Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mary Magdalene, Apostle

Evening Prayer (Vespers)

You may wish to light a candle and place it before you as you begin.
God is our light and our salvation, our refuge and our stronghold.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, we praise your name, O God.
For within you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.
HYMN: Beloved, God’s Chosen, ELW 648
FIRST READING: Exodus 2:1-10
A reading from: Exodus
1Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
  5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
PSALM: Psalm 73:23-28

 23Yet I am always with you;
  you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel,
and afterwards receive me with glory.
25Whom have I in heaven but you?
  And having you, I desire nothing upon earth.
Though my flesh and my heart should waste away,
God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
27Truly, those who forsake you will perish;
  you destroy all who are unfaithful.
But it is good for me to be near God;
I have made you my refuge, Lord God, to tell of all your works. 

GOSPEL:  John 20:1-2, 11-18

A reading from:  John

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

  11Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 

18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.

Today, we observe the Feast of Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles. In the Lutheran Church, this day is a Lesser Festival, meaning it may replace the readings and prayers for the day if it occurs on a Sunday.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis declared in 2016 that the celebration of Mary Magdalene is elevated from obligatory memory to feast day. This means she will be celebrated liturgically exactly like the other apostles: Peter, John, James, Andrew, and so forth. According to the Vatican this change reflects the Church’s intent to “reflect more deeply on the dignity of women.” (From Holy See Press Office Bollettino, Vatican City, 10 June, 2016)

So, who is Mary? We know a few things about her: she lived in Magdala, a city of about 40,000 people, according to the historian Josephus. We know she had demons, which Jesus removed, after which she became a devoted follower. It appears she had some wealth, because she is listed in Luke 8 as one of his female supporters. It seems she didn’t have any obligations to keep her at home, since she was able to join Jesus without delay. And we know she was at Jesus’ death and burial and was the first to see him after the resurrection.

Since the 600s CE, Mary has been thought to be a prostitute, but this is fake news promoted by Pope Gregory I. It was reinforced in 1324 with the establishment of the Magdalen House, a church ministry for “the rescue and maintenance of ‘fallen’ women.” This misunderstanding happened because of the conflation, the pushing together, of several stories of women into one person.

Other fake news is that she and Jesus were an item, ideas promoted by the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code. There is nothing in scripture about Mary being a prostitute, or about Jesus having a wife, Mary Magdalen or anyone else.

Instead of thinking of her as a prostitute or as Jesus’ wife, we can consider how the disciples thought of her. In most of the places where she is in a list of women in scripture, Mary is listed first, which means she is the most important of those in the list. Because she is listed with Joanna, the wife of a politician, she may also have some political influence as well as financial resources.

In all four Gospels, Mary is the first to see the risen Jesus, and she is the one sent to tell the news to the other disciples, so she is called the apostle to the apostles. The reading from Exodus is paired with Mary Magdalene because Miriam ran to tell her mother the good news that the baby had been found and taken in by the Princess. In the same way, Mary (another Miriam, really) ran to tell the disciples the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

Some authors imagine Mary as the one in charge of logistics as Jesus traveled. Someone would have needed to make arrangements for meals and sleeping quarters, and so forth. This would mean she had the skills to manage such journeys and the respect of the other women to follow her lead.

After the ascension, legend says that Mary traveled to Rome and spoke with Tiberius Caesar. This appearance would have been possible only if she had wealth and social status. She described to Tiberius how poorly Jesus was treated by Pontius Pilate, and apparently this got Pilate removed from his post.

The legend continues: Mary also told Tiberius that Jesus had risen from the dead. To help explain the resurrection she picked up an egg from the dinner table. Tiberius responded that a human being could no more rise from the dead than the egg in her hand could turn red. The egg turned red immediately. This story is why Mary is often painted holding an egg. Sometimes the egg is red, sometimes it is white.

So … What do we learn from Mary from Magdala that can influence our lives? I suggest we can be grateful for the ways in which Jesus has healed us and led us into new adventures. I suggest we can be as bold as Mary and run to tell others about Jesus. And I suggest we can use whatever we have at hand to do ministry with and among God’s people. Amen

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,         
but in these last days, God has spoken to us by the Son.

For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

For the health of creation, for abundant harvests that all may share, for plentiful water, and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

For essential workers, public servants, the government, and those who protect us; for those who work to bring peace, justice, healing, and protection in this and every place, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. 

For those who travel, for those who are sick and suffering, for those who are in captivity, and for those who are living in isolation, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

For deliverance in the time of affliction, wrath, danger and need, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

Other prayer petitions may be offered here.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go forth with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only trusting that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN:  Signs and Wonders, ELW 672

Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, + keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Liturgy from ELW Annual Liturgy License 26504

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Both Weeds and Wheat

Genesis 28:1-10; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Sometimes, we try to sort things by ability, or by size, or by color.  Sometimes, these practices are good and helpful. Seven-year-old children do not belong in adult math classes. Wrestlers and boxers are sorted by weight for their own protection. When we are painting a house or choosing clothes, it is helpful to sort by color so everything looks good.
We are always trying to decide where others fit, and where we fit into various groups. The Hogwarts Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books and movies helps incoming students fit into the four houses. The Sorting Hat told Harry he had two choices, either Gryffindor or Slytherin house. The choices the Sorting Hat offered were based on Harry’s skills and interests as well as his love for his parents. Harry chose to follow his parents into Gryffindor. The Sorting Hat and teachers understood his choice.

Farmers sort plants by whether they are crops or weeds. Farmers plant seeds and expect to grow mostly crops. Yes, weeds will appear, but often they can be spotted and removed. Most of us recognize dandelions as weeds, whether they are in the grass or the flowerbed or the driveway.
But, in wheat fields, darnel is a weed that looks almost identical to wheat until the crops are ripe, then the difference can be seen by the trained eye of a farmer or farm hand.

Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who planted wheat seeds. But when the crops began to grow, the slaves noticed that there were weeds sown in the crop. The slaves want to go and pull out the weeds, but the farmer tells them to wait. At harvest time, the weeds can be sorted out from the wheat and treated appropriately. Jesus is teaching the disciples that it is not up to them to choose whether something or someone is a weed or a stalk of wheat.
What we are to take from this parable is that it is not up to us to determine who is a weed and who is wheat. To paraphrase Martin Luther, we are at the same time wheat and weed. Since this is true of every person, we should not attempt to do the sorting.
Yet, our American society lately seems determined to sort each other out. We hate the one and love the other; or we love the one and hate the other. There is no in-between. I will not make a list of all the ways we divide ourselves, sort ourselves into groups, because you all know what I mean. This map is just one example.

Jesus is saying all people are both weeds and wheat, and we follow him when we look for the wheat in everyone, and let God take care of the weedy part at the right time.
So, a personal example. My brother is the exact opposite from me in many ways. Opposite political parties. Different views of how to earn a living. Different views of justice. And so forth. When we were children, he did this:

Today, he sends me pictures and articles that are his current attempt to push my buttons. He is still taunting me. His messages are the adult version of, “I’m not touching you.”
It’s annoying. In response, I have tried to prove that he is wrong. There are facts that prove I am right. But he always sees them differently. He twists my words or the words in the articles. I have sorted him into several categories that express how different he is from me. He has probably done the same for me.
At the same time, I have to remember we are children of the same parents, with our own different responses to the way in which we were raised, and the choices we made as children and as adults. I have to remember he is my brother, and I cannot write him off as not important in my life.
And I have to remember he is Jesus’ child. If I look for the wheat in him, I will see that he cares for his friends and neighbors as much as I do. He needs health care and a decent place to live as much as I do. He needs to be able to speak his mind and his opinions (even though I think he is wrong!) as much as I do. I have to wait and let Jesus do the sorting and the weeding.

There is one more way to think about this sorting of people. In the story from Genesis, Jacob has a dream, an encounter with God. When he wakes up, he says, “Surely, God was in this place and I didn’t know it.”

When we have encounters with people, or see people in the news, it may be helpful to remember that they also are where God is.  We may be able to detect some of their wheat, and some of their weeds. But -- We don’t have any way of knowing how God is working in them to change the weedy-ness into wheat. Surely, God is in their hearts, even if we don’t know it. 
Let’s not be too quick to sort people into either weeds or wheat. Let’s accept that people are both at the same time, and it’s God’s job to do the sorting, not ours.