Foolish Love is Wasteful
(Week 4)

Scripture: Mark 5:1-17; John 2:1-11

    Our church has recently kicked off an environmental care team. I am excited and also a little overwhelmed at the work of this team. They are taking a close look at so many things in our church, from how effectively we recycle in our building, to whether we can switch to coffee mugs and glass communion cups for the fellowship hour and communion, to the possible installation of solar panels and electric charging stations.

     They take their work seriously because they also take the charge that God gave us in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible seriously: to care for creation. They also believe the stakes are high. We need to do a significantly better job in this work, or our children and grandchildren will pay a heavy, perhaps catastrophic, price.

    We do need to pay attention to how much of God’s world we waste. But is waste ever a good thing? Let’s look at the waste that takes place in the passages for this week and include the passages that are in the accompanying devotional, just to see how much waste there is as God seeks to move us to the fullness of God’s reign.

    We are legion. This has always been one of my favorite stories in the Bible, in large part due to the wildness of it. There is a man so possessed, he literally breaks chains. When Jesus encounters him and all his demons, the demons recognize who Jesus is and beg to be spared by being cast into pigs. Jesus obliges the demons, who then promptly run the pigs off a cliff and die. That is an absolutely wild story! However, my affection for this passage only grew when I considered the point of view of the pig herders. Can you imagine what they went through? It was bad enough they had to herd next to this possessed man, but now they lost all their pigs due to him!  What a tremendous waste of a good herd!

    Wedding at Cana. Why serve the good wine first, and keep the mediocre wine for later in the celebration (which probably took days, by the way)? Because, days into the celebration, people would be too drunk to notice that the wine had fallen in quality. Here, however, Jesus helps this family give their guests the best wine ever – toward the end of the celebration! Half the guests wouldn’t even know how to appreciate it by then, and yet they are treated nonetheless.

    Fig Tree. This isn’t the fig tree in Matthew and Mark, that Jesus curses for not bearing fruit. This is the fig tree of Luke, the tree that gets another chance even though it hasn’t borne fruit for years. A tree that hasn’t been producing might be of more use cut down and made into furniture, yet here it is, getting more time and more fertilizer, and more chances to show what its got.

     Parable of the Soils. And speaking of wasteful farmers, here this one is just throwing seed out willy nilly. Some of these seeds will fall on rock and never have a chance to grow. Some will be eaten by birds and may or may not grow, but probably nowhere near the farmer’s field. Some will get choked out by weeds. Out of all the wasted seeds, only a few take root for harvest. What a waste!

    Feeding the 5000.  This story starts out with too little and ends with too much. There are as many baskets of leftovers as started out being passed around, and everyone has had their fill. I suppose if more people had showed up and the baskets continued to be passed around, there would still be that much leftover.

     Lost Coin. A woman loses a coin, worth about a day’s wage. She doesn’t spend the day working to earn its replacement. She spends the whole day looking. Happily, she finds it! And then… she throws a party for the neighborhood that would have likely cost more than a day’s wage! This story is defined by absurd waste.

    For God so loved the world, and He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. These passages, John 3:16 and Philippians 2:1-11, both speak of God in Christ willing to set aside the privilege and power of God to be fully present with humanity, even to experience death, which is certainly something God could avoid. Being human is arguably an unnecessary waste of God’s power.

     All of these passages involve waste, some on tremendous scale. But what is the waste for? Setting a man free of possession and restoring him to sanity and community. Rescuing a young couple from shame at not being able to provide proper hospitality. Extending mercy when it isn’t “deserved.” Opening God’s love and discipleship to places and people the world doesn’t value. Feeding thousands of people. Showing abundant and ridiculous love and grace. And loving us – all of us – so much as to live in our muck and mud, to know our life and our death, and to offer us the ultimate gift of love: eternal salvation.

     Over and over I see people behave as if we are worshipping a God of scarcity. No. We worship a God of abundance. We worship a God of generosity. And we worship a God of tremendous waste – excess grace and love that covers us all, and then some! Thanks be to God for all the waste we are grateful for!

  • When is waste a bad thing, and when is it good?
  • Which of the stories discussed for this week is the most wasteful to you? What would it mean for you to imagine Jesus “wasting” that much love on you?
  • Rev. Sara Bainbridge mentions in the video for this week that these works of Jesus look foolish on God’s part. Why isn’t God out there changing the whole world instead of focusing on these small individual moments? What difference does focusing on individuals make when it comes to experiencing God’s powerful love?


Sunday, March 10
Scripture Reading: Mark 5:1-17; John 2:1-11
     As a lifelong sufferer of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I can certainly relate to the idea of being possessed. Some days, I can’t stop thinking about things that feel “wrong” to me, despite knowing that there isn’t a tangible problem - it’s almost as if my own reasoning faculties are temporarily dulled, and I am forced to listen to a louder voice that tells me what must be fixed in order to avoid some kind of impending doom.
    Whatever anguish this man was suffering from in Mark chapter 5, his pain was surely amplified greatly by being ostracized by his community. And yet, in his brokenness, this man ran to the feet of Jesus.
  This is what I’ve been beginning to learn: God loves us in our brokenness. And not despite it; because of it! God loves us immeasurably - far beyond our capacity to understand. And it is when we earnestly and honestly bring our entire imperfect, messy, broken selves to God that healing and transformation are able to happen. When this possessed man fell at the feet of Jesus, Jesus didn’t ask him about his qualifications. He simply healed him. This is the nature of God’s love! Jesus did not ask anyone to jump through hoops, offer proof of religious membership, perform rituals of purification, or be free of mistakes before healing them. In the Gospels, if someone sincerely approached Jesus for healing, he healed them!
   In a society where healthcare is a commodity and some of those in power are targeting access to it by our society’s most vulnerable people, this healing ministry of Jesus may seem downright reckless! And yet, this is the nature of God’s love! This is the love that turns everyday water into the very best wine; the love that takes the mundane and transforms it into the extraordinary; the love that heals hearts, mends relationships, and restores community. And all God requires is our willingness to participate - even if we don’t know the way. What good news!
- Matt Nelson

Monday, March 11
Scripture Reading: Luke 13:6-9
     It is no secret my wife and raised a daughter who turned to drugs for reasons we don’t understand.  We love her and always will love her all her life.
     I was blind to some of the signs of drug abuse and was very aware of other signs.  I did not know how to respond.  Drugs were never my thing.  The situation continued to get worse as she began to have children.  Then one day I said, “Enough is enough!”  My wife and I made arrangements to take custody of her children. We continued to financially assist her with food, rent and transportation.  Was this right or wrong?  Did we enable her problem to get worse?  Is this foolish love?
     The legal system caught up with her.  She spent almost a year in prison.  Forced rehab is what I call it.  She was released to a facility called Hope Rises that specializes in re-entry programs for women.  They helped her find a job that was hard work, manual labor at a window factory.  She relapsed this past holiday season for a few days and on her own entered a rehab facility.  She has been clean again for ten months.  She is working and paying her own way.  I am very proud of her.
     The evaluation of the passage is this to me: as long as the tree has leaves or has not dried out you must fertilize the tree in some form.  In our case, the fertilizer was not money; it should have been something different like understanding, caring, praying, or any number of different ways to assist. I still don’t know what this best solution should be.  Was it foolish love on my part? Yes! I thought money could solve this problem, but it only made the problem last longer.  I truly do not understand addiction.  An addicted person will only change when they are ready to change.   My role is to be ready to help when and where help may be needed.  Sometimes that help is listening.
     The lesson is do not give up on others.  But we all should learn there are many ways to assist others out of extreme hardship.  There are better ways to help than the way I thought I was helping.
     In the end, I was that dying tree.  I was lost.  I had foolish love.  I didn’t have a solution and could not force a solution.  I had my wife, a close friend and a Methodist Preacher with a child in the same situation, who all walked with me as I fought my own battles of embarrassment and discouragement.  They stayed strong to help me as I cried.  They provided me with love. They fertilized the tree.
      Ultimately my daughter is winning her battle and I stay strong to encourage her and raise our grandchildren.
- Mark Whitehead

Tuesday, March 12
Scripture Reading: Mark 4:1-9
    Do you ever stop to think about who you identify with in a story and why?
Sometimes the author or director of the story will make who you should identify with obvious, but that’s often not the case in parables.
Such is the case in our passage today.
There are so many characters we could identify with:
The farmer recklessly sowing their seed…
The seed…
The various kinds of soil, or the preceding vegetation that it produced…
Or even the characters that affect the seeds and vegetation, like the birds, sun, and weeds.
Perspective, circumstance, and season all play parts in this.
That’s what makes parables so wonderful.  They can reveal something different to us each time we read or listen to them if we’re willing to listen.
Yet, there remains one constant in this particular parable.  The foolish nature of the agricultural approach.
At least…it seems foolish to us.
You see, we don’t know what makes the soil good, or even what kind of seed is being sown.  Simply that the farmer is spreading with reckless abandon.
It’s sort of like God’s love.  Sometimes it seems like it’s being spread in places that it will bear no fruit, other times it seems it’s been taken by another.
Yet, that’s the beautiful thing about nature…and God’s love.  It often defies our expectations and logic.
The bird that ate the seed may deposit it in a new area…which in time may help breed a new wildlife that encourages and promotes a new or diverse ecosystem.
The effects of God’s love extend far beyond our ability to comprehend it, and as a result may seem reckless.
Thankfully, God is not concerned with our logic or expectations.
Because the kind of soil we are can change from year to year, month to month, day to day, and moment to moment.
But God just keeps sowing seeds of love.
May we be willing to listen, hear, and accept that love.
- Devin Lyles

Wednesday, March 13
Scripture Reading: John 6:1-13
Personal reflection
    Question: When have you seen God do more than you expected God to do?

Thursday, March 14
Scripture Reading: John 3:16
God's Math is not our Math; when zero is a plus.
What adds up to a life well-lived?
Is it living to win?
Creating perfection?
Is drive the hallmark of success?
How much/many trophies will be listed under your name somewhere someday?
We love to get geared up to win contests of any kind.
We even do it vicariously:
Athletic games
Card games
Video games
"Must win!"
Must hurry.
Gotta go!
Get around that car (a dehumanized entity.)
Always gathering; more is more.
Or not enough. It's too much!
Stop! Where am I?
Where I am.
Jesus said this is what heaven is. His presence. Being mindful of him. Letting him complete my emptiness.
(Not necessarily trips to far off places
Not necessarily thrills.
Not necessarily possessions
Not necessarily chasing another person who can love you or choose to leave you.)
Him. Our place.
I do want Him. I want to enter his courts with praise. I read his daily personal texts in a rose bloom or a bird's flight across the field, and praise the Great I Am. I want to run into him and be safe. And I am.
With food and clothing I want to be content.
Until sweet temptation beguiles me again to live the other way. A distracted, fractured creature --that I am.
Who can deliver me from the body of this death? Thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Christ wants to heal my soul's malaise.
Romans 7:24-25
I go back to The Book to review.
God's winning is more of a serving-dying-giving combination. It is a creative redemption that takes the fractured, making it useful. I deeply believe in this kind of healing.
Warning Label:
Normal life may include personal loss when you least expect it. It interrupts. It aggravates. It begs. It raises your hackles.
Christ laid down his life. So was Christ a loser?
He was a delayer because he could see ahead. When he rose and ascended, he was the ultimate winner. And he says join me! Here is the way, the truth, the life. Living is Christ and dying is gain...He came to give us a dying/abundant life... in this sometimes sorrowful, sometimes exuberant lifetime. Through winning? It could happen. But if what I embrace most of all is his presence, losing is not so significant. It loses its sting. So I certainly can run my course--winning or losing.
(And by the way, how many trophies or dollars can my cold dead hands hold?)
Dear friend, do earnestly seek for God, for contentment. Even seek generosity. These are essential desires in our hearts that are gifts from God. But practice accepting loss. In love, the Holy Spirit will use the tiny irritating seeds (and finally, the really big ones) to fall on the ground of a ready heart, to crack open, soften and bud. Finally.... fruit grows. Then it feeds others and one's own soul. Do good when it interrupts, when it aggravates, when you face loss. Take up your cross. Then zero becomes the plus.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son (his everything to us) that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16
- Deborah Reynolds

Friday, March 15
Scripture Reading: Luke 15:8-10
Personal Reflection
     Question: The woman wastes quite a bit – she wastes a day looking for a coin when she could have worked a day and earned it back, and then when she finds it, she throws a party that likely cost her more than the coin to throw. If the woman represents God, and the coin represents God’s grace, when have you felt God was ridiculously wasting grace on some moment, or on some person?

Saturday, March 16
Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1-11
     Through all of the messiness of this life, God keeps believing in me, in you, and in humanity.
     In Philippians 2:1-11 we are reminded of the length that Jesus and God were willing to go in an effort to not give up on humanity. Jesus actually gave up being equal to God! He did so to feel our pain, sorrows, loneliness, brokenness….
     Jesus also came to set the stage for Heaven on earth in a new covenant of love and grace. By living under grace and forgiveness rather than law and judgement, He desired for us to get a glimpse of what truly living in God’s presence can and will be.
     This passage begins in verse 1 with a challenge requiring our involvement. IF there is encouragement in Christ? IF there is love in Christ? Of course there is!! But God invites us to participate by regarding others as better than ourselves, and valuing the interests of others over our own.
      Our responsibility is summed up in verse 5 — we are to adopt the attitude of Christ towards others. Wow!! We see over and over, with servant humility and great compassion, Jesus interacting with the mentally ill, the handicapped, and the broken. We also see him warn of the dangers of pride and legalism, but mostly we see him loving on people who the world has chosen not to love or has even cast aside.
     As we strive to be of the same mind as Christ, we must ask ourselves some questions. A few might be: How can I be more humble? Whose interests am I minimizing?   Is there someone it makes sense to let go, but Jesus would not?
     Thank you, God for setting an example for living.  Thank you for the opportunity to participate in bringing Heaven to earth.  Mostly, thank you for not giving up on me. Amen.
- Rob Adair