I had a wonderful relationship with my mother, Roberta Sabella Mansfield, who died about a year and a half ago, a little bit more, but I was lucky to have a mom like her, but you know, moms, we didn't always get along. It wasn't always easy. Especially growing up in the middle years, like once I hit puberty and became even more stubborn and wanted my independence and I found my mom to be at times a little bit controlling and smothering, and she seemed to want to stop me to try doing the things that I felt it was normal for a kid to do as he was growing up and trying to figure himself out. She wanted to protect me. She wanted to keep me close.
And I think just genetically, I am an independent person, and especially at that stage in life where those hormones are kicking, and you're trying to figure out who you are as a young man, I began to really sort of resent this and it became the deeply troubled time of our relationship where I wanted to be free and she wanted to hold on as tight as she could. And I didn't try to understand it. And she didn't try to explain it. It just seemed like this was the natural dynamic in our house between mothers and sons. And it caused a lot of pain for both of us.
I was about, I think I was 20 years old, I came home for Christmas break from college and my sister was still in high school. She was home. And we were just kind of chilling in the living room. I remember we were watching TV and my mom came into the room and she said, "Kids I have something I need to tell you." And we said, yeah, like anything your mom ever tells you is worth listening to. And she said, "Well, it's really important." And we just kind of, I think we maybe turned the volume down on the TV. I don't think we turned it off all the way, but we said, go ahead.
And she said, "Well, when I was 20 years old, I became pregnant. And the father of my child took off and I was on my own. And my father was embarrassed by the fact that I was pregnant because of the values of our family, and so he sent me off to a home that was run by the Catholic church, by nuns, for young women who become pregnant. And I went into that home. And the deal in that home was, is that I would stay there and hide out the entire time that I was pregnant. And when it came time for me to give birth, my child would be taken away and given up for adoption. And I tried everything I could figure out as a young woman about how I could keep my baby, but the social workers and the nuns there, they just told me, there's no way that it can happen. You can't do this as a single mother.
And my family wasn't supporting me and the father ran away and I didn't have a job. And I just eventually realized that I had to go along with it. And so I gave birth and I held the baby, it was a boy, and I held him for a few minutes and then they came and took him away."
And as my mom told me this story and opened up this pain to me, it was like my entire life and my entire relationship with her was a giant jigsaw puzzle. Right. And in the middle of that puzzle was one missing piece. Now you could tell by looking at the rest of the puzzle, exactly what that centerpiece was going to be, right. It was a pain, it was a wound. It was something that she couldn't get away from. Something that had grabbed a hold of her and was influencing our relationship. But I just never really looked at it. I just kept glancing over it.
And now I just felt in that moment, like that middle piece was pushed into place and I understood everything. And it was like, my mom was not just this pathological crazy person who wanted to smother me to death. She was a human being who had been through struggle and pain in her life and was doing the best that she could.
And I sat there just sort of in stunned silence as time kind of slowed down as I was realizing what she was telling me. And she said, "So recently I've been thinking about this and I wanted to find my son. So I reached out to the adoption agency that handled his adoption, and I spoke with them and he actually released his information to me if I ever came looking for him. So they gave me his phone number and I called him up and I spoke with him and I met him for the first time last week. And he's coming over here to meet you in a little bit less than an hour, you should probably know that his name is Josh and by the way, you should probably know that he's black. And like I said, he'll be here in less than an hour." And then she left the room.
Wow. Suddenly my entire relationship with my mom's side of the family made more sense about why she seemed so estranged from people and why there was so much stress and strain in her relationship with her father and why she had the relationship that she had with me.
It reminds me of this moment in our gospel story, where Jesus comes forward into the room with the disciples, especially to Thomas that second time, and he shows Thomas his wounds.
Jesus is resurrected, he's alive, but the holes in his hands and his feet, the spear wound in his side, they are still there. And Thomas says, I don't know that I can really believe it's Jesus, unless I put my finger in those wounds, put my hand in the wounds." And Jesus comes and says, "Thomas, let me show you something. I'm not ashamed. I know what you need. These are my wounds. And why should I be embarrassed? In fact, I will use these wounds to heal our relationship, to bring us closer. This is not the day of my crucifixion. I have been resurrected and healing has occurred. I am ready to let you touch these wounds and have it draw us closer together."
I felt like that was what happened with my mom that day. She said, "Kids, I'm going to show you the wound that has defined almost every day of my emotional life since it happened. And I'm going to ask you to be a part of this healing with me." We live in this culture that is just so obsessed with image, right? And so much of this image is about being strong and powerful and beautiful. And everything on the social media is about how great your life is about how activated and motivated and successful you are. And we all know, we all know as we look at these social media feeds, and we know it in our own lives, it is all baloney. It's garbage, it's meaningless. And as social scientists and psychologists are actually studying the effects of social media upon us. They're telling us that it's garbage. It's not doing anything for any of us pretending to be whole. It's not as healthy as admitting to people that we are broken, that we all carry wounds.
And it is those wounds that enable us to be whole people. Not pretending that we've never been hurt, not hiding it away, not the shame and the embarrassment, the ability to show the wound. That's what Jesus is asking us to do.
Don't be afraid of the pain that you carry with you. Don't be afraid of what's been done to you, about what you've been through. Respect it, you're carrying it with you. Respect that, but don't be afraid to let it help you get closer to people. Don't be afraid to help you heal others.
When my mother finally admitted her wounds to us and broke that secret open the healing cascaded through our family. It was healing to me, it was healing to my sister, it changed the course of my relationship with my mom, it changed my mom's relationship with my dad, with our wider family. Nobody knew about this. It changed Josh's life, my brother, it changed his adopted family's life. It changed Josh's wife's life and his children's lives that they had a grandmother and that they are connected to us. It was just a cascade of resurrection healing because my mom finally said, "They told me I should be embarrassed and ashamed about this wound, but I refuse to do it anymore. I'm going to show it to everyone."
Beloved, we all carry wounds. And the question is not how to hide them, but when is the right to time to show them. Not right away, but in time when it comes, when they have healed enough that you can show them to others and to heal others and to draw yourself into intimacy with others, not by being perfect, not by being undented, but by being wounded.
Inside the Empty Tomb
When I handed out little red Easter eggs to all the kids during the children's sermon, Luke said, "Wait a minute, is there anything inside this egg?" And I said, "No, it's empty." How did that make you feel, Luke?
It's a little bit disappointing when you think that something is going to be there, and you open it up and it's empty. I've always sort of felt the same way about the Easter morning story and that empty tomb. In fact, if you gave me just a little bit of information about Christianity, and I wasn't a minister and I'd never heard the story before, and you say "Well, someone comes to Earth named Jesus. He's the Messiah. Son of God. God incarnate. He does all sorts of wonderful things, but then his people reject him and he goes on trial. It's a sham trial, and they convict him and they crucify him and he dies. But then he comes back to life." And I was going to rewrite that story.
I don't think I'd put an empty tomb in it anywhere. I think it would be something like this: Jesus is up there on the cross, and he dies, and the Roman centurion looks out at the crowd and says, "He's dead." And then Jesus's head rises up, and the sun breaks out of the clouds, and the earth begins to tremble. And the nails go shooting out of his arms and feet, and he levitates off the cross and says "I was dead. But now I am resurrected." And the angels pop out of the sky and everybody sees what Easter is really all about out.
Or maybe if you wanted to give it a little more time, you could have Jesus go in the tomb so everybody knows that he's really good and dead, but then when the women go to the tomb, instead of just finding an empty, open tomb, maybe the stone is still in front of the tomb, and when they get to it, they say, "How will we ever roll the stone away to get to his body?" And at that moment, boom, the stone explodes in a giant fireball. And as the smoke disappears, Jesus walks through the smoke and says, "I am risen." And he flies up into the sky. Well, that would really show people, wouldn't it?
I don't think if I were going to rewrite this story, that I would put an empty tomb anywhere near it, but that's what God does. God chooses an empty tomb, with all the fear and confusion and downright ambiguity that you find in there. God could have proven resurrection to the world, but instead God chooses the empty tomb, and I wonder why. Why? I think that maybe the empty tomb... More than any other scenario that we could possibly imagine, the empty tomb is the crucible where real faith, true faith, is formed.
Now it makes sense, doesn't it? It makes sense that God would choose, or prefer, faith over certainty. Of course God prefers faith over certainty, but you and me, we'd prefer a little... We'd appreciate it, just a little bit of certainty some of the time, something that we can just cling to and know, yes, this is the way it works. This is the promise. And there's not a doubt in the sky, not anywhere. But God chooses faith.
I think that there's something essentially human about faith and that's why God chooses it for us. There's something about who we are as creatures, created creatures. We need faith. There is so much that we could do as human beings when we get together, right? There's almost nothing that we can't achieve. We can send people to the moon, and to Mars, and beyond. We can come up with vaccines in just a few months that save millions and millions of lives. We can found universities and think tanks that come up with all kinds of amazing ideas. We have the Hubble telescope, and now the James Webb telescope, peering to the very beginning of creation. What is there that we can't achieve? If there is a limit to what we, as human beings can know or can accomplish, we haven't come anywhere close to that limit yet.
But you and me, as individual people, as individual beings in our own little slices of experience, we don't know it all. We don't always know which way to go when it comes to our lives, the purpose of our lives, the meaning of our lives, what we're doing, the relationships that we're in, are we supposed to go left or right, should I go forward or back? What's the right thing to do? What's the thing that's going to make me happy? What's the thing that's going to save my marriage? What's the thing that's going to make my name? We don't know all the answers. We never know all the answers. And somehow we have to get through that.
Without the opportunity to act and to work on faith, and to hope beyond hope, and to persevere, we cease to be psychologically and spiritually healthy human beings. We need faith, in some ways more than we need certainty. We cease to be human without it. We've all met someone who knows everything. My wife, Bonnie, can attest to that. She's definitely met somebody who thinks he knows everything. But we've all met somebody who thinks that they know everything. And in fact, as we've all been glued to the news cycle lately, we've been hearing all of these analysts and policy experts talking about Putin, about how he is a person who has surrounded himself only with certainty. And if you're going to succeed in his circle and in his service, you can only affirm his worldview and you have to hide all of the bad news from him so that this war in Ukraine is really a war about Putin's false sense of certainty, the certainty that he has amassed around himself without any doubt.
But the people of Ukraine, are they living by certainty right now, or for the last six or seven weeks? Have they been sure that they were going to be victorious? Have they been absolutely sure that they were going to survive? No, the people of Ukraine are fighting and surviving, if they are fighting and surviving, by faith alone. We've all met somebody who thinks that they know and everything. And we've all seen people who a long time ago should have laid down and just given up. And yet they continue to stand up and fight, despite the odds, despite the circumstances, and despite the evidence stacked against them.
Now God forbid that you and I should ever be without a little bit of that kind of faith. We need it. And we need the doubt, don't we? We need the doubt that by definition must come alongside that kind of faith. Doubt is the waiting room of faith, just like the empty tomb is the entryway into Easter. God chooses as the very first experience of the Easter faith, not proof and not certainty, not some public televised event, but an empty tomb, and all the fear, and all the doubt, and all the loss and confusion and disbelief and idle talk. And the possibility in the empty tomb, the possibility of something so new, and so amazing, something so wonderful that it cannot be contained by certainty. It can only be pointed to by faith.
You cannot be a psychologically and spiritually healthy human being if you only believe in and work for the sure thing, because not everything in life is the sure thing, and if you convince yourself that it is, you're going to head down the wrong path. For the biggest questions in life, for the greatest challenges of life, we must learn how to let the possibility of hope glimmer to us, shine out, sparkle, just a little bit, amidst the loss and the chaos of this world. We must let the empty tomb speak to us. We have to know how to sit inside the empty tomb. It's not an accident. It's not just bad timing that Jesus slipped away before the women arrived at that tomb. We need the empty tomb.
Life is not a journey from one certainty, to another certainty, to another certainty, to another certainty, is it? Life is a series of complicated and often painful transitions, even when it's a transition into good news. Progress in our lives requires that we don't run away from transition. Faith, not certainty, is what gives us the strength to persevere through transition. Beloved, Christ is risen, and isn't the sight of him standing there amongst us again, alive and well, a little worse for the wear, but beautiful and resurrected, just a wonderful sight? It is. Hallelujah. Yes. But do not forget the empty tomb. Don't skip early Easter morning. The empty tomb is where a faith stronger than certainty is born again and again and again.
Throw It a Parade
I've been to a lot of parades in my life. I'm sure you all have too, but I think the moment that I realized just how powerful a parade could be was when I led a march of about 100 people through Midtown Manhattan to protest the working conditions inside of one of celebrity chef Mario Batali's restaurants in the Meatpacking District.
Well, you have to know a little backstory is that I wasn't always a minister in a church. There was a time where I was a minister out on the streets. And I was a laborer organizer. I worked for a worker's center called the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York. And we were organizing workers in one of Mario Batali's restaurants called Del Posto. And if you know anything about Mario Batali, you know he's had a tremendous fall from grace in the intervening years since the Me Too movement came along. But at the time we had heard all kinds of stories from the workers inside the restaurant about racial discrimination on the job, wage theft, the stealing of tips and sexual harassment on the job. And the workers were beginning to get organized so that they could fight the conditions at their workplace. And part of that was that I, as the organizer, was leading this grand march of about 100 people from Midtown Manhattan. And all of them, because of my religious connection, were church connected people. So it was churchy people and seminary people and we were going to support the workers.
And we were marching sort of two by two through Midtown Manhattan and everybody was kind of clapping and chanting and they were singing songs. And as people were watching us march through the Meatpacking district, they started, they were turning their heads, like, "What are you guys doing? Where are you going?" And this is a true story, I did not expect this to happen, but people joined the parade. They joined the march. They came with us.
When we got to Del Posto, we started with like 100 people. Now we had, I don't know, 125 or more people. And we were spread out in front of the restaurant and we had signs and people were singing and chanting and making all kinds of noise and diners were walking up to the restaurant and asking us what's going on. And we were telling them about why we were there and they were leaving or they were going inside and they were complaining to the managers and the managers were coming out. They came out with money. They said, "I'll pay you to go away. Just go away. This isn't the right night." It was like a Friday night.
And it just became this scene out there of people just chanting and singing and expressing what they felt in their hearts for what was going on for the workers inside. And there were a few workers who were out there with us who weren't on the job that night. And you could just kind of see it in their faces, this sense of pride and power that, "Yes, we are going to overcome. We are going to make a difference." And as I watched this scene, I just realized, my God, how powerful a parade can really be in the life of a movement or in the life of an individual person.
I was kind of high off that all weekend and just feeling really great about what we had accomplished. And I knew it had just made a big impact at the restaurant, that they were going to have a conversation with us about this. This was an attempt to get them to the table. And I walked into the office, I think it was Monday. And there was some paperwork that was waiting there for me at the office. And I opened it up and it was from Mario Batali's lawyers and it said, "We are suing you for $6 million for inciting a riot, destruction of property, intimidation of employees, slander, libel, and defamation. And in that moment, I realized even more just how powerful a parade could be, but I also realized how risky a parade can feel. Because when I looked at that number and it said, "Jeffrey Mansfield, $6 million," and the blood kind of drained out of my face and I realized the commitment that I had made for myself for what I believed in.
And you can feel that tension between power and risk in the Palm Sunday story that we just read. Jesus and His disciples, they're kind of on the down low to begin with. They're up on the top of the Mount of Olives. They're not making a big deal about this thing. They know that they're going to have a procession into the city, but they haven't even gotten a horse yet. So they send some of the disciples off to find a donkey, which is kind of Jesus' sly way of making of the sort of snubbing his nose at kings. He's not going to be a horse riding conqueror. He's going to be a donkey riding servant. And He says, and the disciples say, "Well, what if we're taking somebody's donkey? And they ask us what to do with it."
He says, "Just give them the secret password. The Lord has need of it and they'll let you take it." And they go and they find this donkey and they bring it in. And Jesus starts riding this little donkey into the city. And the people begin to come out and they begin to shout and they begin to sing and they begin to demonstrate and lay down their cloaks and lay down the palm branches. And the crowd is growing and surging and the Pharisees run up to Jesus with their hearts in their throats.
It's not that they don't believe it's just that they're terrified. And they say, "Jesus, tell them to be quiet. Don't you know the risk that you're running?" And the risks were very real. This was exactly the kind of thing that the Romans loved to crucify people for. I mean, this was insurrection. This was a Messiah riding into one of their cities to say, "I am the true king of these people." That's exactly the kind of thing that got you crucified by the Romans and they had all sorts of experience with this kind of thing happening. This was Passover and Pontius Pilate came into the city with the Roman garrisons for Passover to keep the peace.
Well, keeping the peace didn't mean anything except making sure that these insurrectionists didn't get any ideas and try to rabble rouse during Passover when everybody's blood is up. "We don't want anybody saying anything that would undermine our authority here." And they knew that this could be the kind of thing where a Roman garrison could come into this parade and just lay everybody down, cut them down, kill them all. So they say to Jesus, "Jesus, be careful, make them be quiet. Don't you know the risk that you're running?"
And Jesus said, "If they were silent, then the very stones would shout. If they were silent, the very stones would shout." That's an incredible response to a very real risk. I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how you think about risk and putting yourself out there in a public way and taking risks, real risks, with your position with, with your family, with your life, with your reputation. Because there are times that we are called to really put it on the line, to put it on the line for our faith, to put it on the line for God or for our neighbor. We're called to stand up and step out and say, "No. Enough is enough." Or to step out for something that we truly believe in and to hold our head up high for the rights of others, for their humanity.
And sometimes there's a real risk with that. There's a real risk to going out and marching on the streets. I've gone out and marched on the streets and I've been arrested. I've known people who have gone out and marched on the streets and they came home with a concussion. There are people in other parts of the world who have gone out to march on the streets, it's even happened in this country, and they've died. They've been killed. And how does Jesus respond to the risk? Jesus simply says, "If they were silent, the stones would shout."
Have you ever felt that way in your life? That God was calling you to take a risk? And the only thing that you were leaving out of that calculation was the power of the truth of the message that had been given to you. Jesus is saying the most important variable, the most important factor, when you calculate that risk, is the truth. Because sometimes the truth has to come out and if it doesn't come out of you, what's going to happen? The very stones themselves are going to shout.
I wonder what that sounds like when the stones begin to shout? What would that sound like in your life? Jesus, when we think about Palm Sunday, we think that Palm Sunday is all about Jesus' divinity. He is marching into the city a kingly God, and all of the people are recognizing Him. It's, Jesus' sort of most heroic movement, moment, in all of the gospels where he really looks like a traditional hero, somebody riding high and being recognized by everyone and the whole city coming out to support Him.
But it's not just about Jesus' divinity. There is something that Jesus is doing here that is so unique to His humanity. And you're have to remember that Jesus is fully God, but Jesus is also fully human. And I don't think that Palm Sunday is just about the God part. It is also about Jesus' human part. And this is something that is unique to us as human beings. As human beings each and every one of us has something within us. It's inside of you. It's a truth. It's a power. It's an identity. It's a calling of vocation. There is something inside of you, by definition of you being a human being, that you are being called to bring out and show to the world and give to the world. It is a gift, a power, a meaning, a reason for being. Each and every one of you has that inside of you.
And in fact, if you're a human being, as you travel through the journey of your life, you discover things about your identity, about who you are, about what it is that's inside of you that you're being called to do. And in one moment, it may be this, and three decades from now it may be that. But because you are human, it is inside of you and you are expected to bring it out.
How do you bring it out? How do you get it out when it's hard, when it's risky, when you don't know the way? Jesus says you get on your donkey and you just keep riding forward. You just keep riding forward. Palm Sunday isn't about being the Messiah, the King, the Son of God. It is a demonstration to all of us of this fundamentally human condition. Each of us has something within us that must come out all the time. In every stage of our life, there is something that we are meant to give. And if we don't give it what will happen in our lives? The sound of the stones shouting will follow us everywhere. We will feel it, that there is something in us that is trying to be born and we are not giving it an exit. We are not giving it an opportunity.
And the reason that Palm Sunday is so powerful and so beautiful is because it is Jesus accepting who He is, His deepest identity and purpose on display for the whole world and all the risks be damned. He is who He is. He is called to do what He does. And nothing is going to stand in the way.
It's easy for us to think about the perspective of the people on the streets following Jesus. We can put ourselves in their mindset, waving their palms, and bowing down to Jesus and giving Jesus worship and honor. We can get into the perspective of the Pharisees, the doubters, who say, "Shut up, be quiet. It's too risky. Don't do it." We've all heard that voice in our heads. We can even get into the perspective of that donkey, walking along with Jesus on his back, looking at this crowd and trying to imagine what is going on here?
But very rarely do we put ourselves in the perspective of Jesus, the one that we are called to follow, who was bringing His identity out of Him in demonstration to all of us that we have a gift and an identity that needs to be brought out at all costs. And the question for us is how do we throw ourselves a parade? How do we experience that power despite the risks in our lives? And that's what I hope that you can go out into Holy Week and the Easter season with that question on your hearts. This gift that I have been given, and you know that you've been given one, this identity that I am being called to birth, this truth that I must speak. How do I throw it a parade despite all the risks?
Can you imagine this scene with me for a minute, just let it really run through your imagination, and let go of all your preconceived notions that if it's printed in the Bible it must be a scene of piety. Because when I hear about this scene, I do not see in my mind a traditional scene of piety, and I don't think that people living in Jesus' time or the people sitting in that room, would've thought, "Yeah, this is the kind of thing we do all the time." Sure. There were two sisters living in that house, one was named Martha and one was named Mary.
Martha was doing exactly what a woman of her day and age was expected to do. She was serving and she was a marvel servant, and we respect that. As church goers, as people who want to make a difference, as Christians, we admire those who know how to serve. Didn't Jesus come to serve? And didn't he call himself a servant? And so, there is Martha serving and doing exactly what she's supposed to do. And then her sister Mary, steps out from beside her, leaves the serving plates and all that work, and she does something very unexpected.
She walks into a room full of men, a sort of a public place, a place where she is not supposed to be necessarily moving freely, and she takes down her hair. That's the first thing. She takes down her hair. We have a phrase now, "Letting your hair down" while it comes from the times when wearing your hair up and braided was the only way you were allowed to wear it and taking your hair down was not the way that you were supposed to be seen in public, especially if you were a woman. In fact, if you were to go out onto the street, the women on the street who wore their hair down in public, they would've been identifying themselves as prostitutes. It was a strange thing to take your hair down in public, an intimate thing, an awkward thing. And she walks in with a pound of perfume.
Have you ever been on a plane or something or you're on a train or you go out to a restaurant and there's somebody sitting nearby you who is just wearing like a touch too much perfume or cologne? You've been in that situation, you've smelled it, right? And you thought, "Man, you just went, a little dab'll do ya." That's the rule, a little dab'll do ya and you did maybe three dabs and it's just a little bit too much. And here comes Mary, into, what I assume is, a small enclosed place where people are trying to eat, with a pound of perfume. One pound. Can you imagine that? How extravagant that is? How ridiculous that is? It's absurd. It's almost obscene and it costs $300, 300 denarii to have this much perfume in her possession. And if you look into it, 300 denarii, that was about a year's salary for an average worker at that time.
A year's salary on a pound of perfume, with her hair down. And from there, it just gets a little more awkward because she gets down on the ground, where Jesus' feet are. His dirty, disgusting feet. This man walked around all over Palestine, and Israel, and Jerusalem, and Galilee, in sandals and bare feet. Can you imagine how dirty this man's feet were? How calloused? How rough? And she gets down there in the dirt, with his smirky, dirty feet. How many of you would be comfortable taking your feet out in public? Just putting them up here, maybe plopping them right up on the pews, taking your shoes and your socks off, and just let somebody just start massaging them.
How many of you would feel comfortable if Dorothy did it, and you all just had to sit there and watch? It's weird. It's over the top. It's wild and extravagant. And down there on the ground, rubbing that pound of perfume into his feet, the fragrance filling the whole room, she takes that hair which was supposed to be up and she starts to rub her hair on his feet. And we have now crossed the boundary from awkward into, wow, that's not piety, that's intimacy, that is something special, that is something that I have to turn my head away a little bit, because it's so intense. And then Judas asks, a question that I think that all of us would ask.
The author of the gospel of John, really tries to make us doubt that Judas, that this question is one that we should even think about, before the question starts he says, "It's Judas, remember the guy who's about to betray Jesus. Remember, don't forget that. So don't listen to this question too carefully." And then after the question comes, the author reminds us, "And remember Judas doesn't care about poor people, he's just a thief. He wanted the money for himself. So she must, he wanted that money to go into his purse so he could steal it." But the question is a perfectly practical question. "My God, this is too much. I mean, we're all thinking it, this is too much a year's salary. This big show, all of this perfume. What is the point? Tell me. What is the point when we could have taken that money and we could have done what we know we're supposed to do with it, which is to give it to the poor." Jesus has been telling us to do that all along. And don't we want to ask that question?
We who do so much to raise money at antique sales, and rummage sales, and with our mission and justice work, raising money and giving it to where it really needs to go, when we have our kids drop their coins and their dollar bills into a giant bottle to go to Ukraine, how could this be acceptable? Is this what Christian service is? Why does Jesus not just accept this extravagance, but almost seem to prefer it? He defends her. He says, "Yes, this is okay." I think, the answer has to be, that this is more than an act of service, that it is an act of love. And sometimes, and I think, all the time when Jesus is talking about love and the gospel. Love has to break the rules. Love sometimes has to go a little bit too far. Love has to show itself so big that it grabs our attention, because at that time, and in our world today, we live in a world where there is so much that is shocking, and obscene, and heartbreaking, and raw that grabs our attention, and breaks our hearts.
How do we respond? Is it just by sending a check over to the tragedy? Or do we need to create a world, a vision, an opportunity for the opposite, to express love and as big a way as tragedy expresses itself? I think that's what Mary was doing. She knew that Jesus was going to the cross, Jesus knew it, that tragedy, that every holy week, seizes our entire imagination. And she said, "I'm going to produce something beautiful, that can stand in front of that cross and hold its head high. I am going to love, and I am going to do it so extravagantly, so beautifully that it is going to shock you. It is going to draw your attention. You're going to want to look away, but you're not going to be able to, you're going to be stuck there, looking at that expression of love, extravagant love, not practical love."
In our lives, in the work that we do, in your passions, in your ministry, are you doing the practical thing all the time? The practical thing is the right thing to do most of the time. But we have to remember that there have to be moments of extravagance, of wildness, where magic fills the air, where we grab people's attention, we shock them, maybe beloved, we even offend them a little bit with this good news that we have. Because the good news that we have is a good news that flips the entire world on its head. And so there should be moments, when we express that good news, that it flips people's expectations out and they say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. I don't know, should that be happening? I don't know about that. It seems like too much. It seems too big. It seems too wild. Settle down, settle down. What's the point?" And then we can tell them what the point is. The point is love.
This is how we're supposed to love. Like Mary loves. As a church, I think that we are a well respected institution. We do things the right way. There is nothing in this church, and there are many wonderful things about this church, and there is nothing amongst those many wonderful things that I think would cause anybody any offense, wouldn't shock them. I don't even think it would surprise them very much. We are a place where you can expect good things. I wonder if we could add to that one little bit here and there of wild extravagance, where we grab people's attention with the force, and the power, and the expression of our love. I wonder if you can do that in your life.
Don't just send the check out. Love. We are called to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And if that just looks like practical ministry, just doing the best little bit that you can. There is nothing wrong with that, but there should be always something a little more, that big, powerful, bold expression of God's love. That's how God came to us, in the flesh, in Jesus, on the cross. How do we express that good news? How do we show that extravagance?
Let us pray. Holy God, thank you for all of the practical ways that you have given us to serve. Fill us with your spirit and help our love to shine out to this world in a way that will fill it with a fragrance of love and joy so powerful, that no one will be able to look away. Amen.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations