Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Dare to Dream" March 13, 2016, MCC Windsor

Contemporary Word

“I would say, if God didnt want you to be so inquisitive, then why did God give you so much curiosity? Can you trust the Map-Maker a little more? Because I feel like the fear that comes from not wanting to examine your beliefs looks an awful lot like a lack of faith. …[I]f your faith is so strong, then it shouldnt be a problem to, you know, think about it…So I think that it shows an absence of trust in your Creator who created you exactly as you are, you know? If God wanted you to be narrow minded and uninterested, you wouldnt even be asking questions to begin with. So trust the One who made you and behave as you were made.”

            ---Elizabeth Gilbert

Ancient Word

Isaiah 43:16-21

This is what God says—
    the One who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honour me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesushonour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesusfeet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasnt this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”


Will you pray with me? Holy one, open our hearts to recognise your presence; to forgive others as freely as you have forgiven us; and give us grace to love as completely as you do. In all your names, amen.

Lent Five! One more Sunday in the season of Lent—and I always feel like next Sunday doesnt entirely count, being Palm/Passion Sunday, after all. So we are still in Lent, still in a place of reflection and self-examination—still asking ourselves those questions. Or maybe we are still stuck back a week or two, not sure if we should be asking these questions; afraid of what the answers might be; afraid of not finding an answer right away. But Elizabeth Gilbert, in our contemporary reading, has it right, I think. We were created with a brain and a spirit that question, that wonder, that want to know more. Otherwise, we would still be living in caves and eating meat raw, right? We wondered, or one of our ancestors way back when did, what would happen if--- Or they noticed that when they did something, this other thing happened—if they protected the young plants they found growing in a field, and watered them, they grew and became grain that was good to eat. And if they saved some of the grain and planted it the next year, they had more grain to eat. But someone asked the question—“what if we saved some of these seeds and planted them in the spring?” They asked the question, and dared to look for an answer. They dreamed of enough grain for everyone. Dreams are what move us forward. Far from being a useless waste of time, our dreams are where our imaginations run free, where we can say, "what if--?"

Being in the middle of Lent doesnt mean we cant dream. The warmer weather, the return of the birds, the flowers and trees beginning to bud and push up from the ground—these are encouraging us to dream--of new possibilities, of new options, of new life--to imagine things that haven't been done yet, to think, as they say, outside the box.

The comic strip Pearls Before Swine is sometimes pretty dark. Recently, though,  theres been a series on Larry the crocodile trying to find a religion that will, as he puts it, let him drink beer and get mad at stupid people.  His latest attempt is a jack-in-the-box god, but his friend Bob, watching as Larry cranks the handle, points out that it only plays music—what kind of god is that? Until the lid on the box jumps open, and the jack-in-the-box springs out at them. They decide that this terrifying god is not for them, either. Well, I could have told them thats what happens when you try to put God in a box—God always gets out!

When we dream, we dream of better things, of course—not worse. We want peace and plenty and harmony, love and hope. And we want these not only for ourselves, but for everyone—because if our neighbours, whether across the street or across the river or across the ocean, arent experiencing that same plenty and hope, then they will come and try to take some of ours, wont they? And its not merely a selfish wish to protect what we hope to have, but its a genuine desire for everyone to have what he or she needs for health and happiness.

It can be hard to create that dream, though—there are so many options. All the political systems and economic systems of the world, ones that have been put into practice and ones that were only imagined, were formed with the idea of making the world into what it should be, what it ought to be. Whether capitalism, socialism, social democracy, communism, a republic, a democratic monarchy—they each have an idea of the ideal form of the world.

So Isaiah dreamed of a realm where even the animals, the jackals and owls, which are generally symbols of death, praise God, who is doing something new and unprecedented. “I am doing a new thing!” God proclaims--paths in the wilderness, water where there was a desert.

And that certainly how Spring feels, isnt it? Every spring feels like the very first one—as if the grass had never been green before, the trees never spread out green leaves, the daffodils and crocuses and forsythia and irises never bloomed before. Of course they have—but never in exactly this way, in these circumstances, in this year, when we have certain feelings and thoughts and hopes and fears. It is always something new for us.

Mary dreamed of something new. She anointed Jesus with precious oil as an honoured guest at her table, in her home, out of gratitude for the life Jesus restored to Lazarus, her brother. And yet, that was not the new thing. Jesus had brought others back to life—the widows son, the daughter of the synagogue leader, the soldiers companion—so while it was a wonderful miracle, it was not something new. Others beside Jesus had brought others back to life, too--Elisha, for example.

So what, then, was Mary dreaming of? Maybe of a time when people would do more than pay lip service to the words of Jesus. Maybe she hoped to see a world in which Jesusteachings were actually the standard by which people lived, and not empty words. Mary was so hopeful for this dream that she gave Jesus the most precious thing she had—this bottle of rare and expensive perfume.

What is your favourite smell in the whole world? Is it fresh-cut grass? Or maybe roses in bloom in the summer sun; coffee on a sunny morning; sandalwood and jasmine on a warm summer night; woodsmoke and sausages at a campfire? I love the smell of lavender, and of a spice cake with mocha frosting.

Think of that smell—close your eyes and imagine that scent all around you, drifting up around you, up to the ceiling, spreading out to fill the space around you. Bathe yourself in that scent.

That is what it was like in that house at Bethany, when Jesus visited his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The scent filled the house—like a dream. I can see Jesus and the disciples and their friends closing their eyes, breathing in the wonderful scent, smiling; dreaming of something better.

And here comes Judas, stamping in and smashing the dreams to bits, throwing cold water on their reveries and their dreams. “We could have sold that perfume for a lot of money!”

I don’t know where this comes from for Judas. Were told hes an embezzler, that he steals from the money that was supposed to be shared with all the disciples. And maybe it is as simple as that. But I wonder if it is also that Judas has forgotten how to dream. He sees the others wrapped up in dreams, in hopes—but he cant share in those dreams. Perhaps he prides himself on his practicality, on being down-to-earth, a numbers man, bottom line and end of the day sort of person. No flights of fancy for him! And yet, here are all the others, caught up for a moment in their own beautiful dreams—and he cant stand it.

Judas retaliates with a very practical and charitable suggestion—instead of using all the perfume on one person, they should have sold it, and given the proceeds to the poor. It certainly wakes Jesus and the disciples from their reverie, but it does not have the intended result for Judas. Instead of Jesusagreement with him, Judas is rebuked.

There will always be poor people, Jesus says, and always an opportunity to do good. But he wont always be with them, so it is right to seize and enjoy and bless that moment when he is there.

Our God-moments, our times of blessing and joy, are not to be ignored or minimized or pushed aside. They are to be seized and enjoyed as the blessing they are. We have all the rest of time to study and think and work—but for these moments when we are so keenly aware of Gods presence, we can let go of those other things and just be.

I want to leave you with a thought? A poem? Not sure what to call it, but it goes like this.

Be still and know I am God.

Be still and know I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


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