The Cross And The One

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

John 12.1-8

There were many. There were many, at this point in the story of Jesus from John’s gospel, there were many who wanted something from him. They followed him from town to town, even when he was in the wilderness, they tracked him down. They wanted, no they NEEDED him. They wanted, they needed healing. To remove the scales from their eyes, to give strength to their legs. They wanted, they needed him for food. Both loaves of grain to feed their stomachs and grains of heavenly wisdom to feed their souls. They wanted, they needed him to bring them freedom. From the areas of their life that were bound by one thing or another. They needed him to bring life to the parts of their being that were dead.

These who were in need sought him out. There were many of them and that was alright with Jesus because he came for them and he loved them to the last. There were also many who were seeking him not to get some benefit from the gift of wisdom or healing that he carried, but instead when they heard his stories, when they witnessed the way that he flaunted their rules and traditions and poked holes in their holiness, and when he challenged their power of theology, they sought him out to try and snuff him out. There were many of them too. There were so many of them, in fact, that Jesus had to go into hiding it says in John’s gospel. And he had to be careful of where he went and whom he saw. That is until his hour had come. There were many.

But in our story from John’s gospel this morning, as we travel to the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem , we hear a story not about the many, but about the One. There was one, a very special one. She came to Jesus not to get something from him, but to do something outrageous for him.

While they were sitting there at the dinner in Bethany, just after the hors d’oeuvres were gone and just as just as Martha was about to serve the lamb that she had been working on all day, Mary – spacey, flighty Mary – comes through the doorway and approaches Jesus and sits at his feet. She brings a jar with her, and as she breaks open the seal the scent of a very expensive perfume rises from the table and it permeates throughout the whole house. She anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume, that expensive perfume. She doesn’t dab it lightly, she doesn’t save any for later, she takes whole pounds, not holding back one ounce. Then when she’s done caressing Jesus’ feet with the perfume, she doesn’t take out a towel, she doesn’t grab a Bounty. She loosens her hair and lets it fall over his feet. She dries his feet with her own hair.

Along with that scent of expensive perfume, a feeling of intimacy permeates throughout the house. And a strange silence hangs there. There’s awkwardness in the air. Because if we step back for a moment, we might notice how odd the scene is. Mary has crossed boundaries here. She does what women “ain’t supposed to do.” At least not honorable ones. Undo your hair and let it fall sensually around another man’s feet? Touch another man in public? Oh, that’s a no no! To anoint his feet with perfume? Not the head, like you would a king, but his feet like you would anoint a corpse. And she wasted that perfume. Three hundred dinari. That would feed a family for almost a year! So many things just don’t make sense in this scene. It’s just odd. Awkward. They don’t compute for the many.

Mary, however, is not the many. She is the One. She is the one who offers this lavish gift of love to Jesus on the eve of his death. She is the one who understood where Jesus was headed. She saw what was happening, the disciples didn’t have a clue. The people around Jesus didn’t understand. She didn’t have a lecture from Jesus, she wasn’t taught by Jesus, but she knew where Jesus was headed. She knew Jesus would not be distracted or deterred from his goal and so, in her final times with Jesus, she loved him. She didn’t do it for gain. She didn’t do it to curry favor. She didn’t do it so her Father in heaven would scratch a couple of marks in the good column in the book of life. She simply did it out of love.

And the fragrance of that perfume, the wonderful aroma of her love, spread throughout the house. Her love was not economical. Or sensible. Or rational. It was love. Extravagant. It was a cross-shaped love.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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