April 12

Read: John 12:1-8

What an image! The house reeking of expensive perfume; a woman rubbing her hair on Jesus’ feet.

I can’t help but sympathize with Judas’ scandalized response, despite the special care taken to cast aspersions on his motivations. Surely, he’s got a point. A year’s worth of wages could have fed quite a few people. Jesus’ feet hardly needed anointing in any palpable way. It was, in many regards, a frivolous, even indulgent and sensual, act.

But then, I think of 1 Corinthians: “If I have faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

The “keeper of the money bag” may have done the “greater good” towards more people even after skimming money from donations, but his actions were devoid of love, and therefore a pale shadow of the holy teachings.

The extravagant and almost comical way that Mary expressed her love and gratitude is not the essential element to me. Instead, it’s that she was expressing love wholeheartedly and without care for appearances.

It’s indubitably important to try to maximize our resources and help those in need. But our Christianity is bound primarily *in love*. In seeing Jesus in each other and rejoicing at our glimpses of god-in-man that we experience every single day in the ones we love. We can spread the deepest heart of Christianity merely by greeting every person in our lives with unrestrained joy.

Hold and celebrate your loved ones.

Jesus, help us to be lavish in our care of others. Amen.

-Adella Wright

April 11

Read: John 12:1-8

Last March, my grandmother took a fall and ended up in the ER at Skagit Valley Hospital. As one of the people with her medical Power of Attorney, my mom rushed to be with her, and that meant that Daniel had to come to church with me. OK… not a problem. I loaded up his backpack with Cheerios, both of his tablets, and his charger before setting out to grab the coffee I needed to make it through the rest of the morning.

Worship was going beautifully. Keith Axberg and Vicki Wesen were subbing in because Helen was sick, and it came time for me to go up front to sing with the choir for the Offertory. It was “Fall Slow Tears, a beautiful choral piece based on Psalm 51 with an amazing alto part, and I was in the zone singing it.

When I looked up to take a breath toward the end, I caught a glimpse of Daniel dancing in the aisle. I was singing this beautiful piece, and MY KID WAS DANCING IN THE AISLE!!!!! I was so embarrassed! What would people think?!?!?!? Little did I know that people thought it was adorable and that I would hear about how wonderful it was that my child was dancing in the aisle and *gasp* ENJOYING HIMSELF IN CHURCH!

I am saddened to say that I could identify partly with Judas in this week’s Gospel. He found Mary’s behavior to be a complete and utter embarrassment. What a spectacle she was making of herself! She, a woman, was touching a man… AND WITH HER HAIR!!! That nard could have been sold to raise money for the poor (or more likely, Judas’s pockets)!

Thank heavens that Jesus is the Messiah, and not Judas or me. Jesus got the meaning behind the act and knew that Mary meant to do something in love to honor him. Her action foreshadowed Jesus’ death in ways that I don’t know that she understood, but that did not matter at the moment. She wanted to do something in love… so she did!

Dear Jesus, thank you for kids dancing in the aisles of churches and women stepping out and acting in love. Amen.

-Jen McCabe

April 10

Read: John 12:1-8

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

I will confess that little irritates me as much as a miser. I shouldn’t do such things, but when I look at a person drop coins on a table after a meal in a restaurant, I judge them. It’s not my place to judge them, but I do. I harrumph (internally, of course, for I am an Episcopalian, and that means I am polite), and then I make sure I tip extra. I don’t do it for the reward (of other people watching), but to try to make up for the one who was less generous. I don’t want to be judgmental, but by golly, I am. It is in my nature. That’s why I look to God for help because left to my own devices, I am a jerk!

Mary pours a boatload of perfume on Jesus’ feet and covers them with her hair in what surely would have been about the most obscene manner one could imagine in that day and in that culture and, we are told, the disciples were aghast; speechless; dumbfounded; confounded; completely beside themselves. What on earth!?! And Jesus responds, “What is that to you?”

What is that to you? That’s the question. It’s not my place to oversee the generosity or miserliness of others. That fills the room with the foul stench of judgment – skunk-juice! Mary’s act of generosity filled the house with the sweet fragrance of love – more than making up for the smell of a bad attitude!

God, without you I can do nothing pleasing in this world or the next. Pour your nard upon this nerd, that your house may be filled with the sweet smell of love. Amen.

-Keith Axberg

April 9

Read: John 12:1-8

Here’s the scene: Jesus is having dinner with good friends. Martha is, of course, serving. Lazarus, who had recently spent four days stone cold dead in a tomb, is at the table. And Mary, who with Martha had bitterly wept over Lazarus’ death until Jesus took action, gets out the expensive nard perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet, and then dries them with her hair.

Judas Iscariot makes an ethically practical complaint: that stuff could have been sold to help the poor – what are you thinking! I can understand that complaint.

Have you ever been at an awesome majestic cathedral, one that took decades or centuries and who-knows-how-much wealth to construct, all for God’s glory? And there on the steps leading into the cathedral are the elderly women in rags begging. What’s wrong with this picture?
What are our priorities? Extravagant worship? Or the compassionate dedication of our resources for the needy?

It’s not properly an either-or choice, though. Mary and Martha had lost their brother Lazarus. Dead. Four days dead. And Jesus raised Lazarus and gave Lazarus and Mary and Martha the impossible. How could Martha not make this the best celebratory meal ever? And how could Mary not worship Jesus, not bless him with the best she had to offer? How could she not?

We have our own personal experiences of new life in Christ. How can we not say “thank you” with the best we have to offer? Yet Jesus reminds us, quoting from Deuteronomy, the poor are always with us. His hearers knew the next line: we are to be open-handed. It’s not simply either one or the other. It’s both. So, what’s the best I have to offer?

Jesus, help us to give you the best we have to offer and to honor the gifts of others. Amen.

-Tom Worrell

April 8

Read: John 12:1-8

In this passage, there is good news because in your life you always have to remember that Jesus is above all and we live every day for him. Just like Mary in this passage where she realizes that this is her god and taking care of him and being there for him is what she feels in her heart is right. Especially after Jesus rose her brother from the dead that really proved to her that this was who she had to put above everything. This is also not saying that taking care of your family or taking care of yourself is not important because it is, but this passage is telling us that it is right to be like Mary and to want to be like Mary, our goal should be to be like Mary because she loved Jesus, and it was not a waste to pour expensive perfume on whom she loved.

Another topic that I think is important is when one of Jesus disciples who later turns on Jesus asks why the perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor. The only reason he asked, this is because he was a thief and keeper of the money bag and he would steal money, and this really reminds me of a lot of the things that are going on in this country, especially in politics where many politicians don’t care about what can affect people and will only care of how they can earn more money or they will do something that they say will benefit the people and let them keep more of their money when in reality they will be keeping more of the money than anyone else.

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Marialy Lopez, La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrección

April 7

Read: John 12:1-8

Ten years ago today, my son Daniel was born prematurely when I developed HELLP Syndrome, a variant of preeclampsia. As a way of dealing with the trauma of his birth, I started speaking out about my story and participating in the Promise Walk for Preeclampsia, which raises awareness and money for preeclampsia research.

In 2015, after using my 35th birthday as a fundraiser for the Preeclampsia Foundation, I was approached by a family member and asked if it wasn’t time for me to move on to a different cause and stop harping on my story because it was embarrassing to them. I was livid. Daniel and I had almost died from HELLP Syndrome, and me telling my story had saved the lives of several friends who went to their doctors immediately when symptoms started. Because they caught it in time, they were able to avoid the inevitable emergency c-section or early induction of labor by controlling it with diet and bed rest. Additionally, preeclampsia is the second leading cause of maternal death in the world, and I considered my speaking out to be what I could do to prevent the deaths of more women.

That conversation reminds me a lot of this week’s Gospel. Jesus is having dinner at the house of Mary and Martha, and Mary pours a jar of pure nard on Jesus’s feet before drying them with her hair. “Nard” is short for “spikenard” and it is an essential oil derived from the Nardostachys jatamansi plant grown in the Himalayas. It would have been used in embalming in the time of Jesus, and its rarity combined with the amount of the plant needed to produce a jar of oil would make Mary’s actions quite foolish in the eyes of those like Judas who were only interested in the money it was worth. Not to mention, a woman touching a man, especially with her hair, would have been quite embarrassing to everyone present. Pull yourself together, Mary!

Instead of rebuking her for doing something so foolish and wasteful, Jesus tells Judas to leave her alone. Seeing the love behind her actions, Jesus also knows that his death is looming and tells the others this information in a fairly cryptic way. I do not know for sure if Mary understood what Jesus was saying, but I do think that she likely was touched that Jesus understood the love behind her actions.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Daniel and how he has changed the world during his ten years on earth. Amen.

-Jen McCabe

April 6

Read: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I once received a tape from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had a story about a black woman whose son had been beaten to death by a young white man. She attended the white man’s trial, and after he had been found guilty, he was allowed to speak to her, saying, “I am so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?” The grieving woman answered, “I already have, my son.” Then she embraced him.

The father of the prodigal son did likewise, forgiving before the son confessed. That is our God. Always ready to forgive, even before we ask. All that we need to do is turn to God and accept that wonderful love and forgiveness.

In return, we are asked to forgive each other, even our enemies. How difficult it is. Yet I find that the sooner I forgive, the easier it is, and the relief on both sides is immense. Perhaps that is what God has in mind for us all.

Gracious God, thank you for forgiving us even before we ask. Help us to do the same. Amen.

-Penny Worrell

April 5

Read: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I am a convert to Christianity, so the griping of the Pharisees in the first part of this week’s Gospel grates at me.

And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – v. 2 (NRSV)

UC Santa Cruz, the school I attended for my B.A., is a notoriously secular school, and I heard the people at my college church talking frequently about how hostile it was to the Gospel. Dane, Kathy, Gordon, Joan, and Laurie, the leaders of our college group, did something about it, however. Every week, they came up on campus and chose a different dining hall every week in which to meet us for dinner. It was the highlight of my week and we were always encouraged to bring our friends. My friends, most of whom were not Christians, loved eating dinner with them. They would always have conversations with my friends about their classes and interests, and this was really wonderful for some of my friends who were sometimes fighting with their own parents at that moment. During finals, my church held a study hall, and Gordon would help people out with their math classes while Dane would tackle Biology. They held monthly games nights to which anyone could come, and they made lunch for us after church every week. They came to our (plural) graduations, and all five of them were at my wedding.

Why did they do this? They understood that college is a really hard time and it would be helpful to have someone who would listen. When I was fighting severe depression, Laurie took a day off of work and came on campus to help me get my meds straightened out with the school clinic. We then went down to the beach and talked for a few hours. When I needed someone to talk to, all of them were a phone call away. Dane and Laurie were both converts to Christianity, and they were there for me when I was really trying to figure out who I was and what I believed.

In 2013, Gordon was murdered as he sat in his office. His funeral was standing room only in the biggest church in Santa Cruz, and many of those attending were the students he had worked with over the years. I still keep in touch with his widow Joan and the others. Laurie never married and had a family, so all of her “college kids” leave her Mother’s Day messages on Facebook.

Apparently, “eating with sinners and tax collectors” does some good.

Lord, thank you for the example of Gordon, Joan, Dane, Kathy, and Laurie. May we be a light to Mount Vernon in the way they were a light to the students of UC Santa Cruz. Amen.

-Jen McCabe

April 4

Read: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

Tell me how you respond to the grievances of the older son in this parable, and I can probably tell you whether or not you had siblings — and if so, whether or not you were the first born. Of all the New Testament parables, the “return of the prodigal son” serves as one of the most enduring touchstones on issues ranging from family dynamics to one’s sense of fulfillment. One thing for sure is that I can’t imagine anyone reading it with a sense of indifference — perhaps because it is so relatable, whether we’re talking about Christ’s time or ours. Like the man said, “The fundamental things apply as time goes by.”

More profoundly, I think that how you respond to this parable will likely tell me whether or not you’re a parent. It’s very clear to me that the older brother is not. If he was, we would already know some things his father does. The first of these is that the question of loving your children “equally” should never be conflated with loving them “fairly” — in the sense that “fair” is equated with “the same.” Even as a kid, it seemed obvious to me that if my parents loved my siblings and me in exactly the same way, it could only be because they somehow failed to recognize how different we were. And we were very, very different.

But for me, the most profound knowledge that the father of the prodigal son possesses is that there is more to be celebrated in redemption than in never straying from grace, to begin with. Looked at from a father’s point of view, who is more to be envied: the child who remained in the light of his love, or the one who fell into darkness? To celebrate the prodigal’s return is to be assured that God’s love is constant and unconditional — the source of its holy power. I feel sorry for the older brother, not because he has been treated unfairly, but because he fails to feel the abiding joy of his father’s grace. Of course, as fallen creatures, we have a hard time seeing this from a divine perspective…at least until we ourselves become parents.

Heavenly Parent let me be always and everywhere mindful of your unconditional love and let me be always ready to celebrate anyone’s awakening to it, that we may all grow as brothers and sisters in your grace.

-Michael Boss

April 3

Read: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

When I was growing up, I could REALLY relate to the older brother. As the firstborn with a younger brother, I was the one who followed the rules. I did as I was told; I tried to live up to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations. But my younger brother!!! ARGH!!! He was always up to mischief, playing tricks on me and my friends, listening in on my phone calls, never following directions from our parents and destroying my books and toys. There were times when I wished he would go to some far-off land.

I never was able to relate to the younger son in this parable.

However, when I became a parent, I could relate to the father. Both of my boys were (and still are) so precious to me that I can truly and deeply understand how the father rejoiced at the return of the younger son. The two sons were very different and his love for each of them was strong and abiding. When someone you love seems lost to you and then returns, that is truly a celebratory event. So, I grieve for the older son who was unable to join the celebration and hope that at some point he became a father and was able to understand. I am thankful that my younger brother and I are now close and have forgiven one another for the problems we caused one another while we were growing up.

Dear God, thank you for loving us, caring for us, and welcoming us home when we stray. Amen.

-Cathey Frederick