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Monday, March 14 2016

Pastor Becca Ehrlich

There was a guy named Dave who always seemed to fall asleep during the sermon at church. His wife, Martha, was fed up and decided to deal with the embarrassing situation. The next Sunday when he fell asleep, she quietly removed some pungent Limburger cheese from a bag in her purse and passed it under his nose. Startled out of sleep, Dave blurted out, “No, Martha, no, please don't kiss me now!”

Bad breath notwithstanding, we all have smells that we like and don’t like, right? What are some smells you enjoy…? I love the smell of fresh cut grass, the smell of a wood-burning stove, and the smell of clean laundry. My Mom and Dad, who are from Long Island originally, love the smell of salt water-- which is probably why they go on cruises so often!

And what are some smells that you don’t like…? One of the big ones for me is when the trash starts smelling, but you don’t notice it until you walk into the house from a long day and that’s the first thing you smell when you open the door. Gag. When I was holding my very scientific poll about smells (as in, I asked 4 people, and just asked what smells they like or don’t like), Pastor Randy and my husband Will actually share a hated smell-- new asphalt.

A lot of times, why we like or don’t like a particular smell is because of what that smell reminds us of. It’s called a conditioned response. So Dave in our joke, for example, was conditioned to think of that limburger smell as his wife Martha’s breath, even though it was the cheese that time in church. I like the smell of a wood burning stove because it reminds me cozy winter evenings by the fire with hot chocolate. I hate the smell of trash because… well, trash is nasty. But also because growing up, one of my chores was taking out the trash. And I would have traded to clean a million toilets over having to smell that trash as I carried it to the garbage pail in the garage.

Smells can be powerful. They can take us back years or even decades when we smell something that reminds us of a person or place or event. When my Mom went to Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY as an adult, she stepped into the wine cellar and immediately thought of her Grandfather, my Great-Grandfather, because of the smell there. Apparently when she was a kid, she would travel with him to Brotherhood to get his favorite sherry, and they would go to the wine cellar together. Even though more than 25 years had passed, that smell still made her think of him.

This conditioned response to smells is why many people avoid smelling a certain flower, because it reminds them of a loved one’s funeral. It’s why real estate agents have cookies baking in the oven when they hold an open house for a place they’re trying to sell. It’s why people go nuts over pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks every year—it may still be 80 degrees outside when they first start serving them, but gosh-darn it, it reminds people of fall and leaves and football and sweaters every time!

In our Gospel reading from John today, we hear about another powerful smell. So picture this. It’s a few days before Jesus is going to go to Jerusalem After that, he will have his Last Supper with his disciples, and then go to die on a cross.

But before all this happens, Jesus is having dinner at Lazarus’ house. This is the Lazarus that Jesus rose from the dead to the amazement of everyone, and whose sisters are Mary and Martha. We hear earlier in John’s Gospel that Mary loved to learn at Jesus’ feet, and Martha got angry because Mary should be helping her make the food and serve rather than sitting and listening to Jesus. So Mary is used to doing things with Jesus present that other people don’t like.

And at this dinner, Mary takes a pound of a very costly perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet with it, and wipes his feet with her hair. It says that this perfume was worth 300 denarii. Just to put it in perspective, 300 denarii would have been equal to almost a full year’s salary for a typical person back then. A full. Year’s. Salary. So this was like the Lamborghini of perfumes. If, you know, they had Lamborghinis back then.

And it says that “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” So during that dinner, the smell of that perfume was everywhere. It permeated everything.

And like smells for us today, people had a conditioned response to this smell back then. First of all, people would have known that this was an expensive perfume. It’s like how we can smell the difference between cheap cologne from a discount store and Chanel perfume. Mary was sparing no expense.

And we hear Judas complaining because of his conditioned response to this smell. He knows this perfume is very expensive. He knows that if they had sold it and put the money in the group’s common purse to give to the poor, he would have stolen from it and had some of it for himself. The expensiveness of this perfume could literally be smelled from miles away.

 Second of all, they would have had another conditioned response to this perfume. Perfume and oil like this was used in Jesus’ time for very important rituals. Rulers, like kings and queens, were anointed with perfume just like this when they became official. And this perfume was also used to anoint the dead before they were buried. The people at that dinner would have smelled this perfume and been reminded of these types of major moments in history and in their lives.

So by using this costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet, Mary is connecting the smell to anointing a king and preparing him for burial. While Judas is stuck on the cost of the perfume, Mary is seeing something more, something way more important.

I heard this story recently, and it’s apparently from a 2007 Washington Post article—and it actually won a Pulitzer Prize.  The story is about a man playing a violin in the Washington DC Metro Station.  He played six Bach pieces for one hour.  During that time two thousand people passed through the station. People hurried past the man on their way to appointments and destinations.  After 4 minutes the violinist received his first dollar but the person didn’t stop to listen.  A 3-year-old boy stopped but his mom pulled him along.  The boy stopped again, but again the mom pulled him forward.  In the hour the violinist played Bach only six people stopped and listened for a short time.  Twenty gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The violinist received a total of $32.  When he finished and silence took over, no one applauded and there was no recognition.

 The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written-- with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats in 2007 averaged $100.

It’s so crazy that, during the time he played, no one saw Joshua Bell for who he really was. His specialness was lost in the shuffle of peoples’ lives and travels.

Mary recognized the specialness of Jesus and acted accordingly. She anointed him. While the others around, especially Judas, didn’t notice who Jesus was, she did.

This anointing is Mary’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah—which literally means “anointed one”--  the one who will save the world. She simultaneously anoints him as king, and anoints him in preparation for his death. THIS is what’s most important. Nothing else matters, because in that moment, as that smell permeates every nook and cranny in that house, she is telling them that Jesus is the one they have waited for, longed for, need for their salvation. Their conditioned response to that perfume smell is her way of telling the world who Jesus is.

And the story didn’t stop there. As we will hear in more detail next week at our worship services, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, has his last meal with his disciples, and then is sentenced to death on a cross, and dies among criminals. Mary anoints him in preparation of his impending death, the death that will ultimately bring salvation to all who believe that Jesus is the king, the savior.

And we, too, proclaim that anointing smell. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes in chapter 2 starting at verse 14: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance of knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved…”

Or as the Message paraphrase of the Bible puts it, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way to salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”

We, like Mary, are the ones called to send the scent of salvation into the world, for all those who need it. We proclaim to our world that Jesus is king, the savior, the one who brings life and salvation. In a world filled with pain and hurt and anger and uncertainty, we bring that “exquisite fragrance” of Jesus’ love and salvation to people who are in desperate need of love and saving.

WE are Mary, called by God to give off that “sweet scent” of Jesus. Who in your life is someone who needs to smell that amazing aroma of Jesus’ love for them? Who can you share your faith story with so they, too, can forever smell that sweet smell of salvation? Who can you do that for? Amen?

Posted by: AT 11:31 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 01 2016

Pastor Becca

One of my friends got me into watching this TV show called Naked and Afraid. It’s basically the most intense survival show out there. Survivalists, people who are extensively trained in being able to stay alive in the most punishing situations, apply to be on the show, to see if they have what it takes.

And here’s the premise—one male and one female, both survivalists who are complete strangers-- are dropped into some remote area in the world. They have no clothing, no food, no water. They are allowed one object—usually they pick something like a knife, or a fire starter, which they have in a crude tote bag. But that’s it. For 21 days, three weeks, they must try to work together to survive. There is a very small camera crew that follows them during the day, and at night they document themselves on a hand-held camera. The crew is only allowed to intervene in a life-threatening situation.

Usually, the first thing the survivalists do is try to build some sort of shelter. They do this with varying degrees of success depending on how they get along and what is available. Then they try to figure out a plan for water and food.

Many times, they are unable to figure out water for a few days because it’s really hard to find drinkable water. And if you know anything about survival skills at all, you know that you can’t just drink any water you find. You can get really sick from drinking unpurified water. You typically have to boil it to make it drinkable. Which of course, means being able to make and keep up a fire first.

And because finding water and making it drinkable can be hard, many times the people on the show end up without water for a few days before they figure out what to do. You can’t survive without water very long. Anyone know how long you can typically go without water….? Three days. Food, you can actually go three weeks without, although your body will really not like that. But water—you need it pretty quickly.

And watching the people on this show go thirsty is rough. You can actually hallucinate when you are dehydrated for days. And you get so thirsty that you do things to get water that you wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes one of the people would end up drinking water that they haven’t purified first because they are so desperate and so thirsty. And then they can get pretty sick. Sometimes they get so sick that they have to leave the show to be hospitalized and their survival partner has to carry on without them.

It always fascinated me that their extreme physical thirst became so consuming that they sometimes drank whatever water they found, no matter what the consequences would be—even though they were trained survivalists! They knew better. But their thirst was so extreme that they couldn’t afford to care anymore.

We may not have experienced an extreme thirst like that, but we all know what it’s like to be thirsty. After working out, or being outside on a summer day, or just forgetting to drink water for a while—we know the feeling of a dry throat, dry mouth, needing that drink of water.

And according to Isaiah, we hear that God offers us water, free of charge. “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.”

How great is that?? Free water, free food, free milk and wine. Free drinks for all!

Physical thirst is a very real thing, and that’s clear in the promise that God makes in this passage from Isaiah. But the thirst and hunger that he talks about is more than just those physical needs.

He writes God’s words: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor 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.”

We hear twice, God saying “Listen to me”. In fact, God says, “Listen, so that you may live.” It’s not just physical thirst Isaiah is talking about—it’s spiritual thirst. Thirst for God. And we need God, to live.

Sometimes we know we thirst for God, like that extreme physical thirst the survivalists experience in Naked and Afraid. We can sometimes be in a spiritual desert, where it feels like God is absent and we desperately need God.

Sometimes we don’t know even know we are thirsty for God. We are doing OK, and don’t feel like we need anything more.
One of my friends has a son who is a toddler, named Owen. And if you’ve ever had a toddler around, you know they get into EVERYTHING and make themselves very busy, even when you don’t want them to be!

Well, this kid lives hard, plays hard. And then when it’s time to eat, Owen sits down and gets handed a sippy cup. And every time, this kid chugs the contents of the cup like it’s his last drink on earth. He was really thirsty, but he was so busy that he didn’t notice until he had a chance to drink!

So even if you don’t know it or feel it, you are still thirsty for God. Like Owen, we may be so busy that we don’t even notice how thirsty we are. But we all have a God-shaped hole in us that longs to be filled. We sometimes try to fill it with other things, but as we heard in Isaiah, only God can fill it. Only God can satisfy us, satisfy that emptiness. Saint Augustine said “"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
We all have that longing for God to fill that emptiness, that hole—but we may not notice it until someone or something brings it to our attention. We need God pouring into us, relieving us of that thirst. And only God can do that.

In the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis writes about a young woman named Jill. She and her friend Eustace are in the woods, and they get separated. Jill is wandering in the woods by herself, for a very long time, and gets very thirsty. She searches for water for a long time, until she finally finds a stream—but stops dead because the Lion is next to the stream. In Narnia, the Lion is Aslan, and anyone know who he is supposed to be? He’s supposed to be Jesus. So this is what it says in the book:

“But although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the lion.

…“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
…For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.”…It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.
…The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
…“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.”

So even though Jill is desperately thirsty, she is almost too scared to drink the water that the Lion, Jesus, offers her. But even though she is terrified about what will happen, she eventually drinks, and it was the best water she ever had, and quenched her thirst almost immediately.

Jesus offers this free water to us, as well. This story between Jill and the Lion is the story of our own spiritual thirst, wanting God to fill us and satisfy that thirst that only can be filled by God. “There is no other stream,” the Lion said to Jill. We are only able to satisfy that thirst through the water that Jesus offers us.

In John 7:37, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” And then John explains: “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…”

The Holy Spirit is that “living water” that Jesus talks about. We are thirsty, and Jesus offers us that drink—to be filled by the Holy Spirit, to have God literally poured into us. Reading the Bible, worshiping in Christian community, being in prayer with God—and listening and being open to God while doing all of these things—opens the door for us to be filled with the Spirit. And Jesus offer this filling of the Spirit freely.

And we have to constantly keep being filled. Someone once asked the famous preacher D.L Moody “Brother Moody, are you filled with the Spirit?” He answered, “I am, but I leak!” Even a world-famous preacher needed that filling of the Spirit, over and over. We fall back into bad habits and forget to listen for God, all the time. But then Jesus is there, offering that drink of living water, that filling of the Spirit, again and again, whenever we need it, whenever we are thirsty.

Let us pray. Loving God, we are thirsty. Even if we don’t feel it, we are thirsty. We are thirsty for you. We thirst for your loving presence in our lives, we long for it. We thank you for your son Jesus, and that he offers us that drink of living water, the Holy Spirit. We pray one of the oldest prayers of the Church: come, Holy Spirit. Fill us with your presence. Fill that emptiness, that God-shaped hole that we have. Quench our spiritual thirst. Fill us until we are overflowing with your goodness and love and bursting to go out into the world and tell others about the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us with your Spirit, Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Posted by: AT 08:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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