It’s that old question: do you take care of the world out there--the poor--or do you take care of the folks in here?
I am reminded of the time and money we spend on our church buildings so we can have a meaningful worship experience. I am reminded of all the hands involved in putting worship together: dusting, washing and polishing vessels, shining wood, arranging flowers, washing linens, printing bulletins, writing sermons and the list goes on. I know many people feel we should not worry about our buildings or how they look because we could spend that money on the poor. We Episcopalians do like our regalia and we have names for each piece we use and no one would dream of using a lavabo towel as a purificator--it would just be--wrong.
But when we come to church, Jesus is with us and it is good that the church is a place of abundance: abundant water for baptism, abundant food for communion, fine linens and elaborate fabrics that represent God’s glory…an abundance of blessing. The Church should exhibit all these things. When I attend a church that I’ve never been to before and see that the building is cared for, I hope the church members love the building because they are meeting Christ there--taking time to be blessed there. Yes, and that they are concerned that others will be blessed when they enter the building.
So we have the oil from the Spikenard plant and Mary. Mary is very thankful--her brother is newly risen from the grave. Why, you know, if my sister died and was raised from the grave, I would want to do something very extravagant for Jesus--a large, no ginormous stained glass window comes to mind. Think about what you would give for such a wonderful blessing!
I was thinking about blessings--how often did Jesus receive a blessing? We know about Simeon and Anna at the temple when Jesus was a baby--they blessed him and God that they got to see the Christ before they died. He would have been blessed by the priests in the temple, received blessings from his parents and grandparents over his lifetime, and there were the two awesome blessings from his Father at his baptism and on Mount Tabor.
Yet, when I think of Jesus, I most often think about what he gave--the hundreds or thousands of people he healed, the thousands he fed, the way he talked to people and really saw them, and the walking--all that travel by foot! This is the Jesus I try to emulate--well, maybe not the walking part or the dying on a cross part, but the caring for people part.
We also know that Jesus went off by himself to pray and we know he got bone-weary tired. When he met the woman at the well, he was too pooped to go on and his disciples had left him there while they sought out food and he didn’t even have a way to get the water out of the well. The Samaritan woman blessed him with water and weary as he was he spent time in conversation with her. When the woman with the hemorrhage was healed when she touched the hem of his robe, he felt the energy go out of him. Yes, he got tired, hungry and thirsty.
In today’s story about Jesus, we find that he was also willing to receive a blessing from someone. We can always take care of the poor because they are always available--and we should do so. But, how do we deal with receiving?
I have a blog post from Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form by Tripp Hudginsthat speaks about blessings:
“May the Spirit satisfy you
With the water of grace.”
I have this little pocket-sized prayer book I keep with me. It’s a very abridged version of Alexander Carmichael’s classic tome, Celtic Prayers. Divided into sections such as Prayers and Thanksgiving, Peace, and Creation, I find it a comforting resource to keep with me. This morning I opened it up to the “Blessings” section and it occurred to me that this is where I spend the least of my time. It’s just that blessings can feel so…selfish.
“May God make safe to you each step,
May God make open to you each pass,
May God make clear to you each road,
And may God take you in the clasp of his own two hands.”
It’s not that I don’t want a blessing or to “feel” blessed, but there’s something odd about asking for a blessing for oneself. It’s like asking for money without doing anything for it. That, of course, is a telling statement. Blessings aren’t transactions. Grace is only a gift. So I have to ask myself: Am I hardwired to think of everything, even blessings, as a transaction of some kind? Apparently so.
I also don’t like to impose…or have anyone in my business without my expressed permission and control. A transaction affords a certain control. Maybe not a lot, but it establishes a sufficient illusion of control. There are limits to a transaction. A blessing is limitless even if momentary.
So, this morning I arise and wonder about control, transactions, imposition, and life with God running wild. Not domesticated. Not transactional, but the “free-flowing water of blessing.”
Often when we read this story about Jesus and the anointing with expensive oil, we think about how it is preparation for his burial and we think what a stinker Judas was and think about Mary and how much she loved Jesus and honestly, we are a little puzzled that Jesus seems so callous about the poor. But, maybe when we read this, we can wonder--is Jesus telling us it is okay to seek out a blessing--that sometimes it is okay to ask for things for ourselves? That perhaps occasionally we can do something that heals our own souls and delights our own hearts so that we can carry on caring for the poor. So maybe it is okay to make our worship space a little fancy if it helps us to be blessed--if it helps us to feel closer to Christ. If it helps us to wrap our minds around the abundance of God running wild through our lives.
Tripp’s post ended with this blessing:
“The shape of Christ be towards me,
The shape of Christ be to me,
The shape of Christ be before me,
The shape of Christ be behind me,
The shape of Christ be over me,
The shape of Christ be under me,
The shape of Christ be with me,
The shape of Christ be around me
On Monday and on Sunday;
The shape of Christ be around me
On Monday and on [Friday]. [Amen].”