Perhaps you have done something like this. The United Church of Christ pastor Jeremy Marshall was at Vacation Bible School when a he and a kid in his class got into an argument.  The classmate figured out a way to embarrass Jeremy in front of their friends.  He pointed at Jeremey and told everyone “Jeremy is Walter’s best friend.” Things got awkwardly quiet.  Everybody was staring at Jeremy. Walter – that’s not his real name – was, unfortunately, the class outcast.  He had a mild speech impediment.  He was way too interested in taxidermy.  His personal hygiene was questionable.  And – in fact – Jeremy was Walter’s best friend.  He was probably Walter’s only friend. It wasn’t cool to be friends with Walter, so Jeremy tried to keep things quiet.  Somehow though, this other kid found out, and he picked this moment to put Jeremy on the spot in front. Jeremy says he was worried that if he claimed Walter all his other friends would ditch him.  So, he denied being friends with Walter.  Announced loudly he had never been friends with him. He even called Walter the mean name the kids at school call him. Jeremy says, later, as he ate his sugar cookies and drank grape Kool-aide, he was sure he could hear a rooster crowing.  Even if Walter never found out, Jeremy knew Jesus knew what he had done. He had bailed on his friend Walter the same way Peter bailed on Jesus. Jeremy Marshall still feels bad about what his 10-year-old self did.  He also assumes all of us have done something like it. We’ve...

I served a church where the Associate Pastor was given the responsibility of putting together the Maundy Thursday service. Tom was passionate about including a foot washing as part of the service. That made a lot of sense, as this passage from the gospel of John takes place at the Passover Meal, the Thursday before Jesus’ death. Tom originally wanted to wash the feet of the twelve members of the governing council of that congregation. He made the calls to every single person. One by one they turned him down. All except two of them. So, that Maundy Thursday, as the darkness gathered in a chilly sanctuary, two people sat in folding chairs nervously facing their congregation. There were only four feet to be taken care of but as the congregation looked on – feeling empathically awkward – that foot washing seemed to take forever. Not all of us want Jesus to wash our feet. Maybe like Simon Peter, we are confused by the whole thing. “Washing feet …is that a symbol? Then Jesus wash all of me!” Plenty of us can get so caught up in a ritual or symbol or piece of scripture that we just about wring all meaning and sense out of it. For more us, sitting here in church, the problem is – like it was for those elders Tom and I knew – simple embarrassment about our feet.  All our feet started out cute and pudgy, ready to be tickled, but they can take a beating through the years. Not even a good pedicure or a trip to the chiropodist is going to make...

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...