Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This week's schedule

Easter Service Times
Sunrise service at Cottonwood Friends 7:00am
No Sunday School
Worship Celebration 10:00am

Monday, April 18, 2011

This week's message: Anointing

We used a method of scripture study this week in our worship that is a little different. We read the story of Jesus being anointed by the woman with the jar of perfume in all four gospels. We began by reading the account in Matthew 26:6-13. Then we allowed a period of silence for meditation and, if prompted by the Spirit, for people to share what impacted them from the story. We then read the accounts in Mark 14:1-11; Luke 7:36-50; and John 12:1-8. Between each reading we allowed for that same quiet space for individuals to chew on the similarities and differences in each reading.

There are arguments that these stories are not all referring to the same anointing. Some scholars would like to set aside the Luke account as a separate incident, and even a few who would argue that there are three separate anointings. We approached these passages with a "what if" attitude. We asked "What if they are the same? What would that teach us?" There are so many overlapping details from each account that it makes it highly possible that this is one story told from different perspectives.

The location for the anointing is given as Bethany in Matthew, Mark and John. The name of the host is given as Simon in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yes, in two he is referred to as Simon the Leper and one as Simon the Pharisee. We must remember that Matthew and Mark were writing from the perspective of direct followers of Jesus, while Luke was writing as a historian who most likely conducted interviews to gain his information. Since we know that "the leper" and "the pharisee" were not formal last names, but reference points, and that they were not mutually exclusive, there can be no claim that these are two separate individuals.

Jesus was anointed with very expensive perfume in Matthew, very expensive perfume made of pure nard in Mark, perfume in Luke, and a pint of pure nard in John. The vessel holding the perfume was alabaster in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus was anointed on his head in Matthew and Mark, but his feet in Luke and John with the woman wiping his feet with her hair in both accounts as well. The woman is rebuked in all four accounts. Jesus defends her in all four accounts.

I think the greatest obstacle to overcome in reconciling these accounts is that Luke calls the woman a person of ill-repute, and John says this woman was Mary the sister of Lazarus. We have a hard time conceiving of Mary as a prostitute or sinner. We like her. She chooses to sit at Jesus' feet and the little sister/brother in all of us wants to stick out our tongue at Martha as she complains and Jesus defends in Luke 10. But we fail to consider that perhaps her devotion comes from a place of deep gratitude for many sins forgiven. It certainly explains why she was not married. It may even explain why her sister resented her so much, a sister with a bad reputation easily spoils the reputation of the whole family. It would explain why she was seemingly uninvited to a banquet where her brother reclined and her sister served. An upstanding member of the community would assume that she was unfit company for an important rabbi.

Seeing Mary in a new light can actually give us hope for our own condition. We lift saints too high sometimes. It is easy to do, thinking that if God interacted with them, they must be morally perfect. But Jesus was not criticized for hanging out with saints, but tax collectors and sinners. This is exactly the kind of person he would have welcomed into his group of followers. And we are too.

Regardless of your past, God has a bright future for you. Bring him your gratitude and genuine praise. Don't be afraid to pour it all out at his feet. The opinions of others do not matter to him. Present him with yourself and allow him to fight the battle for your reputation!

Monday, April 4, 2011

This week's Message- Pray

Luke 11:1-13.

In this section of scripture, we read three of Jesus' teachings on prayer: the Lord's prayer, Parable of the friend at midnight, and God gives good gifts. Each teaching flows into the next creating a united message that God is our Father who longs to give us not only answers to our prayers, but his very self when we seek him.

The passage begins with Jesus praying. His disciples come to him asking that he teach them to pray according to his method of prayer, just like John had taught his followers to pray according to his own practices. This may seem odd to us. We don't typically ask each new pastor or teacher how we should pray, but it was not an uncommon practice for students to ask their rabbi to teach them to pray.

Jesus gives them a model prayer which fits with the Matthew Lord's Prayer, but is not quite as fully composed. The disciples may have been shocked and amazed when Jesus told them to address God as "Father." If you look at the Old Testament, you will find prayers addressed to God Most High, or The One God, but you will not find a prayer addressed to "Father." Jesus as the Son of God invites his followers to address and experience God as more than a far off , all-powerful deity. He invited them, and invites us today to see God as our Father.

Moving into the second teaching, Jesus tells a parable. The situation is this: a friend knocks on your door at midnight asking for bread to give to a traveling friend, do you get up or not? Jesus says you might get up, but not because of your friendship. He says the mere act of boldly knocking at midnight will make you get up and get your friend whatever he needs.

Many times we do not ask God for things we feel are beneath him. We don't want to bother God with our problems. If the friend at midnight had said to himself, "I shouldn't bother them with my problem," he would have received no bread. In order to have answers to our prayers, we must pray! And Jesus concludes that teaching with the words "So ask, and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you."

Moving into the third teaching, Jesus poses a question to his hearers intended to shock them into realizing a truth about God. He says, "Who among you, if your child asked for food would give him a deadly predator to sting and bite him?" In this question, Jesus addresses another reason we often do not go to God in prayer: we don't trust him. We don't pray because we think he'll answer in a way that will hurt us.

Jesus corrects this fear by saying "If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." Now this differs from the Matthew account of this teaching, Matthew says God will give good gifts to those who ask. Luke shows us a different intent. God does not merely want to answer our prayers. He wants to give us himself when we seek him.

God does not always give us what we ask for. Sometimes when we ask for a fish, he gives us an apple. Sometimes when we ask for an egg, he gives us bread. His answer may not fit our desires, but they do fill our need. God, like all good parents, knows when the desired outcome is good for us and when it is not. Sometimes God must answer "no" to our prayers.

Regardless of his answer, in spite of the outcome of our situation, God gives us himself. And at the end of the day no miracle we seek or ask for is greater than the God of the Universe giving us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us; to be our comforter, guide, companion, and friend.

God is our Father. He created us and delights in us. He longs for us to bring him our hearts desires, our needs and dreams. He longs to answer our prayers, giving us good gifts, and the greatest gift of all--his presence.