Monday, March 14, 2016

Sermon; Lent 5C; John 12:1-8

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.

Holy Week is fast approaching.  Next Sunday we will participate in Palm/Passion Sunday where we begin our journey to the cross.  On Maundy Thursday we will share a meal, hear Christ’s words to love each other, and wash feet.  This is essentially a microcosm of the Christian life – to offer nourishment for those who need it, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be willing to be a servant.

These are things we are called to do as followers of Christ.  Probably the most famous and explicit examples of living this way come from two parables – the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, and the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37.  In that parable from Matthew, Jesus commends those who have helped and served people in need while not necessarily being a part of what we might call an established religion.  In the parable from Luke, Jesus commends a foreigner for living out the essence of the gospel.  There are plenty of places in the New Testament that make clear doing is just as important as believing.

Another part of the Christian life is joy.  Joy does not necessarily mean happy, because there are plenty of times when unhappiness and disappointment abound.  Life is not always a bowl of cherries – see for instance Good Friday.

But joy is something other than happiness.  Joy is deeper.  Joy, like the Trinity, can be hard to explain, but it comes from a deep sense of delight related to something valued or appreciated.  It can also be related to contentment.  C.S. Lewis writes about it in Surprised by Joy.  And while there are times when we aren't all that happy or cheerful, our sense of joy should be able to transcend those unhappy times so that even in our despair, joy will ultimately shine forth.

As Christians we are not only called to faith, but we are called to action.  James said, “Faith without works is dead.”  The Catechism states that the duty of all Christians is to gather for worship and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.  Keeping that sense of joy while we are gathered to worship and while we work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God is important – as St. Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Mary understood all of this.  At the home of her brother, Lazarus, a meal among friends and disciples was shared.  This wasn't what we call The Last Supper, but it does share one important aspect with our Eucharistic meal – that of inviting Jesus into their presence.  Martha, Mary, and Lazarus invited Jesus and the disciples to eat with them.  We also invite Jesus to be with us in our celebration of Holy Communion – “Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

At that meal, in the midst of friends and disciples, Mary knelt in service to Jesus.  She is willing to stoop to the level of servant.  She is willing to place herself lower than those around her because of her love for Jesus.  Her act brings to life what Jesus says in Luke: “Those who humble themselves will be exalted, and those who are exalted will be humbled.”  And this act is done in joy.  There are no tears, but there is a sense that both the act and the person whose feet she anoints are valued and appreciated.

This sense of joy that she felt also allowed her to be a cheerful giver; because she not only gave of herself willingly, but she gave the gift of costly perfume.  Judas complains that the perfume could've/should've been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor.  I won't get into exactly how much that was, but let me give you a different example that will resonant with people today:  1.2 fl. oz. of Chanel No. 5 costs $67 (according to my Google search).  There are roughly 16 fl. oz. to a pound.  Getting close enough for government work, you will need thirteen of those bottles to get close to a pound of perfume.  Those thirteen bottles will cost you $871 (plus shipping and handling).  In other words, Mary joyfully anointed the feet of Jesus with $871 of Chanel No. 5.

That action had two effects on those gathered.  One was that at least one person was outraged at this overly extravagant and probably unnecessary action.  If we are in the business of helping those who are outcasts and underprivileged, this is not a very good way to show we care.  Think of how many people I could help through my discretionary fund with $871.

But there was another, more important effect of this action – the house became filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  In their invitation to welcome Jesus into their midst, the house became filled with fragrance.  Mary became a servant to Christ and the house became filled with fragrance.  Mary cheerfully gave of her abundance in anointing Christ, and the house was filled with fragrance.

In this scene today, nourishment is offered, love is exhibited, and Mary takes on the role of servant.  All of this is done with a sense of joy.

How would it be for us if we lived into our Christian life with a sense of joy?  Maybe more importantly, how would it be for those with whom we come into contact?  With that in mind, let us joyfully offer nourishment to those in need.  Let us joyfully love God and neighbor.  Let us joyfully step into the role of servant.

By doing these things, and by doing them with joy, it just might be that we will fill the world with a joyful fragrance.



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