Now, I’ve heard that some folks love my stories in a sermon, some don’t, some listen deeply and find meaning, some tune out and either put up a mental and emotional roadblock to the scripture and interpretations, find fault in something…or simply not interested and want to get on with their day or are just happy to sit for an hour or so…and, yes, sometimes the preacher isn’t tuned in to the divine flow…either way, it’s OK…that’s kind of church…I’d love to find a way to connect with everyone…and to constantly live in that divine flow…what it boils down to is deep trust and listening…and not just with the preacher, but with the words being spoken that are not just the preachers…and that the divine movement, the God movement, is always happening, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Mary Anoints Jesus
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
And, I do have a story.
Oftentimes, words in a situation really speak something to us. Several years ago I was in Nicaragua with a group of about 30-40 high school students from my youth group at Northminster. Nicaragua is the second poorest county in the Western Hemisphere. We had broken the group up in teams of 3-4 for what we called “home stays”. Its where we would spend 24 hours with a Nicaraguan family. I was with a couple of other students and we stayed with my now friend, Manuel. He took us to a restaurant and bought our dinner. It was huge…and it only coast $2 in US dollars per meal. About a dozen or so of Manuel’s extended family and neighbors came with us. While we were eating, we noticed that Manuel and his wife, Rosie, and the three of us were the only ones with food. I asked Manuel why, he said that we were the guests of honor and that they wanted to bless and honor us…and that $2 was more than what most folks made in a day, they couldn’t afford it. Being an American with $50 in my pocket, I told him we’d buy everyone a meal…his response, no, don’t, accept our hospitality and be in this moment.
The words and the moment were powerful.
In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is hanging out in the home of Lazarus, with Mary and Martha. Think about that one for a moment…Lazarus, the guy raised from the dead. Mary and Martha…that’s a full story of relationship. Martha, always working, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Then Mary, who really must have loved Jesus, loved what he was about, who he was and is…took a very expensive perfume. She anointed Jesus’ feet! In the other gospel accounts, Jesus’s head is anointed. In this gospel, the gospel of John, the disciple that “Jesus loved” as he refers himself as in this gospel, has Jesus’ feet getting anointed…that’s a mark of humility. On that same Nicaragua trip, we did a foot washing, it is humbling to get on your knees, to touch another’s feet…both Nicaraguans and Americans (especially teenagers!), yet, we did it…and we all cried…why? Because we loved one another.
Now, Judas, one of the disciples, a part of Jesus’ team, a member of the Body of Christ, starts to complain. Now, when someone is complaining vigorously about something that is out of the ordinary, even it really doesn’t really affect him, then you kind of know where the priorities are…Judas is kind of a sad figure at times, he doesn’t seem to quite get it. I have empathy for him actually. Jesus loved Judas, still does…but Judas had a lot of roadblocks emotionally to receiving that love…he couldn’t love himself, was not aware of others, and because he couldn’t love himself, receive God’s love through Jesus, he couldn’t see Mary’s act of love…
He responds how expensive this perfume was and that it could have been used in other ways. On the surface, that makes sense. It was expensive. I think Judas was actually being somewhat sincere. He was acting out of a worldview that he really believed in. And, he was a zealot, he believed in what he was doing. He also projected on to Jesus his aspirations, without doing the work of really listening to what God was conveying to him through Jesus and others. It’s also interesting to note that Judas did become bitter as his projections on Jesus and others didn’t pan out, did not fit with the image that he created…he eventually sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, a fraction of the cost of the perfume. And, yes, it drove him to such despair when he finally realized what he had done that he took his life.
If only Judas could have seen the grace of this moment.
Jesus doesn’t condemn him, doesn’t stop loving him. And, by the way, as we look at Jesus, we can also have confidence that Judas always had grace. You see, Jesus was telling Judas, and the audience that day, to be present with who is with you. He is saying that there are some things in this world that will not change. But, we can change. We can have a new story, and it starts with listening deeply to what the divine voice is saying inside and around us…and to stay present in the moment.
Friends, Mary was present in her love for Jesus. The perfume filled the room with an amazing fragrance…but, there was a deeper beauty there as well…the beauty of being present in the moment that is filled with such love that connects us all.
Church, if we are willing, we can live into this love…it starts by simply receiving it. It doesn’t make sense, it’s extravagant, it’s not always practical, and it certainly goes against our notions of how the world works. We don’t earn it, we simply have it.
Fleming Road UCC, in many ways, is pouring out expensive perfume. We sometimes worry at how long it will last, but we cannot miss this present moment. We are loving one another, we are loving our neighbors, we are giving ourselves away to our Nepali friends, and now our Ukrainian friends, and we are not getting bogged down by too much complaining as we trust and love one another and love and trust a God who reminds us that we are not alone.
Our lectionary passage in Philippians says this: 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Friends, let’s move on from the past, live as the beloved, and press on towards a future where we continue to become one with God, with one another, and with the world around us…may live into the communion of God as demonstrated through the words and actions of Jesus.