The smell of chlorine hits your nostrils. Suddenly, you are a child again about to cannonball into a pool of summer memories. You smell pancakes or catch a whiff of your great aunt’s perfume or the scent of dusty seats and boards in an old church, and the memories come flooding in. Scientists tell us words go to the thinking part of the brain. Smells, fragrances, odors – they go straight to the amygdala, the oldest, most basic, the emotional part of our brain. That’s why a whiff of Grandpa’s tobacco or your mother’s soap or a certain recipe can make you feel ten years old again. This passage from John’s gospel is a “fragrant” text. Jesus’ friend, Mary, takes a box of very expensive perfume and spreads it all over the feet of Jesus. The estimate is that today the perfume would be worth about $10,000. Easily a year’s wages to many of those who gathered around Jesus. It was an extravagant gift for Jesus. A fragrant gift of love. Relationships experts say that loving someone is not love until the love is received by another. To be received, love needs to be expressed in a language that the loved one understands. It is not enough for you to say you love your wife or your husband or your partner or your children. That’s a good start. But, for love to be received, felt, understood by the person you love you need to know how that person receives love and then give your love in that language. Mary expressed her love for Jesus in this lavish gift of...

Have you ever been around something that stinks?  A smell that makes your head swim and your eyes water and there is a bit of gag reflex occurring? Early one summer in my childhood, my sister’s room stank like that.  Her room was at the end of the hall, so it took us a while to notice.  It crept down to my room and then to my parent’s room and soon it was hitting you as the top of the stairs. My sister Mary smelled it.  She smelled of it.  She claimed to have no uneaten food, no dead hamsters, no load of long-forgotten dirty laundry.  My mother insisted on a top to bottom, every inch search.  And there is was. In the second drawer of my sister’s dresser. Tucked in the back, in a little piece of cloth.  Mary had found a perfect little blue robin’s egg, on the ground, nowhere near a nest.  She brought it home, thinking she could keep it. That was a couple months before and she had forgotten it. Mary and Martha have not forgotten their brother Lazarus. They know exactly where the body of Lazarus is and how long it has been there. And they know he stinks.  “Lord,” Martha says to Jesus, “our brother has been dead four days. He reeks.” This is what Martha says after Jesus has come to the diminished family. After he told her that her brother will rise again.  After she explained, like many a grieving loved one, “I believe there will be a resurrection. But that’s someday. I wanted him alive today.”  Martha tells Jesus...
Thirsting for a New Way

Thirsting for a New Way

During my sabbatical, my daughters and I got to visit Greece for six amazing weeks. I wouldn’t have traded spending a lot of time in one country for spending a little time in a lot of countries. However, one member of the traveling trio was intent on getting into as many countries as possible.  I think that was to collect the passport stamps that can come with that. So, when we had four days when it was just too hot to see anything else in Athens, we went up into the mountains of Greek Macedonia, parked our rental car, and walked up to the border crossing of Macedonia, whose official name is – awkwardly – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This wasn’t like going through security at the airport. We were crossing a definite border. For one thing, there is a great deal of animosity between Greece and Macedonia – over refugee entrances and crossings and – more hotly – over who should get to use the name Macedonia. And, crossing into Macedonia felt like leaving Western Europe – where they are prepared for tourists and non-native speakers – and entering an Eastern European country. We couldn’t speak a word of Macedonian, English was a struggle, and the locals seem baffled, if not annoyed, that we would visit. At the border crossing, the Macedonian officer looked at our passports and then at us. He was having trouble figuring out why we were there and how we were related to one another. I’ll spare you my atrocious Macedonian accent, but when he finally decided to make a connection he...

There is a sign that is held up at almost every football game. John 3:16. It just may be the most well- known Bible verse. Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the gospel in a nutshell” because it tells us of God’s profound love for us. It tells us of the depths to which God would go to convey that love for us. The verse leaped into popular sports culture when born-again Christians started holding “John 3:16” signs as a way to spread the gospel. The most famous 3:16 holder was Rollen Stewart. In the 70’s and 80’s, he wore a rainbow-colored wig and danced behind the goal posts at football games, home plate at baseball games and the backboard at basketball games, even the finish line of the Indy 500. Stewart said he wanted John 3:16, on as many tv screens as possible, so people would repent and believe. Right now, Stewart should be repenting. He is serving three consecutive life sentences after a bizarre incident in which he locked himself in a hotel room, held a maid hostage and threatened to shoot down airplanes. Despite that fall from respectability, John 3:16 has remained popular as a witnessing device among evangelical Christians. Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, says that’s “because it’s short and information-packed: God loves humankind, man has sinned and is destined for eternal punishment, but eternal life awaits all who believe in God’s son, Jesus.” And faster than the Patriots can turn around a game in the fourth quarter, a verse about the love of God has changed into a verse that is telling people they...