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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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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