Sermon for March 13, 2016 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)
The other day, we were watching a special on the Ark of the Covenant that Angela had recorded. It was truly fascinating. Many experts appeared on the show. A woodworking expert and a metal worker demonstrated how the ark (like a big box) would have been made even on a desert journey. They gave credit to ancient Israel for making the Ark that held the Ten Commandments.
Another expert claimed that the Israelites never came up with the idea of the ark on their own. She said that they copied Egyptian designs, and God never really directed them. She wasn’t willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And, she wasn’t willing to give God the credit.
But Jesus does. He glorifies God by saying that the entire Old Testament is true. He gives God the credit by glorifying Him and listening to Him. And, He credits us with his righteousness while not counting the many sins we commit against us.
In our account today, Mary believed that Jesus was truly priceless. Here she is, pouring one of the most expensive perfumes in the world on His feet! Judas says it is worth 300 Denarii. One Denarii would have been a day’s work pay. 300 would equal about $50,000 – $60,000 dollars. Why was Nard so expensive?
Well, it could only be found in the Himalayas between 10,000 and 17,000 feet, approximately. It comes from the root of the spikenard plant. It was a very precious plant. If someone bought it for perfume, they would only use a little at a time.
Maybe you have some perfume like that. It’s really expensive and beautiful-smelling. You only wear it on special occasions. You are very careful with it because you don’t want to waste an ounce.
Mary is not concerned about wasting the perfume. She doesn’t take an eye-dropper and put a little on Jesus’ feet. She generously pours it all over his feet. Mary extravagantly spends the whole bottle of nard on Jesus’ feet. She doesn’t hold back.
She doesn’t act modestly, either. No, she lets down her hair and wipes Jesus’ feet with it. She showers love and devotion on our Lord Jesus. Nothing held her back from lavishing worship on Jesus at that moment.
The disciple Judas wasn’t so thrilled about this demonstration. He wanted to know why the perfume wasn’t sold and given to the poor. He had an ungenerous spirit! Here he was criticizing another Jesus follower.
This happens in our day, too. When people show an uninhibited devotion to Jesus, others are critical of them. They ask, “Why did you spend so much money?” Or they criticize the way that other believers worship. How have you and I had an ungenerous spirit when it comes to the excitement another child of God has about their spiritual lives?
How have I been a wet towel? In other words, when someone tells us about how excited they are to learn about God, have I responded with encouraging words? Have I been generous in spirit by complimenting them?
A man named Ed Waren contributed this little illustration on sermonsearch.com:
A man stopped by his bank to cash a check. Just as he got into the lobby, another man with a large bag came running past him, apparently heading for the exit. Then the bank security guard came dashing by, followed by several bank employees. The security guard tackled the man with the bag, handcuffed him and hauled him back into the bank.
The man who had gone in to cash his check was shaking like a leaf. “I’ve actually seen my first robbery,” he said to himself. As he approached the teller’s window he couldn’t resist finding out more about what he had just witnessed. “Was that really a robbery?” he queried.
“Oh, no, sir,” the teller replied calmly. “That was only our substantial penalty for early withdrawal.”
Judas withdrew a generous spirit. And John tells us why. Judas was in charge of keeping the disciples’ money. He had a little habit of helping himself to some it. If he could only have gotten his hands on some of that perfume money!
Judas was motivated by greed. Money was his treasure. It is what his heart was set on. He found security, meaning and purpose in it. You and I can be taken in by the things we own, too. What is it that you can’t live without? Sometimes, it’s not just one thing, but a house filled with things that entangle and possess.
Jesus speaks of this as recorded in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Finally, Judas is only interested in what would serve him. An ungenerous spirit and a critical nature were signs of his bondage to sin. His god was his wallet. Eventually, he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. His selfishness caused him to hide behind the poor. It sounded pious and righteous to give to the poor, after all. But Judas was building a golden calf out of the money he had stolen. His separation from God would lead him to a terrible end separated from both the material world and His savior.
In the end, though, Jesus defends Mary. Mary’s act of devotion was really a preparation for Jesus’ burial. Judas had seen the sale of the nard as more valuable than what she did with it by washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus tells Judas that her act of extravagant devotion was more valuable than giving to the poor because there will always be poor people to help.
Instead of judging Mary, Jesus was going to Jerusalem to justify Mary. He was going to a cross to pay the whole price for her sin. And, He was going to that cross to pay the full price for your sin and mine. He justified you at Calvary.
Jesus is a thief. He stole our sin while we weren’t looking. He took our punishment. He robbed us of eternal separation from God.
But, Jesus is a big spender, too. He will never run out of grace to give. He lavishly clothed us in the best robes of true righteousness. He gave us His righteousness. It is something we don’t deserve. The Son of God came for the poor and undeserving. Those who have nothing to give. He died for the ungenerous in spirit. He died for thieves, hoarders and criticizers. He died for you. He died for me.
And it is only in this death that we find freedom. A freedom from looking out for ourselves. A freedom from finding security in our goods or our money. A freedom from the self. How can we be free of ourselves? The only solution for selfishness is God putting an end to us. We have been united with Christ in His death through baptism.
We have been set free in Christ to be generous people. We have been set free from ourselves to care about others’ needs. Most importantly, we have been set free to worship our God in unrestrained devotion. Why? Because His devotion to you is unrestrained.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,