April 1, 2001
As you heard the Gospel Story about Jesus in Bethany after Lazarus had been raised from the dead, I hope you heard at least two things which are not April Fool's jokes:
1. Jesus was anointed in anticipation of his death.
You may remember back on Ash Wednesday how we received the imposition of ashes on our forehead with the words, "From dust you have come; to dust you shall return. GOD loves you." The base that allowed those ashes to stick to us was oil.
We, also, have been anointed in anticipation of our death.
Today we have a blessing of the vial of oil which sits on the altar Sunday by Sunday. In that blessing we will use the blessed oil all year long for those who would call for its use in their life.
Some may call for an anointing for healing, as the early Christians did in the book of James. Some may call for an anointing to affirm a change in their spiritual life, some moment of forgiveness or conversion or call into or out of a particular ministry.
I trust you will know that as Jesus' sister or brother you have a claim upon the presence of GOD through the ancient symbol of oil. Be bold to claim your inheritance.
As you come to communion there will be an opportunity to receive an anointing with oil. You can hold out the back of your hand to receive an anointing to remind you that even though Jesus' hands were pierced in death, his hands are still powerful in resurrection. Or, you can indicate you would like to be anointed on your brow to remind you that when our minds are transformed by love we are new creatures in Christ. Or, it will be alright to let an anointing pass you by by not holding out your hand or indicating your forehead. Perhaps you will be ready another time to receive this means of grace.
2. Jesus speaks of the poor always being with us.
That is not a prediction judging and condemning some to be poor. It is not an affirmation of the state of poverty. It is a recognition that in life there are times when we need to be about the business of honoring GOD and honoring the GOD present in each person's life. In light of what Jesus says in so many other places, it is not an avoidance of doing something about those in poverty.
As you know being poor financially and being poor spiritually are related to one another. To be financially poor in our culture brings with it a lower status and a sense of not being good enough, which is a spiritual issue. To be spiritually poor in our culture brings with it either a sense of entitlement to lord it over someone else for any number of reasons or a sense of never having enough, even if one's resources total to a very pretty penny.
The poor we have with us and some of you, this morning, may be feeling poor financially or poor spiritually. Hear this prayer for you. "Gracious GOD, touch the lives of each one of us that those of us who have little will not have too little and we will always be able to thank you for life and be able to help another. Amen."
There is still a serious question hanging about in regard to what we will do about the reality of those in our midst who are poor. While there are food banks to fill and Salvation Army Good News Programs to support, there is also a need to be conscious about being in prayer for those who are in need, whether that need be financial or spiritual.
I have had a page from our local phone book handed out to you. I am sure that someone, or more than one person, has a very specific need to be filled in their life. Even if we don't know what the need is, we can still be in prayer for them.
I am asking you to use this telephone listing as a focus for your prayers this next week. Simply open your prayer time by asking GOD to make you sensitive to the need of people. Then read the first or next forty names on the page and lift the best prayer you can for them.
Someone on that list will undoubtedly need your prayer support that day. If you come across someone's name you know it would be helpful if you were to give them a call and find out if there is a specific issue in their life for which you might pray that day.
If we have 80 people here this morning who would be willing to follow through on this we will be intentionally praying for the improvement in the lives of 3,200 people and businesses in our community. We believe that prayer changes things and it will be good to know that you are helping to change things for the better.
You might pray that if anyone on your list for the day is struggling financially that they will be blessed or if they are struggling in their spirit to be a better person that they would be blessed in that work.
Probably there will be someone you will be praying for this week who has to make a decision about whether they can afford to keep their phone. Probably you will pray for someone who has had a recent death experience in their life. Probably you will pray for someone who has a serious depression or thoughts of suicide.
May your prayer be thoughtful and strong.
If you are diligent in this work for the poor and poor in spirit we have among us I believe you will find a blessing for yourself.
So, there are the two things I hope you heard in the Bible this morning - anointing is not just for Jesus, but for you and you can do something about the poor and poor in spirit through your prayers.
In receiving an anointing and in praying for others we invite GOD to give us Jesus' courage and resurrection and invite GOD to give us peace of mind in the midst of our own poverty and the way our culture pushes certain people into poverty.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.