|Faithful living today
First UCC – Carlisle
[8 am story of ranch order at chili’s – complex world]
I would like to start off this morning with sharing one story from my trip to Israel. So, one of the main sites to see in Jerusalem is what is called by some the Western Wall. It is also known in Western culture as the Wailing Wall. Some of the following information comes from my trip or from scholars. The construction of this wall is said to have occurred around 19 BCE. This section of wall was originally built during the time of the second Jewish temple. The Western wall was one of the containment walls surrounding this temple and its related buildings back in that time. Now, this second Jewish temple was completely destroyed in 70 CE. The Jewish community overall refers to this wall as the Western Wall, they do not view the name wailing wall as respectful. The Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection and proximity to that second temple. The approximate area where the temple was is called.
This wall is actually looked upon as the holiest site for the Jewish community, although the location where the second Jewish temple had been is considered even more sacred. However, what is currently built in the temple area is not Jewish but Muslim. What is in the location where the Temple was is the structure known today as the Dome of the Rock, a circular building with the golden dome roof. This is a building central to the Muslim faith for they believe this is where Mohammed received divine instruction and rules for living and leading the Muslims in 621 CE.
In truth, the dome of the rock building is not used for worship, and it is currently a symbolic location for people of Muslim faith. The people of Islam revere the space where it is, but worship actually takes places in a mosque nearby also connected to the Temple Mount area which Muslims use for worship.
The access of the Western Wall for Jewish people has varied over the years. There were times they were only allowed to approach the wall once a year. In the 1600’s Jewish pilgrims began to use the wall as a destination for spiritual journeys. There was a period of time when the wall was completely off limits to the Jewish community. Since 1967, Jews have had control of Jerusalem and therefor the wall. So the Wall hold great significance for the Jewish community over the years, and is a very holy place today.
So on the Monday of our trip, we went as a group to visit the western wall, also known as the wailing wall. We passed through metal detectors and guards to reach this location. And we had the chance to approach the wall and engage in prayer at the wall. We were given extensive explanation of what we were to do upon approaching the wall and what we could and could not do. It was quite a moving experience to able to approach this sacred space and spend time there. We were not alone. There was a large presence of military personnel in and around the area. There were men and women alike praying at the wall. Now the men and women each have their separate sections of the wall to pray at. And Monday is one of the holier days to be at the wall. It was a day when not only were people praying, but a number of men were reading the Torah (which is the first five books of the old testament) in specific proximity to the Western Wall.
So while it was a spiritual experience to be so close to the Western Wall and be a part of the praying community, it was also an educational moment. As we were there, we heard an argument break out. The disagreement was loud enough to be heard by just about everyone in the area, and went on long enough that the military personnel was dispatched to quell the fight.
We did not know exactly what was going on at the time, but we learned later. It turned out that women of the reformed Jewish tradition were bringing copies of the Torah to read at the Western Wall. While acceptable to the reformed tradition, this was not acceptable at all to the Orthodox Jews at the wall or anywhere else in Jerusalem. A problem of faith at the wall. Talk about an interdenominational disagreement. But this is the time we live in, when people of faith in Israel argue about who can read from sacred scriptures. Challenging and complex to consider as we all attempt to live in faith.
I think that life becomes more convoluted and complex as we go forth into life. I think the gray areas multiply and it can become confusing as we attempt to live out our faith. It does not become easier. There are so many nuances, but this is contemporary society. I look at the gospel reading for today and I think it is another example of complexity and living faithfully today.
One way to look at this passage would be to read the passage with the conviction that nothing good can come from Judas. He is labelled a thief. He is marked as the one who is to betray Jesus, and we are told that he only cares about money for himself. So in some ways it is an open and shut case on whether we should listen to anything Judas says in this passage, much less during any time of the ministry of Jesus. So if we take the judgement and the perspective that is shared in this biblical passage, we need not listen to what Judas said. We can just appreciate what Mary Magdalene does for Jesus.
But I would suggest that it is a little more complicated than just discounting the words of opinion of Judas. Judas may have been a thief. He might have been looking out for himself. But the usage of a perfume that is worth a year’s worth of salary could be hard to overlook. This is an extravagant gesture. It is an act full of love and care for Jesus. And there are overtones about his impending death in his words, that, it was intended that this perfume be saved for the day of his burial. Jesus is intimating that his earthly time is not long for this world.
And yet, how often does Jesus preach about money and what we need to be doing with our money? Without going into specific numbers of how frequently he does speak about money, we can be assured that it is a frequent topic he mentions. So often does Jesus mention money and how we need to be careful how we look at it, we have to come to some terms with the words of Judas. He may have been a thief, he may have been looking out for himself. He may have been the one who betrayed Jesus. But isn’t at least part of what he is saying has to do with what people are called to do with wealth and money. There is a message here that we should not completely overlook. Is Jesus calling us to go and out spend all of our money on impulsive and spontaneous action I do not believe that Jesus would want us all to go and spend all of money on a bet in a casino, or buying a million dollar home, or buying products that will make us smell better and increase or vanity.
This passage is not a simple one, nor does it have a simple answer. I think that we are to recognize the love that many have for Jesus, and in this passage in particular mary. And she wishes to show her belief in Jesus and her great devotion by this magnificent gift. And she takes the time to show Jesus her devotion and love by bathing him with this perfume. And the selfishness of Judas does not take away from the preciousness of the time that Mary spends with Jesus. But in spite of the judgement and condemnation of Judas, I believe there is still a message for us to consider from this very human, very broken disciple of Jesus. He spoke about the poor, and reminds us that we need to be thinking about people other than ourselves. It is a complex passage, possibly convoluted. And we have not even looked at the connotation of Mary washing the feet of Jesus, when this is something he does for the disciples in the very next chapter of the gospel of John. But this would take more time than we have this morning.
These verses do get us to think about our faith and what we are called to do in a potentially confusing time as to figure out what we need to do and say in order to maintain faithfulness. And this is a good reminder for us as we thinking about living faithfully in today’s world.
10:45 am baptism could even be seen as a complex event in our lives. It involves one small child, one family, in the grand scheme of the church. Baptism is an individual event for Makenna today, but it also involves the presence and participation of the entire worshipping community. It may cause us to think a great deal about the sacrament of baptism, to realize that we are a part of
Makenna’s baptism and we have a role to play in it, just as awe have a role to play at living faithfully, in the life of the church and in the life of the world.
Life is complex, with many nuances, just like the contemporary music we encounter today in worship
May the people of God say together Amen.