John 12:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
One more thing is today’s sermon title. That’s because I have one more thing to say about last week’s scripture of the not-so-uncommon family. And, I am not sure I will be here next time when this story of the prodigal comes around again. So I am taking advantage of this moment today.
I mentioned last week that I keep learning something new and seeing something surprising in this story every time I encounter it. Well, that happened last week when Randy shared his insights to this story. I marveled that I had not recognized this all along – the fact that the younger brother did not sound like a victim – bemoaning all that happened to him. He was responsible for his situation – no one else was and he did not blame or shame anyone else. It probably would have been easy for him to do so, but he didn’t. He took responsibility.
We are told that when he woke up to himself – when he came to his senses – when he hit rock bottom, he took responsibility for himself and sought to ask forgiveness from his father. Anyone who has left the fold looking for fame and glory and wanting to forge their own way – and failing – will tell you that returning home can be a difficult and humbling situation.
This younger son will be ok. The person I’m most concerned about in this story is the older brother. I am not sure he can ever overcome his hurt, anger and resentment, sense of betrayal and anger toward his brother and also his father. How will he walk into the future? Can he do so without feeling like a victim? How will he overcome this moment? How he does so is a choice – his choice – will he alienate or embrace?
I love this story because it is so much like our own dysfunctional families. When I was serving a church in Castleton, Vermont, one of the members laughed as she relayed that her young son told her, “You put the fun in dysfunctional, Mom.”
Resentments and expectations continue to play a role in so many families and communities today that it’s sometimes difficult to know there are really so many healthy and wonderful families and amazing children in the world. Too often the darkness of the world overshadows the good and the light – the daily acts of kindness and generosity that people do every day. On my way home from annual meeting last evening I stopped for gas and washed my windshield. As I pulled the wiper from the window the wiper blade went flying. A man noticed this and offered help. I took it and just really appreciated his kindness and gave thanks for that moment of genuine help and the fact that he expected nothing in return for this good deed. A blessed moment.
I love this story of this family because it is real. It is full of tension, humility, forgiveness, love, jealousy, resentment. Do you think the oldest son really wants to hear how the father celebrates the return of the ingrate younger son? Or do you think the father’s words help to reframe the older son’s thinking? We don’t know because that is where the story ends.
And with that ending we turn to today’s scripture. It’s another story that builds in tension and brings us closer to the story of Jesus’ death. The setting is in the home of Mary and Martha. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and his sisters decided to have a dinner just six days before the Passover. Martha, as always, is doing all the last minute food preparations, getting the table set and getting ready to serve the meal. And Mary has her own plans. She has bought an expensive ointment to wash Jesus’ feet. It costs about a year’s wages. She did this, not aware of Jesus’ pending death, but out a sense of love and gratitude for this man – not expecting anything in return.
The next named character in the story is Judas who sees the purchase of this ointment as a betrayal of this group because the money spent on that could have helped to grow their coffers. It is here, however, in this story that we really begin to see Judas’ shadow side. Here we learn that Judas has been stealing from the group. Money – a blessing or a curse – depending on how you view it.
After spending the last several days at annual meeting I became aware of the relationship between these two stories – the prodigal and the anointing of Jesus’ feet. I’ve connected the dots between the story Jesus told and the story told about Jesus and the characters who felt betrayed and the betrayers. Central to both stories is extravagant love reflected in the embrace of the father to his son and the extravagant expense of the perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet.
In both stories it is interesting to look at the cast of characters – the naysayers, the hurt and resentful and disappointed and recognize their response to the extravagant and loving acts of those around them.
An extravagance that reflects God’s love. An extravagance that reflects God’s embrace. It is an extravagance that is poured on each of us – an extravagant love that is meant for you and me – for each of us; for those in the church and for those who are finding their way as well as those who have lost their way. It is our choice to embrace the reality of God’s extravagant love, and when we do, that understanding of God’s extravagant love cannot help but move us to extravagant acts as well.
In many ways, you are an extravagant people. I have seen this in my time with you. Yes, interim times can be a difficult time for congregations especially if they lose sight of why they gather and their mission. This year’s annual meeting of the Southwest Conference was such a wonderful experience as the focus was on growing church. There was an excitement and a buzz throughout the entire three days of events. Workshops were really helpful and challenging and uplifting as was worship. There is an excitement as we work together to grow the church because the church as we walk into the future is a place of extravagant welcome and embrace. It is not about buildings or about how to increase our finances as much as it is about mission. Sometimes we just need to ask the questions: whose are we? Why are we here?
During interim periods or with churches in decline there is the hazard of becoming more inward focused than outward focused. Interim time is an intentional time to reflect on where you’ve been as well as where you want to go – where is God leading? You have done that and the future of First Christian Church is looking good because of your presence in the world right now as you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
You continue to be outward focused and I find that focus to be extravagant. Your understanding of God’s blessing is extravagant and it informs your mission. Church is not about rules and regulations and rigid beliefs, but the fact that God’s amazing grace brings us to our knees. (I asked Melody to lead us in the first stanza of Amazing Grace. A grace-filled moment.) God’s grace is amazing and extravagant and it is often considered radical to our way of thinking in the world.
This week painting will begin in this sanctuary and we will probably be worshiping in the atrium area. Mixing things up is not a bad thing. We will also be blessed with the presence of Kim Fields-Haley from the Disciples and Bill Lyons from the UCC. They will be present for the first meeting of the Search Committee on Saturday – guiding us and providing support along the way as you search for your next settled pastor. And I am very excited for you and the next person who will walk with you into the future. Both Kim and Bill will stay overnight in the area and will be with us in worship. Please encourage everyone you meet to join us next Sunday for what should be a very exciting morning.
Oh, and one more thing. God loves you – each of you. Be extravagant – go and share that love with all you meet. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019