Archives for March 2013

Playdate: a Photo Essay

For the last seven years, we have had the joy
and the privilege of
living within easy driving distance
of our youngest two grandchildren,
both girls.
Every Wednesday and almost every Friday for a little over two years,
we had the youngest one in our care.
Last September, Lilly began pre-school and our weekly visits
became fond memories.
But this week,
ah, this week was spring break,
even at pre-school,
so on Monday and Wednesday,
we had a little fun.
Wednesday, we hung around the house,
created a Princess Wand from a kit she
received for her birthday,
and watched a couple of movies.
On Monday, however,
we hooked up the car seat and went on

We were headed towards Santa Barbara’s excellent small zoo,
but got there before it opened.
So we took a little side trip out to the marina,
where all the colorful fishing vessels,
and more than a few pleasure craft
were lined up in rows.

It was cool and overcast and the tide was in, but we braved our way
partway out the breakwater pathway.

 A stiff breeze sent the flags straight in toward shore.

The waves crashed mightily right over the top of the wall, however,
so we turned back at the halfway point.

 I love the juxtaposition of the mountains against the masts
and the reflection of the boats against the water.

It was time for the zoo to open!
So we unloaded the stroller,
and hit the ground.
Lilly wanted two stops right off the bat – the koi fountain . . .

. . . and the children’s play area.

Because you know,
dinosaur eggs are the most fun thing in the world.

And Poppy just had to have his picture taken, there, too.

She checked out the spider web and the butterfly bench and then
we started on the animal circle.

 Colorful macaws.

Can you spot the boulder?
Looks a lot like whatever these animals are, don’t you think?

 Shooting through a glass shield, trying to capture
this golden monkey,
I got our girl’s reflection, prancing in her ballerina skirt.

 A very tiny fox with very big ears.

 The only difficult exhibit for me was this one —
not enough space for a small pride of lions.
Having seen these magnificent creatures roaming huge game parks in Africa,
this one was tough to see.

 But these guys?
Well, they’re just plain wonderful to watch.
These two are female and both are pregnant.

And Michael makes three.

 He moves gracefully, slowly, deliberately,
always on the look out for something to nibble.

These large creatures are surprisingly dexterous,
bending their front knees to grab at the grass,
reaching around to scratch an itch.

 So beautiful and gentle.
Can you see the ocean out behind him?

 So cute. And the eyelashes?

This zoo is a rehab station for large birds of prey, including
the California condor and the American bald eagle.

 Clivia, pincushion protea, cactus garden – geographical landscaping
as we moved through the exhibits.

 Our beautiful bird lagoon, not an official part of the zoo,
but adjacent to it. There is a family of gibbons on one of the islands.

 Lots of exotica — but barnyard animals are pretty fun!

A swing by the elephants,

 a quick move to antartica for the penguins,
and then. . .

 . . . a treat to end the morning.

 We love this girl so much and are always grateful
when she invites us for a playdate.
Try it sometime — I promise, it’s good for whatever ails you.

Good Friday/Holy Saturday

Cloudy, with intermittent sunshine on Friday.
Fog wisping its way into crevices and canyons,
then wending its way back to sea.
Ideal weather for such a portentous day,
this day of subtexts, sadness and sober reflection.

We must, as the truism goes, walk through Friday,
before we can get to Sunday.
I know this, I believe this, I choose to live this.
But it is always difficult.
I am tired by the time we get to this day.
Every member of a church staff is tired at this end of this week.
and yet . . .

. . . there is a weightiness that cannot be denied,
that won’t be ignored or trivialized.
Though many around us are oblivious,
those who cling to the Jesus story,
on this day will find some way to acknowledge
the cross,
the terrible, wonderful cross.

This week marks the endpoint of six weeks of Lenten journeying;
the culmination of all the readings and the wanderings,
the fasting and the praying and the giving of alms.

Friday, Good Friday, commemorates the descent of darkness,
true darkness,
as it spread its paralyzing tentacles over the earth,
oozing outward from the center,
that stillpoint on  a lonely hilltop,
outside the city gates of Jerusalem.

Our Service of Darkness provided opportunity
for remembering,
for being quietly grateful
and intentionally aware of the extent of God’s great love.

 Seven words.
Seven layers.
Seven levels of increasing darkness,
seven scripture texts, seven written reflections, seven songs.
And a repeated response:
Leader: Lord Jesus, you gave your life for us.
People: You suffered and died that we might be made whole. 

 Musicians and readers sat in the balcony this night,
hidden behind a black drape.
There was nothing to distract from the cross,
or the candles,
each of which was extinguished at the close of a ‘word,’
until there was only one light left,
our Christ candle,
tall, central, sputtering.

And then, it, too, was blown out,
and darkness enveloped the room and our hearts.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there?

Oh, yes. I was there.
I am there, every single year,
and I remember that body,
that blessed body,
where all the brokenness, the wrongheadedness,
the outright evil I have embraced in this long life —
all of it is absorbed.

I don’t pretend to understand this.
The writers of scripture struggled with it, too,
giving us multiple word pictures of
what Jesus accomplished on the cross:
ransom, substitution, example, exchange, offering, sacrifice —
each and all of these providing one facet of the jewel,
one small slice of the gift.
This gift, too wondrous for the confines of human language,
too beautiful for words.

And today, Holy Saturday, it is quiet.
The fog has settled in, cushioning the sounds of traffic,
of birdsong, of daily life.
It is as if a silent shroud has settled on our landscape.

I welcome this space,
this silence,
because this is the day that death dies.
Really, and truly dead —
that’s what Jesus was.
That’s what we were.

But tomorrow?
Tomorrow, we rise with him.

And because of tomorrow,
we rise with him every day,
every moment of every day
right into every moment of tomorrow.
Because this week . . .
this Maundy Thursday,
this Good Friday,
this Holy Saturday,
this Easter Sunday . . .
this week makes all of life blessed,
even the broken, beat-up pieces of it.

This week marks the dawn of a new age,
a new creation, a new way of living life.
Because of God-become-man,
God choosing to fully embrace the fragility and beauty,
the brokenness and sadness,
the miracle and wonder of being human —
we, too, are invited into a fully-lived humanness.

We, too, are Easter people.

This is Kingdom come,
right here, right now, in the middle of the mess.
Today, the Son shines,
redeeming and transforming our dust,
our star-dust selves,
making of us what we could not fully become
by ourselves:
human persons, formed in the image of God.

Oh, yeah — Sunday’s comin’
and we’re going to shout and sing and everything!

My thanks to Jeanne Heckman for creating a starkly beautiful space for this service; to Pastor/Dr. Jon Lemmond and Student Ministries Intern Anna Cornell for leading us in worship; to Dr. Marianne Robins, Dr. Greg Spencer, Dr. John Sider and Dr. Paul Willis for joining me as readers, and to Bob Gross, Jon Martin, Janet Spencer and John Sider for adding so much musical depth to the evening.
We are truly a blessed community.

Maundy Thursday Meditation

Meditation for Maundy Thursday
Diana R.G. Trautwein
March 28, 2013
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-17; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35 

This is a strange day, in the midst of a strange week, in the midst of a very strange story. This story of ours, the one we know so well, and yet not at all; this story, which if I let it do its work, well. . . it just knocks the breath right out of me.

It’s a hard story and a beautiful one, a story that demands response, that can’t be entered into partially, that carries import we cannot always see. It’s a story told over time, lots and lots of time, and it’s a story that is never really over, at least as long as this old globe keeps spinning around the sun. Because we can choose to believe it every day — to tell it every day, to live it every day, to let it live us, live in us. We, such ordinary, falling-down, messing-it-up disciples — yes, we can choose to let this story be told through our everyday lives.

And tonight’s gospel message, piled on top of that Exodus reminder about a long-ago foundational event in the plot; embellished by the lyrical words of the psalmist-poet; set right up against Paul’s indelible record about the beginnings of our sacramental table — this story from John about finishes me. Because it is John’s vignette, his telling about Jesus loving his friends ‘to the end’ — a line which I love and why I changed the translation for tonight’s reading — it is this story that makes Holy Thursday holy; it is John’s story that makes this day Maundy Thursday.

Such a strange word to our ears, Maundy, and no etymologist has completely nailed down its origin. The likeliest way we got this adjective is this: the Latin word for ‘commandment’ is  mandatum which by some process of evolution became Maundy in English.

This is the day in which Jesus gives his disciples a ‘new commandment.’
This is the day in which Jesus models that commandment to the ragged band of followers gathered round the dinner table with him.
This is the day when Judas sneaks off into the night to begin the undoing process.
This is the day and the night when Jesus eats and drinks and touches and loves and prays.

This is the last time that Jesus is a free man.

John’s gospel never speaks of a ‘last supper’ like the other gospel writers do, so chapter 13 is the closest thing we’ve got. There is no mention of bread and cup in this passage. There is no admonition to ‘remember.’ Instead, there is a strong visual aid and there are these words:

“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Even on the last night of his life, Jesus is beating the same drum: hearing is good, doing is better; knowledge is good, doing is better. If the story is to be told, it has to be lived.

This is the piece that we need to grapple with, isn’t it? And, I am so sorry to say, this is the part that just stymies me all the dang time. Because there is a big, big difference between knowing and doing. There is a big, big difference between knowing about love and loving.

And most of us, if we’re truly honest, most of us cringe at the picture of love which is drawn for us around this dinner table in chapter 13. What Jesus does here is shocking, startling, unexpected, even unwelcome. What? An act of love, unwelcome? Yes, most definitely. Jesus strips down, grabs a towel, then bends over and begins, gently but insistently, to wash the dusty feet of his friends.

Now washing feet was an everyday occurrence in 1st century Palestine. People walked everywhere. Dinner gatherings were enjoyed in a reclining position, and sleeping couches were often moved into a circle around the table full of food. Putting your dirty feet up on someone’s bed simply was not done, it was impolite in the extreme. Water, towel and basin would be provided to all, as an act of welcome, of hospitality.

For just an ordinary dinner gathering, guests would wash their own feet before climbing up onto the couch, and that is most likely what would have happened if Jesus had not grabbed that basin. If the homeowner was financially successful OR if the gathering was a truly special event, then a servant would be given this task. The host did not wash his guests’ feet. It’s a grungy, and somehow deeply personal, task, so it was given to the least personal member of the household: the servant.

For the Teacher, the Rabbi, the leader of the band, to ‘assume the position,’ to bend down and do the dirty work — well, it just was not done. It was an extremely humble — to the point of humiliating — act. And I imagine it was a humbling thing to receive as well. But here’s something you may have noticed about Jesus: he was pretty much all about doing those things that were not done.

And almost every time, he managed to re-define the socially unacceptable thing — from touching a leper to eating with a tax collector to re-interpreting the Sabbath command to honoring women and children —

Jesus was able to change the meaning, to tweak it in such a way that it could never be looked at the same way again. “Watch and learn,” seem to be his bywords. “Let me tell you the story in a new way.” And in this particular piece of the story, the action precedes the commandment. “Let me show you,” he says,” let me show you how to love one another. Then go, and do likewise.”

You know, life would be so much simpler if he had said something like, “Go and think likewise.” Or, “Go, and believe likewise.” But he did not. No, he did not. He said, “Go, and DO likewise.” And that is where the rubber meets the oh-so-resistant road in me.

Maybe in you, too?

I’ve thought about this faith stuff a lot. I’ve chosen to believe it, too. I’m constantly working on refining what I think and what I believe. But the actual doing part? Ummm. . . .not so much. That part is much tougher for me. I am impatient, I am cranky, I am judgmental, I am intolerant — with myself and with others. I do not always look for ways to ‘be the servant’ in a given situation (although I will add here that not every situation asks that of us nor is it always the best option). But. . . most of the time, in most situations, it is, and always will be, the best, the truest, the most-likely-to-line-up-with-the-story thing to do. BE THE SERVANT.

Not the doormat — Jesus initiates this action, it is not forced upon him, expected of him, or imposed in any way.

And not the disappearing act, the self-immolation thing, either — Jesus is still very clearly himself in this scene; he has strong words for Peter; he uses the moment as a teaching point; he never denies who he is.

Rather, he re-defines who he is:

I am the teacher who is also a servant.
I am the Lord who is also your slave.

These are not mutually exclusive categories;they are beautifully complementary — indeed, they are two sides of the same shining coin. It seems that LOVE is often best seen in humility and TRUTH can be better understood in the context of compassion. The story is told, the story is lived when we learn about and live into loving one another.

THIS, Jesus says, is how people will recognize you. This is your calling card in the world.This is how the gospel will be most effectively spread — when you love one another. Not when you ignore one another; not when you ask and answer the perfunctory, “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine, just fine;” not when you browbeat one another; not when you pick and choose doctrines to use as weapons; not when you make it about outsiders and insiders; not when you demand a detailed statement of faith, with all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed; not when you spout any kind of party line about anything. NO. The world will know you are mine if you love one another as I have loved you.

Pope Francis had this to say in his Maundy Thursday homily earlier today:

“Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.” — Pope Francis, Holy Thursday homily

Now, that, my friends — THAT is a story. Amen.

Tonight we are going to invite you to do a couple of new things, things that we believe will help us to put flesh on this story from John’s gospel. You can see this magnificent table configuration that Jeanne Heckman has put together for us. On either side of the large table, are two smaller ones, with large basins on board. And here are some beautiful bottles, filled with water.

It seemed to us that people in California in the year of our Lord, 2013, don’t walk a lot of places. Oh, we take walks, with special shoes and clothes, but we don’t generally walk in open sandals from Goleta to Montecito. We do, however, use our hands for a lot of different tasks, some of them quite grungy in nature. And we tend to wash these hands of ours a lot. And, unless we are quite small or quite infirm, we always do it for ourselves. So, following the example of Jesus, we want to invite you, on this special night, to come to the Table of the Lord with clean hands, and to let someone else do the washing.

There will be friends here, your servants for this evening, three on each side. One will pour the water over your extended hands, the other will dry them before you come to take the bread and dip it into the cup offered to you by servant number three. You are invited to come down the center aisle, then peel off to the left or the right, extend your hands, and accept this ministry of water and reconciliation and love. Then you are invited to partake of the Lord’s Supper by tearing the bread and dipping it into the cup. You may return to your seats by going up the side aisles.

Joining with Jennifer and Emily this Thursday night.

The Legacy of Love – Prodigal Magazine


It’s time for my story-sharing at Prodigal Magazine. I’d love it if you’d join me over there today for a reflection on threading love through the generations of a family. . .

She is not quite three years old on this day, looking around the circled family at this strange, new table, trying to find the thread that connects us all to one another. It’s a very long thread, actually, starting with the old woman on her right and weaving its way through the assembled group and beyond.

It’s a thread that shimmers with light and grace and shared history. But most of all, it’s a thread that sings when you pluck it — a thread that sings of love over time.

My mother married my father when they were young and wildly in love.

Both came from differently dysfunctional families, both wanted to create something brand new in their coming together, and they did it. Two children, two years apart, a girl (me) and a boy, and then another boy, almost 11 years later. They built a home that was far from perfect but was wonderful, warm and winsome nonetheless.

Faith was central, education was highly valued, music was ever-present, and laughter was required.

There were parties and camping trips, and Friday night movies with popcorn and Bubble-Up and Hershey’s giant chocolate almond bar. There were honest discussions, sometimes angry words, and more than a few tears. But under and around and through everything, there was love.

Lots and lots of love.

Then my husband and I got married when we were young and wildly in love.

We both came from far more functional homes than any of our parents and we, too, wanted to create something different, something unique, as we built our own home. And together, we decided that keeping what was good from our original family circles would be a high priority. So grandparents were a big part of our family story.

Our three children had all four of their grandparents actively involved in their lives until they themselves were married and had kids of their own.

And that, we discovered, is a very rare gift. . .

Hop on over to Prodigal Magazine to read the rest, won’t you? And leave me a note that says you did! Thank you.

The God We’ve Got

 The shouts echoed off the city gate, ricocheting round the corners,
filling the space between the Mount of Olives and the city center.
The palms were waving, the clothes were thrown down across the road,
the people were in a party mood!
And they shouted out their joy,
their conviction that God had come to rescue them from the Romans
in the form of this interesting rabbi from Nazareth.

Each year, their cries echo inside my spirit,
reminding me of my own frailty,
and the mercurial emotions that can whipsaw through
an individual or a group of people.
Because those joyful shouts sound different when heard
through the hateful ones that were uttered just five days later.

Those folks in 1st century Jerusalem were not all that different
from people I know today.

Most especially, they are not so different from me.

Whether I’m engulfed in the busy-ness of life
or the monotony of it,
I, too, can shift from praise to fear to anger
with a rapidity that sometimes frightens me.

They did not ‘get’ Jesus, our pastor told us on Sunday.
And I do not ‘get’ him, either.
This odd celebration in the middle of building political tension,
strange miracles, super-sensitive women,
and behind-the-scenes machinations —
it never feels like it fits with the rest of the events of the week.
It’s a stand-alone, an odd duck, an almost unholy blend of
highs and lows.
Maybe that’s why it truly has two names — Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.
And two long gospel texts to choose from — one for each name.

Personally, I think we need to hang onto a bit of both.

I need to remember that even when I’m ‘high’ on Jesus, and happy to praise him,
grateful for a long list of good gifts,
convinced that I’ve seen the hand of God at work in the world around me —
even then (maybe especially then?),
I must also remember the hateful, frightened cries of that Good Friday mob.
I must remember the garden.
And the trial.
And the long, torturous walk to the cross.
The earth shaking, the curtain tearing, the darkness encroaching.

Yes, I need to hold the two stories in tension,
making space for all of it, telling the whole truth.

I think if I had been there, I would have been so happy
to lay my cloak down on the road.
I would have cried out the Old Testament texts I had built my hope upon.
I would have waved those branches and maybe even danced a little.
Because I, too, celebrate that idea of a hero with clout,
a military junta expert,
a person of power in the way the world teaches about power,
willing and eager to overthrow evil rulers, establish a government
that lives up to my personal expectations and understandings about
justice and righteousness and freedom.
I think we all secretly dream of a Superhero God.

But the God we’ve got is not that, not at all.

Thank God.
Thank God, thank God, thank God.

The God we’ve got is contrary to every expectation,
sometimes mysterious in the extreme,
prone to doing the exact opposite of what the systems
of this world tell us about power, position, status, reputation, prestige.
The God we’ve got is
always, ALWAYS surprising us with  humility, graciousness,
acceptance and grace.

The God we’ve got chooses to climb down into the dust with the likes of us,
to walk the roads and tell the stories,
to listen to his mama – or not! – and to spend time with friends.
The God we’ve got says a clear ‘no’ to the systems of intimidation,
injustice, oppression and favoritism.
The God we’ve got jumps into the midst of
humanity, lives an ordinary-extraordinary life,
and then faces squarely into the sentence given to him
by the very people he came to love and to save.
It’s a mystery.
And a wonder.
And something about Palm/Passion Sunday captures all of that.

Because, as Pastor Jon noted on Sunday, Jesus did nothing
to stop the shouting.
Indeed, he refused to do so when asked.
He accepted their acclamations, their heart-cries of hope,
he did not contradict them, correct them, or explain things to them.
He simply rode that donkey and claimed that if
these people didn’t praise him,
the very rocks in the road would
cry out in joy.

And then he kept facing into Jerusalem.

 IF DEATH WAS TO be truly defeated, it was only by dying himself that Jesus believed he could defeat it. If he was to reach the hearts of men, it was only by suffering his own heart to be broken on their behalf that he believed he could reach them. To heal the sick and restore sight to the blind; to preach good news to the poor and liberty to the captives; to wear himself out with his endless teaching and traveling the whole length and breadth of the land—it had not worked because it was not enough. There had to be more. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” the Gospel says, and it was a journey from which he seems to have known that he would both never return and return always even unto the end of time and beyond.
– Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus

Joining this with Michelle, Laura, Jen and Jenn tonight:



Lenten Meditation — Week Five

Lenten Meditation, Week Five
offered at Montecito Covenant Church
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
by Diana R.G. Trautwein

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8


This is the last of our Wednesday night gatherings for this year, and, to tell you the truth, I have rather mixed feelings about that. I’m relieved not to be going out at night any more (except, of course, for next Thursday and Friday!), I’m glad to not have the weekly deadline, I’m glad that Easter is within view.

But I will miss these small spaces of quiet, of soft music, of scripture read aloud, and communion shared. The older I get, the more liturgical I feel and Lent just slides right into that whole aging process!

As we move through week five, readying ourselves for the events of Holy Week, the scriptures themselves give hints of both the darkness and the light to come. Isaiah speaks of a ‘new thing,’ a ‘way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’ The psalmist sings about, ‘mouths filled with laughter’ and ‘tongues singing songs of joy.’ Paul writes such beautiful, earnest words to his friends at Philippi. He writes of wanting to gain Christ above all things, about knowing Christ — both Christ’s sufferings and Christ’s resurrection, about becoming like Christ and taking hold, and forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead. Paul writes about pressing on.

And that’s just about the perfect verb for tonight, it seems to me: We press on toward the hope of the resurrection, that’s what we do. We put one foot in front of the other, and we press on. But the small gospel story reminds us that we don’t do that alone, do we? We do it with Jesus — and we do it with one another, too. Mary’s gift, her loving, scandalous gift, united her to the heart of Jesus in a way that little else could. As we reflected together on Sunday, Mary was a true friend, an honest disciple, a woman who paid attention and who then reached out toward the Lord. The Lord, who was about to enter into those last, hard days.

We’ll look at the palms parade on Sunday, and Pastor Jon is asking some excellent, tough questions about that event and our response to it. And we’ll share a meal together in our Family Life Center on Thursday night, like the early disciples did on that long-ago Thursday. Then we’ll ‘sing a hymn’ and wander over here to the sanctuary afterwards, to finish the evening with water, with bread and cup. On Friday, we’ll walk through that last, long day with a service of increasing darkness, of special music, and reflection on the last words Jesus spoke as he was dying on that stick on the hill outside the city gates.

We’ll take this journey, like we do every year, and we will remember. We’ll be reflective and we’ll be confessional and we’ll be somber. And properly so, too. It’s a serious season, this Lent, this Holy Week.

But just like the changing seasons within which Lent falls — the movement from winter to spring — there are signs of life all along the darkening way. There are sprigs of hope, there are words of promise, there are pinpoints of light. And tonight, we are looking for that light.

It’s been a bit of a tough week for me. How about for you? Backed my car into a visitor’s truck — in my own driveway yesterday. Sigh. My mom is experiencing ever-worsening confusion and forgetfulness. My uncle, her younger brother, died this morning, bringing deep sadness, not just to my mom and her sister, but to me and my brother and our cousins. It’s not that we don’t expect a 90-year-old with cancer to die. It’s not even that we aren’t relieved and grateful that he is now free of pain and in a better place. It’s that we see the end of an era roaring at us. And we see our own end in theirs.

My mother has one remaining sibling out of three. And when they’re all gone, there will be no more ‘older generation’ in my family. When Dick’s mom dies, that will be the end in his family.

It will just be us. WE are the elders now.

And I surely don’t feel terribly wise, or even all that old, to tell you the truth. The clock on the wall and the calendar in my purse tell me otherwise, as do my joints and the color of my hair. But somehow, I don’t believe it.

I keep looking for God to do a new thing, I guess. And that’s not all bad, either. Because it takes looking sometimes to see it, don’t you think?

It takes a prophetic imagination, it takes a psalmist’s musical meanderings, it takes a traveling evangelist’s insights, it takes the bold and generous giving of a woman willing to take a risk to remind us that even in the midst of suffering, aging and death, God is doing a new thing.

“Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Even so, come Lord Jesus!


Joining this small piece with Emily and Bonnie and Jennifer, too:

Scandalous, Extravagant Love — A Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Scandalous, Extravagant Love
a sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
Sunday, March 17, 2013
by Diana R.G. Trautwein

(If you prefer to hear rather than read a sermon, the podcast for this will be available late in the day on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at under “Resources”)

We’ve heard the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul. Now it’s time to hear it from John. Today, I invite all who are able, to stand for the reading of the gospel. And though I do encourage you to turn to chapter 12 in your pew Bibles, or in the Bibles you’ve brought with you today, I’d like to ask that you listen to it now. I’ll be reading from The New Living Translation.

Hear the good news from John 12:1-8:

                                   Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the
                                   home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was  prepared
                                   in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.
                                   Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of
                                   nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house
                                   was filled with the fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon
                                   betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been
                                   sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor — he was
                                   a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some
                                   for himself. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my
                                   burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.                                 

The gospel of the Lord.

You may be seated.

I don’t know whether it’s the arrival of daylight saving’s time or the early beginning date for Ash Wednesday, but somehow, Lent seems to be flying by this year. I don’t often say that, you know. Lent sometimes feels endless to me, six long weeks of plodding my way through the wilderness, of not singing, ‘hallelujahs,’ of giving something up or adding something on, of getting ready for the events of Holy Week. But here we are: one week from Palm Sunday, on our calendars — only one day away on John’s.

This little vignette happens just before the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. And Jesus is deliberately not in the city. Because at the end of the preceding chapter — the one in which Jesus commands Lazarus to, ‘come out!’ from the tomb, four days after the man died — there is a lot of buzz going on about him, and about Lazarus, too.

There were a lot of witnesses to this miraculous stripping away of the bonds of death from Jesus’ friend Lazarus. All those who came to help the sisters mourn — who were with Mary and Martha when their brother died — they saw what happened. And they were blown away by it. Many of them followed after Jesus — John tells us that they ‘put their faith in him.’ But a few, well a few of them went to the Pharisees. . .who went to the High Priests. . .who called an emergency session of the ruling council to talk about this remarkable feat.

And in the verses just before our story for today, Caiphas, the highest of the high priests, spoke these prophetic words: “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Apparently, this latest Jesus-deed was terrifying to them, so terrifying, that they immediately began to intently plot and plan for his death.

So Jesus removed himself from public view for a little while. In the meantime, the people who were gathering in the temple court, getting ready for the festival of Passover –they were looking for him, wondering where he was. And the high mucky-mucks? Oh yes, they were looking for him, too.

And Jesus? Well, Jesus went to a dinner party.

It’s interesting to me how often Jesus is eating dinner or somehow referencing food in the gospels. We’ve got parables about salt and yeast, and mustard seeds and banquets. Jesus miraculously feeds large crowds of people, he is criticized for eating and drinking with sinners and for not forcing his disciples to fast. He dines at Peter’s home, and more than once, at the home of the siblings we see today — Mary, Martha, Lazarus. And of course, he uses the imagery of the Passover feast to describe what his own death means. As Jon’s quote from N.T. Wright last week put it, “Jesus didn’t give his disciples a theory about the cross; he gave them a meal.”

So with all these pieces of background in mind, let’s look at this eight verse section a little bit more closely and see what we can glean from the story before us this morning.

The scene is a party, a party honoring Jesus. Maybe it’s a big thank-you feast, with Jesus as the honored guest, and Lazarus as one of his tablemates. Lazarus, the dead man brought back to life — yeah, that guy — he’s right there, eating and drinking and whoopin’ it up with the rest of the gang.

You’ll note that Martha — well, Martha is serving the dinner. That’s familiar information, if you’ve read Luke’s gospel, very familiar. You may remember that Luke talks about these sisters as two sides of one coin — one busy and distracted (that would be Martha), scrambling around to make and serve dinner; the other quiet and reflective (that would be Mary), sitting in the position of a disciple, at the feet of Jesus. And here in John, we think we’re hearing a snippet of the same kind of song — yet I see no judgment or critique of Martha’s role here.

John, you see, has already told us that dear Martha is no slouch in the theology department. She is the one, the insightful disciple, who boldly tells Jesus — even before he raises her brother from the dead — “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Not bad for a worker bee, not bad at all.

So, the three siblings: Lazarus is at table with Jesus, Martha is busy carrying hot dishes in from the kitchen, and Mary?

Where is Mary anyhow?

Ah yes — once again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus.

But oh, my goodness, this is a brazen woman! In the ancient middle east, women did not enter the public dining space of the house when men were eating, unless they were carrying food, like Martha was. Martha’s presence was legit. But Mary’s? Not at all.

In fact, just coming into the room would have been offensive and questionable in that time and that place. But what she does next? The only word for it is this one — scandalous.

She takes an extremely expensive vial of perfumed oil, she breaks the top off, and she pours it all over Jesus, most specifically all over his feet. The very place where she went to listen and to learn.

Those feet that trudged up and down the long,
dusty roads between Jerusalem and Galilee.
Those feet that went into the byways of small country villages,
into the synagogues and the temple court,
into the homes of his friends,
up into the hills
and out onto the boats,
and across the landscape of the land
carrying the body of the Lord, the Teacher,
the Healer, the Beloved of God,
carrying him into the lives of the people of Palestine.

Those feet that Mary loved.

She poured this gift liberally, spreading its beautiful fragrance all through the house, infecting everyone gathered there with that scent, that scent of love and sacrifice and extravagance.

And then, she did the unthinkable — she untied her hair, and she leaned over those feet, and she wiped the oil right into all the cracks and crevices, anointing him with this precious stuff, this imported, expensive, strong, sweet stuff. Such an intimate act, and such a shocking one.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for us to grasp just how scandalous this was. A woman in 1st century Palestine could be divorced if she was ever seen in public with her hair down. To use it to wipe the feet of an adult male? Unheard of.

Mary’s act is a scandal. And according to Judas, it was also a disgrace, an ethical failure, a misappropriation of funds. A waste.

And Jesus cuts him off, right then, right there.

“Leave her alone!”

Down from the soapbox, Judas. Stop your moralizing and take another look at what’s really happening here. Do you see this woman, this friend, this disciple of mine? She is sitting right square in the center of God’s will, in the center of my life right now. Mary has been paying attention, really listening to me. And this generous gift she’s given? It’s the most perfectly appropriate thing she could have done: she is getting me ready, she is marking me, anointing me –not in the usual way, not in celebration, not to mark a festive occasion — but to prepare me to die.

To prepare Jesus to die. This scandalous, extravagant gift had one primary purpose: to mark the physical body of Jesus with the promise of death.

Kings were anointed before their coronation. Jesus is anointed before his death, which will be, as we now know, the opening of that final door to the Kingdom of God. The cross, that place of paradoxical humiliation and glory, of strange and wonderful, upside-down power, of scandalous, extravagant love.

“The poor,” Jesus says to Judas, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary and Judas stand in such stark contrast in this small story, don’t they?

Which one are you?
Which one am I?

My guess is, we’ve got a bit of both goin’ on. My guess is, it’s that Judas bit in us that keeps us from fully embracing the Mary side that’s struggling to be free. It’s the phony moral outrage that trumps the passionate embrace. It’s the self-righteous judgmentalism that supersedes the intuitive sensibilities. It’s the sneak thief that pushes the empathic encourager into the background.

It is Mary in this story who sees and tells the truth.
It is Mary in this story who makes her love for the Lord visible and tangible.
It is Mary in this story who pays attention to what’s really going on.

And it is Mary who is strong enough on the inside to do something scandalous, and extravagant and real on the outside.

And you know what I think? Despite John’s extra details about betrayal and thievery, I have a hunch Judas wasn’t all that different from a lot of us church folk. He was part of the inner circle, after all. He was privy to the private lessons, the extended discussions, the uneasiness of the disciples about where Jesus was headed. He was on the inside.

But he wasn’t paying attention.

Maybe he was too busy with his own agenda. Maybe he completely misunderstood who Jesus was. Maybe he wanted to control outcomes, to manipulate the Lord into doing what Judas thought was best.

Whatever it was, Judas was tied to a lie, unable, maybe even unwilling, to see the truth that was right there in front of him. Judas had not built an inner life that had space for empathy or insight or loving response.

It is Mary who is the model disciple in this story, the one who both listens to and acts on the commandments of the Lord. You remember those? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus was both, wasn’t he? The Lord her God, and her neighbor.

Here’s the piece that we must not miss here, my friends. Jesus tells us that he continues to show up in our neighbors. “If you do it unto the least of these,” he says, “you do it unto me.”

Staying close to the heart of Jesus necessarily means staying close to our neighbors. Staying in tune with the God of Love means offering that love to others. Paying attention to what Jesus teaches brings insight, intuitive responsiveness, genuine empathy and acts of love.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus will always lead to pouring out the fragrant oil on those very same, very dusty, very real feet. They go together, two halves of a whole, two sides of the equation, two parallel, intertwined pathways leading to the same destination.

It is also true that sitting at the feet of Jesus may very well lead us into some scary, risky places. Learning to be in tune with Jesus could bring us to make a wild leap once in a while, to do the unexpected — maybe even the unacceptable, but oh-so-deeply loving thing. Because sitting at the feet of Jesus will always involve a shocking amount of wild and crazy love.

Because the feet that were nailed to that cross are the most perfect picture of Love this world has ever seen. And sitting by those scarred feet will lead us down, down, down into the very heart of our God, where we will know that love is, and always has been, the only answer that makes any sense of anything.

And when that happens, when that downward, deepening, true knowing about love happens — the world moves.

I tell you, the world moves.

Pray with me:

Oh, Lord — will you move the world through us?
Draw us to those feet of yours, help us to sit still long enough to listen,
to understand, and to experience your love.
Then send us out to pour scandalously expensive love on the feet of others.
And when we do, to see you there, to see your eyes shining back at us.
Help us to be you, and help us to see you.
St. Teresa used to say that you have no other hands but ours —
will you help us to give these hands, and these hearts,
and these feet to you, Lord?
To you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Maybe you’re sensing today that pull inside,
that downward pull to the heart of love, the pull that will
always bring you to the feet of Jesus.
And maybe, just to sort of cement that awakening in your spirit,
you need to take a risk.
And dear friends, in this particular community,
sometimes the riskiest thing we can do
is to step out, in front of God and everybody, and just say, ‘yes.’
So Pastor Jon and Anna will be here in the front to hear your ‘yes,’
to pray with you if you wish prayer, to encourage you to let the Mary in you
come out into the light. We’re going to sing a litte, and you can come right then,
if you’re feeling especially brave; but they’ll both be here after the benediction, too,
so you may come whenever you wish. But, I say to you,
as kindly and lovingly as I can, if the Spirit is drawing you, come. 

Joining this much-longer-than-usual-blogpost with Laura, Jen, Michelle, Jenn and who knows who else I might think of. . .



A Lenten Meditation — Week Four

Lenten Service, Week Four — A Reflection on the Lectionary Texts
offered at Montecito Covenant Church
Wednesday evening, March 13, 2013

Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; II Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I’ve been reading and thinking and pondering and praying about the sermon next Sunday morning for the last couple of weeks. It will be the first one I’ve preached since retiring over two years ago, and I think I’m sensing a theme or two coming at me from the primary text for this Sunday. Funny thing is, I am finding a very similar theme in the texts for tonight, which are the ones we used last Sunday in worship. Do you think maybe God is trying to tell me something? To tell us something? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Okay. So. In our first Old Testament text for tonight — the Israelites are finally, FINALLY done with the manna. The wilderness wandering is over, they are beginning to settle into the new land, the new life, the new them.

And in number 32, the psalmist sings about the beauty of forgiveness, the change in his or her own emotional life because they have confessed their failings to God and have discovered that God is faithful to forgive, in fact, has forgiven in the very act of confessing. The singer remembers and celebrates that God is a safe place, not necessarily a tame place, maybe not even a non-scary place — as C.S. Lewis and others have reminded us – but a safe place, a hiding place, a space where all of who he or she is is welcome, loved, heard, forgiven.

And the epistle lesson? Oh my, we heard some powerful teaching on this passage last week! If you missed Jon’s sermon, I encourage you to go to the church website and look for the podcast — it was truly excellent. Jon pushed us to examine more carefully some of what many of us have been taught about what happened on the cross, about atonement. He reads Paul’s words to Corinth, and he finds there a very different kind of picture than the one a lot of us were taught. He finds a picture of new creation, of sinbeing nailed to the cross, of God loving us in spite of that sin, of Jesus’ death as the fullest expression possible of the Father’s extravagant and even risky love for us human creatures. An important text, with a strong clear message of transformation.

And then we have the gospel lesson.

Probably one of the most famous of all Jesus’ teachings, the one we call The Prodigal Son. And yes, I suppose it is indeed that – the story of the younger son, who treats his father as if he has died already, claiming his portion of the family estate and then wasting it, and his entire life, in a far off land. Soon enough, he wakes up, though, doesn’t he? And he seeks to return to the care of the father who loves him.

And here is where the story really gets interesting to me, and where I begin to question the well-known title of the story, too. Because I have to say the behavior of the father in this story is anything but usual, anything but predictable, anything but just – at least to our limited understanding of what ‘justice’ looks like.

This father does not do what so many might expect him to do:he does not rake the kid over the coals, he does not criticize his profligate behavior, he does not condemn the boy for having left in the first place, for having upset the family system, for having wasted half of the estate. Seems like that boyish behavior is worth at least a small hint of displeasure, doesn’t it? But we get none of it in this story from Jesus, not one breath.

What we see instead is a picture of reckless, extravagant, even scandalous love – which is, by the way, the title of next Sunday’s sermon. The father does the totally unexpected — he welcomes his lost boy home, not only welcomes but celebrates him with a grand party – new clothes, new jewelry, great food, good wine, lots of laughing and eating and drinking goin’ on. This is a party, man. A PARTY. A “he who was lost has been found” kinda party.

And there is not one hair’s breadth of hesitation from daddio. Not one: this is my kid. I love him to pieces. He may have behaved like a complete jerk, but that does not matter to me, now that he has returned. The point is — my boy is back. And that is all that matters.

I love the setting for this story, which the opening verses of tonight’s reading give us — the Pharisees have been grousing about the people Jesus chooses to hang out with. They do NOT approve and cast withering looks his way. Can you just see them? The scripture says, ‘they muttered.’ Muttering. That’s a pretty horrible word, for a horrible habit, one that most of us, if we’re at all honest, have to fess up to, don’t you think?

And that is exactly what the other son does as the story switches focus for a minute.

Except he mutters LOUDLY, and pointedly – at his father. His complaints are deep-seated, he feels excluded, left out, angry at the father’s expansiveness. He feels slighted, unappreciated, unnoticed AND he has decided that his father’s decisions, his acts of love and grace, are somehow unseemly. Jealousy rears its very ugly head and possesses this older, responsible kid.

Sigh. I can identify, can you?

I am the oldest kid in my family of origin. I am the ‘good girl’ in the story of my life. I am the one who behaves with decorum, trying always to obey the rules, even the ones that are unwritten and invisible. So I get this guy — WAY too well. But here’s what I notice almost immediately. The father gets him, too. 

He extends grace to both his boys this night.

Number one son gets assurances that ‘all that I have is yours. . .’ Did you catch that? All that I have is yours. Wow. No word of criticism here, either, is there? Nope. Not one. Only words of love and encouragement. “Come on, join the party. You know I love you — you’re the one that’s always here, you’re the one to whom everything belongs. Come on over – because, son, here’s the thing: WE HAD TO CELEBRATE. There was nothing else to be done.”

You know what I think? Maybe we should start calling this story the story of  “The Prodigal Father.” What do you think? It’s the father’s behavior that is ultimately the scandal of the day. He is the one who has nothing but grace to offer

to the profligate and the jealous older kid,
to the wastrel and the mutterer,
to the bitterness of failure and the pomposity of success,
to the wheedling cries of, “I am a poor worm, let me in, let me in,
to the offended (and offensive), “You never gave me any party.”


The Israelites in the wilderness,
the psalmist and his wasting bones,
the person who comes to Jesus for newness,
the younger brother,
the elder brother.

That father is something else, man. He is just something else.



Suffering As Teacher — A Guest Post for Tanya Marlow

I am privileged beyond words to be participating in Tanya Marlow’s year-long series on suffering. Tanya is a favorite writer out here on the interwebs and her own story enriches us all. I’d be honored if you’d hop over to her blog to see where this one lands . . .


I was 52 years old when I started my first paid pastoral position. Not exactly a spring chicken. The journey from conservative, stay-at-home-mom-church-and-community-leader to seminary student, then to ordained pastor was filled with surprises, with affirmation of my gifts, and with questions about where this all was headed.

My husband’s job kept us pretty bound to a geographical location. So, after seminary, I took on multiple roles within the larger denomination while I worked part-time for no pay at my home church and wondered about a call somewhere else. That call came through one of those denominational connections, and it seemed perfect for me: 30 hours per week, Associate Pastor, working alongside a man I knew and liked. It required a big move for us, and re-building community in a new place.

I saw no reason for concern about any of that; I was so excited to have an actual call to be a pastor!My husband’s investment firm had a branch office in this new town where he could work two days a week; the rest of the week would be spent 125 miles away, in the old town, staying with family. Perfect! Everything was working out well.


I was lonely. My husband was gone for three days (which was fine by me — fewer home-cooked meals, lots of new work projects to keep me busy) and two nights (which became increasingly difficult in this new neighborhood, a wealthy one with large lots, no streetlights and lots of things that went bump in the night).

And I was actively discouraged by my new boss from making friends within the congregation. Now think about that for a minute. I had been an active lay leader all my life, with the church and its community as centerpiece. Church was where I had almost all of my close friendships. So here I was, in a new place, where I knew no one, working hours above-and-beyond, and without my husband’s companionship for three days of each and every week.

Also, my new boss and his amazing secretary were admitted workaholics, physically and emotionally equipped to put in 80 hours a week. I tried hard to keep up. Truly, I did. But I began to have a few health issues here and there. A new doctor suggested a course of treatment that backfired pretty badly, leaving me seriously anemic and exhausted at the end of year five of this new life. I literally hit the wall one night — one lonely night with my husband gone, feeling overwhelmed by everything, and resorting to my usual form of self-medication — eating too much of something.

I collapsed in a heap on the floor, crying out to God that I could not do this anymore. What was God thinking when he called me to this place? How could I possibly be such a miserable failure in this role, the one I believed I had been made to fill? How could God have let this happen? I was letting down the church, I was letting down God, I was letting down the entire cadre of women in ministry, I was letting down my family, I was letting down myself. . . 

The story continues at Tanya’s blog, which you can find by clicking on this line. . .


The Wonder of “What If?” — A Photo Essay

What if we’ve got it wrong?

What if we’ve told it backwards?

What if the old pictures of God need re-printing,
editing, another look-see?

What if we are not ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God?’
What if, instead, we are invited partners in a dance of love,
creatures formed from dust, to be sure,
but creatures breathed into existence because of love, first, last and always?

I am knee-deep in Lenten texts right now,
reading and re-reading familiar passages,
reminded and remembering the Story,
the wild, wooly, wacky Story.

And I am seeing things anew, asking different questions,
surprised — again! — by the intricate beauty of it all.

It was a weekend perfect for beach-walking and I did a lot of it.
And as I walked, I pondered and prayed.

Then, on Sunday I worshiped and led in worship.
And I wrestled with some powerful ideas,
some poignant truths.

“How many of you,” our pastor asked us, “grew up hearing about an angry God?”
“How many of you heard someone tell you that Jesus took your place on the cross?”
“How many of you have heard that Jesus’ death paid your debt to God
or satisfied God’s wrath?”

My hand shot up. For each and every question.
Because that’s the primary understanding of Christ’s death on the cross that
most conservative, evangelical churches of the past 150 years have
faithfully taught, week in and week out.

But there is so much more to the cross,
so much more to the Incarnation,
so much more to the Story.
The easy-out response – and the truth, as well – is that it is a mystery,
a complex series of ideas and actions that we cannot fully comprehend.


There are lots of images, word pictures and acted parables
in the New Testament which speak to the breadth of it all,
the beauty of it all,
the truth of it all.

Jon quoted N.T. Wright:
“Jesus did not give his disciples a theory of what happened on the cross;
he gave them a meal.”

He gave us a meal,
a picture of nourishment,

Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he came to save us from God.
Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he was taking our place on that cross.
Exactly nowhere did he whisper that God hated us.


What if. . .

What if the truth is both simpler and more complicated.
What if the fullest picture of the whole shebang —
creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection,
the whole nine yards —
what if it is the natural outflowing of God’s amazing grace,
the potent, beautiful overflow of God’s goodness?

What if this Franciscan nun I’ve been reading,
a scholar and a thinker and a deep believer,
what if this is what it’s really all about:

“The doctrine of the primacy of Christ means that Jesus did not come because of human sin;
rather, from all eternity God willed to love
a finite other as a more perfect expression of his love.
Jesus would have come, therefore, even if there had been no sin.
The meaning of the Incarnation is not about sin but about the love of God.”

— Ilia Delio in The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective

What if our sin is not the most important thing about us?
What if love is the reason. . .
for everything??

If that is true, then this must be true:

It is sin on that cross — all that cuts us off from the God who loves us.
Jesus cries out, “ENOUGH!”
And the God who bends low dies so that we might live.
So that we might live in love.
So that we might live in God.
So that might be reconciled to God and to one another.

What if. . .

My deep thanks to my current partner in ministry, Dr. Jon Lemmond, for tackling this huge topic in a 20 minute sermon. And thanks to our community of faith who welcomed his words and wrestled right along with him as we kneaded our thinking muscles on Sunday morning. I am also grateful to Fr. Steve Coffey for his teaching on Dr. Delio’s work and to the good nun herself for this exquisite and thought-provoking book.

Joining this tonight with the ‘usual suspects: Michelle, Jennifer, Jen, Laura, and Ann –
and also with Heather because I did decide to ‘just write’ about the impact
of this process on  me over the last few days and with Jenn, because
there is no greater picture of mercy than the Incarnation of Jesus.
If I remember to do so, I’ll also link this with Emily W.
Pray for me, friends! I’m preaching next Sunday for the first time in a long time,
on a gospel text that I love – the anointing in Bethany.
And remarkably, it fits in well with the thrust of this week’s message, too.