YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 1, 2022
TEXT: Acts 9: 1-20
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul Preaches in Damascus
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Today’s scripture features an unsung hero of the bible. A man who is an example for us all, a consumate and obedient disciple. But when we think of “disciple” the more well known men and women come to mind. James and John, Peter and Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Mary and Martha, and so on. But, in this famous story an unknown disciple is in the spotlight for a brief moment but changes the course of the Christian faith forever!
Our scripture begins with the famous story about Saul on the Road to Damascus. A story that we have all heard from childhood onward. Rabbi Saul is on a mission. A mission to round up, arrest and bring back to Jerusalem followers of The Way, as the followers of Christ were called, to stand trial. To him this new way of faith was criminal and must be eradicated. Saul was emotionally consumed with this task!
The story begins with Saul “breathing threats and murder” against the men and women he saw as enemies to the faith. I don’t believe that any Christians of that time would have wanted to be near Saul in any way, shape or form. I would rather think that they would be warning their children about this monster and talking quietly among themselves about how to avoid capture.
We know the news of the persecutions had been spreading even as far away as Damascus. Especially the news about Stephen, a deacon in the very early church in Jerusalem, who was killed for his faith. He was stoned to death around 36 AD. The very first Christian martyr. Saul as a young man participated in Stephen’s sentence by watching over the coats of the men stoning stephen to death. Acts 7: 59 -60. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’” And then Stephen died. Just like Jesus on the cross praying for the men who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So, when Ananias hears God’s voice in a vision telling him to go to Saul and pray for him so he might regain his sight I am positive Ananais said: “You want me to do what? Are you kidding me? This is one angry guy! This sucks!” God answered Ananias: Go! “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel…” An instrument is a means by which a task gets done. So Ananias obeys and the rest is history. We very well may not be here this Sunday but for Ananis obedience to God’s command.
Let’s check out Ananias and see the qualities that also made him a perfect instrument for God’s purpose of reshaping Rabbi Saul. We’ve covered a few of those characteristics already. First of all we know he was a follower of Christ because he is referred to as a disciple. “A disciple in Damascus named Anaias.” And secondly he must have been a man of prayer otherwise it is unlikely that the Divine would have visited him in that vision. Paul later in Acts shares that Ananias was a devout man. [Acts 22:12] Thirdy, when called upon, he readily identifies himself to God even before he know what he will be called to do: “Here I am.”
We know that Ananias falters a tiny bit at this point when he realizes what he is being asked to do but after he protests and God counters with why Saul needs the visit, Ananias obeys. Obedience is another characteristic he displays. Discipleship, a strong, prayer life, a willingness to self-identify to God, honesty about his feelings about the task, and finally and perhaps most importantly, his willingness to obey even when human reason
What happens next barely takes up a couple of verses of scripture but enables Saul to be transformed into the most powerful voice for Jesus Christ that the world had ever experienced and whose words and wisdom we still experience this very day. Ananis told Saul that Jesus sent him that “you may get your sight back and so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananais surrounds Saul with love.
When he arrives, he addresses him lovingly as “Brother Saul.” And before his brief visit ends Ananais has loved Saul his mortal enemy; forgave him; prayed for him; baptized him; fed him; guided him; and prepared him for becoming the apostle to the Gentiles, the instrument that God intended for him to become. Ananias was an awesome disciple! And that’s the last we ever hear about him in scripture.
How might we live more like this remarkable disciple? Here’s some questions to think about. Think of how Ananias was with Saul. What might we learn from him? We too are called to be like that with others.
- “Who can you reach out to? Who needs to be surrounded with your love? Your presence? Your words?” [unlocking the bible.org, Colin Smith]
- Who needs your prayers? And especially needs to know the forgiveness and grace that God makes possible for our sins and our mistakes? Who do you need to forgive?
- What enemy of yours can you extend a hand to and a welcoming heart?
Finally, on the cover of today’s bulletin I put a quote from the book of Joshua in our bibles. One that will encourage us as we follow in Ananias footsteps. It reads: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” [Joshua 1:9]
Let us pray.
Gracious God, help us be your obedient disciples, listening carefully for your voice, stepping up to the hard tasks, loving our sisters and brothers into your kingdom. Never giving up or being afraid or seeking the easy way out. Help us remember the brave actions of disciple Ananias. Amen.
LIKE AN EMPTY TOMB
Rev. VIvian L. Rodeffer
Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
John 20: 1-18
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Throughout the five weeks of the Lenten season, we have been looking at Jesus’ teaching stories called parables that describe facets of God’s kingdom. Such as the kingdom of God is like a mother hen; is like a fig tree, is like a loving parent; is like a gift; is like a king; and this Sunday the scripture directs us that the kingdom of God is like an empty tomb. It has the nature and mystery of emptiness. The ultimate parable of the Christian Faith.
This past week we have had some really beautiful spring days. Perfect for getting out in the yard and starting to garden. Every Spring I sit out in the yard, survey the scene and see what order of things I need to tackle. Refill last year’s pots, throw away broken ones, tidy up regrowth of herbs, get ready for my shipment of plants from Burpee. But as I sat this week I noticed for the first time, actually paid attention for the first time to the rose bush along the fence.
Julie Markay told me all about the rosebush before they moved nine years ago. It is an antique climbing rose and when it blooms it is stunning. I’ve made sure to water and fertilize it through every summer. I’ve invited my neighbors to take photos in front of it. What I hadn’t really noticed was that year by year it appeared to be getting alot bigger and leafier.
Taking a closer look this week, I saw that another bush had grown up along side the rosebush and had sent large twining branches among the rosebush branches and had totally wound itself around the trellis that was for the rose to climb. It was slowly smothering and killing the rosebush.
So, Robb and I got out the saws and the pruners and spent a couple of hours extricating the rosebush from the invader. It was hard work. I brought a piece of it along to show you today. The rest of the branches are in a big pile in our yard. This is how the invader looked. [Show thick branch wrapped around a piece of trellis.] It had filled the rosebush with thick leaves and lots of branches.
I’m pleased to announce that now after a major trimming, the rosebush is empty to grow and thrive. Open to the sun, open to April showers, open to birds on its branches, and open for the blossoms to display their loveliness. An emptiness that enables a remarkable transformation. The Easter story is also about emptiness and a remarkable transformation. An empty tomb.
This season of Lent has been a time of thinking about the things that fill us, stifle our growth, and prevent us from becoming the beloved children that God has called every one of us to be. For many of us we are filled with so many things our hearts are crowded. Do you remember the Bible story when Jesus visited Mary and Martha at their house? Sister Mary sat quietly at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach while Martha was fussing and fuming about the meal that she was making all by herself without her sister’s help. Jesus told her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” Luke 10: 38-42] That one thing? Listen to the voice of heaven.
Have you ever had “a Martha moment” happen to you when you were so filled with something…worry, anger, busyness or whatever…that you were missing the fullness of life itself because you needed to empty yourself of extraneous stuff and be there for the necessary things. “Necessary things” like being present for your family and your friends and your loved ones. Like being fully present at work or school instead of always doing three things at once. Being fully present when someone is speaking to you. Being fully present in each situation not thinking about your next steps or checking your cell phone.
Perhaps the most difficult thing that we experience in life is learning how to be fully present. To empty ourselves so that we might be fully present to others. And most importantly of all, be present to God. Be open to hear God’s calling on our lives. We cannot be servants of God when we cannot hear God’s voice.
To live the Easter life, the life of the empty tomb, is emptying all the extraneous stuff and making space for the RIsen Christ in our lives. For the blossoms of grace and forgiveness, for the blossoms of prayer for our enemies, for the blossoms of striving toward healthier ways of caring for our physical bodies, for the blossoms of servanthood and sacrificial generosity. The empty tomb of Easter morning is the metaphor that if we follow it, opens everyone of us to a fuller, richer, more joyful and spiritually satisfying life. It seems counterintuitive, but emptiness does lead to fullness of life. We are gathered here this day to remember the empty tomb, our Risen Lord Jesus, and the joyful possibilities of leading Easter lives.
Let us pray:
Thank you for the empty tomb and the fullness of new life in Jesus Christ. Thank you for forgiveness and grace, thank you for second chances and third and forth and fifth, thank you for this new day and opportunities for our faith to blossom abundantly. Amen.
LIKE A SERVANT
Rev. Vivian L.Rodeffer
Holy Thursday, April 14, 2022, 7 PM
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
The New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This would be the very last night that Jesus and the disciples would be together. Only three years before Jesus had discovered each of them and invited them to follow him. Simon Peter and Andrew remembered that morning they had been fishing all night with no luck. This man got on their boat and told them to let the nets down again and the nets were so full they nearly broke. He invited them to follow him and become “fishers of people.”
As Jesus walked on he also invited two brothers, James and John, to leave their boats as well and follow him. Later that day Jesus went to a mountaintop to pray overnight and the next day with the guidance of the Holy Spirit picked the rest of the band of twelve that would be his disciples. He gave them authority to preach, to teach and to heal the sick. And they would travel with him every step of the way, miracles, healings, story telling, walking on the water, calming a storm, making wine from water for a wedding celebration, bringing a man back from death.
Little did they realize at the time that in three years they alone would be the ambassadors of Jesus’ love, grace and forgiveness for the world. But on this night, they were enjoying a good meal with their Teacher and listening to his prayers and instructions for them. How amazed they were when he removed his coat and washed their feet before the meal. How honored they were and a bit confused. But they knew for sure that that Jesus loved them just as they were. Someone once said: “Real love is open eyed. It loves, not what it imagines people to be, but what they are. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.” [The Gospel of John, Vol.2, William Barclay, p. 175] He loved his disciples, and he loves each of us as well, no matter what. We remember that he died for us while we were yet sinners.
Jesus loved his disciples to the end even when they betrayed him, denied him, deserted him during his final days. He knew his hour had come to return to God and he knew he would die on the cross but he did not let that knowlege change the way that he would love his friends that last evening together.
They shared a meal together and what Jesus knew would be his final instructions for them. A farewell command, if you will. “I have washed your feet, I have set you an example.” Of what? An example of how we are to be in the world. Like a servant.
He taught us that servants love selflessly. He taught us there was no limit to what servants should give or where they should go to serve one another. He taught us that servants love one another with understanding. With open eyes. He taught us to love in spite of so many reasons not to love.
We live in a world where there is a shortage of servants. Nor is it popular to be a servant. Yet Jesus final instruction for his disciples was: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [vv. 34-35]
Jesus’ new commandment for the original twelve servants is for us as well. The Lenten Season has been a time for each of us to deepen our faith, to examine our hearts, to renew the way we forgive one another, and to practice servanthood. Shortly we will share in The Last Supper tht Jesus himself instituted that evening. As you eat the bread and drink the cup of salvation, let it be your pledge of loyalty to the Lord of Love and your willingness to greet Easter morning as one of God’s people. Let us pray.
The cross looms large, the shadows grow long, Jesus and his friends retire under the olive trees to pray. Help us to remember this precious evening with our hearts and lives transformed by servanthood. Amen.
LIKE A KING
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022
THE PALMS READING Luke 19: 28-40
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
THE PASSION READING Luke 23: 1-18
Jesus before Pilate
23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” 3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
Jesus before Herod
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!”
Palm Sunday commemorates and celebrates the kingship of Jesus Christ. A kingship that is rightful, a kingship that is victorious, and a kingship that is gentle.
To start with, Jesus is the Rightful King of Israel. Prophet Zechariah five hundred years earlier proclaimed the nature of the coming, “Your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9]
If you have ever sung or attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah, very little of Jesus’ day to day life and ministry is featured. However, Charles Jenson who wrote the libretto for the oratorio recognized the importance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and so included the solo that begins with the words “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion” straight out of the Prophet Zechariah.
On that fateful day Jesus’ loyal subjects recognize that he was the righteous and rightful king, the Son of David, and make a carpet path out of their garments for their king’s procession. Down through the centuries the celebration of the kingship revealed on this awesome day would be celebrated. Jesus during his entire life never received more affection than on that day.
In 800 AD Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, France, wrote the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor.” “All glory, laud and honor to you Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children make sweet hosannas ring. You are the King of Israel and David’s royal Son, now in the Lord’s name coming, the King and Blessed One.” Bet you didn’t realize that well known hymn was written over 12 centuries ago! That’s why to make us current as well, we began today’s worship with a brand new hymn about Holy Week by Carolyn Winfrey Gilette.
Jesus is the Rightful King and Jesus is also the Victorius King as well. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he…” [Zech. 9: 9a] He is victorious over death and sin. The palm fronds we hold this morning and the folks along the parade route in Jerusalem waved are ancient symbols of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life. And the cry “Hosanna!” means “Save Us!” Jesus is the Victorius King.
Finally, Jesus is the Gentle King. He rides a donkey not the warhorse of a military king. He is a very different kind of king. Many of the adoring men, women and children in the crowd that day knew him well. Someone once said: “The unloved, the forgotten, the ignored…burst into praise and affection for Jesus. Here were people who loved Jesus because he had first loved them.” [preaching.com, “The Day Jesus Turned Palms Into Nails,” David R Tullock]
Governor Pilate questions Jesus after he is arrested: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered “You say so.” “Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” [Luke 23: 3] Pilate sees clearly that Jesus is not a king in any worldly sense and as you will hear in the final scripture reading today, trys to free him. However, Jesus’ opponents in the crowd insist on his crucifixion.
Our take away this Palm Sunday is made possible by the events of the first Holy Week over two thousand years ago. And the rightful, victorious and gentle king, our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Week’s heady mix of hosannas, confrontation, betrayal, denial, trial, scourging, crucifixion, burial and “He is not here! He is RIsen!” have made possible for every one of us to receive forgiveness, grace, salvation and most importantly a daily relationship with a loving God. These, my friends, are the gifts of Holy Week. Let us pray.
Gracious God, Thank you for Jesus’ journey beginning with his entry to Jerusalem and continuing through all of the happenings of Holy Week. Help us to observe Holy Week with awe, gratitude and finally, the joy of Easter morning. Amen
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE A GIFT
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard,
anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.” v.3
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, April 3, 2022
John 12: 1-8
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
During the weeks of Lent we have been looking at the teaching stories of Jesus. Parables that teach us what the kingdom of God is like through characters and situations. The kingdom of God is like an eagle; the kingdom of God is like a mother hen; the kingdom of God is like a fig tree; the kingdom of God is like a parent.
Today the metaphor involves a gospel story about Jesus and a very special gift. The kingdom of God is like a gift. Gospel writer John has had Jesus visit the house in today’s scripture on another occasion. He had come when his friends Mary and Martha had sent a messenger to him that their brother Lazarus was very ill and that Jesus needed to come immediately. Jesus who was busy put off going to their house for a few days. By the time he arrived, Mary met him outside and shared that her brother had died but if Jesus had only come a few days earlier Lazarus would still be alive.
You know the rest of that story. Jesus was so deeply affected that he wept. Then he had the stone taken rolled back from the entrance to the tomb and he called for Lazarus to come out. And he did, still wearing the shrouds he wore in death. The miracle performed in this home became the first lesson in what Jesus’ death and resurrection had in store. Death is no match for the Messiah. “Lazarus’ presence…confirms that death does not speak the final word.” [workingpreacher.org, “Commentary,” Matt Skinner]
Now it is some time after that miracle and six days before Passover, that Jesus and his friends are with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in their home close to Jerusalem. An opportune place to stay because of the overcrowding in the city. It is remarkable to think how Lazarus himself would have been at table with Jesus and the disciples.
During the course of the dinner, another unforgettable act occurred. Mary kneels, pours very costly perfume over Jesus’ feet and then wipes them gently in with her long hair. A most surprisingly intimate act. We are informed that it would have taken a year’s wages to pay for this ointment. The second lesson just may be that when we give our best, our treasure to God, God is greatly pleased.
Mary was sharing a real treasure with her teacher and friend and the one who had brought her brother back to life. We are told that the aroma of the perfume filled the house. Have you ever experienced a beautiful smell that floods your mind with memories? Maybe the smell reminds you of a person, a place, a thing? I imagine that the sweet, lovely smell of Mary’s perfume was a counterpoint to their memories of the stench surrounding Lazarus after he had been dead for a few days.
No sooner does Mary offer her costly treasure of nard than Judas Iscariot protests loudly! “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” As an aside, gospel writer John, makes sure we know that Judas does not care about the poor at all, has himself stolen from the disciple’s treasury and will betray Jesus.
The third lesson is to be gleaned from this outburst of Judas seeing Mary’s act of sacrifice and love so negatively. Someone once suggested that “our sight depends on what is inside us.” [The Gospel of John, William Barclay.] Jesus rebukes Judas, “Leave her alone! She bought it for my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” [vv 7-8] Judas did not recognize with the eyes of his heart who Jesus was. Even today “there are those… that cannot see or believe that Christ is worthy” of the most precious gifts we have to offer. [sermons.faithlife.com, Juan Carlos Morales]
Perhaps the most powerful lesson of all in today’s scripture concerns Mary’s gift. We are not called to do. We are called to give. Do you remember yet another story about Jesus visiting his friends Mary and Martha. Mary came and sat at his feet to listen, Martha bustled around the kitchen the entire time, frantically preparing and serving the meal to her guests.
This is a difficult lesson for us too. We are comfortable with “doing” but “giving” that’s another story. Giving requires the eyes of our heart seeing Jesus and respondingly accordingly with our attitudes, or discipleship, or worship, our prayer, our praise. Anybody can “do” stuff but only those who lov Christ can “give” of themselves.
Martha got pretty frustrated with the lack of help from her sister and complained to Jesus who replied: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10: 41-42] While Martha has chosen is “to do,” Mary has chosen is “to give”her attention to Jesus’ words. That is how Mary sees with the eyes of her heart that Jesus is worthy of her precious gift. Jesus announced to Judas and to all present why Mary’s gift was so very very important: “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
As the Lenten season draws to a close we are reminded through this precious gift of Jesus’ upcoming death and burial, that those of us who keep close to him, recognize his great love for the entire world, and desire more than anything else to give our best to him. Our response to all that Jesus has already done for us should be one of offering up our greatest treasures of our lives in heartfelt thanksgiving. Let us pray.
Gracious God, Still our souls and our frantic attempts to serve you in so many different ways. Instead, help us find the quiet center where your peace presides, your grace soothes and forgives, so we can listen to your voice for our lives and obey. Amen.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE A LOVING FATHER
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, March 27, 2022
11 Then Jesus said, “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.’”
There is not one of us who has not heard the Story of the Prodigal Son at least a few times during our spiritual journeys. When we read this teaching story by Jesus in our bibles or have studied it in Sunday School or Bible Study Group, almost always the attention is on the wayward son, The Prodigal Son. My guess is that looking at it this way has been the tradition down through the centuries. We’ve always looked at it this way.
In doing the research for this week’s message I can see that as time goes by more scholars and preachers and students of the bible have broadened their understanding of the lessons Jesus was trying to get across with this parable. And they began taking into account the father and the older son in addition to the younger son. The story itself is as old as time. Let’s use our imaginations and examine the characters as they might appear in our own families.
Almost every family has that smart alecky child somewhere in it who takes everything he or she can and off they go…..with the family’s old car, a bunch of new clothes from the mall, a credit card with dad’s name on it, a cell phone on mom’s plan, and a desire to be independent, to not need the family anymore, to strike out on an exciting new adventure of life. To just be me!!! If they had a beret they would toss it up into the air just like Mary Tyler Moore and spin around.
Now, let’s look into our families for examples of the older son. I would wager that most of us sitting here in the pews and watching from home identify with the older son. We were responsible, sure we had some fun, but not like our crazy family membe. We were always around either in person or by phone to help mom and dad. We were respectful and compliant and never would even think of rocking the family boat. And when we read this bible story we shake our heads. That’s not fair! The younger son chose to embarrass himself and his family with his style of living. It is the older son who deserves the father’s praise and gifts!
Are you still with me? Now the third and maybe the most difficult character to get a handle on in the story is the Father. If you have ever been heartbroken over an adult child you can probably symphasize with him. One such set of heartbroken parents, members of my church, contacted me many years ago and asked me to stop by their home. And what a beautiful home it was, big and well appointed, windows opening onto a lovely stone patio with plantings Martha Stewart herself would have been proud of. They were lacking for nothing.
We sat around their dining room table and they proceeded to share why they had called me, their pastor. Through tears they told me how their son who was in his late teens had angrily left home a few weeks ago. They have not heard from him , they cannot contact him.
He was always a handful, the mother said. But this last year, the father added, he resisted every attempt we made to help him. He is rude to his mother and me. He wants nothing to do with us, his sister or our family. We suspect the so-called “friends” he is hanging with are a really bad influence. What did we do wrong? What can we do? We have tried our best as parents his entire life. He was never lacking for anything. His running away has broken our hearts.
In the story that Jesus tells, it is not a stretch of the imagination to understand that the prodigal son’s father felt exactly as these parents of their own prodigal son did. His son had broken his heart as well. But in Jesus’ story, seeing how the prodigal’s father responded to seeing his son’s return we witness a great love.
- He saw him from a distance–In order for that to happen, he must have been watching and waiting. Never giving up on his son. Praying for his return. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
- When he finally saw his son in the distance, the father was filled with compassion. Not anger.
- The father didn’t hold back and wait for the son to come to him. He ran to his son, hugged and kissed him.
- He brought out special clothes and a ring and sandals for his son to replace the rags he was wearing.
- And finally the father throws a party–”Let’s eat and celebrate!”
Why? “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” [v.24]
There you have it, the three main characters in Jesus’ teaching story. Someone described them like this. It is a “wonderful story because each of us lives the roles of all the characters in it at some point in our lives–the role of loving, the role of being loved even when we are unlovable, and maybe most of all the role of feeling we have not been loved enough.” [preaching.com, “The Prodigal Son: The Prodigal Who Stayed At Home,” Kenneth L. Gibble]
During the season of Lent we are encouraged to return to our faith from whatever faraway land we have gone off to. A faraway place where our faith is no longer the primary force guiding our lives. Faraway is not measured by distance. Faraway is measured but not being in fellowship with God.
What can we do to come home to our loving parent God? We can repent of the things that distance us from the loving and forgiving actions of God. And in that manner we become the instruments that God can use in our day to day lives to exhibit the fruits of the spirit: patience, goodness, forbearance in love, self-control, joy, peace. Even as we startnour turn toward God, God is already reaching out to us, welcoming us home. God is rejoicing and celebrating our homecoming. The kingdom of God is like a loving father welcoming us home. This is the Good News of Lent! Life may take us to unexpected places, but love brings us home.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, How sorry we are when we turn away from you, our Heavenly Father, and go off on our own way to some faraway place. Have patience with us. Help us remember you and the love you have for us. When we are heartbroken over our own prodigal family members, heal our hearts and give us hope and patience to wait for their return. When we are indignant because you love everyone the same, help us to rejoice instead and give thanks for your measureless love. All of this I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Kingdom of God is Like A Fig Tree
Rev.Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, March 20, 2022
Luke 13: 1-9
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.”
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
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.’”
Let me retell the first two stories from today’s scripture using some modern examples. Think back five days ago. Nine members of a college golf team were killed when a 13 year old driving a pick up truck crashed head on into their van. Scripture would have us ask: Do you think that because these students and their advisors suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all the other students at their college? Jesus would answer this question just as he answered it back then! “No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Let’s try another modern example. Over the past two years, more than 30,000 of our fellow New Jerseyans have died of Covid-19. Jesus would have asked: “Do you think they were worse offenders than all others living in New Jersey? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
The people of Jesus’ time often connected sin and suffering. However, Jesus would have none of this kind of erroneous logic! Tragic circumstances are never to be equated with divine punishment and the reverse is true as well. Don’t ever think your good fortune is some type of special blessing only you received!
In the tragic examples that Jesus used and in the modern ones that I substituted, the lesson seems to be that “life’s fragility gives it urgency.” [workingoreacher.org, Matt Skinner, March 7, 2010] Most likely Jesus focussed on the two tragedies “to stress the suddenness of death and the unoredictability of life” to the folks gathered to hear his teaching. [See above]
He wished to impress upon them all “unless you repent you will all perish.” This is not a warm and fuzzy message. This is a life and death warning. To repent is to turn away from your way and turn to God’s way. A hard lesson to swallow so to make his point in yet another way he tells the crowd a story.
The Parable of the Fig Tree.
There was a man, he owned a vineyard and growing right there among the grapevines was a fig tree. It had been growing for three years and yet still has no fruit! It is useless! The owner of the vineyard says “Enough is enough, cut down this tree!” But the keeper of the vineyard asks for a reprieve.
Those of us who love growing things hate to get rid of a plant even when it is not doing very well at all. We have all fussed with a particularly difficult plant and given it our best efforts and sometimes are surprised and pleased when it comes back to life. Well, the keeper of the vineyard was a plant lover. He offers to give it some special attention, some extra digging the soil around it, some fertilizer and maybe even some mulch and then next year, if it is still without any fruit, then, cut it down!
In his parable of the fig tree Jesus sees an opportunity to illustrate God’s graciousness. The role of the vine keeper is patience and mercy. Just like God treats us! The tree is not left to itself to bear fruit but is going to be nurtured by the vine keeper. In the very same way, God does not leave us alone to our own resources, but instead nurtures and nourishes us with grace and forgiveness so that we might make changes…so that we might turn to God….so that we might repent.
One of our familiar prayers of confession in the back of our hymnals describes us when we are like that barren fig tree:
“We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” [United Methodist Hymnal, #890] When we confess, we are repenting of the things that separate us from God. It is certainly fortunate that the Lenten Season is long and provides a lot of time to think about what we need to repent of and the changes that are necessary in our lives to do just that!
We all need to ask ourselves what changes we need to make in our lives to live as disciples of Jesus and perhaps even more importantly to help make disciples of others through our gracefilled thoughts and words and fruitful deeds.
I’ll leave you with this question as your take away. How can we open our lives daily to Jesus, our vineyard keeper, so he can cultivate and fertilize our roots and help us bear fruit for the kingdom of God? Let us pray.
Gracious God, Help us remember Jesus’ warning that unless we repent and turn back to you, our lives are as useless as the fig tree with no fruit. Please be patient and merciful to us, Lord. In your great mercy give us another opportunity to repent and to return to you! Amen.