Christ and the Comfort Zone

anointing jesus feet

Most of us love routine in our lives.

  • We would rather interact with people we know, deal with things we know about, know our schedule ahead of time, and go to places we know.
  • We are comforted by the same old same old, the familiar and known. 
  • We find safety and security in the routines of our lives, the content or complacent. 
  • We live in our favorite place in the world, our comfort zones.

God is with us everywhere, even in that known zone that is oh so comfortable. We know from Hebrew Scripture and the Good News of the New Testament, that God shows up and surprises us when the unexpected happens, when things are not going according to our plans, and even though we know this,it disrupts our expectations of God, it shakes and shocks us out of our comfort zones.

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In our reading from Isaiah, the Prophet reminds the people of the promise living in exile surrounded by Babylonian culture and religion, of their own history, when God was present, acting for them during the Exodus from Egypt.  But the God of the Exodus, is a God of promise in the present and future, and is not just present in Scripture as a historical God of the past. It is this God, our God that the prophet speaks of today. Proclaiming God’s presence and promises of great action to come. Isaiah speaks not of miracles in water, but of miracles in the desert places, today, tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come.

God, speaking through Isaiah, says to expect the unexpected. God through Isaiah says watch for something new to spring up. Watch for what we might think impossible, improbable, or even outrageous. God promised to do a new thing those many, many years ago, and God is not done doing new things. God is not done surprising, even we the people gathered as the church in this time and place.

Watching, praying and discerning what God is up to, is what our congregation leaders have been up to since our annual meeting in February. It will take time to listen and faithfully figure out how to walk together and do what matters in this time and place. We met on Monday, and Janina, our president, led us in studying God’s Word as we do as part of every council meeting. The prayer she chose to share following our Bible Study, is a prayer of courage that comes from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book:

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

This is my favorite prayer. It hangs above my desk at home and downstairs in the pastor’s study next to the door, so I can see it and pray it when I leave the safety of that space when I am needed to leave my comfort zone, to encounter God in the new and unknown.

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Mary broke open the jar of nard and the act rocked the routine as it was as unexpected as it was outrageous.

  • This was after all the house of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus recently raised after being dead four days. 
  • This was the little house in Bethany, over the hill from Jerusalem where Jesus stayed when he was in town. 
  • This was the place where Mary, who through an act of abundant loving kindness, fills the air with the unexpected.

The sweet smell of salvation overpowering the lingering stench of Lazarus’ death.

While the price of the pound of nard could have cared for the poor, that sweet smell may well have lingered on Jesus feet as they hung from the cross in just a matter of days. The anointing of the living with extravagant love overpowers the death of crosses and comfort zones.

Can you smell it? The sweet smell of salvation fills this house of God, it lingers on our foreheads, and Mary’s hair.

Can you smell it? Jesus with us, still confronting the cross and comfort zones, that keep us in our tombs of sin and self-centered routines.

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 Robert Fulghum, the author of Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, talks of breaking out of comfortable routines and confronting our own life and death. He writes,

Sitting for an afternoon on his own grave, he has had one of those potent experiences when the large pattern of life has been unexpectedly reviewed: the past birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage, career, the present, and the future. He has confronted finitude—the limits of life. The fact of his own death lies before him and beneath him of the when and the where and the how of it. What shall he do with his life between now and then?

What shall we, people like Martha and Judas, who want the world to be routine, everything in its place, everything under our control, and our comfort zones undisturbed, do now?

We are people who connect the present to the past, but God who lavishes unconditional love so we experience the extravagant and unexpected, is doing a new thing, right here, right now.

So what shall we, as Christ followers do with our lives?

God calls us out of our comfort zones, out of our tombs of sin and self-centered lives, to be present and prepared for the unexpected new life, the new thing God is and will do…

  • connecting God’s presence to our present,
  • and connecting the present to a promised future,
  • can you smell it? 
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