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

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Prodigal Love

prodigal son wayne pascallMessage for Lent 4 on Luke 15:1-3,11b-32 on March 27, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson

Lavish. Extravagant. Excessive. Wasteful. Reckless. Wanton. Prodigal. The question of the parable, is who or what is the real prodigal?

These seem apt descriptors of the younger son’s behavior in this famous story Jesus tells the religious leaders who are grumbling about the way he associates with the losers of society. The Pharisees and the scribes believe they have earned the right to engage with the young rabbi—they are the cream of the cop and do not understand why Jesus would waste his time with sinners and tax collectors and other such good-for-nothings.

Jesus spins out his story about how truly terribly the younger son acts—in addition to his dissolute living, he also behaves shamefully— he treats his father as if he were dead and severs the relationship by asking for his inheritance as he heads out of town for a new life. Of course, it is not easy being the second son—ask any second son you know. In ancient times, it meant he would get only 1/3 of the inheritance, no property, and would always be destined to live in the shadow of his older brother. The only way to make a different future for himself is to leave; and because he has dishonored his father, he should never return.

But making a name for himself is not as easy as it first appears, and his self-indulgence leads to failure. The good times last as long as the money does, and when a famine hits, the younger son has no savings, no plan, no family network to rely on, and he sinks rapidly. He languishes in a foreign country feeding pigs forbidden by his own people; he is starving and alone, and hits bottom realizing the error of his ways. Extravagantly wasteful. Excessively reckless. Lavishly wanton. Prodigal does sound like an apt description.
He prepares his confession and his apology to his father and makes his way home. He is prepared to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household.

The father as it turns out, has also been wasting time scanning the horizon for the son who declared him dead. Finally, one day he sees his son’s figure approaching off in the distance. The father does what men never do in his culture—he behaves like a woman or a slave—and he runs out to meet his son as he approaches the property. Fathers would normally sit and wait to receive the one visiting after someone else brings them into the house. But no, this father, is so moved with extravagant love and excessive compassion, that he leaves all custom and male dignity behind and runs out to welcome his son home.

Before his son can speak his confession and apology, the father hugs and kisses him—the son is forgiven before he confesses, he is loved before he apologizes, he is honored before he humbles himself for dishonoring his father.

The son finally gets out his confession and apology “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father is too busy planning a party to celebrate his son’s return and treats him, not like a slave, but like royalty—a feast and a robe, a ring, and sandals, “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

Extravagantly wasteful. Excessively reckless. Lavishly wanton. A father showering his lost younger son with prodigal love. Forgiveness before confession. Love without apology. Acceptance for just showing up. Joy at being found. Love and honor that cannot be squandered no matter how spectacularly hard he tried. That is the prodigal love of the father.
The dutiful older brother does not seem so excited that his brother is back safe and sound. Or maybe he is glad that he is safe, but not that his dad is throwing a good party after bad choices. Prodigal love makes no sense to those who play by the rules, work hard, show up every day, and do what they are supposed to do. Parties are earned, rewards are accounted for, celebrations are the result of daily toil, and paying your dues.

This is the system the scribes and pharisees understand—they share the anger of the older brother and refuse to join the party where the lost have been found. The older son argues with his father: ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Might we say, Extravagantly resentful. Excessively prideful. Lavishly burdened. The prodigal older brother has lived with blessing and family, the promise of a 2/3 inheritance, all the land and the love of his father his whole life—and he has not experienced it, he has not received it as blessing, has not enjoyed it.

His father says to him, as if to explain the obvious: ‘”Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” “There is nothing to earn. Goats and parties, and fatted calves and forgiveness and prodigal fatherly love have always been and will always be yours. You cannot earn it. It is already given—it is your inheritance as my child. You are already living in it, on it, with it, from it, through it—receive it, enjoy it, use it, experience it as blessing and life—with all of my love.”

The prodigal love of the father has always been showered on the older son in the same way it is now poured out on the younger son—can the older brother, can the pharisees, can we see, that this is how God has always loved us? That it never came from getting anything right—but simply because we are God’s sons and daughters? God’s love cannot be lost, manipulated, earned, or controlled by misguided waste or prideful labor.

The younger son cannot squander away the father’s prodigal love and he cannot confess his way back into right standing—because the Extravagantly wasteful, Excessively reckless, Lavishly wanton love of God runs out to meet us when we stray and turn our hearts toward home.

The older son cannot earn the prodigal father’s love by dutiful hard work and perfect service—because all that God has to offer is already ours—a full inheritance of forgiveness, freedom, and joy through Jesus Christ. The Extravagantly wasteful, Excessively reckless, Lavishly wanton love of God invites us into the party of the resurrection where we see that all we have, and all that we are from beginning to end, comes from God’s gracious prodigal hand.

We do not know if the older brother went into the party because we finish the story by joining the party and inviting others in!
So join the party –the Lord’s table is set—all sinners are welcome –and that means you! When you stray—come home and receive the party! When you are prideful and judging others—let it go—all you have has already been given by God—join the party!

 Purchase Art Image by Wayne Pascall

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Being Willing

henchicksunderwingMessage for Lent 2 on Luke 13:31-35 on March 13, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. Our theme for Lent has been, "Grow Your Heart."

Since moving from Frisco to Richardson, I have finally gone to the new dentist close to our new home. I am embarrassed to say he has offered to come to St. Luke’s to teach all of you how to brush your teeth properly—because he is afraid you are all following my bad example (I wish I were kidding!).

I have a Sonicare, the automatic toothbrush—which I am supposed to let do the cleaning for me. I am not very good at that. So, my dentist has had to use filling amalgam –not for fillings—but instead to fill in at the base of my teeth where I am brushing off the enamel and wearing away my gums.

I joked with him that maybe I am trying to brush away my sins—which means I am an even worse example than poor toothbrushing since I am a Lutheran pastor who’s been ordained for almost 33 years to preach one primary message and that is grace--Gods’ unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness of us in Jesus Christ.

So why am I brushing the hell out of my teeth and gums?

But grace is hard to accept, isn’t it?

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Yes, grace is hard to accept. Jesus laments that Jerusalem—or all of us—are not willing. It’s so simple—that Jesus loves us as we are, forgives us freely, accepts us and embraces us, giving us the freedom to grow from there. But it’s hard to really accept that kind of love –I mean really accept it—down to our enamel, deep in our bones in a way so that we can treat ourselves differently—so we can treat our body with love rather than harshness or shame, with kindness rather than like a disappointed drill sergeant.
Or what about that internal conversation we always have going on in our heads. You know we talk to with ourselves more than anyone else—how well do we accept God’s grace for us there in how we talk to ourselves in our own head? Most of us are not very good at accepting grace in this internal conversation—using more criticism and “should, coulda, woulda” and “why didn’t you” and “you musts” and we save kindness for everyone else but us.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is a maternal lament—so much outpouring of love and acceptance and inclusion to offer—but we have to be willing, I have to be willing, you have to be willing-- to accept that deep, forgiving, comforting, protective, fierce kind of maternal, Godly, grace-filled love.

But we resist—Jesus is hanging there with his arms open wide, and we recite a creed, and we believe our faith statements, but we hold back parts of ourselves, corners of our heart, sections of our lives, ways of thinking where we do not allow love and grace to permeate, to free us, to change our behavior, our self-talk, our thought patterns.
There are many reasons why— for me, it’s always feeling unworthy and feeling like I have to earn it. For others it’s feeling that we do not matter, or a fear of being abandoned or betrayed, or unsafe, or that we are not special enough, or we simply have too much anxiety to trust anyone, including God. Whatever our gut issue, it comes back to being in control as way to manage our life and emotions.

But here is Jesus who knows us and lived like us and put on our skin and knows every last one of our anxieties worries and gut issues, looking at us and saying,
“you are behaving like a scared little chick in a storm. I am right here. You are scratching and clawing away at life to get to the place where you already are by grace. Come on in, tuck under my wing, my love, you’re already here, grace is for you, for all of you, for your whole life, and for all the other chicks in your life.”
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
Can you become willing?

Can we embrace the freedom of letting go of the negative control, for the gift of embracing the freedom and kindness of grace? By grace we have been saved, yes, yes of course we can.

So the way are growing our hearts this week of Lent is to identify one area of our life where would like to move from being unwilling to accept God’s grace to being willing to tuck under Jesus’ wing of love and forgiveness, and acceptance.

So, where are you treating yourself with harshness instead of love and kindness? What is one area you can become willing to let go of controlling your own way and come under Jesus’ wing of love and let forgiveness, wholeness, and acceptance of yourself in that situation flow through you and give you a new way to approach it--- a new way to behave, exercise, or talk with yourself, or manage a habit.

I talked with my friend, Karen this week and she has always struggled with procrastination, and we talked about what this would like for her to stop beating herself up for it and embrace grace. And she laughed when I told her the toothbrush story, because me being hard on myself came as no surprise to her. So we talked about how I can slow down and use it as a time to pray rather than rushing to get the next thing done. 

Because my issue is not ultimately just about tooth brushing—when myself care routines are so harsh, they do damage, I have not allowed God’s grace and love to permeate this part of my life---I need to tuck under Jesus’ love and acceptance and forgiveness and reimagine them from a place of unconditional love how all my self-care habits can come from kindness and acceptance rather controlled “you better shape up” kind of harshness. (If you hang out with my long enough you realize everything can have spiritual significance—even tooth brushing!).

Growing our hearts this week involves accepting Jesus unconditional maternal love for us, as he embraces us in all of who we are, and loves us into the freedom of grace.
When you become willing for Jesus to love you in this fierce and tender, unwavering maternal way, just imagine all the harsh stress you can be freed from! Just think for a minutes if you released just some of the shame, guilt, unworthiness, fear, anxiety, lack of trust, self-criticism and judgments you carry—what energy will be released! This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said for freedom Christ has set us free. To stand off by ourselves unwilling to come under Jesus’ complete wing of love is to be trapped and stuck. But to run, willing and ready to allow Jesus’ complete forgiveness, acceptance and grace wash over us and spill into our thoughts, our behaviors, our actions, how we treat ourselves—that releases and frees us like only God’s liberating love can.

We become magnets of grace who exude love and possibility because people drawn to those who shine the light of Christ and love to the world; people are drawn to those who are overflowing with love. (And in case you were wondering, it all starts with patiently and softly rolling your toothbrush down from the gums on the top, and up from the gums on the bottom!)

I would love to hear how YOU are becoming more willing to accept Jesus love and grace more deeping into your life, as we all become greater beacons of light as God loves us forward into our higher selves.

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The Wilderness is Now

ronan furuta OPv10mICdJk unsplashMessage for Lent 1 on Luke 4:1-13 given on March 6, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

It's usually like watching a short play isn’t it? We used to hear the temptation story cheering Jesus on from the audience. We wait for the grand finale, the music swells, Jesus defeats the devil, we jump from our seat for the standing ovation, and then we go back to our lives until next week’s drama. This story seemed so far removed from anything in our life—it’s just how Jesus’ ministry begins, it gives us the 40-days of Lent before Easter when we give up chocolate until the Easter bunny comes, yada, yada, yada…

But this year feels different. Two long weary years different. The coronavirus is in retreat for the moment, but who knows how long that will last? Certainly, its effects on the economy, political divisiveness, the increased drug and alcohol use, and the pandemic pounds around our wastes make the temptations of the devil (literally “ho diabolos—the diabolic one) in the wilderness for Jesus to satisfy his own desires with bread, feel close at hand.

The images of war, civilian deaths, hospitals, and neighborhoods being bombed, talk of nuclear threat, and millions, especially children and their mothers, fleeing Ukraine—make the power grab of the diabolic one in the wilderness into thinking he can wield kingdoms and increase Jesus’ power, sound very real.

The amount of stress we each are managing, the mental health struggles, anxiety, depression, and other issues surfacing in ourselves, our family and friends make the distrust and testing of God and the misuse of Scripture by the devil in the wilderness, feel a little too close to home.

Life has catapulted us from the audience of this story onto the glare of the stage. And the truth is, this wilderness is not just the place where Jesus begins his ministry—but rather, this temptation story shows us that all of Jesus’s life and ministry is a wilderness experience; this first wilderness is where he needed to hone his survival skills and learn to completely trust God.

Jesus will be tempted in every way, everyday—to give up his ministry:

• when he is rejected in his hometown,
• when he is challenged and questioned by both religious and political leaders,
• when his own followers do not understand him,
• when his family thinks he is crazy,
• when mobs press in on him and then abandon him,
• when he prays for the cup of crucifixion to passed from him—

Yes! All of Jesus’s life and ministry is a wilderness experience, tempting him not to trust in God’s power and God’s plan.

And yes, it is true for all of us who follow him. Poet Cheryl Lawrie draws us in this way:

i just realized
that in my imagination
the wilderness is always somewhere else;
a foreign landscape i actively have to enter
in the act of being faithful.

the wilderness is always where i am
right now
and faith is the courage to stay with it
when i’d rather pretend i am
anywhere else.

The wilderness is where we are right now with temptations the devil—the diabolic one—uses to thwart God’s ultimate power in our life, and our ability to trust completely in God.

With each temptation, Jesus shows us how to completely trust God, how to keep God center stage, the ultimate power in our life—how to grow our heart, so that it belongs to God alone.

Jesus is famished, having not eaten in 40 days, so the first temptation is for Jesus to use his authority to turn a stone into bread to satiate his own personal cravings and desires. But Jesus is filled with a greater power than physical desire—he is full of the Holy Spirit. He quotes Deuteronomy 8- “One does not live by bread alone.’” Human life is more than our cravings; instead, we live by the provision of God as did the Israelites who received manna in the wilderness. How important for us in this wilderness, coming out of the last phase of pandemic that our most important provision is to be filled with Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to grow our heart and to turn the Lord for our sustenance. Giving in to temporary desires only leads to more and more cravings that never deeply satisfy, as does the love of the Lord your God.

The diabolic one then takes him up and shows him all the kingdoms of the Roman empire, claiming them as his own, if only Jesus will worship him. It’s almost humorous, how deluded the devil is—thinking all of this is really his. But Jesus is full of a different kind of power—the Holy Spirit. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy again and rebuts the devil with the True Eternal Owner of all, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Jesus sees that if attaining fame requires becoming a servant to the diabolic one, the cost is too high. Jesus shows us that for faithful disciples, there can be no price too high for loyalty to Jesus Christ. Full of the Holy Spirit, we are willing to suffer energy and other material costs to save lives and find ways to deescalate the threat of further conflict.

From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, the devil gives Jesus the third temptation: to test God by throwing himself down for a dramatic rescue. God would have to save him if God’s plan to usher in the kingdom through Jesus were to be fulfilled. Here the devil tries to use Jesus’s tactic against him—by quoting Scripture at him to make it sound like a legitimate request. Scripture can be used to justify anything, right? But testing and putting God on trial is a self-serving, and Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, makes this clear to the diabolic one when he quotes Deuteronomy again, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

How difficult it is to not test and bargain with God when we are weighed down with worries of people we love, when we cannot see how the problems, anxieties, and crises are going to be resolved—and we grasp at some form of control and rescue. Jesus invites us to shift our attention to Scriptures that rekindle our awareness of the Holy Spirit within us and help us trust in God’s power, presence, and provision in the wilderness. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…I will never leave you nor forsake you..” “I have chosen you and not cast you off…Do not fear for I am with you…”

the wilderness is always where i am
right now
and faith is the courage to stay with it

The wilderness is the place where Jesus cements a trusting relationship with God—a deep, abiding relationship that gave him Holy Spirit power to fulfill his purpose, to usher in the kingdom, to break the power of evil and save us from sin, death and the devil. He remained faithful through the cross and onto Easter morning.

The wilderness is here this moment, and it is a place of cheering—not from the audience, but from center stage. For right now is the place where Jesus grows our heart—giving us the Holy Spirit in a faith that sustains us, granting us strength to live with courage, and deep trust in God who is the ultimate and only true power in our life.

Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

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