Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Sunday Sermon

Practice Extravagant Generosity
March 13th, 2016
John 12:1-8          New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 12
The Anointing at Bethany. 1 [a]Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus[b] and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages[c] and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.[d] You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Exploring the Scripture
This week in this scripture from the author of John, the pilgrimage continues. Holy Week approached and Jesus’ execution lay immediately ahead in our story. 

The author of John tells this story completely different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with a story not shared anywhere else and placing it at the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who are brother and sisters. 

Today’s story shows Jesus catching a break. He has had time to visit, rest, and eat in a peace-filled place. Jesus, the one who had “nowhere to lay his head” as he said in Matthew 8:20, stayed in Bethany—as much a home for him as anywhere.

And at this time,  after hearing of the raising of Lazarus, the leaders of the Jews learn of the miracle from those who have gathered to see Lazarus and are terrified that the entire nation will now follow Jesus into an insurrection and they will lose their power in an uprising that will bring Rome down on the entire nation. They immediately began to plot to capture him and have the Romans condemn him as a danger to their power.  This last action puts Jesus at even greater risk of capture. 

At the heart of this text though is a surprising act of generosity: an over-the-top gift. Mary, a disciple with deep gratitude for Jesus because he raised her brother from the dead and returned him to her and her family, anoints Jesus with costly perfume. She responds to Jesus’ extravagant generosity with extravagant generosity of her own. Generosity begets generosity.

Observe how people who are driven by self, react, but servant leaders—those who put others first, respond. Judas reacted to Mary’s generous gift with harsh criticism. He pointed out the wastefulness of the gift. Judas suggested it could have been sold for 300 denarii, roughly a year’s pay, and given to the poor. As Mary anoints, it is Judas who is exposed.

Jesus, however, is gracious and responds with gratitude. His sharp, clear defense of Mary, as told here by the author of John,  can also be understood as a defense of all whose voices were stifled by the early church, all whose gifts were not being received and all who were not giving what they could. 

Comparing Judas’ reaction and Jesus’ servant-leader response, one notes that criticizing generosity is a wonderful way to dodge its power.  A true gift cannot be controlled, only received. For this and for many reasons, some cultures have a much easier time giving than receiving.

Sometimes, people look for ways to avoid giving. Scripture contains a clear mandate to take care of the poor. Many have tried to justify their inaction by using the line in this passage that says “you always have the poor with you” (v. 8). However, this quote refers to Deuteronomy 15:11, whose message is certain: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” Jesus knew this and his disciples knew it.

So in our story, Mary wiped Jesus’ feet. Jesus received from her what he will soon offer his disciples when he washes their feet. (The Greek verb is the same in both cases.) Mary’s extravagant act is a faithful witness to the even more extravagant act about to occur.

John’s Gospel bears witness to the gift God gives the world in Jesus. In today’s passage as elsewhere, celebrating God’s gift of Jesus comes with awareness of the cost of that gift as the story moves toward Jesus’ impending hour of execution. 

Can you remember a time when you received an extravagant gift? How did you react? What was your response?

I can. Two years ago, when Scott was in Hawaii…all alone with an impending birthday,  Leslie and John gave me an extravagant gift.  They bought me an airline ticket to go to be with him for both our birthdays.  To me, that was an extravagant gift. 

Then when Scott retired from the army, he came first to my house and bought me a new TV and a Bose sound system to go with it. My old TV had finally died. That was his extravagant gift to me. 

Then Keith and Esther decided to tithe to me instead of their mega church. So they send me a large cash gift every month.  That is an extravagant gift. 

When Bob died, this congregation took up an offering and gave me a large cash gift to help me get through that first month. I was astounded and delighted. 

After Bob died, the government took back both my social security and Bob’s social security almost immediately. I didn’t know what I was going to do the first of the month when my house payment came due. My friends, Ron and Joyce Dawbarn also realized this and sent me $500 to tide me over until my social security could be changed and re-deposited.   

Yes, I have had some extravagant gifts. Perhaps the most extravagant gift was the spirit of God that stayed with me during those last days. I was able to cope with the strain of all that.

The next question is: And let us each ask ourselves….Is it easier for you to give or to receive? And why?

How do we respond to God’s generous grace in our life? How much of  our capacity for generous giving are we actually using right now? 

When I first read in the church's Herald magazine that the church was recommending that we tithe 10% of our income, I thought there was no way I could do that on my income but the more I thought about it and the more I read about the layoffs the church is having to make and the changes they are having to make like making the Peace Prize a part of our World Conference,  because of lack of funding, the more I realized I had to make an effort to do that.  I am going to try.

My kids have been generous to me . The church has been generous to me.  God has certainly been generous to me. There are luxuries I can eliminate from my spending habits.  Can I continue? I can only try. Let us each ask ourselves if we can make the effort.  Mary, in our scripture made a generous gift.  If we try, we may be able to make a more generous gift as well.
We can all only try.


Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

Margie, what a beautiful sermon! :)

Sister--Three said...

Hope you are okay today.
When you don't post I get nervous about...
Saying a little prayer that you are just busy!

Margie's Musings said...

I am fine, girls. I was just very busy yesterday. That's for the compliment too, Deb.