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Extravangance – Video and Manuscript Sermon for 3/17/2013

Below is the video and manuscript sermon for 3/16/2013 based on John 12:1-11, preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

 

Extravagance – John 12:1-11

It  was just like any another meal.  Probably nobody would have remembered it at all, if it have not been for Mary’s spontaneous and extravagant gift.

The occasion was the start of Passover. Tens of thousands of faithful Jews traveled to Jerusalem each year to remember and celebrate the time when the Angel of Death passed over their people.

Jesus and his disciples are among those making this pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  His entourage stops just outside the city, in the little town of Bethany, at the house of his old friends: Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

As dinner end, Mary lets down her hair, takes a very expensive box of perfume, and pours the whole thing out to anoint Jesus’ feet.  The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  If that weren’t scandalous enough, she wipes his feet with her hair.

The perfume was worth a small fortune, valued at 300 denarii.  A denarii was a silver coin that represented a day’s wages.  Mary’s gift set her back three hundred days of labor.

There is an immediate and harsh response to Mary’s extravagance. Judas says that if they had sold this perfume, its proceeds could have been used to support the ministry.

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

“That perfume could have been sold.  With it we could care for the needy, feed the hungry, and minister to the poor.  But now it has all been wasted.  This was too excessive a gift.  Such extravagance is not practical.”

We understand Judas line of reasoning.

“A fool and his money are soon parted.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

“Waste not, want not!”

We’ve been in office meetings, family gatherings, and church sessions where frugality and austerity were the watchwords of the day.  Words like wastefulness, excess, and extravagance, were four-letter words.

We understand Judas’ line of reasoning.  He speaks for those of us who get uncomfortable and squirm at the thought that resources might be wasted by extravagant actions.

Society teaching us to look at things with a “cost-benefit” analysis.  We can spend, but when we do there has to be the potential of a strong ROI – a strong “Return On Investment.”  When we spend (be it our time, money, energy, or effort) we taught to aimed at being practical, reasonable, utilitarian, and cost-effective.

So, when somebody acts out-of-the-ordinary by giving away stuff in an excessively and extravagant way – there is almost visceral reaction of suspicion and mistrust.  Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

I know of a man who is nearly fifty years old.  He was a man of significant means.  Following the unexpected death of his wife of more than twenty years, he became lonely and depressed.  He thought he would be happy again.

Then, about a year after his wife’s death, he met an attractive, younger woman – 15 years his junior.  They started dating.  The more time he spent with her, the happier he became.  His smile returned.  There was a bounce in his step.  He was falling in love.  She seemed equally enamored with him.  In a matter of months they were a hot item, and he began to use his wealth to shower her with expensive gifts – even buying her a new sports car on her birthday.

I’ll bet you can imagine some of the conversations around town.

“You know what he wants, don’t you?”

“He’s just trying to get into her…affections.”

“You know what she is, don’t you?  She’s a gold digger!”

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

The man’s daughter, away at college, came home for a holiday and saw how happy her father was.  She met her father’s friend, liked her, and offered gave her approval.

The following Sunday at church one of the ladies in the congregation approached the girl, saying, “I feel so sorry for you.  Your daddy is wasting his money your inheritance on that Jezebel.  Such extravagance is so unbecoming of a man his age.”

The girl bit her tongue and calmly said, “My daddy is happy.  He is spending extravagantly because he is in love.  Isn’t that terrific.  Besides, it’s nobody else’s business what my daddy does with his money.”

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

I know of a small country church that received a $600,000.00 gift from one of its members.  The family seemed to be of meager means, then the check appeared in the offering plate.  The extravagance and generosity of the gift almost tore the church to pieces.

“That’s a lot of money.  What do their expect in return?”

“I hope they don’t think they get to run the church because they have lots of money!”

“What kinds of strings are attached to this gift?”

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

What happens if your normally unromantic husband starts sending your flowers, buying chocolate, taking you out to a nice dinner, maybe even buying you a new diamond necklace.  Now it’s not your anniversary.  It’s not Valentine’s Day.  You’ve checked the calendar and there is nothing there to explain this sort of thing.

“What did he do wrong?  It must be something really bad!”

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

We understand Judas’ line of reasoning.  We are not sure what to do when we hear of somebody giving an excessively generous and extravagant gift.   It does not fit in with our practical, prudent, sensible, and utilitarian way of thinking.

To the Judas line of reasoning, Mary’s action was irresponsible and wasteful.  For a few minutes the sweet aroma from the perfume filled the house, but then it was gone.  All that remained from Mary’s extravagant act was an empty bottle.

Nothing will get a conversation started like an extravagant gift.

There are two mindsets at work, here.  Two ways of looking at life.

There is the Judas’ mindset.  We understand it very well.  It is reasonable, rational, practical, and utilitarian.  It gives, but expects something in return.  It spends, but anticipates a return on investment.  It pinches pennies.  It can squeeze two dimes together and create a quarter.  It is always holding something back, something in reserve.  It’s the mindset that says, “We need to hold on for another day!”

Jesus addressed Judas and his mindset.  “Leave her alone.  She bought this for my burial.  You will not always have me around!”

That’s like saying, “Guys, don’t you get it?  Stop worrying about tomorrow.  It will take care of itself.  Seize today and live it to its fullest!  Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

We understand the Judas’ mindset.  What we need is to understand the Mary mindset.   We need to understand what prompted her excessive love, heartfelt passion, and extravagance in giving.

I was conducting a funeral once – a graveside service.  I arrived early and surveyed the area.  As I walked around, I notice a grave with several bouquets of recently cut flowers.  I imagined this was a recent grave and that the grief of the deceased family still very fresh on their hearts.

As I walked past the tombstone, I noticed this was not a recent grave at all.  In fact, the deceased had died almost thirty years earlier, in 1985.  I had to stop and look closely.  What was it about this man that still attracted the beauty and fragrance of fresh flowers almost thirty years after his passing.

I looked at the tombstone.  It read:  “He made us smile because of his extravagant generosity!”

It reminded me of another tombstone I’ve read – just three words:  “Practical – Consistent – Dependable!”  Now, there is nothing at all wrong with these qualities.  They just don’t seem to be enough.  They don’t warm the heart, bring a smile to one’s face, and allow for freshly cut flowers at your grave thirty years after your funeral.”

If there is to be anything on my tombstone that rings true long after my passing, I want it to be the words:  “He made us smile because of his extravagant generosity!”

As God builds us up as church – as the “body of Christ” in the world, I think God aims to create within us something of the Mary mindset.  God seeks to build up within us the heart and actions of extravagance.

Not stingy – holding back – miserly – reserved – not prim, proper, and predictable

So how does this happen?  How does God build up extravagant love in our hearts and actions.

I think it begins as God brings to our remembrances the realization that He is a God of wasteful grace, excessive goodness, and extravagance loved.

Look closely at this story and you will see the backdrop of God’s grace.

Jesus has come to Jerusalem was the Passover.  The celebration of the Passover brought all kinds of thoughts about God’s goodness into the minds of the Jewish people.  They remembered Moses leadership, the Angel of Death passing over their homes, the glory of the Exodus, God’s provision in the wilderness, and their entry into the Promised Land – a place flowing with “milk and honey.”

The text teaches us that Mary was the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Mary gave extravagantly to the one who had returned her brother to his family.

The entire context of the Gospel of John is set with the backdrop of God acting excessively and extravagantly.

John shows Jesus beginning his public ministry in Cana, where he created 180 gallons of great tasting wine – much more than was necessary – to help with the celebration of a community marriage.

Later Jesus was preaching on a hillside to five thousand plus people.  The only food they could find was the small lunch of a young boy.  Jesus took that lunch, blessed it, and fed all the crowd assembled that day.  They ate till they were full and then twelve baskets of leftover were gathered up after the meal.

There are other stories in the Fourth Gospel – even more in the other Gospel accounts.

Everything Jesus reveals about the nature of God – everything He says and does in his ministry – confirms the reality that God is excessive in His grace and extreme in His love.  The God reveal in Jesus Christ is extravagantly generous toward all the world.

I think Mary understands that.

She also understands that there is yet one more act of extravagance on the horizon.  She doesn’t understand it fully.  In the moment, I imagine that the love she saw coming broke her heart.  But even so, she saw something on the horizon.

Jesus acknowledges this when speaks.  Mary has opened the perfume.  She has poured it on his feet and is wiping them dry with her hair.  Judas, speaking words that others maybe well have been thinking, complains:  “What a waste.  We could have sold that perfume and put it to good use in the ministry.

Jesus responds, “Leave her alone.  She bought this so that she would have it on the occasion of my burial.”

Mary is anointing Jesus in anticipation of his death.  The handwriting was on the wall.  The word was on the street.  The Scribes and Pharisee were plotting Jesus death.  Jesus teaching and actions were upsetting their applecart.  He was challenging the thinking of the religious establishment with all this talk about God being his Papa.  He attracted people away from the tightly controlled religious establishment by speaking about the goodness and extravagant love of Papa.  They could not handle that – so they started to a plot to kill Jesus.  In fact, Judas, the spokesperson for being practical, dependable, and disciplined – would play a major role in their plot to send Jesus to the cross.

Mary didn’t understand the how-and-why.  She didn’t understand the ways-and-means.  She didn’t understand all the ins, outs, and implications.  She just knew that something was up, something from which Jesus refused to duck and cover or run and hide.  He would face it head on – for the same reason he did everything else – to reveal the love of God.

In Jesus, Mary catches a glimpse of the excessive grace and extravagant love of God.  The picture is so touching, so moving, so passionate, that she has to respond in kind.  She had to respond with a bit of extravagance of her own.

A basin of water is not enough…she brings a gallon of perfume.  A towel is not enough…she wipes his feet dry with her own hair.  A polite, practical, and reserved gift is insufficient…she goes big.   She goes big because the God revealed in Jesus Christ goes big.

This God is not content to stand beyond us, so in Christ Jesus, this God becomes flesh and dwells among us.  This God enters the mess of our lives as Immanuel, God with us as one of us.  This God in Christ reveals the loving, accepting nature of grace.  At the cross this God redeems us – hugs, embraces, and blesses us at adopted children, fully accepted at the table.  God brings us into Christ and includes us in the divine dance of the Holy Trinity.  In Jesus we witness and are fully blessed by God excessive and extravagant loved.

How do we respond to that sort of thing?

Mary responded with complete abandonment into God’s love.  She didn’t count cost or engage in a cost-benefit analysis of what is proper, appropriate, and acceptable.  She spent nearly a year’s wages on a bottle of expensive perfume, pouring the whole thing out on his feet, wiping them dry with her hair.  She held nothing back.  And she didn’t do it because it was a command or instruction.  She loved because she had been loved.  She gave because she had received so much.  She did this deed because so much had been done for her.

I don’t know what that kind of expression will look like for you.  I do know that it will probably get a whole bunch of people talking.

Theologian Karl Barth once said, “His love is the burning fire which cannot be quenched.”

If that love has warmed your heart, why not drop your guard a bit and praise Him in your prayers?  Why not praise Him by telling somebody else about God’s goodness and grace?  Why not praise him by giving a financial gift to CBF Global Missions, or the Freedom House Homeless Shelter?  Maybe you could praise him by visiting the homebound?

You know you are loved by God.  God’s love for you has been and remains excessive and extravagant.  There is no holding God back.  He’s entered the mess of our lives for no other purpose than to love us and redeem us in that love.

Could it be that when it comes to love – God’s love for us, and our love for God – that there isn’t such a thing as waste?

 

Women of Faith: Extravagant Grace
publisher: Sony
ASIN: B00004C4LC
EAN: 0074646354322
sales rank: 276128
price: $39.99 (new), $6.00 (used)

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