Saturday, February 16, 2013

Encountering Jesus: Extravagant Love

Meditation on Matthew 26: 6-13 for Morning Watch Worship.

In some accounts, as in John’s gospel, she is named.  John writes that it was Mary, sister of Martha, who poured the oil on Jesus' feet, preparing him for burial.  But in Matthew’s version, written before the Gospel of John, we do not know who she is…she is unnamed.  Yet her expression is bold, faithful, and extravagant.

During Lent, Morning Watch meditations will be focusing on different characters in the Gospels who have had encounters with Jesus.  People; perhaps close friends or unnamed persons, who were forever changed because of a powerful encounter with the Son of God.  So often we focus on Jesus – his actions, his message, his life – that we overlook the extraordinariness of the ordinary people he chose to be around; or who chose to be around him.

In this scene, it goes both ways.  The woman was probably a follower…since they were in a home at what was probably a more intimate, close-friends-only setting.  I bet she chose to be around Jesus and at the same time, he too chose her.  Obviously –as we know - Jesus wasn’t too picky about who he associated with.  For goodness sake, he was at a leper’s home!  Who wants to be hanging out with a leper?  In those days, it was not cool.  He chose tax collectors and insignificant fishermen to be his disciples and buddies…traveling with them, teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven, dining with them and literally spending every waking hour in their company.  In all the Gospels we see that Jesus chose the people who would never get chosen by anyone else.  Women included.

What must it have been like to be this woman?  Surrounded by stinky men all the time.  Silently listening to their bickering and arguments over who is the greatest?  And especially in this scene, where she is reprimanded by her offering of extravagant love…. I wonder how she felt?  What she did was more than just a nice gesture.  This unnamed woman perhaps understood more than anyone in that room what Jesus was about to do…the road he was on and the painful fate ahead of him.  Did she understand why?  Who knows…probably not.  Heck, we all still struggle with the “why” part.  But she didn’t argue it.  She didn’t deny it and she didn’t betray it.  Rather, she took a big and risky step by coming over and anointing Jesus’ head with this costly ointment.  By doing this, the woman was preparing Jesus for his imminent death and burial.  And because she did it, she got scolded and reprimanded by the disciples who once again, “just didn’t get it.” 
I don’t know if you’ve glanced over the words to the song that we will hear at the end of our worship today.  It may be a weird song to play on a Sunday morning.  But something about it caught my ear when I was thinking about this text and how it applies to us today.  I read the lyrics in the viewpoint of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head, and I hope you will too.  The chorus goes,
Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground

How often do we let other people put us down?  How often do we allow the world and the mainline-whatever tell us what to believe and how to act?  The unnamed woman in our story today was obviously a woman greatly moved and affected by Jesus.  And she did what she felt called to do.  She expressed her love for this Son of God, and in turn for God, in a way that no other person did!  It was self-less and powerful.  And when she was criticized, I wonder if she thought – who are you to judge me?  Who are you to put me down for doing what I feel called to do?  For loving the Lord? 
What does this woman and her anointing of Jesus mean to us?  Why do we care?  Clearly we don’t really remember her in any special way.  It’s kinda funny to me that, although Matthew includes this story in his Gospel, he doesn’t even give her a name!  How do you remember someone who doesn’t have a name?!
Perhaps though…perhaps this woman stands for the people all over the world who do good and wonderful things in God’s name who we will never know.  Stories we will never hear.  Perhaps this woman and her extravagant love will remind us to open our eyes and look for the nameless in our world…. people whose voices are silenced; whose work for justice are oppressed by the powerful. 
In this world of social media and 24/7 news outlets, we hear a lot of devastating stuff that goes on in our country and in our world.  And all too often we hear Christian voices who do not sound like our own; groups like Westboro Baptist who claim to be Christian - but are as far from Christ as I have ever seen – get more airtime than they should.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think Jesus would be in their picket lines.  Their message is not the good news he talked about. 
In our story today, Jesus responded to his angry disciples by saying that the poor will always be around, but he will not.  Jesus did not mean that we should overlook those who live in poverty.  He was simply saying that, until God’s kingdom is fully here, there will always be suffering in this world.  The problem of poverty calls for action more extravagant and transforming than simply putting a band-aid on the problem with a few extra dollars (as the disciples were suggesting).  Jesus praised the woman’s act of service for him.  And in doing so, he is telling us that when we take an active role in our relationship with God – when we give to God our love and ourselves (regardless of what others might say) – then we will be changed.  Our changed lives will be remembered.  Our changed lives will impact and affect other lives…rich, poor, powerful, powerless…  And the good news of God will go on…and on…and on…
What she has done will be told in remembrance of her.  The season of Lent is all about noticing God in the everyday.  Listening to God in the silences and the noises of life.  The season of Lent is about letting go and taking on - in hopes for deeper relationship and clearer understanding of God’s vision for our lives. 
Go and tell the stories no one pays attention to.  Go and tell the stories of true transformation in God’s name.  Don’t let anyone put their weight of condescending judgment on you.  And don’t let yourself be your worst critic.  When you encounter Jesus, do what this woman did and love him extravagantly.   For though she is nameless, she will not be forgotten.  If, like this woman, our faith lives deep within us, and if we are generous with that faith, neither will our stories be forgotten.  And indeed the good news of God’s love and grace will spread throughout the world.  It will spread on …and on…. and on….  Amen.
You say that I've strayed from the road I walked as a child
You say that my youth and my heart haven't chosen what's right
Don't tell me I'm aimless
Cause I ain't gonna fight

You bury your faith in the book you clutch in the dark
You keep praying I'll hear every word and it tears you apart
Don't tell me I'm faithless
Cause I ain't gonna fight
We both know a place
Where we know who we are

Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground

If Jesus exists he don't live in the pages we write
He'd say put down your books and come follow me out in the light
Don't tell me I'm crazy
Cause I ain't gonna fight
We both want to hold on
To what peace we can find

Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground
My faith lies deep in the ground

Friday, February 1, 2013

Side by Side

White and speckled with spots.  One with black ears and one with brown.  At first glance, you might think our dogs are biological siblings.  But upon a closer look you can tell they are both mutts, but from different breeds.

One is a mutt from the animal shelter in Fort Worth, TX.  The quietest little guy in the pound; it was love at first sight for Jeff.  It was early February 2009 and Jeff and I were counting down the days, weeks, and months until our big day.  We were your typical annoying, gitty, engaged couple.  We decided to have a longer engagement, so for the most part, wedding planning never did get too stressful for either of us - although we were living in one state and having the wedding in another - thanks to helpful family, friends, and a wedding coordinator, our stress levels stayed well below "crazy."  Anyway, I finally gave in when Jeff mentioned for the 1000th time, "I want a dog."  Since we weren't living together at that time, our dog would be living with him until I moved in, and so there was only so much I could say.  Not that I didn't want a dog.  But as I've learned over these 3+ years, Jeff is the dreamer and I am the realist.  Jeff says, "it'll be fun!" when I say, "but we have to remember how this is going to affect our lives, time, and money."  It's a great balance.

Needless to say, before long, I found myself walking along the aisles of the animal shelter, row-by-row of dogs - big ones, little ones, big-eared yappy mutts, and gentle-eyed golden retrievers.  Creations of God who either never had a home, ran away from home, or got left behind from former owners for one reason or another.  Each one of them longing for a place to be.  It was so loud in that place that we could hardly hear ourselves talk.  We had a few ones picked out as our "favorites."  And then we got to the end of the last row.  Laying down on his stomach, was a medium sized white pup with black ears and a black patch stretching just over and above his right eye.  Soft black spots faintly dotted his coat.  He just looked at us.  He did not bark, nor did he get up to lick our fingers through the gate that separated him from the world.  Jeff looked at me with that excited "It's the day before Christmas" sparkle in his eye that he gets when he wants something (as well as upon any mention of food).  "I want him," he says.  I looked from Jeff, to the dog, to the dog's info card - Bingo, lab mix, 6 months, 30 lbs, $85 - and back to Jeff.   "You want him?"  For some reason this was not the kind of dog I thought Jeff would want.  "Let's at least ask to get him out and play with him."  When a worker got the keys to let Bingo out of his gated, concrete home, we kneeled down to meet him.  He immediately put his front paws up on Jeff's shoulders and let us both scratch behind his ears.  He never barked a word and he never got overly excited. He was just happy to meet us.  I said, "let's go home and talk about it."  The next day we were back and adopting the sweetest pup in the pound, Bingo, who we quickly renamed, Patch.  It was the start of our family (along with the cats).

Fast forward 4 years down the's only a couple of months since we moved to Kentucky and settled into our new home in the semi-country.  We have just under an acre of yard and cows in the field behind us.  It was only a matter of time before I would see that "It's the day before Christmas" look in Jeff's eye.  This time the sparkle spread across his entire face - Patch needs a buddy.  We had had this conversation many times before, and both of us decided we needed to be settled before we got a second dog.  I suppose we were as settled as we were going to get!  Again, it's not that I didn't want another dog - I've always wanted Patch to have a playmate - but another dog meant more hair to vacuum, more paws to clean, and more food to buy.  I was hesitant.  But off we went anyway to Barren River Animal Welfare Association (BRAWA) one day in late January 2012.  (It doesn't help that our church secretary is an active volunteer and advocate at BRAWA - along with about 2/3 of our congregation!)  The next day we brought home a sister for Patch - a bouncy, hyper, goofy German short-hair pointer mix - Pepper.

It took a little while for the two P's to get used to each other.  Patch made sure to assert his dominance and Pepper was just elated to have a home and a friend.  There were times when their play turned to anger, and I would wonder if we made a mistake.  But it didn't last long.  In a month or so, Pepper finished growing and she turned out to be just a touch taller, longer, and bigger than her older brother.  (But Patch can still pin her to the ground in some pretty impressive wrestling moves!)  Before long, they learned how to share the couch, share their food, and share our love.  They learned that it's only more fun when both of them go outside together.  And that it's definitely more exciting to aggravate the cats as a team.  They live life together, side by side.  We've become a unit...and our house is constantly covered in white hair....  But it's totally worth every second.

I've become the kind of person who realizes that my dogs have become my children.  And until Jeff & I have actual kids of our own, everyone will have to settle for pictures of the dogs...many pictures of the dogs.  (To our parents, just be patient! - and for now, enjoy licks over baby kisses!)

This time of year marks our 4th anniversary with Patch and our 1-year anniversary with Pepper.

Love comes in many forms.  I am forever grateful for the love between humans and canines.  I cannot say it enough - "I love these pups!"

2009 - The day we met Patch.

2012 - Bringing Pepper home!

Feb 1, 2012 - "Hmm...I'm not sure how I feel about this..."

Two P's in a pod....

Feb 1, 2013 - Side by side...