October 17, 2021

Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?

Passage: Genesis 43:29-34, Ephesians 3:5-6,14-19, Mark 10:17-31

We have a song we sing with our granddaughter Charlie

Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?
Charlie took the cookie from the cookie jar.
and Charlie says: Who me?
Yes, you!
Charlie says: Couldn’t be!
Then who?

Nunna took the cookie from the cookie jar?
And we do Mummy and Daddy and Jamma, her other grandma
And we usually end up with Grandad

Grandad took the cookie from the cookie jar

Who me? Yes you
And I end up with “Possibly”

Grandad is usually the culprit for taking the cookie out of the cookie jar.

But there is a strange kind of truth in that. One time when a small group of people in a certain church did not want me to be their minister any more, they ended up complaining to presbytery.
I visited too often. I just dropped in and didn’t make appointments.
I swore on the golf course. I knew some off colour jokes.
I wanted too much money for a stipend.
And you know I wasn’t perfect. And I had made some mistakes.
And one of the complaints was that I helped myself to a cookie from the cookie jar in someone’s house.
And I confess that I did do that without asking.

When I was interviewed in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, I was up front that some people had complained about my ministry in the last church and I told the people of Yorkton that if they wanted perfection, they didn’t want me.
When I told the people in Yorkton that one of the complaints was that I had taken a cookie out of the cookie jar, that is when they knew that I was the right minister for them.
They wanted a down to earth person, who like to visit and make themselves at home, who liked jokes and sports and was an average person like them.
And I had a very good ministry at Yorkton.

Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?

Reverend Harry did. And Reverend Harry did because he thought he was so welcomed that he had access to the goodies.

Do you know what that is like? That when you go to the house of your son, or daughter, or parents, or friends or parishioners…
… that they welcome so much that they say:
“Anything you want, you just can have. Help yourself.”
Many years ago, Fiona and I were at Cathy and Laird’s house for supper. We were having tea and there was no milk on the table and I went to the fridge, and opened it to get the milk.
Fiona, my wife chided me. “Hey” she said, “you don’t help yourself without asking.”
“But” I responded, ‘Cathy told me that whenever I was here, I could help myself.”
And Cathy backed me up. “That is true” she said, “I told Harry that he could just help himself when he was here.”

It is a wonderful thing to be so loved, so accepted, so welcomed that you have access to all the goodies.

And in some way, I think that is what the church should be all about.
Letting people in. Giving them access to all the goodies.
You know for thousands of years the church has argued and debated about… who is welcome at the sacrament of communion.

In our Presbyterian tradition we used to talk about fencing the table.
That was the idea that only the good enough, and the Christian enough, were welcome to the table, and if you came and you were unworthy you would be drinking and eating damnation on your soul.
And so, we actually gave out communion tokens to those who were to receive communion. No token, no communion.
We didn’t let people from other churches and especially not other faiths, or no faith, take communion. We didn’t let non-members take communion.
We didn’t let children take communion.

We had to protect the precious sacrament from the unworthy, the ignorant and the innocents.

Why? Why was it so important?
When someone comes to your house, you wouldn’t say, well only the best Christians can eat at our dinner table.
Only those who have the bible memorized can eat at our table.
You wouldn’t say that children are not welcome, or people of other faiths are not welcome.
Most of us would say. Here is food. Make yourself at home. You are welcome at our table.
Everybody has to eat.

Personally, I think in the same manner everybody needs grace, needs love, needs acceptance, needs forgiveness.
Why restrict the sacrament to the enlightened?

Even if you don’t understand the meaning of the phrase “the real presence” you understand that you are welcome, that people are sharing something precious with you.

Even a two-year-old understands when they are left out and not welcome, and when they are welcomed.

I think the church should be about welcoming people in to the goodies of grace, love, acceptance, service, forgiveness, healing, compassion, community and friendship, whether they understand it all or not.

Make yourself at home. Help yourself to the cookie jar of grace. Help yourself to the religious fridge or forgiveness.
Here, you are family.

Today’s gospel is another strange story. The gospel has lots of them.
It is about a rich man who comes to Jesus and asks what he can do to inherit eternal life.

He is a rich young man. I put emphasis on young. Why? Because the implication is that he didn’t go out and earn all this money by years of hard work.
And notice the phrasing he uses. How do I inherit eternal life?
The man who has inherited his wealth wants to inherit eternal life.
And I will remind you again that he does not mean life after death.
Eternal life, meant life in the age to come, when the Messiah comes back and all the good things happen.
When the Messiah comes it was believed that there is food and wine and plenty, and everyone has land and a house. There is peace and harmony.

And he wants it.
He wants access to the goodies.
The rich man wants access to the goodies.

But he doesn’t understand what the goodies are.

He thinks, as most of them did, even the disciples, that the rich already had most of the goodies.
The common thinking was that the rich were blessed by God and that is why they were rich.
So, when Jesus talks about it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…
Jesus wasn’t dissing the rich. He was changing the whole notion of what it was to be blessed and what the goodies are…
If the goodies are wealth and power and control and lots of things….
…the rich were blessed and had them.

But Jesus will show us that the goodies are grace, forgiveness, love, peace, reconciliation, service, sacrifice and giving to others.

The rich man went away sad, not because he didn’t have access to the goodies, but because he didn’t want to share the goodies.
He was interested in all the goodies for himself. He was interested in power and goods and peace and prosperity for himself…
But not for the poor, not for others…

And so, he didn’t understand the kingdom at all, where the first are last and the last are first.
He didn’t understand that it is more blessed that it is to receive.
He didn’t understand that until he took up a cross and loved someone, he wouldn’t understand love, nor could he fully receive it.
He didn’t want to give and receive love, he wanted to inherit power, safety and wealth.

He didn’t want a mutual relationship with Jesus or with the poor.
He wanted his privilege to continue in this life and the next.

I am not sure anyone has fully received grace, or love, or forgiveness, until they give away grace, love and forgiveness.

And so, we look back on church history. We look at our own lives. We look at our own churches and lament how often we took the goodies and buried them in the ground, protecting them from gays and lesbians, and atheists, and Muslims, and Roman Catholics, and children, and mentally challenged people and criminals and the immoral, and the ones who didn’t have the right doctrine, or who walked in the wrong social circles…

Waiting until Jesus appeared so we could say to him.
“Here’s your grace Jesus. Here’s your forgiveness Jesus. Here’s your love Jesus.
We kept it safe. We didn’t lose a nickel of it, or a drop of it, or a hair of it, or an ounce of it.
The bad people, the outsiders, the unworthy, the losers, the different…they didn’t get it Jesus.
Here it is Jesus. Every bit of grace.”

And I have wept and wailed and gnashed my teeth in the darkness and hell of being that guy…
That guy who didn’t share the grace, who didn’t give others access to the goodies…
…who kept people away, because they weren’t good enough, or had bad theology, or who were too self-righteous, or I just didn’t like them.

We read just a bit of the Joseph saga from the Old Testament book of Genesis.
Most of you know the story of Joseph. He was born the 11th son of Jacob. He was the favourite because he was the firstborn to Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel who had been unable to have children for years.
And as his dad’s favourite he was spoiled.
And his older brothers resented it.
And they were going to kill him, but instead they sold him into slavery.
But God was with Joseph, who was able to dream and interpret dreams.
He rose to some prominence as the head slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, but when he wouldn’t sleep with Potiphar’s wife, she denounced him and lied about him and had him thrown in prison.
But God was with him and he rose to power to become the Prime Minister second in power to the Pharoah.
Years later during a famine his brothers come to Egypt to buy food.
Joseph could have had them all killed, but he doesn’t.
Now listen to just a tiny little bit of that story.
Joseph was served at one table and his brothers at another. The Egyptians who were eating there were served separately, because they considered it beneath their dignity to eat with Hebrews.
Joseph invites his brothers to eat with him and he even lines them up in order of age to their amazement.
But notice how they eat.

Joseph is at one table. The brothers at another. The Egyptians at another.
The Egyptians think it is beneath them to eat with Hebrews.
I find this amazing. The Egyptians won’t eat at the same table because they think they are better.
Those filthy Jews don’t have access to all the goodies.
What is even just as amazing, is that later on the Hebrews copy the Egyptians way, and by the time of Jesus, Jews won’t eat with any other race or religion because they are not clean enough, not holy enough.

And it is Jesus who breaks down these walls and shows that all people are to have access to the goodies, to God’s grace and love, to mercy and forgiveness, to food and drink, to education and health care, and to community and acceptance.

And the Joseph story itself is a story about Joseph giving his brothers access to the goodies.

Just think of Joseph. His mother dies in childbirth giving birth to Benjamin when Joseph is a little boy.
He is raised in a family where he is despised as a brother. He is really a half-brother to his other brothers. They all gang up on him.
They want to kill him. They sell him as a slave.

And yet Joseph many years later will weep over them, will forgive them, will say that it was all part of God’s plan to save them.

Joseph instead of throwing them out, starving them, imprisoning them or even killing them…
…instead invites them in and gives the access to the fridge of forgiveness, the cookie jar of grace and the storehouse of love.
I think it is one of the most graceful stories in the whole Old Testament.

I don’t know about your life. Who has welcomed you into their lives, into full acceptance, into all the mysteries and intimacy of full inclusion and love???
Who is it that opens all their heart to you, tells you their secrets, reveals all the treasures of their soul to you???
And who is it to whom you can be totally honest, totally yourself, totally open, totally transparent because they are a safe place and have let you in to the goodies of total love and acceptance.

You may be able to count such people on one hand, sometimes on one finger…

And yet that is what I think about when I think about my relationship with Jesus…
I can say anything, be myself, swear in his presence, unburden myself, be angry, let it out, because Jesus understands, Jesus knows, Jesus feels what I feel…
..and Jesus understands, and is compassionate, and doesn’t judge and listens, and is insightful and all I feel is love and acceptance.
He is not full of “you should do this. You shouldn’t have done that…”
..because in Christ’s presence you just know what is right and wrong and how you’ve screwed up and how you have failed…
And you feel loved and blessed anyway…
And you don’t need to hear: “You should do this…”
…because in the presence of unconditional love you want to do better, you want to be more, you want to be your best self.

In John Bradshaw’s book Creating Love (Bantam Books) he tells a parable. It is a parable he heard from Milton Erickson, one of the greatest therapists that ever lived.
The parable is the story of Joe, a true story.
I’ll give the Reader’s Digest Condensed version

There once was a boy named Joe who at the age of 12 was expelled from school because of vandalism, incorrigible behaviour and brutality towards other children.
He was put into a home for boys and when he was released at 15 he did burglaries and ended back in the home until he was 21.
Most of the time he was in solitary confinement because he was so violent.
When he was 21 he got out but kept going back to prison for robberies and violence and again was mostly kept in solitary confinement because of his violence.
After several years he ended up in a village in Wisconsin where he was, within a few weeks, suspected of burglaries.

One day Susie came to town, a good looking girl, daughter of a farmer, and she could cook, sew, clean, pitch hay and work as hard as any man. She was twenty-three and people thereabouts were thinking she might already be over the hill, and that she was too choosy about who she would go out with.
Well Joe spied her and stopped right in front of her and asked her out to the Friday night dance.
Susie said he could, but only if he was a gentleman.

Well, the next day all the stolen goods were returned and Joe had a job as a hired hand and became the best hired hand in the county.
Joe and Susie went to the dance and after about a year of seeing each other they were going to church and then they were married.
And when Susie’s dad died, Joe and Susie took over the farm and Joe always got his hired hands from the state reformatory. They had a very good life together and Joe was a wonderful husband, citizen and employer.

And Milton Erickson said:
All the psychotherapy Joe received was this; “You can but only if you are a gentleman.”

The Parable is a parable of love. Love can change broken lives.
When Susie gave Joe the possibility of love and friendship. When she gave him access to love, to friendship…
…it transformed him. It is possible that Joe was hardly ever loved in his life.

Not every story is so amazing and so transformational but, when we are loved and when we love, we are willing to change and often do change.

Love can dramatically heal our wounds and change our lives.
It is the story of Jesus touching lives with total love and acceptance.
It changed Saul and the disciples and countless lives since. Love changed Joe. It changed me. It changes you.
That is what can happen when you give someone access to the Cookie Jar.