Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent, "Finding Bethany", John 12:1-811

We never truly miss home until we're not there. It sounds silly and obvious, but I don't mean "not there" because we're at school, work, or on vacation. I mean when we leave home for whatever reason and by the time we make it back it's not the same as when we left it. We never truly appreciate mom's meatloaf until we're forced to eat MRE's, college cafeteria food, or Ramen Noodles every night. We never realize how great our hometown is until we're living in the bad part of some town, or in a city 5 times the size of our hometown and we have no idea were anythings at, or we're stationed at some military base in some far off country where no one speaks our language or embraces our way of living. We don't ever see how awesome or home church is, whether its a small country church of 10, or a suburban mega church of 10,000 until we're forced to find a new church home and none of the churches around worship like our church did, preach like our pastor did and have church dinners like the ladies at our church provided.  None of this is as important or as valuable to us until it's not there, like the old saying, "absences makes the heart grow fonder." The day we have to move away from home because of school or work or because of joining the military or even because of marriage is the day we begin to realize we can't ever really go home.

I remember as a high school senior not being able to wait until the day when I would pack up my bags and go away to college. I didn't go to an in state school or even a school in the region, no I went to a school 1500 miles away from home! I thought it was great!!! I recall the anticipation of the move the week before and how all the excitement built up until the morning my mom and dad and I pulled out of our driveway and begin the long drive from Detroit to Dallas. It took us about 2 1/2 days to get there. We arrived the day before new students could check into the dorm so we spent the day looking around town and eventually spent the night at a motel only 2 miles from the campus. I had been there before as a high school student touring the campus as I tried to make a decision about were I would attend college, but the campus had grown quite a bit in the 18months or so since I had been there. We arrived at the campus early, I got all my residential life information and proceeded to my dorm. I was in an upper class-men dorm (my parents paid the extra $250 per semester so I didn't have to stay in the freshman dorm).  I stopped at the Dorm Directors office and picked my my key and the name of my roommate, his name was Clifford. Now keep in mind I grew up in a very sheltered environment so what I was about to say was a shock to me and to some of you might find it offensive. I walked onto my hall and found my room. Out of curtsey I knocked instead of just barging in. There was no answer, all though I knew someone was in there because I could hear the loud hip-hop music pounding through the door. I knocked one more time and a large black man answered the door in a wave cap and cheetah print man panties (they were bikini briefs, but I call the man panties). I WAS...SHOCKED! I thought to myself, who is this guy and what has he done with Clifford!!! I stood there silently staring for what seemed like an eternity. The large black man then said, "can I help you?" I said...."um, yeah...I'm looking for Clifford, he's my roommate." The man said, "That me!!! welcome to the crib!!!" I walked in and sat my things down on the top bunk. He sat down on an old dirty couch and said, "have a seat bro...mi casa, su casa!!"(he meant mi casa es tu casa...I assume) To make a long story short cliff and I became very good friends and still are to this day. It was funny how much I wanted to leave home, but it didn't take long for me to be terribly home sick! I spent most of my college days feeling like I couldn't wait to get back home to good ole Detroit, where the food was better, the people where nicer and the churches weren't as weird. It seems like we are all always trying to go home again, but never really can.

We know from the gospels that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, spent a few years as a baby living in Egypt and then his family moved to Nazareth of Galilee, but he never really has a home town once he begins his ministry. He was on the road a lot as an itinerate preacher (something us Methodist preachers know a thing or two about) and faith healer. When he tried to go home his neighbors and even relatives tried to kill by stoning him and throwing him off a cliff. This experience lead him to say, "Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has no where to lay his head." It's often hard for us to except the fact that, for all express purposes, Jesus was homeless (he at least meets the federal guidelines in America for what is defined as homelessness). As a side bar, I'd like us to take a few moments to consider the 10million homeless people in America and let it dawn on us that, Jesus was homeless too. Perhaps that might help us see how God feels about the homeless and how important it is for us to find ways as individuals to help them. Jesus had no home, but he did have a place where it  "felt like home". A place were he went for fellowship and love, a place where he could get a warm, home cooked meals and stay in a nice warm were he could just simply be himself without all the pressures of being the messiah. That place was Bethany.

Author Frank Viola says that "Bethany was Jesus' favorite place on earth." Bethany was his "home away from home" so to speak. He found great joy and solace in the company of Mary, Martha and their bother Lazarus. These people where not "the 12", they were not needy, broken, and impoverished people who constantly were taking from Jesus, they were his friends, they were part of the support system that made so much of Jesus and the 12's ministry possible and it was with them at their home Jesus went the week before he was to endure his greatest suffering. I've been saying all through Lent that this time is a time of reflection and devotion, not a time of suffering and sacrifice. In the spirit of that statement I'd like to ask, where is your Bethany?....Where is your favorite place on earth? Where is the place you go to recharge, refill, and relax...spiritually, physically and emotionally? Where is that place you go where you can simply be yourself without all the pressures of family, marriage or work? Bethany is not necessarily your home or your church and it's not always a place you go regularly, but often is a place you go when you've had enough or things are about to really, really difficult. It seems like our Bethany's can change was we grow older or move about. When I was a kid my Bethany was my church. I loved and still do love my home church. Whenever I went there I was met by gracious, excepting and loving people. I'd go there after school, on the weekends, whenever the doors were open because I felt at peace there. As I got older and moved away to college my parents house became my Bethany and after I go married and had became my bethany...j/k ;). My Bethany now is at the home of one of my Parish members. She's an old lady who reminds my of my grandmother. She makes coffee for me in the mornings if I stop by and fixes me lunch once or twice a week. I could even take a nap there if I needed to. I just know that when I'm there I'm safe, I can relax, recharge and unwind and there's no pressure to be anything other than myself.  Wherever you are, however old you need to find Bethany, Jesus it must be important.

Nothing seems to reminded us of home more than smells. There is incredible research that thinks the powerful bond between smells and memories. For example, when I was 12 my grandmother, grand-mère as we called her (a tribute to our French Canadian heritage) died. I was there at the funeral home not to long after she was prepared for viewing. It was so recent we could still smell the formaldehyde. To this day, when I smell formaldehyde I remember my grand-mère's death. Of course that is a morbid memory and I have many more that are not, such as the smell of sun tan lotion and how it reminds me of my of growing up spending my summers in Northern Michigan on Lake Huron. Some of you have strong memories of Dad, grand dad or your husbands when you smell a certain after shave or shaving creme. Some of you have strong memories of your mother when you smell certain foods cooking or a certain kind of detergent or cleaning solution or a certain  kind of perfume....This bring us to the end of this passage and a certain perfume that provided good and strong memories for Jesus.

At the end of this passage Mary burst into the room where Jesus and the other men are reclining after the meal. She has with her a very costly perfume known as nard. Nard was a burial perfume, it was very potent and would cover the smell of death. It was applied to the rotting corpuses of family members so they could continue to be viewed and prepared after death. This particular jar of Nard was most likely the very same jar of Nard that was to be used on Lazarus after he died. Mary and Martha were reluctant to anoint Lazarus's body because they had faith that even after four days of being dead, if Jesus was there, their brother would live again. I think it's amazing that after all this time of preaching and teaching Mary was the only one who got it....she understood that Jesus was going to suffer and even die. Her last act of devotion was to anoint the body of her Lord, her savior...her friend before he went off to face the political and religious oppressors of the day. Five days before his arrest and execution Mary poured a very potent perfume on Jesus feet, potent enough to have stayed with him through the whole ordeal. I have to wonder if at the worst moments, as those whips came across his back, as the blows landed on his head, as the crown of thorns pierced his the nails punctured his hands and feet...did he remember Bethany? Did he recall the joy, the love, the peace he felt there with his "family" and if so...did it strengthen his resolve and supply him with the courage he needed to finish his fathers work? Where is your Bethany? And have you been there lately? Recent enough at least to give you the strength and the courage to keep on the journey. This fifth week of Lent the gospel challenges us to find Bethany.

Lenten Blessing
Pastor Josh

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