Sunday, March 13, 2016
Do you perceive it?
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 43: 16-21 and John 12: 1-8, NT page 106 Sermon Title: Do you perceive it? I’ve heard a lot of Jim Jones stories lately. Stories seem like a place to find comfort in the time of death, and there are plenty of great Jim Jones stories, but my favorite one took place before he was a Navy Captain, before he was the Commodore of the Pensacola Naval Base. My favorite story about Jim Jones is from back in the days when he was just a young boy wadding up and down Snow Creek hunting for mink or whatever else. One morning on his way to school Jim came across a skunk with a fur so pretty he couldn’t pass it up, so he took it with him to the Santa Fe school and skinned it in the boy’s bathroom. They had to evacuate the school that day, and I can understand why. The smell of a skunk assaults the senses, you can’t concentrate on math problems or literature, and I wonder how long school had to be cancelled – did it take days or weeks before the smell of Jim’s skunk finally dissipated? If we say it took days before the smell of that one skunk finally left the halls of the Santa Fe School, how long did it take until the smell of Mary’s perfume was gone? Smells, whether bad ones or good ones, they stick around, and if the smell of one skunk caused the evacuation of an entire school, what effect did a pound of pure nard have on the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha? And what is nard exactly anyway? Nard is a perfume made from a plant called spikenard or musk-root that grows in the Himalayas of China, India, and Nepal. Because of its distant origins, even a little of this oil would have been expensive. A small vile might have cost a week’s wages, but we know from Judas’ observation that Mary poured three hundred denarii’s worth, a full year’s salary for a low wager worker in that region and some Bible scholars say that those 300 denarii would be worth as much as $10,000 today. $10,000. Can you imagine what $10,000 worth of perfume all poured out at once must have smelled like? How it must have filled the room? How it much have filled the house? How it much have filled the neighborhood? Nard is a thick oil, resinous, not something that you’d get sprayed on you when walking through Macy’s, but like an essential oil and fully strong enough to cover the odor of an unbathed human body, worthy of anointing the heads of kings, but only used on the feet of the dead to cover the smell of decomposition. $10,000 dollars of the oil poured out on the feet of a living man. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Judas asks, and while the Bible tells us that he “said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” I think he raises a good point. Why was this perfume not sold? Why was it, all of it, poured out on the feet of one man who wasn’t even dead? There’s a bottle of cologne that’s been sitting on the counter of my father-in-law’s bathroom for all the years that I’ve known him. It must have been full once, maybe 20 years ago, but even now there’s plenty left in that bottle because we use what is precious sparingly, we don’t just pour it out. Or, maybe we do, if we know that we don’t have 20 years. Our Scripture passage begins, “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany.” Six days before the Passover. Six days before he sat at the table with his disciples. Six days before one of them betrayed him. Six days before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He had six days left – and when time gets short you have to do everything you can to make sure that the ones you love know how much you love them. That the ones you love know you understand them, and that was a struggle that Jesus faced from the beginning of the Gospel of John – in chapter 1 the Lord is described as the light shining in the darkness, and while the darkness did not overcome the light, neither did the darkness comprehend it. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” reads verse 11 of the same chapter in the King James Version, but while so many did not receive him and did not understand him Mary knew. Mary knew exactly who he was, and to say goodbye, to express those feelings that words cannot express, she poured out $10,000 worth of perfume onto his feet and wiped them with her hair. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume,” and the smell must have lingered there. And if it did, then that is the advantage of this gift over so many others. You give a young child a present, no matter how much thought you put into it, how much time you spent picking or out, or how much money it cost, he loses interest in a matter of time and starts playing with the paper the present was wrapped in. Or the church choir “labors to prepare an intricate anthem, and three minutes later it is gone,” not permanent but temporary, passing, here and then gone, but the smell of Mary’s gift, it lingered there, for weeks if not months, and just days later as he suffered on the cross, rejected and tried as a criminal, did the smell linger still? Did a gust of wind catch the sweet smell that remained on his feet to remind him even as he breathed his last that he was loved, that he was understood, that despite humanity’s cruelty and betrayal there is also alive in us the potential to love so deeply, to pour out everything that we have? At the church I served outside of Atlanta there was the funeral for a young woman, wife and mother who died of cancer. Her husband asked to speak at the end of the funeral service, so before the congregation he stood and he said that some people wondered how he was able to be by her side for all those hours just watching her suffer. The trips to the hospital, the tubes and the drugs. The rattle of her lungs in those last hours, he was there through it all and people would ask him, “how did you do it?” “I loved her, and I would have given her more even, simply because I loved her so much.” I’ve seen love like that more than once. And I wonder how is it that we are capable of such love on the one hand and capable of evil on the other. How that could be I do not know, but both are there in the Cross of Jesus. Both the inhumanity of mankind to nail the Son of God onto those boards, but also there is love – the extravagant love of one who did not hold anything back but poured out everything he had that you might know how much he loved you. It’s true that by so many he was misunderstood, but do not let this be the case with you. Every time you look to this cross, may the love of God linger. May the love of God in our Lord Jesus Christ live in your heart today as it lived in Mary’s heart. Unto him she poured out everything she had, and so truly, unto us, he poured out even his blood that our sins might be forgiven, that we might know our worth in the sight of God. This is a gift. It is an extravagant gift, given to you. Amen.