Christmastide Blessings

Christmastide Blessings
Annual Incarnation of the Story of the Birth of Jesus

Continuing the work of Jesus, simply, peacefully, JOYFULLY, together.

We worship at 9:30 am on Sunday.
Sunday School begins at 11 am.
Potluck is the first Sunday of the month.

17975 Centreville-Constantine Road, Constantine, MI 49042

florence.brethren.mennonite@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Palm Sunday Tri-Monologues by Naomi, David and John Mark Wenger


Woman:

You probably know who I am, the perpetual bridesmaid; in everyone’s wedding but never married, yet! I’m the life of the party. Everyone likes to be with me. Everyone.

Even Jesus, that prophet from Galilee the rulers hated so much. He liked me. No, he loved me. But not like anyone else ever did. He did not want anything from me. He wanted me to be, well, good. Free from sin, you know.

But I never did anything really bad. They only said so to make me look foolish. But I am no one’s fool. I knew all about them, I listened to their secrets. I let them believe I was safe. But I played them all against one another. Then one day, I must have made one of them mad, because what happened could have been fatal.

It was the Feast of Booths. Everyone was living outdoors for a whole week; on the rooftops or in the inner courts of the biggest homes. Beautiful tents were everywhere. Food and wine was plentiful. There was music and dancing. Groups of us went from house to house helping ourselves to the rich food, playing silly games with the children, laughing at the antics of the drunken men, playing pranks and falling in with any scheme that promised to be fun.

The priests went about their dreary duties of sacrificing the 70 bulls, one for each of the nations of the world. Then came, the last day of the feast, the eighth day, the day when only one bull for all of Israel, God’s chosen, would be sacrificed and then the waters of the earth would be blessed for another year of good harvest. This was the best day and also the most fun, if you knew where to find it!

I was at Jesse’s house with a group of friends. He was drunk. He pulled me out of the crowd and into his tent. He sang me a silly song he had made up. Suddenly, two of Jesse’s “friends” rushed into the tent, grabbed me by the hair, dragged me out into Jesse’s courtyard, and started shouting horrible words at me. They called me a whore. They said I would die for destroying Jesse’s reputation. They pushed me around and got the whole crowd worked up against me. But what had I done that they had not? We were all being silly during the feast. The next day Jesse wouldn’t even remember what happened.

But, the next day these same men came and got me from my home and marched me to see a prophet they had some problem with. They were using me to get him to make some awful mistake that would allow them to kill him. They bartered my life for his. They lied about me to him, saying I had committed adultery and they lied about the law saying I would have to be stoned. [Even I know that stoning is reserved for those who commit adultery while engaged to be married. I had not had that good fortune. If I had done the deed, I should have been strangled instead. But I shudder to think of that.]

What did this prophet Jesus, say? Well, he could see right through them. And at first he did not want to be part of their schemes. Then, when they kept pestering him, he looked at them, not at me, and said, “Whoever among you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Well, that gave them something to think about. Who among them, indeed, had not kissed someone else’s wife or thought about it during that last week of feasting and carousing? I knew each one of them. I knew their secrets. Jesus looked back at the ground, wouldn’t look at them. But I looked at them. I started with Jesse. Yes, he was right up in the front of the whole accusing crowd. I stared at him, he turned away ashamed. Then, one by one, each of the other men looked away from my eyes and melted into the crowd.

When they had all left, Jesus stood up and asked me if no one had stayed to accuse me. I said a saucy, “No!”

With a heavy sigh he looked at me, right into me. He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” And then he shook me up with another penetrating look, “Go, and stop sinning.”

Me? I’m the life of the party. I don’t really “sin.” I just have fun. But, you know, he got me thinking…I just couldn’t shake that look.



Judas:

I guess I was looking for revenge when I went to them. I was so mad at Jesus. I don’t know what got into him. It was as if he was giving up on us. And the days leading up to Passover had been full of anxiety, always on the move, restless nights, barely any food to eat between the twelve of us. It seemed like any money that we received was spent as quickly as it came in. I longed for the security of even half a bag of coins at least for a day or two. Just once couldn’t I go to sleep without someone whispering to me, “Judas, do we have any money to buy food tomorrow?”




Pilate:

A few days ago, they came to visit me. They gave me, their Roman Governor, Pilate, notice that they were going to arrest some guy named Jesus because he was a blasphemer. I never had much patience with those Pharisees and scribes. Radicals and intellectuals. I was much more concerned with Rome—Rome, now was so much more important that any local struggles. The Pharisees kept pestering me about this Jesus and his blasphemy but I didn’t pay much attention to it, they were always after someone or other because of heresy. It was no secret to them that I hated my job or that it was a punishment. I had been caught blackmailing a centurion back in Rome, and they sent me to do my time out in this ratty, out of the way, desert village, ruling over a bunch of uncivilized crazy dogmatists. I had arrived full of hatred for everyone, even for Rome (though I hardly can bear to say that any more).

Of course I hated the people I had been given to govern. As hard as herding a bunch of cats. I tried to do a good job the first couple of years, but gave up after that. I mean, they had their own leaders, they all hated me too, and they didn’t want Rome sticking its long nose in their business. I guess I can’t blame them, but we, that is, Rome, needed to civilize and govern them. It was what we were for! Where would they be, had they not our hand to gently guide them along? I’ll tell you where. Back under crazy kings, like Herod, and more likely still stuck under Seleucid rule! They should have been grateful to us for presiding over them!

Anyway, I got used to it for a while. That’s what everyone else said, all the other governors who were out there. Everyone dulls down, I forgot that I hated Rome, and learned to love her again, because you have to work hard not to be dragged down to the Jews’ level.


Woman:

Oh how I love feasts! My favorite, of course, is the feast of Booths. So much food! So much fun! My second favorite though, is Passover. This one promises to be interesting. That Jesus who saved my life has come to Jerusalem again, this time he made a big splash. He rode into the city on a donkey. Kind of funny really, because riding on a donkey doesn’t really make you much taller than the rest of the walking pilgrims. But at least the walkers move out of the way. But they didn’t move. They just got really excited to see him. They waved branches and shouted at him like he was the next king of Israel or something. (That’s sure to stir things up over at the governor’s palace. I’ve been over there. A friend of mine’s a Roman prefect or something and he took me to see the public hearing rooms. It’s a beautiful house with marble tiles on the floor and painted ceilings and walls. There is a pool right inside the courtyard where the household fish are kept. Easy eating.)

But, you know what? Jesus is going to Simon’s house for dinner tonight, you know which one, the rich leper--unclean as Naaman but richer than almost anybody in Jerusalem. Jesus accepted his dinner invitation and then everyone else did, too. Mostly to see what Jesus will do or say, I guess. Maybe, they think he’ll cure Simon. Anyway, Simon’s finally getting the attention he craves. I’m going too. I’ve not told anyone. I kind of want to thank him for saving my life. I’ve got this perfume, see, Jesse gave it to me but I don’t want it after what he did at the Feast of Booths, and I’m going to give it to Jesus. Maybe he can sell it or something, use it for his campaign.


Judas:

And then there was the night we were at Simon’s house and that women poured her ointment all over Jesus. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And He commended her for her waste; said she would be remembered the world over for what she did for him. I knew the value of that ointment and it sure would have helped this sorry lot of vagabonds if she would have given it to us. I would have sold it so that we could live in comfort and security for a change.

Although, it may not have made much difference anyway. Things were changing; it was like something was just waiting to happen that would change everything. There was a lot of tension between us; gone were the days of excitement and wonder that we knew in the early days with Jesus. It was replaced with bickering about any little thing; who’s going to carry the packs today. “Not me, I did it yesterday, it’s your turn today” “No way, I don’t have to carry it until tomorrow, it’s his turn today."

And Jesus kept referring to his death. He said that that woman was preparing his body for burial because he was going to die. You know the thing that gets me so mad is that he could do something to get out the mess he’s in with the chief priests and elders; perform one of his miracles or something. But maybe he’s getting tired of this life; us disciples, all the crowds, the doubt, the questions, the criticism. Still, that’s no reason to walk out on us. He was the one that brought us together in the first place. He can’t just leave us. What are we going to do without him?


Woman:

I crashed Simon’s party with perfume in hand. But as I got near Jesus, he looked at me again. He looked at me and split me wide open. He knew me, deeply as the fun-loving, carefree, moocher who is needy, selfish, and longing for someone to know me, to love me. It was the same look he gave me seven months ago when he set me free and gave me back my life; that clear gaze that pierced my guarded heart and unleashed a flood of tears.

I was going to make a cute presentation of the perfume to him knowing that Jesse would be there to see and get jealous. But, then, with Him looking at me, I couldn’t. I forgot the words I had prepared. I just started pouring the whole bottle of the precious oil over his beautiful head. It ran down his beard and onto his robe. It glistened in his hair and permeated the whole house with a musky, heady fragrance.

Judas:

He could do something if he wanted to. He doesn’t even care; says it has to be this way.

I know what it feels like to be abandoned and rejected and that’s not going to happen to me again. Not if I can help it. I’ll get rid of him myself before he walks out on me.

The chief priests sure made it easy. I was just asking a question, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” I was more curious than serious. But before I knew it they were handing me money and making a plan to capture him. I left shaking my head wondering what had just happened. The money jangling in my pocket made it real; I had just agreed to betray Jesus.


Pilate:

So, back to this Jesus fellow; I didn’t think much of him at first, just another crazy Jew. I went to bed with nothing on my mind that night. The next morning, however, was different. They brought him before me at some ungodly hour. I would have been in bed long after I had to deal with this man. But, I’m glad, ultimately, that I got up. He said some of he strangest, and indeed most interesting, things that I had ever heard. He wouldn’t stick up for himself, after he told us that we said he was the king of the Jews (a ridiculous assertion, by the way, I never said that, they did), He wouldn’t say a thing. And he was mocked, and slapped; he didn’t do anything.

Then for the crowd, I did my duty. I gave them who they wanted, but made sure they knew that I had no part in, nor endorsed, their choice. I was warned by my wife not to have anything to do with Jesus, so I was wary, and washed my hands of the affair. This Jesus man struck me as so vital. Why did they want to do away with him? But, as they say, vox populi, vox dei, (the people’s voice is the voice of god). They wanted me to release Barabbas, so I gave them Barabbas.



Woman:

Why did I dump the whole bottle of ointment on his head? I don’t know, really. Jesus said I did it to prepare him for his burial. But I’ve been too close to death with him already. I don’t want to die. I don’t want him to die! What am I saying? How could I do that? Who am I to anoint him for burial? O God, what have I done?


Judas:

It was as if I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Something greater than me was taking over. Jesus kept saying himself that this is all happening so that scripture could be fulfilled. “One of you is going to betray me,” he said. “The Chosen one will go as the scriptures foretold, but woe to the one who will betray me, surely it would be better for that one never to be have been born at all.” “Jesus, it’s not me is it”, they all said. “Surely it is not I, Rabbi,” I said.

Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Why does it have to be this way? I love you Jesus. I don’t want you to die. Please don’t leave me. You can do something. You can stop this madness. Please. Oh, God, what have I done?
Pilate:

Then the Pharisees took Jesus away using my authority to put him to death. That’s the way of it in the provinces, death after death, cross after cross. Doesn’t seem to do much good. But, I wish they hadn’t taken him. He seemed so immune to all of their squabbling! He even made me forget my problems and this asinine assignment to govern the Jews. At least he gave me something interesting to think about. What is truth? O God, what have I done?


All Three:
O God, what have I done?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

LENT FIVE: Lazarus -- A sign that shrieks



Monologue written by Donald Lanctot with excerpts from Nina Lanctot's poem, "Lazarus."

Lazarus, Come Out!

In the late mornings,
I sit on the ground and eat figs with the old men of the village.
The shade from Matthew’s shop protects us from the glaring sun.

Reports have it that Jesus, after leaving here, headed to Ephraim in the wilderness.

Martha has returned to her kitchen.
Even in the yard, we can hear the pots and pans banging in her hands.
But now she staggers around the house
disoriented
as if she has seen trees walking and is no longer satisfied with simply
doing laundry,
cooking,
and lighting the Sabbath candles.

Mary couldn’t stay in Bethany.
She followed Jesus.
No hesitation in her.
I have become her walking miracle.
Further evidence that those who believe in Jesus will see the glory of God.
First, the man born blind and now me called from the tomb.

Beyond Mary’s hearing, however, other voices surface.

One of my friends,
an old man with a crooked back and a black cough,
says that I am anything but blessed.
He tells me that I have become one of those pitiable men
spoken of
by the Samaritan priests.
A pariah,
marked by God,
set apart,
cursed to never find a grave to crawl into,
condemned to wander the face of the earth for all eternity.
Of course, much of what this old man says is fantastic.
He claims to hear ghosts
and talks of travelers going mad while walking among the desert places
where there is nothing but howling wind and solitary birds.

Eli, the coarse butcher, also thinks this is all a bad business.
He bellows that they dragged me to the light
as boys drag a rabbit when they have dug its hole away.


Another of my friends says that I have been turned into a sign
by some religious charlatan,
A wonder worker who cares more about his reputation
than for God or mankind.
After all, he says, why did this Jesus,
upon being told of my illness,
delay his coming for two days?
Why the delay?
A delay that cost Mary, Martha, and so many of my friends so much grief.
A delay that cost me my life.

As he sits, pulling on his stringy beard,
he asks the question I too silently ask,
“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man
have kept his friend Lazarus from dying?”

I sit and listen, tracing pictures in the dirt.
Still unable to really eat, I pick at the end of a fig
and remember.

A fog of voices filled my house those last days.
Martha had left the kitchen.
Mary paced.
And I
Breath by breath
faded
away.

Our friend,
Our teacher,
Was stalled
Outside of town.

That was the last I knew.

It is not death,
please,
it is the dying
I do not want to do again.

Finally,
a numbness
is grace.


Then, four days after the tomb was sealed,
A fog of voices returned.
And from their midst one lone voice called,
“Lazarus, come out!”


I sat up slowly
And around my left side all my muscles ached.
My death was torn from me like caked gauze.
Rising was as hard as having died.

It hurt to breathe.

Each and every hair on my forearm stung
from tip to root
as they, by his command,
peeled the sodden cloths away.

I couldn’t stomach my own stench.

When I was finally able to use my eyes again
and match a face with the voice,
tears were still in his eyes.

And in a sea of grief that contained the grief of all of us,
All of our deaths, and all our dyings,
I thought I heard him apologize
for the miracle,
for the two day delay,
and for the unsolicited word
that called me out of the silent tomb.

I thought I heard him say,
“As for the others,
those who do not yet know me, nor love me,
the needed act, the one
They clearly wanted, was some sign that shrieked.”

LENT FOUR: Born without the gift of seeing


Monologue written by Luke Nofsinger.

I was born without the gift of seeing.
And no one is to be blamed.
Not myself or my parents
have caused that that has stolen from me
the sight of the world.
I am simply,
blind
and for no reason that I know.

But for the first time I can see.
For the night is coming
and no one can work but
now I can see.
The night is long off and
my light shines out onto the world,
illuminating.

I am no new man.
I am the same yet I am
unknown to some
and recognized by others.

This miracle man who has given me
What I have never had.
Where is he?
Where has he gone?
Although sight regained,
I did not see what has healed me.
For where is he? I do not know.
The light that shines
does not shine on itself.

A step out of the cave.
A cool breeze blows, crisp and clean.
The sun is shining
down onto my shoulders
and i have set myself
free.

LENT THREE: Rabbi & Teacher in Samaria



Dialogue written by Suzanne Lind and performed by Kendra Yoder and Suzanne Lind.

T -- Rabbi, the children are asking many questions about the man Jesus who was here in the village last week for a couple days. They are especially interested in that initial conversation he had with Miriam at the well, of course.

R -- Yes, of course. What have you been telling them?

T -- Well, not very much. I wanted to talk with you first. I did say that it is very unusual for Jewish and Samaritan people to have anything to do with each other. Most people think that is just wrong.

R -- Hmm. Yes. What do the children say when you tell them that?

T -- They say, “Yes! We hate those snotty Jews and we throw stones at them when they come into our land.”

R -- Strong words. Did they throw stones at Jesus and his disciples when they came into Samaria and stopped at our well?

T -- No, they were all at home or in school -- it was the hottest time of the day. But some of their parents refused to sell the disciples food. (They should have known enough to bring their own food on a trip through here!) The children did ask me, however, why Miriam talked to Jesus and why so many villagers went out to talk to him after Miriam came back so excited about what he was saying.

R -- And what did you tell them about that?

T -- I confess, Rabbi, that was very awkward and I did not know what to say. I said there must have been something very unusual, but not scarey, about that Jesus, which made Samaritan people want to talk to him. And I said I would talk with you.

R -- Have you been telling the children the history of why Samaritan and Jewish people hate each other?

T -- Um, well, I often tell them the story of how we Samaritans have a unique history which separated from the story of the other Jewish groups hundreds of years ago when the Assyrians took so many Israelites into captivity. I explain that some Samaritan Jews managed to stay here and even when the Assyrians sent Babylonians and Medians into Samaria to colonize and rule and mingle with our people, the Samaritan Jews held firmly to Jewish beliefs and traditions.

R -- Ah, yes . . . so you have been telling the children quite a bit . . .

T -- Perhaps, yes, but I didn’t want to go much further until I had checked some things with you. I listened to some of the conversations that Jesus was having in the village -- I hope that was not wrong of me, Rabbi?

R -- Mmmm . . . usually listening and learning is not a sin . . . .

T -- Oh good. Well, what I usually teach to the children is that, in fact, we Samaritans are the true Israel, made up of descendants of some of the tribes that were taken into Assyrian captivity, and of those who remained in this region. For hundreds of years of that time the temple has been on Mount Gerizim and it is the original sanctuary for worshiping Yahweh, not the one at Jerusalem like those Judean, Jerusalem Jews insist. And we protected and followed the original Pentateuch. Then when the exiled Jews from the south came back and took over everything, they were using a different version of the Holy Word, some falsified text which Ezra worked on during the Babylonian exile. Now there they are, living to the north and south of us, going back and forth to their holy places, telling us that we accepted too many false ideas and practices during the time of exile -- as if they remained pure and holy in their far-off refuges, and all their new ideas were direct from God, but our faithful attempts to maintain the Jewish faith here in Israel which may, admittedly have made some adaptations to our oppressive situation here, resulted in blasphemous and false teachings. (Stops to catch breath - is now getting a bit agitated and preachy)

R -- I’m pleased that you learned your history lessons well, Teacher. Do the children ever ask why these differences have led to the total separation of the Samaritans and the Jews?

T – No, Rabbi, I don’t think they have asked such questions. It seems pretty clear to me, and I’m sure to everyone else, that ever since the exiles returned, disdained our interpretations of the holy texts, treated us like inferior people, called us mongrels, and even burned our temple a hundred years ago,
there was not much possibility of getting along together. We have had to work hard to preserve our identity and our traditions. (now getting really worked up)

R -- Mmmm, yes. The children probably absorb those feelings from the time they are small. Hmm . . .

T -- Well, I certainly did! (Pause) And that is one of the things that Jesus was sort of talking about. (Pause)

R -- That’s a very unclear phrase you just uttered. Can you clarify what you mean, Teacher?

T -- (jumps to attention) Oh yes, Rabbi, certainly, Rabbi. It seems that when Jesus talked to Miriam he disregarded all the rules about Samaritans and Jews. He was just sitting in the sun, needed a drink, and asked her to pull some water out of the well for him. Rather shocking, really, for him to even be here, and to talk to a lone woman at the well. And when Miriam, always a bit cheeky if you’ll excuse my saying so, asked why he would do such a thing, he began to talk about “living water” which would prevent anyone from ever being thirsty again. She at first apparently thought he was insulting Jacob’s well and saying that he, a Jew, could provide better water than this Samaritan “cistern.” He did play around with words a bit, from what I understand. I think I will study his use of a few words to see if I can figure out what he was after.

R -- Interesting. Did he use other words in unusual ways?

T -- He apparently used the verb “jump up,” when he talked about the water he could give: he said that water would become a spring (not a cistern, as he referred to the well) “jumping up” to eternal life.

R -- And Miriam engaged in this rather lengthy conversation with him without fear or shame?

T -- She says she thought at first that he was just teasing her and was intrigued that a Jewish man would talk like that. So she just teased back, saying sure, she’d love to have some of that water so she wouldn’t have to come to this well any more. But then he suddenly told her to go get her husband, and she soon realized he knew all about her series of so-called husbands. So she knew he was a prophet with special powers. She was a bit angry that a Jewish prophet would talk to her about her personal life, and she made some sharp comments about Jews and their superior attitude about Jerusalem being the only site of worship -- goodness, I didn’t know she could be that outspoken.

R -- Yes, quite amazing. His speaking style must have been quite unusual for her to feel free to say all those things to him. What do you think you would have said to him?

T -- Oh, well, um. (thinks) I can’t imagine that I ever would have gotten so far into a personal conversation with a Jewish man, even if he did seem to be a prophet. Those discussions are best held in a formal debate setting at the synagogue, aren’t they, Rabbi?

R -- (thinks) So why did you go listen to him when he sat talking with the villagers those two days?

T -- I guess because so many of my students, and their parents, were eager to hear him and I thought I might need to make some corrective remarks.

R -- Did you?

T -- No, Rabbi.

R -- Why not?

T -- I don’t know for sure. He said some downright blasphemous things. He had told Miriam right to her face that he is the Messiah, the one we have all been waiting for. That was what convinced her to rush off to tell others about him. She wanted others to hear this strange, unbelievable man. And when they all came out to meet him, and met his disciples, they found he was easy to talk to and had such hopeful things to say that they wanted him to stay and talk more.

R -- Teacher, do you think we Samaritans and the Jews are waiting for the same Messiah?

T -- (shocked) Rabbi, what do you mean?

R -- Hundreds of years ago we were one nation of Yahweh’s people. We all knew the Messiah was coming some day to fulfill the scriptures and to save us from suffering. Then the Assyrians destroyed our nation, and we were fragmented into lost and wandering tribes. Since that time we have all been trying to honor Yahweh’s covenant as we read it in our holy books, yes?

T -- Yes, perhaps, but didn’t some go too far away and change too much to be respected anymore?

R -- Can you explain to me which group or tribe or remnant managed to hold onto the truest truth?
Now that the exiles have come back to the land Yahweh gave us again, have the Samaritans or the Jews shown that they are the truest ones, the only chosen?


T -- Perhaps not . . . But it still seems presumptuous for a Jew from Galilee, going to Jerusalem, to stop here and say he is the Messiah

R -- Did he speak like the Messiah?

T -- How would the Messiah speak?

R -- How do you think the Messiah would speak?

T -- I thought the Messiah would have outer fire, but Jesus has inner fire -- gentle, firm inner fire. He acted like we were no different than he is, except that we are “thirsty” for good news and he has “living water” for that kind of thirst. He said soon all people will worship the Lord in “spirit” and it can happen anywhere, not just in Jerusalem. He told lots of stories and parables. He held children on his lap. But he made it clear that the Good News and the New Way are not easy -- they are just more righteous and just. I didn’t feel like refuting him.

R -- Mmmm . . . yes. I have been following reports of this man for some months now. He has never before said outright that he is the Messiah. And then he goes and tells our Miriam. Perhaps he feels freer to talk about these things in Samaria than in Jerusalem, where he has strong enemies.

T -- Rabbi! What are you saying?!

R -- What did Jesus say to you, Teacher?

T -- (Pause. Uncomfortable shuffling) He said I have a thirsty look in my eye, and he encouraged me to keep studying the holy books, with an emphasis on the prophecies about the Messiah.

R -- Ah. (pause) And what will you tell the children, Teacher?