Sunday, April 7, 2019


John 12:1-8
University LC, Gainesville

Before I buy anything with a fragrance, I sniff it. Whether it’s bath gel or kitchen cleaner, I want to know what the fragrance is, and how strong it is. Some fragrances are seriously irritating to me, so I usually buy unscented products when I can get them.

A few years ago I re-ordered some hand made soap, and in the package were some samples of other fragrances. One of the samples was frankincense. On Epiphany Sunday, when the magi give baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, I decided it would be fun to pass it around among the parishioners during the sermon so everyone could know what it smelled like.

The room was filled with the fragrance. And by the end of the sermon, I had lost my voice. Apparently, frankincense is one of the fragrances that I am very sensitive to.

… Nard, or spikenard, is an essential oil with a woody, spicy fragrance, something like that of moss. Similar to lavender, it is said to be a calming, relaxing fragrance. In ancient days, it was often combined with frankincense and myrrh.

It was this fragrance that Mary of Bethany brought into the room to anoint Jesus’ feet. Perhaps the dinner party was a celebration because Lazarus had been brought back to life. The men were lounging on soft benches, talking and laughing as they ate, telling stories, and enjoying the meal Martha had created for them.

Mary came toward Jesus and began to pour this oil on his feet. She probably worked it into the cracks and calluses and massaged his feet. As any extra ran off, she wiped it up with her hair – the oil would have been good for hair, too.

As she did this ministry to Jesus, other men began to notice. First, they noticed the fragrance. Then they looked for the source of the fragrance. Judas spoke first, voicing what many were probably thinking. “Why are you wasting that oil? It could have been sold to feed the poor!”

Jesus replies, “What she is doing will prepare me for my burial. I will not be here much longer, but you will always have the poor to feed.” (Pastor Lynn paraphrase)

… Even when I am not preaching, I usually look at the gospel text for Sunday and read a commentary or two. I spend the next week meditating on the text, to see what Jesus wants to teach me through the text. -- Which is why, when Pastor Terry asked if I could preach today, I had something in mind for the sermon, and could say yes to his need for self-care.

Early in the week, I ran across the idea of lavishness. Mary lavishly anoints Jesus’ feet with this oil. How, I wonder, do we today, lavishly anoint Jesus? How do we spend so much time in his presence that it is as if we have massaged his feet with oil? How do we take the time to listen to what he has to say to us?

Do we give to Jesus as lavishly as Mary did? As the Magi did? Do we give our gold and our fragrant ointments to Jesus? Do we remember his life and death, his love outpoured for us, and give generously to him in response?

Are we as lavish as Mary when we feed the poor? Jesus calls us to see him in the other: when we feed the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless. Do we give as lavishly to them as if we are giving to Jesus?

Or do we judge them as Judas judged Mary? Do we say, “I’d give her a dollar, but she’d just spend it on drugs”? No lavish giving there!  

Do we say, “I don’t want a home for special needs adults in my neighborhood.”? Do we say this because we don’t want others opening a business, or because we don’t want ‘those people’ around us? No lavish welcome there!

Do we buy generics for the hungry, but get brand name food for ourselves? How lavish is our sharing?

… Here’s one example of lavish sharing.

Many years ago, Mary and I were at a weekend training together in Chicago. Mary was born in India and had lived in Michigan for many years. Every few years she traveled back to India to see family. Perhaps it was there that she learned to feed the poor.

One evening we all went to a restaurant for supper. The meal was abundant, but our rooms did not have refrigerators, so we sadly left the excess food on our plates to be discarded.

Mary, however, asked for a to-go box and packed up her food. As we walked back to the hotel, Mary looked in the alleyways and quickly found a homeless person who was happy to receive her leftovers. For most of us, it was wasted food, but for Mary, it was a lavish feast to give to Jesus.

Jesus lavishly gave us himself to teach us how to live and love. Can we, in return, lavish him with our attention, our devotion? Can we offer to the poor and oppressed the same love and lavish generosity?