Extravagance & Poverty
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on John 12: 1 – 8. Focus on bringing the best we have to our life and our situations in life. And why we are still called to care about the poor!
“Leave her alone!” Let her be, Jesus tells Judas. She has done a beautiful thing. She has anointed me for my burial.
The striking thing about this text is not Judas’ protest, or even Jesus’ answer. It is the fact that Mary has chosen to anoint Jesus now. Rather than wait until after his death, Mary does this while Jesus is still living.
Mary is giving the very best that she has, the most expensive thing that she owns to Jesus right now. The real waste would have been to wait till Jesus had died before she offered her gift to him.
But Judas protests that this costly perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. A disingenuous protest, since Judas was really interested in skimming the proceeds for himself. And so Jesus responds with a phrase that has been taken out of context ever since – “The poor you will always have with you.” As if Jesus was saying to us – don’t worry! You don’t have to do anything. Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus? Why does the rich man go to hell? Because he walked by poor Lazarus every day from his rich digs and didn’t so much as bother to offer Lazarus the crumbs from his table.
So let’s lay this purposeful misreading to rest. Jesus wasn’t telling us to ignore the poor to do nothing for the poor he was saying. Mary did a wonderful thing. She gave me the best gift she had. She knows he’s not coming back from Jerusalem. She knows he is going to die and she wants to let him know how much he has meant to her.
And what she did for Jesus has implications for us today. There’s a danger that churches will become museums for Jesus that our existence will reflect more about Jesus death than it does about his life.
In her book The Preaching Life pastor and professor Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story of happening upon the ruins of a massive cathedral while hiking in the Kachar Mountains of Turkey. After reflecting on the reality that what was once an impressive church built to the honor and glory of God in the very land that the Apostle Paul walked was now nothing but ruins and garbage, she writes:
“If we do not attend to God’s presence in our midst and bring all our gifts to serving that presence in the world we may find ourselves selling tickets to a museum” (p. 6). Think about that for a moment. We must devote all our gifts, from the smallest to the grandest, to serving Christ’s presence in the world, or else we may find that our churches have become museums.
In other words, rather than devoting our time, our attention and our energy to merely preserving the memory of Jesus, as one would a deceased relative, we are called to give the very best we’ve got today so people experience his love today. And I’ll give you a great example of this.
In her blog: Small Sacrifices Makes Everyday Heroes, Caroline Rode writes this which pertains to us.
With recent school shootings, natural disasters and war, there’s been something on my mind. Would I stand up, using my body as a shield to protect others? When someone is drowning, would I pull them to safety before myself?
It’s hard for me to say, and I probably won’t find out unless I am put in that position. But it’s not bad to think about, because self-reflection is an opportunity to examine your character and, if necessary, make changes for the better.
The Bible even touches on these circumstances. John 15:13 states, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
You don’t have to wear tights and a red cape or a crown of thorns to live a sacrificial life.
There are two kinds of heroes—those who stand up in the face of tragedy and everyday heroes. We all can be everyday heroes, whether we are placed in a highly dangerous situation or not.
An everyday hero may never make the front page of the paper. They’re the hard-working people you know who never boast about their accomplishments and rarely complain about having to do something extra for someone else. The everyday hero doesn’t have to do something earth-shattering to earn the title.
What can be conflicting is what does it mean to put others before ourselves. On an airplane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on so you can help someone else. Or someone sitting next to you? In everyday life, I struggle with this balance.
Which do you choose, serving yourself or serving others?
Many people who are caught up in a crisis situation talk about the natural instinct to save others. Shouldn’t that play out in our everyday lives, too?
So how can we become heroes without a life-or-death situation at hand? Through daily sacrifices for others.
By choosing to put someone’s else’s needs before your own in everyday life, means letting someone cut in front of you in traffic. It means forgiving someone who says something thoughtless or rude. It means letting someone else take credit for things that you do. If you’re choosing to put someone else’s needs before your own that attitude of service is fulfilling because choosing to put yourself after others proves you honor the worth and dignity of those around you.”
Our world doesn’t need people with superpowers, it just needs everyday heroes!
Mary gave Jesus the best she had that day. She was an ordinary person who did a very cool thing that day. Quite simply she was an everyday hero!
May the good news be clear today that all of God’s children have gifts to offer from the least to the greatest. “Be gracious and loving therefore. Be imitators of God,” says the Apostle Paul. Be imitators of Mary. Be imitators of Jesus. In them see the true nature of God whose extravagance is beyond compare. Amen