Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Reflection on John 12:1-8

I was once told, “If you want to find God, start looking around for the love.”

So, in this story of Mary, Jesus, and Judas, I started looking around for the love. The love was not hard to find. All I had to do was look in Mary’s hands. Mary carried a pound of costly perfume (worth about the year’s worth of wages) and placed it on Jesus’ feet, anointing Jesus for his imminent future. It was an act of love. Mary was loving Jesus into his future, much in the same way that Jesus was loved into his future by his mother at the very start of his ministry.

Do you remember the start of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus and his mother were at a wedding and the wine ran dry. Jesus had no plans of doing anything in response to this wedding crisis, but it was his mother who saw Jesus’ potential. It was Jesus’ mother who knew what Jesus could do. It was Jesus’ mother who lovingly knew that it was his time to begin his ministry, even if Jesus did not realize it. It was Jesus’ mother who loved Jesus into his future ministry. Where was God at work? Look for the love.

Loving people into their futures is essential to life in God’s kingdom, and like bookends to the Jesus story, it happened again just before Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Jesus faced the future of his difficult ministry which included death on a cross, there was a woman present who would once again love him into his future. She would anoint him lavishly. She would anoint him with tenderness and love. She would take the perfume and anoint his feet with her hair. She would anoint Jesus for his future death and burial. She would love him into his next step in life. She would anoint and love him into his future.

I am not sure if anyone realizes just how important all of this is. Judas obviously does not understand. He complains about the attention devoted to Jesus. He complains that all of that love could have been sold to help the poor. Indeed, perfume that was worth a year’s worth of wages could have fed a great many people. As important as loving the poor is to God (and the writer of John is certainly skeptical that Judas cared about the poor in the first place), loving people into their futures is also important to God.

Love and the encouragement that it provides is what gets babies off of their knees and onto their feet. Would any of us be walking around if it were not for our parents loving us into our futures with their guiding hands?

Love and the encouragement that it provides is what gets students from being only students to becoming teachers. Teachers have all had someone who loved them into the future and said to them, “You are good enough for this.”

Love and the encouragement that it provides is what allows people to die peacefully as their children say, “We love you, and it is OK to go home to God. We will be fine. You have permission to die and be in the eternal love of God.”

In the ancient world, kings were anointed and the dying were anointed. Kings were anointed and loved into the difficult task of leading an entire people, and the dying were anointed and loved into the difficult task of giving up this life. In this moment in Jesus’ story, he was faced with the future of both. He would soon be riding into Jerusalem, hailed as a king, and he would soon be facing the death that the designation of king would bring. And, in all of this difficult future, Mary is there to lovingly help him to take those next steps forward. Jesus was loved into his future.

Living into our futures is not something that we do alone. God does not prefer that we be self-made men and women. God does not prefer that we need no one and go it alone. God did not make us to live and work alone. God did not make us to face problems and challenges with no one there to help. God did not make us to be gods who need no one else, including God.

We are a people who were created for each other. We are a people who were created to share love with one another. We are creatures created to display love, and so we do. We love each other into our futures.

This week my mother made her way on I-80 to western Iowa to be with my grandma who was facing her last moments. She went so that she could love my grandma into her future in the same way that she loved me from High School into college, and went with me on the long, bumpy drive to Montana (with no working shocks on my car) as I moved from single life to married life, and was present the day that I went from student of God's Word to teacher of God’s Word. We love each other into our futures, and that is what makes this life a life of grace upon grace.

We will always keep the poor with us and love them into their futures. We will not forget the poor. Loving the poor will always stay central to what living in God’s kingdom is about. But, in doing so, we will not forget to love other people into their futures also.

Loving people into their futures is essential to living in the kingdom of God. There is not a limited amount of love. There is not only so much love to go around, and if you do not get any, tough luck. You do not need to stop one act of love just because there are others who also need love. That is not how love works.

Rather, love is something that can grow and expand. It can start at a single cross and expand throughout the entire world. Jesus understands this, and so does Mary. Her small act of love will allow Jesus to face his own difficult act of love to come. Loving people into their futures is probably one of the most important acts of love you will ever experience or undertake.

Know that you are never alone. Know that God’s love is always with you to bring you from death into life. Know that you are loved into the future every step of the way.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Reflection on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

He never stops looking. He never stops loving.

How do you not wonder what happened to your very own flesh? How can you simply sleep through the night without worrying where they are or what they are doing? How do you not at least look out to the horizon to see if they might, by chance, be on their way home?

That is what he did everyday; the father looked down the path, to the horizon to see if he might glimpse the familiar, slightly slumped, walk of his youngest son.

You have to understand, his youngest son had asked for his inheritance early. So the loving father divided up his property between his two sons. It sounds simple, but it is not. It was not that the task of dividing was difficult, but what it meant was heart wrenching. Asking for the inheritance early only meant one thing: his son no longer wanted to be a part of his family. And, to confirm that suspicion, in just a few days the father looked into the son’s room to wake him for morning chores and all he saw was an empty bed.

What had he done to deserve this? Had he not shown him enough love? Maybe over the years he had been much too harsh when punishing? Had he ignored him too many times while working?

The father ran the memories over and over and over again in his head. The truth was, he just did not know. He did not know why he left. He did not know why he seemed not to care. He did not know what he was doing. Maybe his son was doing well on his own. Of course, there is the possibility that his son had failed on his own.

All he did know was that he was willing to do anything for his son, even give up his property. All he did know was that he loved his son incredibly and that he missed him in a deep, deep way.

The father saw the glances of his older son whenever he gazed off at the horizon. He saw the slight shaking of the head, as if to dismiss his concern and love. He will learn in time what it is to love. One day he will have children, and then he will understand.

You cannot just lose a child and not have it affect you. You cannot lose an arm and not have it not impede your daily functioning. We just are not built that way. We are built to be whole. We are built to love.

Then the moment came. After what seemed like ages of staring at the horizon, he saw the tell-tale slumped walk of his younger son. Even in silhouette against the setting sun there was no mistaking who was approaching.

He had found him! After all of this time of gazing down the path, he had finally found him. Running to greet him, that father had his son in his arms in no time. Ignoring the mumbling of repentance, the father called the servants to prepare a feast. The father welcomed the son back into the family with the giving of a family ring. He felt complete once again; for the lost had been found!

The evening could not have been better as they partied. The world was finally right again. That was until the father learned that he had lost a second child.

During the party, the older son sent a servant asking his father to come outside to talk. The father approached the older son, anger burning on his face. The accusations flew from the older son’s mouth.

"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. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

And, that is when the father realized that he had lost his other son. Though he had worked beside him every single day, he had somehow lost him.

The older son was an angry mess. The older son only wanted punishment, or better yet, banishment of his brother. Oh, there is that. He did not even consider his brother as his brother any longer. That was what all of that “this son of yours” talk was about?

You cannot just cut off your arm and live like you have two! You cannot just cut someone out of your life and live like they do not matter. His older son was utterly lost. Lost from love. Lost from compassion. Lost from all he had tried to teach him.

What do you do with the older son? What do you do when he is so close, yet son distant? What do you do with someone who is present, but is lost? What do you do with those who refuse to show compassion or forgiveness? What do you do with the older son?

Granted, it is not like the older son was exactly wrong in his thinking. The younger son had not proven in any way that he had reformed. Maybe, he would just steal some of the older son’s property and take off again! He already has the beloved fatted calf and a ring after-all!

The younger song could have refused the party. He could have just come back and worked like a slave…a position that he deserved. This party and celebration just was not fair. And, the older son was right…it was not fair.

But, that is not how love works. Love is not fair. God’s love searches for the lost and celebrates their return. God’s love pours lavishly on the sinner. God’s love heals the broken. God’s love spills haphazardly on the deserving and the undeserving alike.

God’s love is not fair. It does not keep track of the good and the bad from the past. It does not keep a tally. God’s love just is. It is always there. It is always searching for the lost. It is always there.

Did the younger son deserve the love? Of course not! But, if he did, it would not truly be love would it? It would just be payment being good. God’s love is not fair. But, that is what makes it able to save. It cares for the sinner, and it saves the sinner. It cares for the lost and brings them home. It cares for the undeserving, with no regard to earning it. God’s love is not fair, but that is what gives love its power. We are saved because of God’s amazing grace. We are saved by God’s love of a wretch like me. We are saved by God’s love.

So, what do we do with the older brother when he is lost from love? Well, just like you cannot keep the younger son from walking away from love, neither can you keep the older son from walking away from love. But, what you can do is what the father did. You can invite them into love, saying, “Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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."