Archives: 5 Lent

March Madness Salvation

We’re right in the thick of March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

As an alum, I am a diehard Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, and Kansas has created a remarkable March Madness tradition in the last ten years.

I don’t have any stats to back this up, but just from anecdotal evidence, KU seems to be the most highly ranked team that chokes the hardest every year in the tournament.

The higher seed we get, the lower seed we lose to with the most humiliating upset.

Sports analysts around the country have wracked their brains trying to explain this phenomenon, how Kansas can lead the nation in multiple categories for an entire season and then have a sustained nervous breakdown on national television for two hours straight during March Madness.

Well, I know the answer.

It’s all my fault.

The most intense phase of March Madness often coincides with Holy Week, and my priorities that week have often gone badly off track.

The reason Kansas keeps choking in the tournament is because I am engaging in gross blasphemous idolatry of basketball during Holy Week.

That’s the awful truth.

Every year the Jayhawk fight song and the Rock Chalk Chant start to blend with “Lift High the Cross” and “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded” in my head, and the moral battle is on once again.

If you’d like a halftime report on how it’s going this year, so far the score is Whitney’s Jayhawk Idolatry 1, Whitney’s Priestly Integrity, 0.

Scorekeeping is something we tend to do in all areas of our lives, and our spirituality is no exception. Continue reading

The Consequences of Waiting Upon the Lord

The story of Lazarus—it’s one of the most fascinating in the Bible.

I love this story for so many reasons.

I love it for its place in the unfolding of the tender and devoted friendship between Jesus and the siblings of Bethany.

Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha—we might call them the Fantastic Four!

We know there were many more encounters between them that we don’t see recorded in the gospels for the level of friendship they express for each other to be as real and deep as it appears.

After all, the message from the sisters to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness was, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

That is not a reference to a casual acquaintance.

No doubt there were occasions of Lazarus and Jesus out roaming across the hills, talking of spiritual topics for hours, while Mary and Martha prepared the feast they would enjoy together later at home.

Or perhaps vice versa—maybe Jesus and Lazarus took their turn in the kitchen as well!

Late night dinners, hours of conversation, thinking and praying together about God’s work in the world—they were intimate spiritual companions.

They might even have been friends before Jesus began his ministry, or at the very least, from very early on in it.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus have seen Jesus grow into his ministry.

As he has ranged farther and farther afield to heal and teach, still the little house in Bethany remains a home base, where he returns for his own healing and renewal.

Drained by his work, he can always recharge with his three dear friends.

Because while they are his followers, they are always first and foremost his friends.

In fact, their friendship is so well-known among the disciples and other followers of Jesus that the whole community is aware that Jesus would want to hear of Lazarus being gravely ill.

The message from Martha and Mary reaches him quickly, and here we have the first jarring note in the story. Continue reading

Useless Love: Bethany and Leningrad

Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches.

We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world.

Someone has to make sure the budget balances.

This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.

We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas.

And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behavior as individuals and communities.

But Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel.

He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.

What makes Judas even more blameworthy—and even more of a warning to us!—is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification.

“We could have used that money to serve the poor!” he laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness.

Have you ever seen this happen at church?

Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places him or her in a position to score points on someone else.

“I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.

Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing.

In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action.

That’s hard for us action-oriented Americans to take!

All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the pledge campaign launched or the nave vacuumed or the food pantry stocked.

Or will they? Continue reading

Nobody Asks Lazarus

No one asks Lazarus if he wants to be resurrected.

That’s the part that fascinates me about our gospel story today.

No one asks if he wants to return to a broken and hurting body, the tangled relationships that all human beings have, the responsibilities of his finances and his job and his family.

He was a good man. No doubt he had gone straight to the bliss of union with God the Father.

What a terrifying and awful feeling, to be yanked back down to Earth with such suddenness.

Many people who have near death experiences return to life with a new sense of purpose, with joy and awe at the knowledge that there truly is something in the beyond and it is so beautiful and loving.

But for everyone who returns with joy and purpose, there is someone else who returns with a profound sense of despair and rejection.

I saw God, they say.

I saw God and felt God’s love and experienced heaven’s peace, and God threw me back.

God didn’t want me.

God saw fit to return me to this petty human life in this small, limited human body.

How could God do that?

I wonder which group Lazarus was in. Continue reading