Thursday, March 19, 2015

Come and See! -- A Guest Post

Since it looks like I may have as many as three - maybe even four - readers, I figured the time was right to kick this high-flying blog up a notch with its very first Guest Post! Please welcome Sharon Schulze to the hallowed pages of Confabulosity. Some of you who know Sharon know that she is making a 2nd career move (after a respected and respectable career in academia) into divinity school and vocational calling to the ministry. She's still discerning that call. Is it to hospital or hospice chaplaincy? Is it to congregational ministry? Is it to non-profit directorship? I've got opinions, but in the end, I know it's up to Sharon and God to work it out.

Sharon delivered her first sermon last night, at a Lenten service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Durham, NC. Though I know it was more powerful to hear the vocal delivery, she agreed to provide the text for me to share. Without further delay, here's "Come and See."

In preparing to speak tonight I looked over the five lessons for our Lenten services this year and something jumped out at me: the very broken women were the ones who forged ahead, who brought others to “Come and See” Jesus, while the men had a very difficult time hearing what Jesus was saying and sharing the good news.

In John 3, Jesus asks Nicodemus: how do you not know? In John 4, the Samaritan woman hears and run immediately to share the news in the community that might see her as an outcast, and in so doing becomes the first evangelist. In John 9 the blind man was made to see, but then he and his parents all got caught up in wrangling with the Jewish leaders as they jockeyed to explain what had happened instead of simply proclaiming the wonderful gift. Next week we will hear Peter argue with Jesus (something Peter does a lot!)

And then there is our story tonight, about Mary and Martha and also their brother Lazarus. Mary and Martha also show up in Luke, in the well-known story of Martha working away, complaining to Jesus that her sister Mary is just sitting around. As you know, Jesus defended Mary. Luke doesn’t make much of the friendship that Jesus and Mary and Martha had and he doesn’t mention Lazarus at all. Instead, Luke shares the story as a short morality tale with the clear moral “one thing is necessary.” Mary is rewarded for her listening while Martha is given an implied slight – that what she is doing is not necessary.

It turns out that Mary shows up in another spot of the Gospels too, this time in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but we don’t know that until we read our passage from John tonight. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are dismissive of the woman who comes in and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoints him, and dries his feet with her hair. Matthew, Mark, and Luke treat that woman as a sinner but Jesus declares that her story will always be told (even if Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t give us her name.) When John reveals to us that the woman is Mary, once again we see that Jesus has praised and rewarded Mary for her faithfulness and worship, and this time the others are given an even more specific slight. The pattern of Mary doing the necessary things continues.

As this story unfolds, Jesus is faced with what his disciples see as a big problem: they have heard his friend is very sick, he knows his friend has died, he knows that his faithful friend Mary is grieving, and… he knows that Bethany is just two miles from Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem there is a crowd of people who want to kill him. Even on foot, two miles is awfully close for comfort. If people are out to kill me and can get to me in half an hour or less, I am going to be uncomfortable! And Jesus’ disciples were. They thought that going towards Jerusalem was a tremendously bad idea. Jesus had said Lazarus was sleeping so they hopped on that: Sleeping! Sleep is good! Sleep is healing! Let Lazarus sleep and all will be well (and you don’t have to go to the place where people want to kill you). So Jesus had to be plain: No. Lazarus is dead. Let’s go.

And who speaks up? Thomas! Thomas says “Ok, we will go die, too.” Not “Come and See” or “Let’s go see” or “You can do this, Jesus.” He’s willing to stay with Jesus but he doesn’t really think he will get out of it alive. Thomas’s faith is that of a martyr. But what do the women say? Martha is first on the scene. Of course. Martha is the one who is on top of things. But Martha has quite the high opinion of Jesus. “If you were here my brother wouldn’t have died!” She’s not worried about death but about life. In Jesus Martha sees life for her brother. Jesus’ own death isn’t even in her thoughts. So Jesus makes the big reveal. Jesus tells her how the story will end – HE WILL RISE! Martha has brought us to the resurrection. She doesn’t know all the things to come. She is believing even though she has not seen (like Jesus will later admonish our martyr-ready friend Thomas.) Then Jesus opens it up even further – I am the resurrection! And how does Martha respond? Yes, Jesus, you are the Messiah.

Boom. Just like that. She knows that Jesus is about life.

Now what about Mary? Mary, the one who believed all along? Jesus has received Thomas’s call to be ready for martyrdom and heard Martha’s confession, but where is Mary the Listener, Mary the Anointer, Mary the one who gets credit in Matthew, Mark and Luke for preparing Jesus for his own burial? Why, Mary is sitting at home with the mourners. John does not tell us so but Mary may be sitting where Jesus had sat before, asking where is he? I believed him! Broken with grief and disappointed and abandoned by the Jesus for whom she has given everything. Mary has given herself over to the criticism of the disciples (they called her that sinner who “wasted” spices on anointing Jesus) and to her own sister (there is work to be done!). Jesus calls and Mary answers immediately. She is in tears and that breaks Jesus’ heart. Jesus is moved by her disappointment. He knows what is coming and he has told others but Mary doesn’t know. AND STILL she expresses her faith when she says “if you had been here my brother would not have died.” She had kept her faith through dismissal, through grief, and through what appeared to be the abandonment of her beloved Jesus himself. Jesus knew for a long time that his friend was dead but he only cried when he saw Mary come to him in her anguish.

That is not where the story ends, though – not in the confession of Martha and the martyrdom of Thomas and the anguish of Mary. It’s always important in the Bible to see how things end up and in the last verse John tells us that Mary, like the Samaritan woman, has also been an evangelist! “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Mary, like the Samaritan woman, says “Come and See” without legal wrangling, without question, in the midst of her grief and brokenness – even as what the disciples describe as a sinner. And when she does? When both of the women do? The people around them are brought into faith and salvation.

In our broken, human world, our hopeless and secular world, we are often drawn into thinking that earthly status, or our understanding of the world is important in the church, even about Jesus. But Jesus is patient. Jesus will say “Oh Nicodemus, why don’t you know?” Jesus will give sight to a blind man even if the healing will get tied up in legal wrangling. Jesus is patient, even when his chosen leaders (like Peter) insist on continually arguing and boldly misunderstanding. But Jesus also knows that great things – great heavenly things – come from irrational broken believing if, in our brokenness, we will continue to say to those around us “Come and See.”

Sharon Schulze – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church    March 18, 2015 Lenten Service

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