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A Letter to St. Thomas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Message for the 2nd Sunday of Easter on John 20:19-31 given April 24, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Dear Saint Thomas,
Aren’t you tired of being called a “doubter?”—I mean it’s been two millenia! And I’ve learned that is not even what the text really says. Jesus says, “do not be an unbeliever, but believe.” You ask questions and make demands not because you doubt, but so that you can experience Jesus, so you can understand what he’s up to, and so you can believe. You are seeking faith vigorously, otherwise, why would you bother?!

Maybe many of us forget that this is not the first time you ask questions and make demands of Jesus. Why do we forget the other aspects of your story, the other questions you ask, the other truths you seek? All we remember is one word, “doubt.”

Maybe we have been captivated by your so-called “doubt” for so long because it validates our own doubt and difficulty believing in Jesus really rising from the dead.

We are so glad you asked for proof, for an experience of Jesus, because, the truth is, we need that too. All this dogma and doctrine—it just doesn’t mean that much when too many people we know have cancer, when Covid is an on-going struggle, when war rages, and when people we love are struggling with anxiety, work problems, and other issues too numerous to list here.

But it’s hard to speak up—sometimes we are not sure what to ask for, or what to stay, and we wonder if anything will change; if it matters at all—so we stay silent.

We always think someone has it worse than we do, that we should somehow muddle through on our own, so we do not speak up for what we need from Jesus, or about the things that matter to us, and we do not name those things that will help us, the way you did, Thomas.

We just stay silent, for ourselves, for others, and feel lousy about it. It’s easy to think that someone else will stand up and say something. Surely someone else will speak up –they will give voice to what we feel and know and want. Someone will speak out against the loneliness and isolation. Someone else will stand up and say something about feeling overwhelmed, and unsure, and say that the wounds are too deep and that the pain is too much.

But the truth is, YOU were the one, Thomas. You were the one who spoke out for us. Mary Magdalene and all the other apostles saw Jesus, but like us, you were not there. And it did not make sense. And we needed someone to say it out loud and no one else would, except you, Thomas. You said it. You asked for what you needed—what we all needed for Jesus coming back alive, to make sense: To see and to touch Jesus yourself, to see and touch the scars and to know they are real—yes, Thomas—YOU asked for what you needed from Jesus.

You took Jesus more seriously than any other disciple—you asked Jesus to be a man of his Word. You pushed him to make good on the promise he made when you asked him the last big question! No one else seems to remember, but we do—and it had nothing to do with doubt—it had to do with your vigorous questions to get to the truth! You remember…

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare an abiding place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

And then you, Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” That was your first big question, Thomas!
And then Jesus said to you: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”

Wow, that took guts. Now we wonder Thomas, if your desire to put your hands on the scars and in the side of Jesus was not because you were looking for proof, but because you really began to grasp Jesus’s response to your first question—Jesus is the way to God—and you wanted to be with him. You needed to abide with Jesus in his aliveness in the living dwelling place with him because that is where you experience and know God’s love most fully! You just needed to be with Jesus: to touch him, to feel him, see him, hear him, to embrace him. One more time. You needed to feel that abiding place again, you needed to feel The Way, again. Maybe it wasn’t about the scars themselves at all—they just let you know it was truly Jesus—your real need was reconnecting and abiding in a relationship with Jesus who is the way the truth and the life in the fullness of God.

You were not even after belief, Thomas, were you? You were after abiding, dwelling in Jesus who is dwelling in God—that is the vigorous faith you sought. And it all started –both times –with asking Jesus questions—questions about what you needed—clarity, yes, but really, Jesus’ presence, for his abiding love.

You took Jesus at his Word and asked for what Jesus said you should ask for. You needed what Jesus said is already yours – to abide with him – always.

And Jesus gave it to you! Jesus gave you exactly what you asked for and needed both times—which was not proof, but a relationship with the Way to God—his abiding presence. And in that moment, in that abiding, you saw Jesus as your Lord and as your God. What a “wow” experience!

So, thank you Thomas, for your big questions, and your vigorous faith. And mostly, thank you, for your courage to ask for you what you need, so we can ask Jesus for what we need, too. Which is to abide in our relationship with Jesus always, who is our way, our truth and our life.

Yours truly,
The saints at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where spirits dazzle!

Image: Doubting Thomas, Mary Jane Miller, 2008.

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Good Friday: Stations of the Cross & Justice in the World

8StationsofCrossGood Friday Tenebrae Worship Service: The Eight Stations of The Cross Recorded in Scripture Intersecting with Justice in our Community and World, April 15, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

(I coul not get the art images to load for each station--only the first one--but I listed them so you can look them up or find something similar. Because we have several elderly, this was a sitting rather than moving service; the art printed in the bulletin provided the visual station in addition to the justice issues and resources lifted up for each station. It was modeled after an Episcopalian service we found that was created about ten years ago.)

INTRODUCTION

As begin our Good Friday Worship, consider the world God sent his Son to save. Reflect that in our world today:

 19 million children face extreme hunger
 82.4 million people are displaced from their homes
 More than 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty; approximately 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
 6.16 million people have died globally from COVID-19; even so tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria remain far greater health priorities for many parts of Africa
 663 million people worldwide live without access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, or educational services
 Violent and debilitating conflict rages or continues to have devastating effects in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Myanmar, El Salvador and other places.

In Jesus’ first public sermon, in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, he described his vocation by quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Is not Jesus’ vocation also the vocation of the Church? How are we as believers called to live into that vocation? At Baptism, and whenever we renew our Baptismal vows, we promise to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Sharing this witness with the leaders of our governments and communities is one way in which Christians live out the vocation that Isaiah and Jesus commended to us.

We will learn how get involved globally or locally throughout this worship service. Our prayers implicate us in some kind of action, even if it is one small effort from our home in writing letters, wrapping up a health kit, or donating food.

OPENING PRAYERS

In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray together:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.

We will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, our life, and resurrection.

Let us pray.
Mercifully assist us, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may remember with joy the mighty acts whereby you have given us life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

ChristbeforePilate Station1FIRST STATION: JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH

Art: Christ before Pilate
Tintoretto, 1566-67; Oil on Panel


The First Station commemorates Jesus being sentenced to death before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. At this station we meditate upon all those throughout God’s creation who are sentenced to die each day because of extreme poverty. The many facets of extreme poverty include income poverty, hunger, conflict, disease, environmental degradation, a lack of basic human rights, and structural barriers to justice such as crushing debt burdens throughout the developing world. These annual debt-service payments to wealthy international creditors hinder poor nations’ ability to spend on the health, education and the well-being of their people. The world's poorest countries pay more money each year in debt than they receive in official aid. The Caribbean island of Jamaica spends more money on debt than on health and education combined. To learn more – and find out what you and your faith community can do – visit Jubilee USA (www.jubileeusa.org). Locally, poor people are incarcerated at an alarming rate because of an inability to pay bail and court fees. Faith in Texas is working to end mass incarceration; you can find more information by clicking Live Free at faithintx.org.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate spoke to the crowd: “What do you wish me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So, after flogging Jesus, Pilate handed him over to be crucified.

God did not spare his own Son,
but delivered him up for us all.

HYMN: Precious Lord, Take My Hand ELW #773 

Let us pray.
Almighty God, your Son our Savior suffered at the hands of sinners and endured the shame of the cross. Grant that we may walk in the way of his cross and find it the way of life and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The first candle is extinguished.

SECOND STATION: JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS

Art: Christ Carrying the Cross
Benvenuto di Giovanni, 1491; Oil on Panel


Jesus, who willingly took up the Cross for humanity’s sake, also commanded us to take up our own crosses and follow him. Taking up our own crosses and giving ourselves in self-sacrificial love to help bear the burden of others is the model of vocation that God gave us in his Son. In a world where so many starve for daily bread, this vocation of sacrifice can be seen as amplifying the ancient imperative of God spoken through Isaiah, chapter 58: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, your light shall rise in the darkness. You shall be called repairer of the breach, restorer of streets to live in.” As you meditate upon the Second Station, consider the starving of the world, and the vast gap between the hungry and those who have plenty. To learn how you can participate and help make a difference, visit www.bread.org. or ELCA World Hunger at elca.org. Locally, visit The Network of Community Ministries at thenetwork.org. You can also connect with Unite the Church Dallas and their COPE poverty simulation at unitethechurch.org.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Carrying the cross by himself, Jesus went out to the place called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessing.

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all:
for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

HYMN: Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross ELW #335, vs. 1 & 4

Let us pray.
Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The second candle is extinguished.

 THIRD STATION: THE CROSS IS LAID ON SIMON OF CYRENE

Art: The Way to Calvary
Duccio di Buortinsegna, 1308-11; Tempera on Wood Panel


The Gospel tells us that as the weight of Jesus’ cross grew, the Roman soldiers compelled a man named Simon to step in and carry the Cross for a time. As you meditate upon the Third Station, consider the various weights placed upon God’s children each day, and the fact that often, others have to help carry the load. For example, in much of the developing world, the fees for basic primary and secondary education are so great that families have to choose which child, if any, can attend school. Disproportionately, those who are short-changed are girls, who then stay at home and help their mothers in long days of crushing labor. These young children bear burdens in place of others in their family, often – like Simon of Cyrene – with very little choice. To learn more about how school fees and other barriers to education hurt the world’s children – and what can be done to change this reality – visit Global Action for Children, a nationwide coalition at globalactionforchildren.org. Texas ranks #40 out of all states for funding education and received an “F” mark spending $3,100 less on average per students. Locally connect with Pastors for Texas Children which is working to increase funding for education across the state, at pastorsfortexaschildren.com.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.

HYMN: Lead Me, Guide Me ELW #768, vs. 1 & 3

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The third candle is extinguished.

 FOURTH STATION: JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM

Art: Wall Carving at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish
Pittsburgh, PA


Jesus, as continues to bear the weight of the cross, stops to speak to the women of Jerusalem, the ones who so often bear the burdens of wisdom and well-being for their families and communities. Education, civic empowerment, and access to health services for women affect not just women themselves, but also their families and communities. Among the most critical health services for women in the developing world is family planning, which gives women and their families the ability to plan and space births, thereby promoting maternal health, reducing child mortality, and allowing for a family’s economic survival. Each year, approximately 295,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, the majority in developing countries. It is also estimated that approximately one-third of maternal deaths could be prevented annually if women who did not wish to become pregnant had access to and used effective contraception. Additionally, maternal mortality rates in the US are the highest in the Western Hemisphere, and are four times higher for African American women than whites. Learn more at USAID.gov by looking under Global Health and Family Planning. Find out about the ELCA’s International Women Leaders program, and Justice for Women work at elca.org. You can promote economic and leadership for women and girls locally through the Texas Women’s Foundation at txwf.org.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

A great number of the people followed Jesus, and among them were women who were wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

HYMN: I Want Jesus to Walk with Me ELW #325 

Let us pray.
Teach your church, O Lord, to mourn the sins of which it is guilty, and to repent and forsake them; that, by your pardoning grace, the results of our iniquities may not be visited upon our children and our children’s children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The fourth candle is extinguished.

 FIFTH STATION: JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS

Art: This Disrobing of Christ
El Greco, c. 1600; Oil on Canvas


In a final act of humiliation before being lifted up on the cross, the Roman soldiers strip Jesus of his garments and divide them amongst themselves. As you meditate upon Christ’s humiliation, consider the many acts of humiliation endured daily by God’s people who live in poverty. Among the greatest humiliations is the inability to provide for one’s self, family, and community as a result of unfair international barriers to trade. Like debt relief and development aid, fair-trade policy is an essential pillar of global trade. Whereas debt relief and development aid are, by nature, intermediary steps to lift certain structural barriers from impoverished people, fair trade is a lasting measure to allow disempowered people to build a better future for themselves. To learn more about what makes trade fair, and how you can get involved, visit U.S. Fairtrade.net. Read about prosperity wages at tenbythree.org, and begin to make some of your own purchases from fair trade vendors for items like coffee from LWR.org, or buy chocolate, coffee and other products from shop.equalexchange.coop. Visit the Richardson Farmer’s Market at Coit and Belt Line on Saturdays (10-2) to support local vendors.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When they came to a place called Golgotha, they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. The soldiers divided his garments among them by casting lots. This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

They gave me gall to eat,
and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.

HYMN: Beneath the Cross of Jesus RED #338, vs. 1-2

Let us pray.
O God, your Son chose the path which led to pain before joy and the cross before glory. Plant his cross in our hearts, so that in its power and love we may come at last to joy and glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The fifth candle is extinguished.

 SIXTH STATION: JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS

Art: The Crucifixion
Peter Paul Rubens, 1620-21; Oil on Canvas


“And I, when I am lifted up from the cross, will draw all people to myself.” To Christians, these words of Jesus from the Gospel of John speak of the power of the cross to contain and enfold all the horror, pain and grief of the world in God’s uncompromising and enduring embrace of love. The cross is not merely our redemption, but also our reconciliation and restoration to God and to one another in Christ. As you meditate upon the Crucifixion at the sixth station, consider how we are called to the ministry of reconciliation in our own lives. Consider how all of the problems which afflict humanity – poverty, conflict, disease, injustice, racism – might be combated by building partnerships of reconciliation between nations and peoples. Humanity is fundamentally interconnected; we are, as St. Paul tells us, all limbs and members of the same body. Thus, when one part of the body suffers we all suffer. To learn more about the principle of interconnectedness – and how partnerships of reconciliation can help bring healing to humanity read about Peace Not Walls at elca.org under Publicly Engaged Church. Locally, you can attend the Richardson Interfaith Alliance events on the 3rd Thursday of the month; connect with Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation at dallastrht.org.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Jesus; and with him they crucified two criminals, one on the right, and one on the left. He poured out himself to death, and yet he bore the sin of many.

They pierce my hands and my feet;
they stare and gloat over me.

HYMN: Were You There ELW #353 vs. 1-3

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The sixth candle is extinguished.

 SEVENTH STATION: JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS

Art: The Crucifixion
Hans Mielich, c. 150/75
Oil on Canvas


“Through Christ,” St. Paul tells us, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether in heaven or on earth by making peace through the blood of the cross” (Col. 1:19-20). Despite God’s passionate desire for reconciliation and peace through the Blood of the Cross, humanity, in the first part of the 21st Century remains torn by conflict, strife, and war. Many nations have suffered including Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and now Ukraine. Find ways to help and specific ways to pray by going to Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran World Relief. Links can be found at elca.org or you can search these organizations directly. Our Women’s group (WELCA) continues to sew quilts, make health kits and school kits used in refugee camps. If you have extra resources, you can make a donation to help provide their supplies or join them in their efforts (write a check to WELCA and put “Kits” in the Memo Line).

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And when Jesus had received the vinegar he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Christ for us became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.

HYMN: They Crucified My Lord, He Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word ELW #350

Let us pray.
O God, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, so that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection; who lives and reigns now and forever.
Amen

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The seventh candle is extinguished.

EIGHTH STATION: JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB

Art: Deposition in the Sepulchre
Marten Van Heemskerk, Date Unknown; Oil on Canvas


At the end of the story of Good Friday, nothing but death remains. Humanity has brought God’s Son to the tomb, sealing him behind an immovable stone. But to God, through whom all things are possible, no barrier is immovable. Through the sacrifice and death of Christ, even death itself is no longer a barrier to life for the children of God. And thus, even at funerals, we proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “O death where is your victory, o death, where is your sting?” (1Cor 15:55). As you meditate upon Jesus in the tomb, consider that the Church – the Body of Christ in the world – is called by God to carry forward Christ’s reconciling sacrifice by helping bring life even in the midst of death. One way we do this is through fidelity to our Baptismal covenant, in which we promise to “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” To get involved with ELCA’s ministry of public advocacy, visit church’s Office on Advocacy for resources, Action Items and to sign up for Advocacy Alerts: Go to elca.org, click on Our Work, Publicly Engaged Church, and then Advocacy.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb.

You will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see corruption.

HYMN: O Sacred Head Now Wounded ELW #351 vs. 1 & 3

Let us pray.
O God, your blessed Son was laid in a tomb in a garden, and rested on the Sabbath day. Grant that we who have been buried with him in the waters of baptism may find our perfect rest in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy and hear us.

The eighth candle is extinguished.

CONCLUSION
Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us.
Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.

Let us pray.
We thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and brought us into the kingdom of your Son; and we pray that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

The ninth candle is extinguished (added because we have a 9-candle candelabra--you can light the taper and carry out the light of Christ, and then come back in for a moment as a sign that the light will return on Easter).

To Christ our Lord who loves us, washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God and Creator, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.
Amen.

Please depart in silence and place your offering in the plate on the table in the entry way.

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Upping the Ante on the Golden Rule

DaViniceLastSupperMessage for Maundy Thursday on John 13:1-17, 31b-35 given on April 14, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. You can watch this sermon or the entire worship service here.  

[On Palm Sunday, after the processaional entry, offering and prayers, we did a Living Lord's Supper drama with actors dressed and seated like the DaVinci painting pictured here (the script is designed for Maundy Thursday, but we wanted the bigger Sunday crowd!). We adapted the script for Palm Sunday and you can watch the video here.]

When I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?

It was much later when I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loves them, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.

Jesus reveals the radical nature of his love, which is hard for us to grasp and embrace. The nature of Jesus’ love is so far from our experience and our most basic human tendencies.

We are more familiar with the Iron Rule*—Do unto others before they do unto you

This rule represents the survival of the fittest—I am going to take from you before you take from me. My needs and my priorities determine my actions toward others and nothing else. We see the Iron Rule writ large in the news in the Russian war against Ukraine. The attitude is that they will take what they want however they see fit because what they need is all that matters regardless of the method, and who dies in the process. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.

Then we move up to the Silver Rule . . .Do unto others as they do unto you.

The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It is a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism.

The silver rule is why we love classic movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom, and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, because it offers a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we do not trust others, we hang back, only responding based on how others’ treat us.

Then we move up to the Golden Rule—this is the rule that we know the best. Jesus gives us the Golden Rule in Luke chapter 6 when he says, "do to others as you would have them do to you." Every major religion shares the Golden rule in common containing some version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in their teachings. We all learned this in elementary school, and we are all the better for it.

 But there is a drawback to the Golden Rule—it is limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining other people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own experience or culture. My husband, Dan works through this every week serving a multi-cultural church in Garland. The role of an elder in Pakistan or Cameroon is different from an elder here, so communication about expectations and how to treat one another is essential to build Christian community. The Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations because the way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.

This moves us one step higher up to the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We must get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value, and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we do every day because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship, to marriage, to parent-child relationships, to cross-cultural dialog and ministry.

We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in a relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants.

Asking this question, "What do you need us to do?" is important as we seek to create more just and equitable systems and workplaces in our society in the wake of the #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements. It requires deep listening and real relationships to understand other people’s experiences which may be different from our own.

Which brings us to tonight when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships even more with a New Commandment, which is called the Titanium Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done to you. This is what Jesus means when he says to his disciples at the Last Supper: "I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?

On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it:

• Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
• Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
• Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom, and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
• He’s facing an excruciating death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.

If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and horrible hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you? What does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus does not stop there. He dives even deeper.

Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is to serve those who fail you, to embrace the ones who hurt you, to indulge the ones who do not show up when you need them most.

Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-boyfriend, ex-wife, your ex--whomever--that’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow.

How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to this table where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, "this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am. Be filled with my Spirit."

And he already knows—he already knows that at some point, we will abandon, deny, and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, "come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward as best you can. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, because you show up to love, because you show up to forgive."

Jesus says, "Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on."

*This desription of human relationships with metal names come from the work of Leonard Sweet, Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Drew Theological Seminary

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Rules Be Damned!

Camera Setup: "BetterLight 6150 | IR 2mm | HID Buhl", Artwork Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, scan.tif", Artwork Colors: "Acrylic Paints.txt", White Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, white scan.tif", White Colors: "Foamcore White.txt", Yoked Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, scan_yoked.tif"Message for Lent 5 on John 12:1-8 on April 3, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

If we wanted to seek a biblical model of what it looks like to “grow your heart”(our theme for Lent) in relationship with Jesus, Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with expensive nard and wiping them with hair would be at the top of my list. In Luke, we see her sitting at Jesus’ feet learning like any true follower, absorbing all she can. Now she takes her disciples to the next level, she gives Jesus the most precious gift she has—not just the expensive perfume, but the gift of her devotion, her discipleship, her love—she gives the gift of her complete self.

It’s hard to underestimate the radical nature of her actions in this story—everything she does is wrong and against custom, common practice, and long-held tradition:

Everyone’s feet were already washed before they came into the house. Dusty roads shared with animals makes for dirty feet shod with sandals—and no one allowed guests into their house without the first act of hospitality which is the washing of feet by the household slave or a woman. Jesus’ feet did not need further attention.

Women were not supposed to be entering the dining room except to serve, so why was May compelled to go in? Jesus had miraculously raised Martha and Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead after 4 days—4 days!—and she was overcome with gratitude and for Jesus. Her brother was alive—in a way that was just imaginable—he had been really dead—stinky dead—and here they were, hosting a dinner party to celebrate hi new life. At the same time Jesus was speaking of his own death—everything felt upside down—death was not final and Jesus, who was so powerful seemed precarious in his--Mary would not be denied this time with either her brother, or with Jesus regardless of the rules. So into the dining room she went with a perfume that overcame the recent stench of death.

Mary begins touching Jesus as she anoints his feet with her perfumed oil. Men and women were prohibited from touching each other in public; in fact men weren’t even supposed to speak to a woman who was not his wife, mother or daughter. Another boundary thrown to the wind.

Scandal escalates with Mary’s hair loose and flowing which she uses as a towel. Because a woman’s loose hair was viewed as too sensual, it was taboo for a woman to have her hair unbound.

Mary’s extravagant nard is worth a laborer’s entire years’ salary and she uses it all to perfume Jesus’ feet—a symbolic act of “anointing” Jesus. Anointing was reserved for kings, prophets or priests who were called by God for a special task, but such anointing was done by a male priest in Jerusalem—NOT by a a layperson, not in Bethany where the poor and the sick were cared for, and certainly not by a woman.

It’s an outrageous scene that Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ is being lavishly anointed for his journey to the cross by a poor, small-town, laywoman, who, in a moment of unbridled devotion, breaks through every boundary and tradition in the books. Can you see the layers of meaning?

• Mary is a priest who anoints Jesus –not for a traditional kingly role, but for burial and like he did for Lazarus—to take away the stench of death for all eternity
• Mary is a faithful disciple whose foot-wiping foreshadows Jesus washing of the disciple’s feet; She already loves like Jesus commands before he even asks the disciples at the Last Supper to love one another as he has loved them. Her will is in union with Jesus’ will and mission—she not only understands the level of love and service Jesus’ calls for, she embodies it even before Jesus himself does.
• Mary is Christlike as she offers her body and her unbound hair for sacrificial service—opening herself to ridicule and shame to show love and gratitude. She signals to Jesus he will not be left alone when is scourging begins, she will remain by him.
• Mary is a fragrant offering, giving away the most expensive, precious thing she has because of the abundance she experiences in the fullness of her relationship with Jesus. Life with Jesus is abundance—grace upon grace.

Rules be damned; Mary risks it all—she offers her whole self to Jesus—perhaps because she knows by now, that this is precisely what Jesus is doing for them— risking it all—offering his whole self to us—for God so loved the world, the cosmos, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Mary sees how precious Jesus’ gift of himself is, so she offers the precious gift of herself in return.

That is truly what these Lenten weeks before Easter are all about, are they not? To help us see Jesus and who he is and what he does for us as clearly as Mary—to see what he offers us as precious, as the heart and center of our lives—our breath, our strength, our hope.

And then to offer something precious in return—our whole selves, our heart, our life, the fragrance of our faith and prayers. Like Mary, we want to give our unbridled devotion that does not give a rip about others’ expectations or what any Judas thinks, because the death and life of Jesus Christ is blessed assurance, undying love, and unmerited forgiveness. And that is worth whatever precious gift I can give—it is worth the time I can give God in prayer, the help I can offer in service, the support and connection I can give and receive in this community, the growth I can gain in Bible study, the abundance I can share with the poor.

We all have something precious to give Jesus for the growing of the kingdom in this place—a part of ourselves in love and service and devotion so that others will know how precious he is to us, to our family, to this church and to our mission. What is your precious gift that you can offer so that our outreach and love expands and more people know of precious gift of Jesus Christ?

When Mary’s rule-breaking behavior was criticized, Jesus defended her, “leave her alone,” he orders. “She gets it—she gets that my devotion to you is pure and precious and complete—that’s why God sent me. And she gets that the best way to experience it is with your whole precious self—Mary is all in.

In that moment, all the rules and barriers are broken open—death isn’t even reliable anymore—look at Lazarus—and he is just the first chapter so stay tuned on that one! The kingdom that is coming is a kingdom of life and abundance and resurrection and love—Mary is the only one who sees the magnitude of love and abundance that breaks open the rules; and breaks open the expensive jar of perfume; and breaks open Lazarus’ tomb; and breaks open the seal on Jesus’ tomb.

Break open your heart, like Mary and pour out with love, the precious gift of yourself in return for what Jesus has done for you.

As we each give ourselves and our precious gifts and become One with Jesus in his will and mission, and to the building of Christ’s kingdom,

    • we like Mary, will be priests, in the priesthood of all believers, anointing more believers for mission in Jesus’ name 
    • we like Mary, will be faithful disciples, serving and loving others as Jesus commands
    • we like Mary will offer ourselves in sacrificial service as we grow in our outreach to our community
    • we like Mary will become a fragrant offering as we share the abundance and richness of God’s love for all –an extravagant love that breaks down barriers and walls and traditions that have kept people apart, away and alienated from each other and from God.

You and your heart are precious gifts to Jesus and to us.

Purchase this Art  Image and others by Lauren Wrigh Pitman at lewpstudio.com.

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