This is the edited version of my sermon from this morning. May you be blessed and God be glorified.
“I want to share a true story with you about a nine-year-old boy who lived in a rural town in Tennessee. His house was in a poor area of the community. A church had a bus ministry that came knocking on his door one Saturday afternoon. The kid came to answer the door and greeted the bus pastor. The bus pastor asked if his parents were home and the small boy told him that his parents take off every weekend and leave him at home to take care of his little brother.
The bus pastor couldn’t believe what the kid said and asked him to repeat it. The youngster gave the same answer and the bus pastor asked to come in and talk with him. They went into the living room and sat down on an old couch with the foam and springs exposed.
The bus pastor asked the kid, “Where do you go to church?” The young boy surprised the visitor by replying, “I’ve never been to church in my whole life.” The bus pastor thought to himself about the fact that his church was less than three miles from the child’s house. “Are you sure you have never been to church?” He asked again. “I sure haven’t”, came his answer.
Then the bus pastor said, “Well, son, more important than going to church, have you ever heard the greatest love story ever told?” and then he proceeded to share the Gospel with this little nine year old boy. The young lad’s heart began to be tenderized and at the end of the bus pastor’s story the bus pastor asked if the boy wanted to receive this free gift from God. The youngster exclaimed, “You bet! The kid and the bus pastor got on their knees and the lad invited Jesus into his little heart and received the free gift of salvation.
When they both stood up the bus pastor asked if he could pick the kid up for church the next morning. “Sure,” the nine old replied. The bus pastor got to the house early the next morning and found the lights off. He let himself in and snaked his way through the house and found the little boy asleep in his bed. He woke up the little boy and his brother and helped get them dressed. They got on the bus and ate a donut for breakfast on their way to church. Keep in mind that this boy had never been to church before. The church was a real big one. The little kid just sat there, clueless of what was going on.
A few minutes into the service these tall unhappy guys walked down to the front and picked up some wooden plates. One of the men prayed and the kid with utter fascination watched them walk up and down the aisles. He still didn’t know what was going on.
All of a sudden like a bolt of lightning it hit the kid what was taking place. These people must be giving money to Jesus. He then reflected on the free gift of life that he had received just twenty-four hours earlier. He immediately searched his pockets, front and back, and couldn’t find a thing to give Jesus. By this time the offering plate was being passed down his aisle and with a broken heart he just grabbed the plate and held on to it. He finally let go and watched it pass on down the aisle. He turned around to see it passed down the aisle behind him. And then his eyes remained glued on the plate as it was passed back and forth, back and forth all the way to the rear of the sanctuary. Then he had an idea.
This little nine-year-old boy, in front of God and everybody, got up out of his seat. He walked about eight rows back, grabbed the usher by the coat and asked to hold the plate one more time. Then he did the most astounding thing I have ever heard of. He took the plate, sat it on the carpeted church floor and stepped into the center of it. As he stood there, he lifted his little head up and said, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you today, but just me. I give you me!”” – Author Unknown
What does Christ expect of us? To do what we can.
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter a similar kind of heart-filled response to God’s gift. It is one of the most beautiful gospel stories, full-to-overflowing with love and meaning. At the center of this story we find Mary and her extravagant gift of anointing Jesus’ feet.
This scripture reading comes right after Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus from the dead. Some of the religious leaders in Jerusalem were making plans to arrest Jesus and put him to death. Even with the knowledge that he was about to face his arrest, trial, sentence and death on the cross, Jesus made the trip to Bethany to be with his friends for this special dinner.
Everything changes when Mary enters the room with a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anoints Jesus’ feet, and wipes them with her hair. This was a surprising interruption to the evening. Mary’s action broke the traditions of the time. Women were not supposed to be the centre of attention in the presence of men, nor were women to touch a spiritual leader in public. Added to this response was the detail of Mary’s long hair being worn down. You see, it was customary for women to wear their long locks of hair up. For a woman to wear her hair down in public was a sign that she was not an honorable woman.
It seems that Mary’s act of extravagant giving was an unplanned, natural response of her love and gratitude to Jesus for what he has done for her and her family. Sometimes our hearts are in the right places and we do the right thing out of love, rather than hold back out of fear of what others might think. Like the little boy who stood in the offering plate.
One other point in this story I want to make is found in verse three. John tells us: “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John shares with us a symbol of an unselfishness, generous and loving act done purely as a natural response to the love that was given to Mary and her family. We can all be inspired by this detail to go and do likewise, following Mary’s faithful example. Our extravagant, loving acts as faithful followers of Jesus can add sweetness and quality to the lives of others.
I pray that as we move closer to Holy Week, we may each also move closer to the spirit of Mary’s extravagant, loving act of anointing Jesus. May we, like Mary live out our faith ever grateful for what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and act in ways that inspire others, that they too may come closer to Jesus and his all sufficient love for them.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” – John 12: 1-3