pretty much up until she was sleeping all the time, she would always end with “Have a great day.”  I don’t think she was just being nice and hoping I had a great day.  Those words were a command to have a great day and I took them as such.

          So we gather today to celebrate this remarkable life, lived to the absolute fullest until just days before her death.  I think Marilyn would agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote “I know that there is nothing better than for them to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil.”  Marilyn wanted to make sure that everyone can feed their families.  And Marilyn could find happiness, even joy, in some great challenges, challenges that would floor most of us, and she took pleasure in all of her toil.

          As much as we gather to celebrate, we also gather to grieve.  Even though Marilyn was 88 years old, her death came as a shock to most of us and maybe even to Marilyn.  The reading from Revelation promises us a time when God will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more. But that time is not here yet. So we wipe away each other’s tears, comfort one another, pray for each other, and remember that even Jesus shed tears when his friend Lazarus died.  We gather to be together as we live into this new world where Marilyn is no longer physically present with us. 

          As much as we can say about all the things Marilyn did and accomplished during her life, as much as we can say about her courage and tenacity and the way she worked to change the world around her, the most authentic thing we can say about Marilyn is that Marilyn was a person of deep and abiding faith.  She was in church on Sunday and at Bible Study on Monday like clockwork- unless she was away skiing. Whenever we at the church were up against a challenge, Marilyn would encourage us to have faith that everything would work out.  And, typically, everything would work out.  We gather today to proclaim that faith, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and bear witness to our belief that, in the words of the gospel reading, where Jesus is, there Marilyn is also.  In her baptism all those decades ago, Marilyn was joined with Jesus in his death and resurrection.  In her death on March 7, Marilyn was raised with Jesus in new life.  In the reading from Revelation, God says “See, I am making all things new.”  Today Marilyn would want us to find comfort in our faith that she has been made new in the death and resurrection of Jesus and she is in that place where there is no pain or grief but life eternal. 


                                                                             Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Jesus

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
April 24, 2022

2 Easter  

          For Easter, Don and I got our granddaughter Collins a little slide.  Because I don’t know if the ground will ever be dry enough to play outside, this is a collapsible slide made of heavy duty cardboard for indoor use.  The day before Easter, I set it up and brought Collins down after her nap.  She is a very active and physical little girl, so I thought she would climb right up the steps to the slide and slide down.  That’s what one does with a slide, right?  But no.  When you are not quite 2 and see something new, you see all sorts of possibilities.  Sure, sliding is one.  But so is climbing up the slide, hiding under the slide, pretending to catch the bugs painted on the slide, sending a vast number of dolls and stuffed animals down the slide, and rolling the balls up the slide.  All seem to be equally fine uses for a slide according to Collins.  With no preconceived ideas about what a slide is for, the possibilities are endless. 

          This morning, we hear a story about the resurrected Jesus that we hear each and every year on the Sunday after Easter.  We know the story and what the story is about.  We love the story because many of us can identify with Doubting Thomas.  We wish Jesus would come to us and let us touch his wounds so that we can believe, really believe, in the resurrection.  But this is looking at the story like I was looking at that little slide-something so familiar that there seems to be one basic way to understand the story and we know what that is.  Just as there are apparently many ways to play with a slide, there are many ways to look at our story this morning. 

          First, there is the question of who the main character is in the story.  We call this the story of Doubting Thomas.  But is this really a story about the disciple who demanded a sighting of Jesus in order to believe and got one?  Is the message that if we whine long enough, Jesus will do what we ask?  Is this really the story of Thomas the spoiled brat disciple?  And the other disciples are not exactly paragons of faith.  They did believe when they saw the resurrected Jesus in their midst, but their faith was not so great that they left the room in which they were hiding.

Secondly, this passage is problematic because we are told that the disciples are hiding for fear of the Jews.  Those words are not to be taken lightly.  Passages such as this one and the reading from Acts have been wrongly used over the centuries to blame the Jewish people of Jesus’ time and the Jewish people as a whole through out the centuries for the death of Jesus.  The tensions between the early Christians and the Jewish people are certainly at play in this gospel, but John’s gospel is also clear that no one took Jesus’ life from him.  Jesus, a Jew himself, gave up his life for the life of the world as an act of love.  Any use of violence or hatred in the name of the God of love is simply wrong.

The real problem this morning is not who the disciples are afraid of.  The real problem is that the disciples, minus Thomas, are hiding because they are afraid.  The problem is with the disciples, not those they fear.  The tomb is empty, and Mary has seen the risen Christ, but the disciples are hiding behind a locked door.  But a locked door does not stop Jesus.  Jesus enters and says “Peace be with you.”  Then Jesus says “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and he breathes the Holy Spirit on them making his very own breath part of the disciples.

          One week later, having seen the risen Jesus, having been sent as Jesus was sent, and having received the Holy Spirit, where are the disciples?  Still in that same room.  Easter has still not changed their lives, either externally and gotten them out of that room or internally and transformed them into witnesses to the resurrection.  And yet, Jesus shows up in that room again, to offer proof to Thomas that Jesus is, indeed, alive. 

          The main character in this story is not Thomas, nor are the disciples the main characters.  The main character in this story is Jesus, Jesus who meets us where we are, even when we are too afraid to come out, or when doubt overwhelms us, or when we fail to see what Jesus is asking of us.  Jesus meets us where we are, gives us his breath to empower us, and sends us out despite our fears, doubts, and failures.  We know from the Acts reading, and from the whole book of Acts, that, ultimately, the disciples overcame their fear, believed in the resurrection, and went out into the world to become powerful witnesses to the resurrected Christ.  When we hear this story with Jesus as the main character rather than Thomas, perhaps we can hear more clearly the call to welcome Jesus as the main character in our own lives and hear the many ways Jesus calls us to live as people sent into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with the good news of God’s resurrection love.

                                                                             Amen.

                                                         

Monday, April 18, 2022

Looking for the Living

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
April 17, 2022

Easter

        Graveyards are fascinating to me.  As children, our parents took us to graveyards in Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Alabama to see the graves of those who had gone before us.  Some of the people had died recently enough that our parents could tell stories about them from their own experience.  Some had lived in their parents’ generation so my parents had heard stories about them.  Others were mostly just names, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents, and on and on, without whom our family would not be here but whose stories have been lost.  I walk through graveyards now and see the graves of people I have known and even buried and remember the stories of their lives.  Graveyards are peaceful places, full of memories and stories known and unknown to the living.

          This morning we hear the story of women going to a tomb.  The women know what they have come to do.  They have come to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.  They have gathered up the supplies they will need and summoned the courage for the task ahead.  I wonder if they walked in silence or if they shared memories and stories about Jesus as they walked.  I imagine they anticipated a peaceful place where they could tend to Jesus’ body and their own grief. No doubt, they have done this work before and they are simply doing what needs to be done for their Beloved.

          We know what will happen next. The stone will have been rolled away from the tomb, and the tomb will be empty.  We are here this morning to proclaim that the tomb is empty!  But the women are perplexed, which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable response to an empty tomb.  Then the women are terrified, also a perfectly reasonable response to the sudden appearance of two men in dazzling clothes at a tomb that should hold a dead man.  The men remind the women of the story.  They remind the women that Jesus told them that he would be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day, rise again.  With their memories jostled, the women remember what Jesus said and leave the empty tomb to find the other disciples. 

          The first thing the men in dazzling clothes said to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women was “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  I am perplexed by that question this Easter.  The men in dazzling clothes do seem to be implying that the women should look elsewhere for Jesus, not in the place of the dead, but among the living.  And I understand that. 

          But this Easter, I hear the question differently.  I hear the question more like a quiz.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  I hear the women being challenged to think about life rather than being chastised for looking for death.  After all, the women were simply going about work that needed to be done, work they were doing in love, and work that was not particularly pleasant when they discover the empty tomb.  Had they not been going to the tomb to do that work, they would not have found the tomb empty.  The tomb would still have been empty but the women would not have known.  The women need to be looking for the living among the dead to hear the good news that Jesus has been raised.

          I also believe that looking for the living among the dead is precisely what the resurrection calls us to do.  Looking for the living among the living is hardly good news and worthy of neither perplexity nor terror.  That I feel the good news of new life and the love of God when I hold my new baby grandson is hardly a surprise.  But looking for the living, looking for signs of resurrection life, in the midst of a pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and altered many more, in the destruction and devastation of war, when gun violence strikes again and again, in the midst of our own losses, and in so many other situations where death and hatred seem to have the final say….looking for the living among the dead is precisely what people of Easter hope do.   The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the empty tomb, calls us to see God at work even in the midst of what looks to all the world like death.  Where in our world is death being conquered?  Where are people being set free?  How can the work of our own lives, the proclamation of our own faith, point toward all that God is doing in the world now so that the news of resurrection is not an idle tale, but a present reality that points to the eternal truth of the empty tomb?  We may be perplexed about this, and we may even be terrified if we pause long enough to really take in the power of resurrection life and love.  But Easter calls us to go about the work of our daily lives, the work God calls us to do, just as the women were going about their work, with resurrection conviction that even in those places where hatred and death seem to have won, we will find resurrection life and love. 

                                                                             Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Gather

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
April 15, 2022

Good Friday 

          Death has a curious way of gathering people.  The power of death manages to bring people together, sometimes from all over the country or world, sometimes with people who would spend time with one another under no other circumstance, sometimes to celebrate a long life well lived and other times to mourn a life cut short.  When my mother died, the gathering was a simple one of immediate family.  When my father died people from all over the country gathered.  One of the great challenges of the pandemic was the inability to gather at a bedside or celebrate a life together.  The power of death can pull us together in a way few other events can.

          Tonight death has gathered us.  We gather to watch as Jesus is arrested, tried, and led off to be crucified.  We gather with the women and the beloved disciple who gather at the cross.  We gather to hear Jesus say “It is finished” as he gives up his spirit.  We gather with Joseph of Arimathea to care for the dead body of Jesus.  We gather to watch and to wait, allowing ourselves to feel the darkness of this night even as we stand in the hope of resurrection.

          Death also has the power to divide and scatter.  Most of the disciples were not at the cross, having scattered for fear of their own lives.  The people Jesus fed, healed, and taught were scattered.  In our own lives, Covid was and is still the power of death with great power to divide.  Covid has separated us physically from each other and divided society tremendously over issues of how to keep people safe, having taken almost one million lives in this country alone and over 6 million lives around the world.  War is the power of death unleashed deliberately on whole peoples.  Over 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, either leaving the country all together or trying to find safety within the country.  Just this week we saw gun violence scatter people in a Brooklyn subway.  Then there is the death and destruction inflicted on people who are deemed different in some way, whether because of their race, their sexual orientation, their economic status, or so many other things that we let divide the human family. 

Part of what we do when death gathers us is to remember.  We remember the good times and the hard times, the funny things and the sad things.  We remember what the person might have taught us or how the person loved us.  So on Good Friday as we gather at the cross, we remember the story.  We remember that not long after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus said “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  In Jesus’ death, Jesus will gather all the world to himself.   Going further back in John’s gospel, we remember that Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Jesus will give his life for the life of the world.  We remember that Jesus also said “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Jesus will lay down his life for the life of the sheep.   And at the very beginning of the story, we are told that “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” As we gather at the cross and remember the stories, we remember that Jesus, the light of the world, told us that he would give us his life to draw the whole world to himself.  Jesus’ life would not be taken from him by anyone, not the religious authorities nor the Roman.  Tonight we watch as Jesus gives up his Spirit.

Tonight we gather, not just to remember the stories or to mourn Jesus’ death, but to think about what it means to be people who believe that Jesus, the light of the world, gave his life to gather the world to himself.  What does it mean to live as followers of the One, who in his death, gathered all people?  What does it mean to live as gathered people?

          In the Episcopal  Church, our baptismal covenant calls us to “Seek and serve Christ in all people,” to “work for justice and peace,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”  That is the answer to how we are to live as followers of the light of the world who gave his life to gather the world to himself.  Good Friday and our baptismal covenant call us to tear down barriers that divide and scatter and work for all that gathers and unites.  Even on Good Friday and especially on Good Friday, we are called to live as people of hope that out of hatred and death can come love and life.  In the face of the power of death and the darkness of all that divides and scatters us, Good Friday calls us to live as gathered people who believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.   

                                                                             Amen.

         

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Bold and Extravagant

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
April 3, 2022

5 Lent C 

          On July 15, 2020 our vestry met in the old Parish Hall with a major decision to make.  The pandemic was raging.  Vaccines were still in the early development stage.  So, the vestry gathered masked, with the chairs set a full six feet apart, and with none of the normal catching up and chit chat that comes at the beginning of a gathering.  Prior to the pandemic, we, collectively, all of us, had done the work of dreaming about our future together as a church, running a capital campaign, and making our pledges.  Smaller groups of parishioners had worked with the architects and construction engineers to come up with a plan to transform our functional but awkward gathering space and restrooms into space that was both elegant and worthy of the 21st century.  Now the vestry needed to decide whether to move forward with the project in the midst of a global pandemic or wait until the pandemic was over.

          The point of the proposed project was not just to create a beautiful and more functional space for our use.  Christ Church is something of a community center with many groups gathering here for a variety of purposes, from AA to Job Search to Boy and Girls Scouts and a whole host of others.  We wanted to create a space that was not the only indoor path from the church to the chapel and our offices, a space that was warm and welcoming to others, and a space we would be proud to call home well into the future.

          The vestry met that night in July 2020 and heard the reports from the architect and construction engineer.  Then they left and our discussion began.  On the one hand, we were in the midst of a global pandemic and we had no idea how long the pandemic would last- although clearly none of us thought it would last this long.  We did not know what the effects on the economy would be, whether we would all be able to pay our pledges over the next three years, or whether the labor or supplies would be available.  Had our common sense completely flown out the window to even consider moving ahead?  How could we look to the future with such a major undertaking when the present felt so uncertain?  On the other hand, the building was not being used because of the pandemic, making tearing the place apart much more convenient.  We had dreamed the dream, made the pledges, come up with a plan, and now was the time.  There was also the fact that Christ Church is a church that tore down the original 1840’s church and started work on what we now call the chapel in 1929.  This is a church that has survived challenges in the past that could have slayed us.  So against all of the reasons not to move ahead was a clear knowledge of all that God had seen us through in the past.  That knowledge propelled the vestry into taking a bold risk and moving forward. 

          This morning we hear God say through the prophet Isaiah “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  The people to whom Isaiah writes are in exile in Babylon, longing to go home, and afraid that God has forsaken them.  Earlier in this very passage, God has reminded the people of the Exodus and the way God made a way in the sea for the Israelites to escape from the Egyptians.  So what could God possibly mean by “Do not remember the former things?”  God just reminded the people of those very former things!

          The Exodus, the delivery of the Hebrew people from Egypt, was in the DNA of the people.  They owned that story as the powerful way God had worked in the lives of their ancestors.  The story told the people of their special relationship with God.  The temptation was to think that God is a “one and done” God and to hold onto that story as the way God had worked in their collective lives.  Today we hear God tell the people not to hold onto the story of their deliverance so tightly that they cannot see the new thing God is doing in their midst now.  Do not look backwards to the Exodus as if that is the only thing God can do.  Use the story of what God has done in the past to see what God is doing now.  Have faith that God will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert now and in the future. 

          This morning we also hear the story of the dinner party Mary, Martha, and Lazarus gave for Jesus.  Lazarus is newly raised from the dead. Martha is serving as usual, and Mary pours out a pound of costly perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet.  We are told that the house is filled with the scent of the perfume, giving us an image that tantalizes all of our senses from the taste of the dinner, to the sight of friends gathered, to touch of Mary’s hair on Jesus’ feet, to the smell of the perfume.  The sound, however, comes from Judas’ voice protesting that the perfume was a waste of money that could have been given to the poor. 

          The anointing of Jesus’ feet with the costly perfume is an act of extravagant love.  Like the perfume, once that love has been poured out, it cannot be put back in the jar.  This is the same extravagant love that God poured out when God led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and that God pours out to make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  This is the extravagant love of God we hear about in the words “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son…”  This is the extravagant love of Jesus when Jesus says “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Love is what Mary poured out over Jesus’ feet, the abundant love of God that is not meant to be hoarded but poured out and given away. 

          As we move into Holy Week, God calls us to remember the extravagant love that God has poured over us in the past, in scripture and in our own lives, both individually and as a church, so that we can experience the extravagant love God is pouring out now and trust that extravagant love in the future.  But God also calls us to be that abundant love as God’s people in the world, poured out just as extravagantly and boldly.  When Jesus says “you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” that is not a call to accept poverty, whether physical, spiritual, socio-economic, or in any other form.  That is a call to be the abundant, extravagant love of God poured into the world, for all who are broken or marginalized in any way, remembering all that God’s love has done for us in the past, looking for what God’s love is doing in the present, and trusting that God’s love will meet us in the future, whatever the future holds.

                                                                   Amen.