Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Holy Week reflections

Have already posted reflections for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of Holy Week.
On Friday, we will consider some perspectives of folk who met Jesus on the way to the cross.
I love the opportunity for creativity in worship throughout the week.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A new way?

An offering for the 5th Sunday in Lent:

Readings: Isaiah 43 v 16-21

John 12 v 1-8

The gospel we read this morning – the story of Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany is my most favourite story in the whole of Scripture.

It is such an intimate portrayal of an extravagant display of love.

Extravagance isn’t something that often features in our Lenten discipline, when we tend to be a bit more austere, a bit more reserved in our observance.

But this story bursts into our lectionary just before we embark on the passion narratives and brings a dazzling display – perhaps to distract us from the awfulness to come in the events leading up to Jesus death – or perhaps to signal the impact of what is about to unfold.

However else you look at this story, it is intimate, maybe even a bit erotic. And no matter how that might make us frozen Presbyterians squirm, there’s no getting away from the image of a young, single woman, encountering our Lord with passion.

It’s a story with a bit of spice in it – and not just from the alabaster jar!

For quite a while, I was distracted by the various accounts of this story in different gospels.

I’d spend ages reading up on different interpretations and comparisons – and generally just ruining a beautiful story by becoming caught up in lots of peripherals.

And then, I decided simply to let the story be.

To just enjoy it for its beauty and passion, and be thankful that it is part of our gospel.

And, as a bonus, we often encounter the story again during Holy Week as we follow Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Whatever else this story is, just one of the reasons it is included in our lectionary this morning, at this point in our Lenten journey, is that it signals a turning point.

It signals a time when we see Jesus actively turning from his beach mission, if you like, his work alongside Lake Galilee, to his embarking on his journey to Jerusalem.

And that lends a whole other dimension to this little tableau.

That’s why it doesn’t matter how much the ointment cost or how counter cultural Mary’s intimate display was.

Because already things are turned around.

And Jesus is on his way to procure our salvation by making his way to the cross.

All of his ministry Jesus has proclaimed that this is the way it must be.

But who gets it?

Mary of Bethany.

A real new testament prophet.

A woman who, when so many of Jesus friends wanted to bury their heads in the sand and not face what Jesus had been telling them about, a woman who really gets it and is not afraid to throw convention and cultural constraints out of the window and anoint her Lord for burial, show her love for all the world to see and remember.

The sacrifice Jesus is about to make is incredibly extravagant – and so Mary’s response is one of extravagance.

That’s why it was so uncomfortable for those who witnessed her display of love.

She held nothing back.

She did not count the cost.

She simply gave her love.

And showed, as prophets do, how things would be.

Mary’s love has not made her blind as love sometimes does.

Mary’s love for Jesus has allowed her to see clearly and to understand all that Jesus has been teaching his friends. Mary’s love has revealed to her that this is a man with a mission. A mission that will end on a cross. So, in this opportunity she has been given, without thought for her own reputation or her own future, she lavishes her love on Jesus and does all that she humanly can to ease his passage.

When is the last time that we allowed ourselves to give with such extravagance, with such abandonment? With no thought of return but simply out of love?

Mary, the prophet of Bethany models for us today a new way. A new way of being, a new way of giving.

A new way of living as prophets.

Our other reading today came from one of the more traditional prophets – the prophet Isaiah.

But, again, there’s something different about Isaiah’s prophecy – it’s not a word of condemnation as the old style prophets often brought – the passage we read from Isaiah contains a beautiful message of comfort and encouragement.

Let’s read it again:

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
 a path in the mighty waters, 
who brings out chariot and horse,
 army and warrior;
 they lie down, they cannot rise,
 they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 
Do not remember the former things,
 or consider the things of old. 
I am about to do a new thing;
 now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
I will make a way in the wilderness
 and rivers in the desert. 
The wild animals will honour me,
 the jackals and the ostriches; 
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,
 to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself
 so that they might declare my praise.

As the prophet reminds a people in exile, a people who have all but given up hope – our God is a God who constantly finds new ways forward for people.

The challenge is – will people be willing to embark on those new ways?

Are we willing to put our hope in God and allow ourselves to be led along unfamiliar paths.

Are we willing to discover and experience God’s new thing?

These words of the prophet were offered to God’s people who could see no way forward. They had been captured and banished from the land and the life they knew. For them, there was no way back.

But that is exactly what the prophet was able to pick up on.

When there is no way back. When we cannot see our way through all the obstacles that lie in our path.

That is when God comes through – God who can find a way, not by resurrecting the things of the past – but by showing us a new way.

I am about to do a new thing;
 now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

What about us?

Do we now expect so little from our faith, from our fellowship, from our God that we’ve shut ourselves down to avoid disappointment?

We’ve forgotten how to dream?

We’ve forgotten how to hope?

We’ve forgotten how to allow ourselves to be open to new things?

This ancient prophecy speaks to us today:

It speaks to our world today, offering hope in all its hopeless places.

This ancient prophecy speaks to the church today, offering comfort for broken and bruised lives.

This ancient prophecy speaks to us here in Mauchline today, offering us the possibility of a new way forward.

I am about to do a new thing, says the Lord.

What would it take for us to be open to that possibility?

To welcome it, even.

Can we allow ourselves the abandonment of Mary or the extravagance that we can give ourselves, in love, to a way we have not chosen, simply trusting in a God who always does a new thing?

Can we be prophets in this place, at this time, seeing the new way that God leads us and choosing to follow?

Even as Jesus changes direction and sets his face toward Jerusalem, may we have the courage to follow him, journeying to the cross – and beyond – because our God is doing a new thing in this place.

Thanks be to God.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Doing a new thing

Looking ahead to Sunday, I was all set to preach on the gospel story from John, of Mary anointing Jesus with the expensive ointment - simply because it is my most favourite story in the whole of Scripture. However I'm preaching in a congregation whose minister has just moved on to pastures new and the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah, speaks of God doing a new thing - so appropriate for these people in their current situation. Thanks be to God for the lectionary and choices.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Lad's night

A reading for Thursday in Holy Week:

All is set.

Following his instructions,

we’ve rented a room,

arranged the purvey.

It’ll just be Jesus and us

a good lad’s night.

What a blast we had the last time we did as he told us

borrowing that donkey

parading into town

men women and children cheering us on.

It’s been a funny few days –

Crazy laughter on the Sunday

Temper tantrum on the Monday

Telling it how it is on the Tuesday

Beautiful woman

with exquisite ointment on the Wednesday

Don’t know what exactly he’s got planned for tonight

One thing we can say for sure

It will be different

With him it always is

We’re going to rest up

because this week’s gone like lightning.

Jesus has been like someone possessed

I’m sure that’s why he organised the room just for the lads

some down time before whatever campaign he’s got planned next

He needs to keep a low profile anyway

He’s upset a lot of folk this week

Bad enough parading into town like a king –

albeit a king on a donkey

but then to turn the tables in the temple – literally

and tell more of his hard hitting parables

and let himself be anointed semi-publicly

when he knows that the authorities

are watching and waiting

for the chance to do him down.

They have to bide their time

and choose their moment

so they don’t upset the people

though even they are turning.

The palm branch wavers

have already moved on

to the next big news story

And you know how crowds can be

when the mood turns ugly.

So we’re making the most of this lull,

gathering our strength

so that we can support him

through whatever happens.

Liz Crumlish Lent 2010

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


A reading for the Wednesday of Holy Week:

Thank goodness.

We’ve at last had a quiet day.

No high jinks or funny tricks

Just some peace and quiet

Mind you, it wasn’t much fun

Jesus was pretty withdrawn

Not his usual gallous self.

To be honest I’d rather have his temper tantrums

than the brooding he’s done today

Thank goodness Mary came by tonight

with that precious ointment

Made quite a spectacle of herself

It was uncomfortable to watch

seemed so intimate

as though we were intruding on something private,

holy even.

You would have thought it was only her and Jesus

so engrossed in her task was she

anointing him

caressing his feet

Most of us had to turn away

it was so beautiful.

I think that’s why Judas threw in the curve ball

about the money wasted

He simply couldn’t stand the hush,

the sense of awe that had descended

had to loosen the tension.

I think the rest of us were just too overcome,

literally, with the aroma and the purity of the gift

that we witnessed being lavished on Jesus.

But he didn’t seem in the least embarrassed.

Recognised it for the gift it was

even though he went all strange

and started talking about being anointed for burial.

I felt a lump in my throat

as he stood up

for this poor often misaligned woman.

And her face.

The pride in her eyes when Jesus spoke up for her.

THAT was the priceless gift.

Liz Crumlish Lent 2010

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Getting under folks' skin

A reading for the Tuesday of Holy Week:

Oh my!

What a day!

What on earth is Jesus playing at?

We thought he’d done his worst in the temple,

upsetting all the merchants and money changers

But today he went his duster with the scribes

and the Pharisees

and the Sadducees

and pretty much anyone else who crossed his path.

Maybe he thought he was being subtle.

Maybe he thought they wouldn’t see through his parables

But, hey, it was staring us all in the eye.

His message was clear and hard hitting.

We’ve messed up

And all our good deeds and intentions

will not save us.

Maybe we tried too hard.

It seemed like Jesus was saying

that there is nothing we can do,

that nothing will ever be enough

UNLESS we love first.

He was in his element today, surrounded by folk

all listening to him

asking questions

trying to trip him up.

But every time,

he managed to bat things back

and challenge their long held assumptions.

It was quite amusing to watch the religious hierarchy

being knocked off their perches.

But then it got a bit uncomfortable, a bit near the bone

and it seemed like we’d ALL got it wrong.

That wiped the smirks off our faces.

It wasn’t so funny then.

And, to top it off he started to spout some

real doom and gloom.

About the temple being destroyed and about the last Judgement.

We came away reeling.

Mind you, I think we were lucky to get away at all.

They’re really baying for his blood now.

His days are certainly numbered.

And either he doesn’t know that

or he doesn’t care.

Either way, it’s not looking good.

A death wish

or a last gasp attempt

to get his message across?

Who knows?

I tell you, though

we must be near the end of the road.

Liz Crumlish Lent 2010

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Hungry and thirsty

A communion reflection on Isaiah 55:1-13

The passage we read from Isaiah is one of those beautiful, poetic passages from the Old Testament. In fact, it is so beautiful that I was tempted not to preach on it but to simply read it over to you a few times and let its beauty and its message sink in. But I know that that meditative style of reading the Bible does not appeal to everyone. And some of you would just think I hadn’t had time to prepare a sermon. So let me share with you just a few thoughts about this scripture.

In the Old Testament, and in the new, we often find prophets speaking harsh words to the people. Being cruel to be kind, if you like. Saying some pretty awful and hurtful things often to shock the people into changing their ways and finding their way back to God.

But the prophets could also speak words of comfort.

And that’s what we find in this reading from Isaiah. It is a word to comfort and encourage the people. To lift them from the depths of despair and bring them hope for their future.

But, for all that, it is no less challenging. Still it calls the people to seek another way- to remember their calling as children of God and seek to honour God in all of life.

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
 come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
 come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk
 without money and without price.

The prophet knows that what the people need at this time, more than anything else is good news, a reminder of all the goodness of God in the midst of all their difficulties.

But he has to find a way of getting that message through to them – through the despair and hopelessness that is overshadowing all of life.

So what he preaches is in stark contrast to everything else they are hearing, flies in the face of all they know.

An offering of gifts without price, a call to return to a God who has become little more than a vague memory.

A God who, in these dark times of exile, yet is waiting to enrich them with gifts that will feed their souls – for ever.

We come here tonight to celebrate an ancient tradition, to remember our Lord. It’s a feast with which we are familiar. A feast that perhaps means little to us except a ritual we perform out of duty once in a while.

And just maybe we need to hear that voice of the prophet. The voice that comforts us and doesn’t upbraid us. The voice that calls to our attention things we have always known. Things that we could do with reminding of in a whole new way. Things that will bring this feast to life for us as never before.

Perhaps we need to hear words that will lift us from our preoccupation with living or our downright boredom with life - lift us onto a whole new plane.

It seems we spend all our days slogging to keep mind and body together, to fulfil expectations, to conform to what others expect of us. And we barely even realize that we are hungry or thirsty. That there is more.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
 and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
 Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
 and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to me;
 listen, so that you may live.

These words of the prophet are an invitation to Abundant Life, a life that shows up the lives for which we currently settle.

They are a call, not to settle for what is-but to look forward to what we have been promised.

To remember that we are beloved children of God who are called to live differently. To know that there is another world, a world in which all God’s beloved children have enough to eat and to drink and to never tire of working towards that world, even when it goes against all that we see around us.

On this night when we celebrate this feast of bread and wine, we hold with us our brothers and sisters who have no bread, who have no wine.

And as we celebrate an abundance that we barely notice, may these symbols speak to us in a new and startling way, calling us to turn around, to stop being obsessed with the things of the world that don’t really matter and that don’t really last but to turn our attention and our energies to God’s kingdom where all are welcome, all are valued and all have enough to share.

It’s sometimes said: You won’t miss what you’ve never known?

That’s nonsense.

Sometimes it’s the things that we don’t know we’re missing that we long for the most. That’s why, whether we know it or not, we are hungry and thirsty for the new life that God offers – both now and in God’s kingdom.

Listen again to these beautiful words of the prophet. Words that comfort. Words that remind us of the longing of our hearts, that reveal our hunger and our thirst. And as you listen, come back to God who meets us in this feast.

Isaiah 55:1-13

An Invitation to Abundant Life

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
 come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
 come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
 without money and without price. 
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
 and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
 and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to me;
 listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
 my steadfast, sure love for David. 
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
 a leader and commander for the peoples. 
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
 and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
 for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
 call upon him while he is near; 
let the wicked forsake their way,
 and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
 and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
 nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
 so are my ways higher than your ways
 and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
 and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
 giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
 it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
 and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,
 and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
 shall burst into song,
 and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
 instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
 for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Turning the tables

A reading for Monday of Holy Week:

Can you believe it?

He parades into town

to a band playing.

Anyone else would have settled for that.

But not him.

People eating out of his hand

simply won’t do it for him.

He has to mount a campaign

right in the temple precints

He doesn’t care who he upsets,

or whose side they are on

Sometimes I wonder whether he wants

to alienate us all

Some of the things he does and says

are much too near the bone.

And no one it seems escapes his censure

no matter their pedigree or connection

And so he takes on the traders

and kicks into touch a whole system

of corruption and exploitation

that we’ve all put up with for so long

because we simply couldn’t see any other way.

I mean you can’t blame the merchants

making a fairly good living

on the back of our holy obligations.

That’s just the way it is.

There’ll always be someone ready to make a fast buck

It’s called enterprise.

But he called it something else.

A travesty.

Turning a place of prayer for all nations

into a pigeon seller’s circus.

We’ll never understand him.

Crowd puller one minute

Whip wielding fiend the next.

I dread to think what else he’s got up his sleeve.

Liz Crumlish March 2010

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Party animal

A contemporary reading for Palm Sunday:
You can find previous years' offerings here and here.

The weeks have rolled on

those austere, bleak weeks

of our Lenten observance.

We’ve journeyed with Jesus through the wilderness

felt the rub of sand on our feet as we traversed the desert

and again, as we emerged with him on the shore at Galilee.

We’ve marvelled at the things he did

and cringed at the things he said

one moment proud to step out beside him

the next, embarrassed to know him.

He’s been wild, free, tormented and cursed

sometimes all at the same time.

Oh we’ve had laughs,

laughs that burst our guts as he burst the disciples’ nets,

We’ve had our party times with him too,

even through this season of penance

How could we not party when we saw him eating, drinking,

making merry?

So often there was a lightness in his step

a freshness that lifted us up

We’ve listened to his stories, marvelled at his miracles

Questioned our living

in the light of the way he showed us

And that’s all to the good.

But sometimes he got a bit heavy,

nudged us out of our comfort zones

challenged us to respond to his words

and not just passively listen,

goaded us to be different –

For the sake of the kingdom he said.

What kingdom is the question.

He’s said some tough things,

upset a lot of people

He’ll be lucky to survive with his life

never mind build a kingdom.

There’s definitely a change in the atmosphere now.

All the talk recently has been bizarre

Of death and darkness and destruction

But also talk of hope and newness.

The two simply don’t go together.

Still, the mood is changing

It ooks like we’re going to have the party of all parties

And then, who knows?

Liz Crumlish Feb 2010