The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
Gospel of John 12:1-8
Fifth Sunday during Lent, April 7, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Will Willimon describes members of The Church, followers of the Way of Jesus, to be ‘Resident Aliens;’ refugees living among people who do not understand our way of living. Beloved, you are a counter-cultural movement in this 21st century. You are misunderstood because you place your commitment to God as your first priority. As followers of Jesus, you are confusing to most people.
Judas walked with Jesus, but he is the patron saint of confusion. He never did fully understand Jesus.
In today’s scripture, Judas perceived discrepancies between Jesus’ words and actions.
Judas confused allocating assets that have financial value with assets that have spiritual value.
Throughout history – including today – many people are confused like Judas. Let me explain.
Judas was present one afternoon when a wealthy young man of the ruling class asked Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” Judas heard Jesus respond to the young fellow, “go sell all you own and give it to the poor.” Judas, financial treasurer of Jesus’ discipleship group, watched that young man depart filled with sorrow because he was possessed by his possessions.
In today’s scripture, Judas is at a banquet in Bethany. The word, ‘Bethany,’ means, “house of affliction” or “poorhouse.” Bethany met the requirements of Jewish law; it was far enough from Jerusalem to be a town where they could care for the sick and poor. The town threw a dinner party for Jesus as he passed through on his way to Jerusalem to observe Passover. Bethany is where Jesus healed Simon the Leper and others. It is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. Lazarus was a smiling lighthearted example of Jesus’ hopeful message in the Bethany community. Lazarus was seated at the table with Jesus. One of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, true to form, was serving the meal. Lazarus’ other sister, Mary was also true to form, sitting at the feet of Jesus. When we were first introduced to Martha and Mary, Martha was warned against putting other concerns ahead of paying attention to Jesus. Mary was affirmed in both passages.
In today’s scripture story, Judas and Mary are central characters in a room filled with laughter and a sweet fragrance. Judas notices the cause of the sweet fragrance. Mary is anointing the feet of Jesus. She is massaging his crusty ankles, toes, and heels using a pound of Spikenard. This expensive perfumed ointment was worth a tremendous amount of money. It was a rare asset because it was extracted from the spike root of the nard plant which grew only in the mountains of northern India and could only be attained through special deals with tradesmen.
Imagine walking into this sanctuary today noticing an extremely sweet fragrance. Your attention is drawn to the back of the room; a woman is tending the feet of Joy Jarrett and Kevin Lynch. You walk back and notice the woman is using the perfumed ointment. You pick up the product box introducing you to ‘Clive Christian No. 1 Imperial Majesty.’ The perfumed oil is housed in a bottle adorned with white diamonds and an 18 karat gold collar with a price tag on the box of tens of thousands of dollars. Would you consider that to be an extravagant waste?
Welcome to the dilemma of Judas. Judas was confused. On one hand, Judas remembers Jesus teaching, ‘sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor.’ On the other hand, Jesus is receiving an expensive foot treatment in a town where caring for the sick and poor was central.
In this story, Jesus gives us a lesson about asset allocations.
Over and over, Jesus uses our perspectives about money to teach spiritual messages about value.
Jesus spoke more about financial stewardship and money than any other subject.
Jesus was not against you having financial assets; yet, he wanted you to keep them in their place.
-One-sixth of all Jesus’ teachings and one-third of his parables speak about financial stewardship.
-Jesus mentioned financial stewardship five times more than he mentioned prayer.
Why? Because Jesus knew your perspective about money shapes what you value in life.
The primary point of this story is not about allocating financial assets.
This story is about how we allocate the spiritual assets of life which are more valuable than money.
Mary learned many truths from Jesus. She and her family were different because of Jesus.
Residents of her town had been healed by Jesus and Jesus had raised her brother from death.
She was expressing her thanksgiving and devotion. For Mary, this was her act of worship.
In this story, Jesus points out that you can express compassion to the poor on any day. Yet, your worship and devotion must precede your service. There is a reason why worship is the first covenant commitment in our St. John’s covenant.
What if the person anointing the feet of Joy Jarrett and Kevin Lynch was the mother of a young man they met at the Urban Ministry Center and Hope Chapel?
What if God had used Joy and Kevin to introduce this young man to the God of transformational compassion revealed in Jesus?
What if God used Kevin and Joy to offer a completely new life to her son?
What if her son had been spiritually redeemed and reconciled with their family after many years? What if she was wealthy and could easily afford the financial cost of the perfumed ointment?
Would it still be wasteful if she was expressing devotion and worship motivated by gratitude?
If she was sincere and not pretentious, would you better grasp the significance of her generosity?
Or, turn it around. Was God wasteful allocating the divine asset of God’s only son for you? No!
Was God wasteful allocating Jesus’ life to a costly and scandalous death on a cross? No!
Was God wasteful being devoted to you by raising Jesus from death to give you hope? No!
God invests transformational compassion in you to activate your faith.
As the God of extravagant grace activates your faith, you become Actively Faithful Faithfully Active.
You realize your worship of God is your first devotion among many; worship precedes service.
So, you gather in this sanctuary Sunday by Sunday so you can scatter to be God’s servants every day.
Like every human, you have five options as to how you allocate your spiritual assets.
You can waste them, spend them, trade them, give them, or invest them.
As you worship God daily, you are transformed by the God of compassion to live beyond confusion.
By allocating your spiritual assets as investments in God’s compassion, you transform the world.
A monk in Spain once found a precious jewel. A short time later, the monk met a traveler who said he was hungry and asked the monk if he would share some of his provisions. When the monk opened his bag, the traveler saw the precious jewel and asked the monk if he could have it. The monk gave the traveler the jewel and the traveler departed quickly, excited about his new valuable possession. A few days later, he came searching for the monk and returned the jewel. Then he asked, “Please give me something more valuable than this precious stone. Please give me whatever it is that made it possible for you to have compassion on me!”1
Let us now approach the Lord’s Supper in gratitude for how God invests divine compassion in us.
Let us remember how worship is an investment in our relationship with God; renewing and inspiring us.
Then, let us scatter in the world investing in God’s compassion, helping people move beyond confusion.
LORD, shape our devotion to Jesus Christ in ways sincere, so the sweet fragrance of Your love fills the air.
May our worship express our gratitude, so we serve the poor with a humble attitude. Amen & AMEN!
1 James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, Dimensions, 1994, p. 101.