In our Homeward bound bible study this week we were discussing the ways in which our congregation had changed over the years. In one group the comment was made that “people used to get dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ for church” and now we don’t. A couple of people suggested that the change was because we had become “slack” but others said it was because we felt welcomed and had freedom to “come as we are”. Two sides of the same coin surely?
Further discussion wound around to the cost of robes the clergy wear (mine included) and the building of huge (beautiful) cathedrals to point towards God and provide places of worship as opposed to giving the money to provide for the poor, the sick and otherwise needy. Isn’t that the center of concern in today’s gospel? Mary offered an extravagant gift in pouring ½ a litre of pure nard on Jesus’ feet. Moreover, she wiped his feet with her hair in a moving act of adoration. Judas argues that the nard should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus supported Mary in her extravagance but derided the Pharisees saying; “They do everything to be seen by people. They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.
Surely there is room for both? And, isn’t it really a matter of the heart? Surely the state of the heart is what is most important?
In the world today there are people who devote their lives to God in quiet contemplation and prayer, others go into the slums and feed the poor, some take part in ornate and elaborate worship while others hold hands in lounge rooms, deserts or gardens to pray.
On Wednesday evening a little boy coloured a worksheet and gave it to me as I led intercessions. He said it was a gift for me. Some continue to say, “Children should be seen and not heard in worship”. That will never be the case in any congregation I lead. This little boy coloured and gifted, I prayed to God! Surely God rejoices in us both! Who amongst us has the right to judge? Acts of love, in whatever form they may take, are still acts of love, and for a Christian, they are an extension or mirroring of the love of God.
Love and Blessings
Giving and receiving forgiveness is at the heart of what it means to be a gospel people, or members of the family of God. In one of my favorite books “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, Henri Nouwen helps us imagine ourselves not only as the younger son and the older son in the parable, but as the father who offers forgiveness to others. He writes, “I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.”
At various points of our life journey we know the forgiveness of God, for our own failures as the younger son, and our unforgiving jealousy as the older son. After becoming aware of our own forgiveness and the loving acceptance of the Father, we must grow up in faith and become the bearers of this gift to others. This is not a call to the paid professionals, but to all of God’s children. Therefore, as we continue our Lenten journey, let us consider, as individuals (and as a parish) these important questions – 1. In what ways do you see this calling as the essence of your vocation?
2. How do you live it out in practical ways?
3. How does our community extend compassionate hands to others?
As I was preparing for this service I was struggling in deep turmoil, as our daughter Naomi has been very sick in hospital, and I have torn between staying and going. I have therefore turned to “Words for Worship” for my reflection.
Jesus’ lament in Luke 13:31–35 invites us to share our own deep feelings of disappointment and regret. Some may believe that doing so suggests a tearing down of relationship – especially with God, but lament is only possible in relationships of trust that know the rhythms of moving together and apart in love. Imagine walking on a labyrinth. The path moves toward the center and then away. Especially near the end, when one has been walking and praying for what seems like a long time, the path usually takes a final turn, leading to the outermost edge. Yet no matter how far away we seem to be, we can still see the center; it is always present with us, even if at a distance. Somehow, if we keep walking in trust, we will experience sacred presence once again.
God is very close, as close as the breath we take … May this be your experience as you continue your Lenten journey.