Jesus’ Third Way: Extravagance 3-13-16

Two weeks before Easter, we are reaching the culmination of the Lenten season – the climax of Jesus’ journey to the cross. Today is an important day to look at what Jesus’ message is really about. Jesus’ Third Way today is about looking straight at death and finding a creative way to face it. Listen for the word of God for you today.

John 12:1-8 Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a banquet in Jesus’ honor, at which Martha served. Lazarus was one of those at the table. 3 Mary brought a pound of costly ointment, pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. The house was full of the scent of the ointment. 4 Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples—the one who was to betray Jesus—protested, 5 “Why wasn’t this ointment sold? It could have brought nearly a year’s wages, and the money been given to poor people!” 6 Judas didn’t say this because he was concerned for poor people, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the common fund and would help himself to it. 7 So Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You have poor people with you always. But you won’t always have me.”

March 13, 2016

Jesus’ Third Way: Extravagance Living in the Present

Do any of you like to go the flower show? The Philadelphia Flower Show is a magnificent display and gift to our region. It’s kind of expensive, don’t you think? My wife bought me a ticket this year. I almost didn’t make it, but I didn’t want to waste the ticket, so I went on Friday evening. I went to one of the vendors of perfumed oils and soaps to ask about our Bible passage today.

I heard that thousands of flowers are harvested and pressed into one jar of expensive perfume, one jar of nard, so I asked them about that. They said they had never heard of nard, but the do use flowers and all kinds of other things to get their scents, and it takes a lot of time and effort to extricate the essence of the flower. So I bought some Lily of the Valley scent for you for this morning – and a way to spread that scent in the sanctuary. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

 

First let me tell you a little about this passage in which Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with this precious nard. The reason it was so expensive, as I say, is that it was made from the scent of thousands of flowers. The perfume with which she anointed Jesus feet would have cost the equivalent of a year’s worth of wages. I can imagine our finance committee questioning spending that much on one funeral service or one wedding, or one anything.

The gospel of John is full of stories of the abundant grace and gifts of God’s creation. When Jesus turns water into wine in Cana, John mentions 180 gallons of wine. John talks about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish. After the resurrection, John talks about the disciples in Jesus’ presence catching 153 large fish caught after fruitless fishing all night.

Do you remember receiving any extravagant gifts in your life? Can you remember receiving a gift that took your breath away – that made you question – Should we really be spending that much at this time? Am I worth it? Is this occasion worth it?

Obviously, we are talking about a once-in-a-lifetime gift. An extravagance. Sometimes we may have received an obviously extravagant gift – maybe a wedding ring or ceremony. Or maybe it wasn’t so obvious, but just as valuable – like the gift of a college education.

I’ve been remembering as I read this passage the gift my parents gave me when I was in high school of a campaign desk. It was so out of the blue, that I was shocked by it. It was a beautiful, big desk and I didn’t really know where it would go or what I would do with it. I’m afraid I didn’t show proper appreciation for it at the time. I didn’t realize it would be with me for the rest of my life and always serve as a reminder of my parents’ generosity and thoughtfulness. By saying I didn’t show proper appreciation, I mean, I might have said something like, “Why did you get me that!?” or something similarly rude.

I think I might have sounded like Judas – or at least thought something like Judas, when he said this perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. I was able to think such self-righteous thoughts in those days. I did care about the poor, but I wasn’t giving any money to the poor, so it was a little hypocritical – just like Judas.

But Jesus said “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You have poor people with you always. But you won’t always have me.” Do you understand that logic? I think it’s tough. First we have to deal with the statement about ‘the poor will always be with you.” You know that Jesus is not saying “don’t worry about the poor.” He’s quoting Deuteronomy which says you always have the poor with you so you always have to care about the poor.” That’s what it says in context.

Jesus is not saying don’t care about the poor. He is saying you will always have the opportunity to care about the poor. You don’t always have me.” He’s saying “In this moment, this extravagant gift is appropriate.” Now see, that’s what amazes me, when someone can know what is appropriate in the moment, that Jesus, in the face of his own death, would be clear enough in the moment to say, “This is exactly what needs to happen.”

Jesus knows God’s presence so closely and knows that God’s gift of life is so valuable that even in the face of death, he can live in the present and value the moment and value the gift. That is Jesus’ third way – the way of life in the face of death.

 

And that brings me to my promise to tell you why I bought this Lily of the Valley scent. When I was about 5 or 6 years old – probably about the age Sarah Grace Brown – and almost as cute – I would walk up the street and visit an old woman who was homebound in a house up there. Her name was Mrs. Casey. My mother must have taken me to visit her sometime.

Well, I found out that Mrs. Casey would give me a piece of candy if I brought her a couple of the lilies of the valley flowers that grew near our house. I thought i was getting a really good deal. I could pick these flowers for free, walk up the street and get a piece of candy. It seemed I was pulling kind of a fast one.

It was only years later when I smelled the beautiful smell of a lily of the valley one day that it occurred to me that Mrs. Casey was pretty smart. Living in the moment, facing the end of her days, she figured out how to enjoy the smell of God’s creation and a visit from a cute little boy, all for the price of a little piece of candy. The fragrance of Christ was in that little visit.

Responsive Hymn 2205  The Fragrance of Christ