Scripture - John 12:1-8
John 12:1-8 (The Message)
12 1-3 Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.
4-6 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.
7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”
I don’t know what it is about babies and toddlers and kids - but they sure do love to stick their feet in other people’s faces.
I experience this a lot with Genevieve where we’re having to lay down some boundaries around this behavior - where I’ll be rocking her to sleep or nursing before bed and all of a sudden she’s pressing her foot right up against my nose and her feet don’t smell like baby feet anymore - they are starting to smell like little kid feet which makes me sad because she’s growing up so fast...and makes me be like, please, kid, get your feet out of my face...but you know that these moments are fast and fleeting and so I secretly kind of think it’s adorable that she finds mischievous delight in thrusting her heels into my eyes or worming her toes into my mouth or me to nibble on.
There’s something beautiful and vulnerable about our feet - the way they ground us, the way they support us and move us, the way they are connected to the other parts of our bodies. There are over 7,000 nerve endings in each foot. The bones in our feet make up a quarter of the bones in our bodies. If one bone in our foot is out of alignment, our whole body is out of alignment. We receive so much passive information and energy about our environment from going barefoot.
So this passage of scripture that we have here about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet brings us into this shockingly human space -- I mean, feet are a very, very human thing and we don’t really spend a lot of time talking about Jesus’s body parts, and yet there is this tender scene of love and devotion, poured out right at the feet of Jesus.
Artist Lauren Wright Pittman painted this image of the encounter. And she has this to write about it. [Share statement]
This face to face posture...the smell and taste of Christ’s journey...I want to be that close to Jesus.
We’re going to have a bit of discussion around this passage, particularly around what it means to cultivate devotion and letting go of shame.
We’re going to start a bit with the shame idea and move from there - because I think many of us are Good Respectable Christians, right - and this action and its implications are Profoundly Weird and Awkward and aren’t part of what Good Churchgoing Folks Do.
As you think about the story and as you heard the artist’s statement - where is the discomfort in this for you? What would it take to not be bound by that?
What does cultivating this devotion to Jesus look like in your life?
I love the last line of what Lauren Wright Pittman shares: “This is the posture that Jesus calls all of us into; a profoundly uncomfortable, shockingly reverent position; coming face to face, intimately engaging with the residue of Christ’s footsteps to smell and almost taste the journey of Christ.”
May we, too, be so engaged with the world around us, so in tune and aligned with Christ’s heart, that we cannot help but be overflowing with devotion to the one who comes to us again and again, offering mercy and grace. May we not be constrained in our willingness to follow him by how awkward it looks or how strange we are in our unreserved love of Christ. May we see and taste and smell...and touch and hear...Christ drawing us onward on the journey of discipleship, in the witnessing of God’s kingdom, in the wholehearted way that leads toward life...death...and resurrection. Amen.
Scripture - Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (New Revised Standard Version)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
“Cultivating wholeness...letting go of scarcity.”
We know the story of the first passage of scripture by the title “The Prodigal Son”, and in many ways, that is exactly what the parable is about - a son who demands half of the inheritance, which is more than his fair share. He goes off and squanders it and returns home to his Father’s embrace while his older brother sulks in the background. The story comes after two other parables that Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees in response to their grumbling about the tax collectors and sinners drawing near to listen to him. Those two stories are that of the lost sheep and the lost coin - where the shepherd goes after the one lost sheep in their flock of one hundred and where the woman sweeps her whole house to find one coin that she had lost. In each case, the finders rejoice and throw a celebration with their friends over the restoration of their collections to wholeness.
In this light, taken as a set of parables, our “Prodigal Son” may better be titled “The Lost Son” - though in typical fashion with Jesus’ stories, which son was “lost” to the father may not be the one that is obvious. Much of what I’m sharing can be found in Amy-Jill Levine’s book “Short Stories by Jesus.”
To Jesus’s first century Jewish hearers, when Jesus sets up the scene between these two brothers, they are already predisposed to root for the younger son. Throughout Israel’s history, God always has this preference for the underdog. Clever Jacob gets the blessing instead of his older brother Esau. David, the youngest of the sons of Jesse, gets to be king. Joseph is preferred and elevated ahead of all his older brothers. Identifying with son #2 was what you were supposed to do as a Jewish listener - but when Jesus identifies the self-indulgent, irresponsible behavior of the youngerest...it probably threw his listeners for a loop.
Things go awry for the younger son when a famine comes over the land and he realizes that he’d be better off back on his father’s property - even being treated as a hired hand - than he would be in this foreign land feeding pigs. He rehearses a speech as he’s making his way to his father’s estate - and before he even has a chance to utter a word, his father, moved with compassion, runs to meet him and kisses him. The younger son is welcomed back with the best food and the best clothes and a big party. It seems like a happy ending.
But there’s this other son - that by this point we’ve most likely forgotten about. The father certainly has, because he doesn’t think to invite him to the celebration. The older son is out in the field when he hears the sounds of the party - and coming near the house has to ask a slave what’s been going on. He gets filled in - but this older son has clearly been forgotten by his father...by those at the party...and it’s only when the eldest refuses to go in that the father comes out to talk. The older brother distances himself from his younger brother (he refers to the brother in conversation with his father by saying “your son” instead of “my brother) and tries to remind him of his own faithfulness while highlighting the other brother’s reckless squandering. The father assures his older son that he’s always had his love and affection. Even more, though, the father attempts to restore the relationship between the two brothers by reminding his oldest son of the “resurrection” of his brother. Both brothers are home - wholeness has been restored.
The younger son - he comes back to his father believing that all he would be afforded would be the equivalent of a hired hand...that there wouldn’t be room enough for him, abundance enough for him, to be restored to his former place in the family. There’s a scarcity mentality that makes him think he has to give up his role as his father’s son in order to find a place - whether that decision comes out of remorse or not, we don’t know. But he’s come to the place where he has nothing and he’s worried about scraping enough together just to survive - and instead of finding the barest scraps of sustenance in his father’s house, he finds warm welcome...restoration...wholeness.
The older brother has to let go of scarcity in the sense that he thinks he’ll only get to enjoy the abundance of his father through restrained responsibility. He has operated under the assumption that he doesn’t deserve the joy of feasting with his friends, of enjoying what he has, thinking it belongs only to his father. He’s never asked anything of him, never trusted in the abundance and love his father has for him. When his brother returns, there’s the sense that maybe there’s not room at the table for him, that he’s been overlooked and forgotten, that there simply isn’t enough space for both brothers within his father’s love. What he finds instead with his father is affirmation and enduring love...an invitation to the feast...and a family made whole again.
Even so, the story is left unresolved. We don’t know if the older brother joins the party. We don’t know if the younger brother is truly repentant and understands his reliance upon his family, or even how he feels about this lavish treatment upon coming home. What we do know is that in this story, no one has really expressed regret about hurting one another - and no one has offered forgiveness. Instead, we have a father rejoicing over what was lost being found...a celebration over a restoration to wholeness...and the hope for reconciliation. What also seems to be true as we see the seed of reconciliation planted - both for the prodigal son and for the faithful one - is that they also have to let go of their notions of scarcity in order to discover their place in the family again.
Levine writes, “If we hold in abeyance, at least for the moment, the rush to read repenting and forgiving into the parable, then it does something more profound than repeat well-known messages. It provokes us with simple exhortations. Recognize that the one you have lost may be right in your own household. Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate with others, both so that you can share the joy and so that the others will help prevent the recovered from ever being lost again. Don’t wait until you receive an apology; you may never get one. Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find it. Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past. Instead, go have lunch. Go celebrate, and invite others to join you. If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better. And if not, you still will have done what is necessary. You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation. You will have opened a second chance for wholeness. Take advantage of resurrection—it is unlikely to happen twice.”
Despite this very practical, on-the-ground advice as we look to embody this parable in our own lives - and look to cultivate wholeness in our relationships, as we look to let go of mindsets that convey scarcity - I mean, have you ever not reached out for help to a friend or family member because you didn’t want to be a burden? There’s a scarcity mindset right there.
So we have this practical advice that Levine offers us, but we play this game with God too. It doesn’t matter which brother we identify with - truthfully, both live inside of us - but God yearns for wholeness - for us, for all of humankind - for all of creation. God comes forward to meet us - grace showering over us before we ever utter a single word. God reminds us of the love and compassion and abundance that are always ours, even when we gripe and complain and point fingers. We are a people who are lost - even when we don’t think we are - and God finds us and welcomes us home.
So let us cultivate wholeness -- remember that in Christ, we are new creations….in Christ, we have been reconciled to God...in Christ….we are made whole….let us let go of scarcity, of feeling like we aren’t enough or aren’t deserving of love and grace - because we are always freely offered life and resurrection from the God who rushes to meet us wherever we are….on the road...in the field...wherever we are on the journey - God finds and embraces us and makes us whole. Amen.
Scripture - Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9
Isaiah 55:1-9 (The Message)
1-5 “Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything’s free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.
I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you,
the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love.
I set him up as a witness to the nations,
made him a prince and leader of the nations,
And now I’m doing it to you:
You’ll summon nations you’ve never heard of,
and nations who’ve never heard of you
will come running to you
Because of me, your God,
because The Holy of Israel has honored you.”
Seek God while he’s here to be found,
pray to him while he’s close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life
and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.
“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Luke 13:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version)
13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Cultivating Fruitfulness....Letting Go of Productivity
[Show film -- text is: Text of video - Art, film, & words by Lisle Gwynn Garrity | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org:
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a story of a fruitless fig tree once planted with promise, only to grow barren and brittle. The landowner in the parable has returned to its empty branches for three years. With patience worn thin and hope withered, he commands the gardener to cut it down, seeing it as a liability to the soil.
But where the landowner sees waste, the gardener perceives possibility that lies fallow. The gardener has learned from the land that life flows in cycles—budding, flourishing, pruning, death. And so he requests one more year.
Cutting the earth with a shovel, he loosens the clots that have settled like stone so that when water comes, the earth will receive it like a soft kiss. He blankets the roots with manure so that growth can be steadied by hope. And then he lets go.
What happens to the fig tree? Does it live? Does it die? Does it bear any fruit?
We don’t know. And so, if we can’t read the end of this story, then we must write it with our own lives. Because we know what it feels like to be the fig tree, to be deemed worthless, to be weary enough to believe that we don’t deserve to be well. And perhaps we also know what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of the landowner—calculating worth based on what we produce, what we accomplish, what we provide.
Can we cultivate the vision of the Great Gardener, the One who sees you for what you are becoming? The one who tends and prunes, nourishes and lets go?
Perhaps for us, the fruit is not the ending. The fruit is in the waiting, in the dead of winter, in the manure; the nurture, the rest, the darkness. The fruit is in all of it, sowing seeds we can’t yet see.
“WHERE THE FRUIT LIES” by lisle gwynn garrity, inspired by luke 13:6-9, acrylic on canvas | 16x20]
We are so used to evaluating everything - ourselves, other people, opportunities that come our way - as value propositions. It’s embedded in how we think, how we operate. We’re constantly making decisions based on worth - and ascribing worthiness based on production value.
How refreshing it is, then, to hear God say through the prophet Isaiah,
“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.”
Because God doesn’t look at us and see inputs and outputs. God doesn’t ascribe worth to us based on what we do or don’t do. There’s nothing we can do to change God’s opinion of us. God looks at us and sees hungry, thirsty people in need of a banquet feast of love and mercy and forgiveness - in need of a place of shelter and respite - people who are loved and worthy simply for existing.
This is why I love the shift away from a productivity mindset and towards a fruitfulness one. With productivity, there’s an implication that what you put out is worth more than what you put in - that there’s a constant optimization process where variables are tightly controlled for maximum gain. Efficiency, making the best use of time (and only resting when you are burnt out beyond belief). It’s no wonder that there are mountains of books and products and systems designed for time management...why we have human resource departments. Productivity gets us to a place where we only feel worthy if we’ve done something of value. The fig tree in our parable - produces nothing of value.
Fruitfulness starts in a different place. Fruitfulness comes as a response to God’s initiative and grace in our lives. It’s not something that can be forced or controlled. Fruitfulness arises out of progress along the journey, of becoming more and more aligned with the heart of God. Fruitfulness springs forth from the seasons of waiting and yearning and is something that shows up authentically within us - we cannot create or manufacture fruitfulness. Fruitfulness comes when we embrace that the very ground of our being is our belovedness and turn our hearts over to the One who invites us to the feast without price.
Let go of productivity….cultivate fruitfulness.
May we return yet again to Jesus - the Great Gardener - and trust his work in us as we make our way through the rest of this Lenten season...and open our hearts to the fruitfulness that lies in the resurrection life of Easter. Amen.
Scripture - Luke 13:31-35, Psalm 27
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh--
my adversaries and foes--
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Cultivating Boldness….Letting Go of Fear
I have my fair share of irrational fears. Thunderstorms in the middle of the night. Having a bridge collapse while I’m driving over it...and as a corollary to that, being submerged under water inside a car. When Ben was traveling a lot a few years ago, there’d be that occasional twinge of terror that something catastrophic would happen to his plane. Having blood drawn.
These are all fears where your brain knows that the likelihood of these events happening is miniscule, and yet your heart constricts or your stomach churns anywhere. Or your brain tells you that thousands of people are poked and prodded every day by phlebotomists and you are not physically in any danger whatsoever and your body decides otherwise.
And then there are the fears that reside more deeply within us. I think we’ve all heard the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power!” and for some that’s a rallying cry that gives energy and excitement and purpose. For me - it’s a phrase that terrifies me to the very core of my being. Even more terrifying was the line going around in the wake of George Floyd’s murder about broaching conversations about race and white privilige with friends and family members and that if you weren’t confronting or educating your racist uncle George, you weren’t doing anything meaningful for the cause of equality. For me, fears about conflict and differentiation have a deeper root -- a fear of disconnection...a fear I don’t belong...a fear that I am unworthy.
These are the kinds of fears that strike at the core of who we are, at what we hope or aspire to be, that speak to the struggle of what it means to be human making our way through this world.
The psalmist here speaks of armies, foes assailing flesh, war and trouble - all that causes him to fear and tremble. I think each of us could put in our own litany of fears and anxieties - and we’re going to do just that in a moment. We all live with fears - the question, however, is what exactly we are supposed to do with it.
What the psalmist does with fear is acknowledge it - and seek God. There’s a beautiful moment in verse 4 where instead of running away from the armies, instead of reverting to “fight, flight, or freeze”, instead of badmouthing is enemies and spiraling out of control, there’s a turn toward God. Seeking God’s beauty and presence, looking for God’s provision and protection, staking his life on seeking the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. The psalmist lets fear lead them back to God.
I’ve been listening to a podcast where researcher and author Karla McLaren, who does a lot of emotion work, is being interviewed and if you aren’t familiar with her theories, I suggest you check out her work. Her most recent book is Embracing Anxiety: How to Access the Genius Inside This Vital Emotion and she starts with the idea that there are no positive or negative emotions - that they all function to give us insight and information. They all have a job to do. In her website, fear is “the emotion that tells you when change is occurring, when you need to orient to something in your environment, and when you need to take action to avoid harm or injury.” Anxiety, worry, panic, confusion all fall under this fear category. We feel these things even when we aren’t physically endangered, (thanks evolution) - and yet they do serve to point out things that feel threatening to us. Fear highlights that something is different and that we need to work with what’s going on within us long enough to figure out how we can respond.
So we’re going to do that a bit together - because there’s a lot of change coming - both for our church community as we envision ourselves apart from the United Methodist Church...for ourselves as vaccines come more quickly...and even for all the personal day to day stuff that we carry and the concerns of loved ones.
I’m going to share my screen here - and I’m going to make a list. My first question is -
I’m going to write that down in one column - and let’s try to limit it to one fear per person….and you can unmute yourself and share it or write it down in the chat box.
So the next question is going to take a bit of reflecting. We’ll have a couple minutes to do this, and I’ll put on some music in the background here. The question isn’t how to solve it or change it or “deal with it” - the question is, What’s one way God is inviting you to step into that fear right now?
I think with something like this, when we’re dealing with our fears and our worries and anxieties, one of the most important things that we can do is acknowledge them -- name them -- honor them -- because they tell us something important about what’s going on and how we can care for ourselves in the midst of them. But I also believe it’s important to seek God in the midst of those emotions - and this is where I love our Gospel passage - where Jesus is lamenting over Jerusalem, longing to gather its children together like a mother hen gathering her chicks when there’s trouble and danger around. We imagine and invite Jesus into that space - into our fear - into the worry and concern….and in that sheltered, protected space, we realize that our fears give us the energy...the impetus...to be courageous and bold in our response.
To cultivate boldness, we must be willing to acknowledge and sit with our fear, letting go of its power over us. We invite Jesus to be with us, to help orient us, so that we can respond in love and courage.
My prayer for us as we move into the week ahead is that we take the time to let our fears teach us...and that we seek God’s abiding presence to ground ourselves again and again in our own belovedness...enabling us to live as bold witnesses for love and grace on this island and in the world.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.