“Love Enacted”                                                                             March 17, 2013

Isaiah 43:16-21 & John 12:1-8                                                   Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   Jesus was no stranger to the village of Bethany.

A.    It was less than 2 miles to the east of Jerusalem and Jerusalem was where Jesus would soon be heading, but he had come to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.

1.     Quite understandably a dinner party was thrown by Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha with Martha handling the cooking to celebrate the miracle and to thank Jesus for restoring their brother to them.

2.     The community of Bethany was impressed by what Jesus had done, but the religious authorities, who stood for proper order and traditions such as dead people remaining dead, were outraged.

3.      Folks were flocking to Jesus and believing that he was indeed be the Messiah who might do another amazing thing the common people wanted which was to throw out those gosh awful Romans.

4.     But that would destabilize the unwritten alliance between the religious authorities and the political authorities that served the powerful so well.

5.     So something had to be done to halt this love affair people were developing with Jesus.

6.     Who knew to what ends the common people might do for a man who could raise the dead back to life?

B.     So Jesus showed up for dinner and the atmosphere was mixed because there was both rejoicing and anxiety.

1.     Joy over Lazarus’ being able to once more dine with family and friends, and fear over what powerful people might be plotting to do to Jesus when the opportunity availed itself.

2.     Martha was in the kitchen fixing a masterpiece of a meal, but where was Mary?

3.     The same Mary who had once sat at Jesus’ feet to learn from him and the decision she had made to position herself at Jesus’ feet had been praised and blessed by the Lord himself.

4.     But people probably weren’t on the lookout for Mary.

5.     Most eyes were probably were on Lazarus to see what the previously deceased man decided to first put in his mouth and to observe how well it went down.

6.     But you and I know that things are getting ready to go down for Jesus.

7.     At the dinner table are two men – Lazarus who was dead and now was alive and Jesus who is alive and soon will be dead.

8.     The guy that Jesus brought back to life is going to outlive him because in a few days it will be Good Friday and Jesus will be dying on a cruel cross.

C.     But tonight is good friends and good food when Mary entered the room.

1.     It had been unusual when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but what Mary would do was also unusual.

2.     It began with her kneeling at Jesus’ feet and breaking the neck off of a clay jar that contained some very sweet smelling perfume (Willimon, Prophetic Extravagance, 3/17/13).

3.     Then she did four things that were attention grabbing and provocative.

a.     First, she loosened her hair, let it down in public, which no respectable woman would do in the presence of men (that was a “for her husband in the bedroom sort of thing”), plus she did it in the presence of a religious leader.

b.     Second, she poured the sweet-smelling perfume all over Jesus’ feet which didn’t make a lot of sense. If she had poured it on his head she would have been anointing him like an ancient Israelite King but she poured it on his feet.

c.      Third, she touched his feet, caressing and hugging them and women didn’t touch a man like that unless they were married to him.

d.     Fourth, instead of using a towel Mary used her hair. That was intimate and sensual which wasn’t what people expected at this dinner party.

4.     But Mary did all that because it was love enacted.

5.     A thank you card wasn’t enough to express what Mary was feeling.

6.     Words weren’t spoken but it appears that Mary had figured out where those precious feet of Jesus were going to take him and the rough treatment those feet were going to receive at Calvary.

7.     So tonight for so many reasons Mary decided to go overboard in expressing her love and appreciation for Jesus and to help prepare the one who had freed Lazarus from his tomb for his own tomb.

D.    Judas couldn’t stand it.

1.     He exclaimed that Mary was wasting money by rubbing expensive perfume all over of all things Jesus’ feet.

2.     Think of how of the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

E.     But Jesus came to Mary’s defense and instructed Judas to leave her alone.

1.     And then he said a very strange thing, he said, “You always have the poor with you but you wouldn’t always have me.”

2.     As Bishop Will Willimon has written it was a very strange thing for Jesus to say considering Jesus’ constant, creative care for the poor (Willimon, Prophetic Extravagance, 3/17/13).

3.     But this may well have been a comment about evil because Jesus will soon be separated from the people who attended the party due to his death on a cross, and the poor would just continue to be treated in ways other than God intended for human beings to treat other human beings.

4.     As Willimon writes, “the poor are neglected and Jesus will be crucified (Willimon, Prophetic Extravagance, 3/17/13).

5.     Evil in rampant in both of those situations.

F.     Yet Mary apparently believed that God would bring good out of evil just like Jesus had brought good out of the evil of Lazarus’ death by raising him from the dead.

1.     The reality was that Jesus had clearly been journeying to the cross since he had descended the Mount of Transfiguration but by coming to Bethany to raise Lazarus Jesus had accelerated the pace of that journey.

2.     If he had just left Lazarus in his tomb Jesus could have bought himself some more time, but returning Lazarus to life would unify government and religious forces in instituting their plans to put an end to Jesus’ life.

3.     Possibly Mary recognized that Jesus had sacrificed himself by coming to rescue Lazarus from the dark powers of death and so she told the truth of how she felt about him.

4.     She enacted her love by anointing his body in preparation for his own death.

5.     A death by which Jesus would enact his love for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and all those at the party as well as enacting his love for you and for me.

G.    You and I weren’t at the party in Bethany long ago but if we had would we have enacted such extravagant love as did Mary knowing that what will flow from Jesus on Good Friday is not sweet smelling perfume but his own blood that will freely spill over the entire world for the purpose of transforming that world into the very kingdom of God?

1.     His blood will flow on a hill outside of Jerusalem overlooking a garbage dump and no amount of perfume could cover the stench of sin and death on that day.

2.     So Mary poured out the jar of costly perfume onto Jesus’ precious feet because a drop or two wasn’t enough to express how she was feeling about Jesus.

3.     For those my age you’ll remember the Brylcreem hair commercial that proclaimed “A little dab’ll do you,” but for Mary a little dab wouldn’t suffice.

4.     Mary wasn’t stingy whereas doing nothing would have been just fine with Judas.

5.     As the Rev. Adam Copeland of First Presbyterian Church in Hallock, Minnesota, has written “Ultimately, maybe the biggest difference between Mary and Judas is that Mary gives out of her abundance while Judas sees scarcity. Mary understands the enormous gift Jesus will give, and out of that ultimate gift she sees plenty, grace enough for all (Copeland, “Lavish Gifts,” March 21, 2010).

H.    So this morning we have two models for responding to what Jesus does for us.

1.     Mary decided to respond with a form of extravagant giving while Judas decided to respond by filing the form marked complaint.

2.     Which model will you follow the remainder of Lent and beyond?

3.     For the next few weeks will you bathe Jesus’ feet with prayers and the sweet smell of a grateful spirit?

4.     Will you engage in a life of lavish service as did Jesus who took the form of a servant and bathed the feet of others?

5.     In the days ahead of you will you walk places to share the good news that Jesus the crucified has the power to raise the dead to new life and that as we know from Lazarus people do not have to remain in their tombs?

6.     Judas didn’t have much appreciation for Jesus’ feet, but Mary was truly grateful that those feet had come to Bethany and that they were going to Jerusalem.

I.       I invite you now to a time of meditation and guided prayer in that I’m going to ask you to close your eyes (that’s it close your eyes) and imagine that you are in your own home.

1.     Jesus has entered your home and gathered there are family and friends and in particular one person whom you dearly loved who died and now because of the presence and power of Jesus is alive and with you in the room.

2.     Do you see that person? Can you hear them laughing?

3.     Do you see Jesus? Is he joining in the laughter?

4.     Is Judas there? Is he laughing?

5.     You walk over to Jesus. What’s your response to Jesus? It’s been 2,000 years since Mary poured the perfume over Jesus’ feet, Jesus who is love enacted. How do you now enact your love for Jesus?

6.     Jesus is now walking out of the room to journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Do you follow him?

7.     Amen and as the prophet Isaiah said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,…” Isaiah 52:7