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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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

    May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all,

    Pastor Derek

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