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04.07.19 John 12.1-12 Pouring Out Sermon Summary

by on April 15, 2019

The story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus is one that makes many people uncomfortable. We just KNOW the point is that we all should give more to Jesus. Few of us have the faith to admit that we’re more like Judas. Fortunately, there are some simple steps we may take to become more like Mary.

Jesus had come to the house of Mary and Martha, sisters to Lazarus, in Bethany, a town outside of Jerusalem, a short time after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. At some point during dinner, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair.

The action alone was extraordinary and reminds us that every giving action is a form of worship. But what is more, the perfume was valuable—300 denarii we’re told. A year’s worth of wages. Let’s estimate it at $30,000 today. That’s like giving Jesus a new car.

Mary appears to have understood something that we say we understand, but our actions don’t always align. She understood that God deserves gifts from us. She understood also that God delights in our gifts. Any act of giving is an act of worship. A big gift, in the right spirit, is a big act of worship.

Many of us want to give but feel we can’t. Or we don’t really get around to doing it. I recently spoke with a retiring doctor on his way the Caribbean. “Are you going to do relief work after the hurricanes?” “Not this time, but I do want to. I’m keeping my license active so I can do something like that someday.”

Well, nothing was going to stop Mary. She was convinced God deserves our gifts and delights in them. Nothing else mattered. Not Martha’s opinion. Not Judas’ criticism. Not even Lazarus’ need. Remember Lazarus had died not too much earlier. His body needed anointing. But Mary waited to anoint Jesus.

How did Mary get something so valuable? Today we would have to work extra hours. Or save a long time. Or maybe we would receive it as a gift. What matters is not how she got it, but that she gave—extravagantly and unreservedly.

How can we give to God when it seems we can’t? How can we be sure when the time is right that we can give to God like Mary did?

Every life is like an empty pitcher which we fill up with things important to us, things like school, sports, music, friends, work, games, TV, movies, car, furniture, gadgets, clothes, books, food, and activities. The whole time, God is right next to us also wanting to fill our lives.

Isaiah forty-three gives us a picture of God’s desire. Right there in the desert of our lives, God promises to make a river, providing water for the animals and drink for the people. But how can God do this if our lives are already full with other things?

The Apostle Paul answers with another picture. Paul was an exceptional religious individual, the admiration of everyone. Then he met Jesus, and he decided that all his religious observance and righteousness weren’t as valuable as knowing Christ. So he poured some of his life out, and what he discovered is that God filled him. This dynamic continued for Paul: The more he poured himself out, the more God filled him. Paul found he could give himself to God the way Mary gave to God.

This is something we can do, too. We can make room for God by giving less room to other things. We can “pour out” something valuable to us to God, then be filled by God so we can give again.

It’s important to give like Paul and Mary. “Giving generously reprioritizes lives and helps people distinguish what is lasting, eternal, and of infinite value from what is temporary, illusory, and untrustworthy.” (Bishop Robert Schnase)

Mary gave us a picture of giving to God. But Mary’s wasn’t the only gift that day. We’re told that Martha served the meal. Martha gave us another picture of giving. And just as Jesus praised Mary’s gift, so he praised Martha’s gift by imitation, as later that week he served a meal himself. This is the meal he still serves today, as we gather at the Lord’s Table.

God has created us as vessels of his grace. God’s grace never runs out. The more room we create to receive it, and the more we give it away, the more it will flow through us. May we seek and find grace in our life this week. Amen.

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