In today’s scripture, Mary does something that disciples then and now struggle to do: She gives Jesus everything—because Jesus is worth everything to her. What can we learn from her example about discipleship? [Please note: the last few minutes of this sermon are cut off. See manuscript for conclusion.]
Sermon text: Mark 14:1-11
[To download an MP3 to listen on the go, right-click here.]
Atlanta-based televangelist Creflo Dollar made the news late last week and lived up to his last name when he made an appeal to his church and supporters to buy him and his ministry a new airplane. Not just any airplane… A Gulfstream G650, which according to the Gulfstream website is the “biggest, fastest, most luxurious, longest range, and most technologically advanced jet—by far”—it says.
Surely it’s one of the most expensive! Rev. Dollar says it will cost the church a cool 60 million dollars!
So… does our church need a private jet? Bob Heath could fly it. Chad Floyd? I’ll run it by the Trustees.
Predictably, since I’m friends with a bunch of pastors on Facebook, they were all linking to the story, talking about, well… how incredibly wasteful, how wrong it is, for a church to spend that kind of money on a luxury jet, of all things… Especially when we have so many who are in such great need. And I don’t disagree—although I’m aware that I’m also a sinner who often fails to be a good steward of money and possessions, too! The only difference is that I fail to be faithful with thousands of dollars rather than tens of millions!
But my point is this: If you and I are shocked… bothered… indignant because of what we perceive to be an extravagant waste of money in the case of this televangelist, well… We can at least get an inkling of how these disciples must have felt when they watched this woman break open this expensive alabaster jar of perfume and pour it over Jesus’ head. We know from John’s gospel, chapter 12, that this woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. So I’m going to call her Mary.
So we’re not talking 60 million dollars tied up in this jar of perfume, but we are talking about an amount of money equal to an average worker’s annual salary—most of us don’t have that kind of money in savings. And that doesn’t count the fact that even the alabaster jar that contained the perfume, which Mary broke open, would have been worth a small fortune! For Mary this would have been a treasured family heirloom passed down from mother to daughter, which represented her financial safety net, her retirement plan, the first-century equivalent of a 401(k), or Social Security. She almost literally, from the disciples’ perspective, was pouring a fortune down the drain.
At least from the disciples’ perspective. Not from Jesus’ perspective. From his perspective, Mary does exactly what, for example, the Rich Young Ruler was unable to do. Remember the Rich Young Ruler? He comes to Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “What do the commandments say?” And the rich man lists most of the Ten Commandments and says, “I’ve done all these things since I was a boy.” And Jesus says, “O.K., then… There’s only this one more thing that you need to do: Sell all your possessions, and give the money to the poor, then you’ll be saved.” And of course, the rich man walks away, disappointed, dejected, depressed, because he was unwilling to give Jesus everything.
Not Mary… She gives him everything! For her, Jesus is totally worth it! Jesus is worth everything!
Her example of love for Christ convicts me. What about you? Is Jesus worth everything to us? If so, how do we show it?
Do we show it, for example, in the way we worship?
I want to share with you something that’s helped me come to church on Sunday better prepared to worship than I was before, and maybe it will help you too. Recently I have been practicing what I preach in my private life of prayer. I’ve been following the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. So even if I don’t say the exact words, “Our Father who art in heaven,” I do follow the pattern. And the pattern begins with worship, praise, adoration. See, in the past when I prayed, my tendency was to jump right into asking the Lord to help me with this thing going on in my life, to give me these things, or to help someone I love. I keep a list of prayer concerns on my phone, and in the past I just went straight to the list. You know? But recently I haven’t started with the list… Not before I spend time praising and adoring and worshiping God.
So it forces me to begin my prayers thinking about all that God has done for me… Big things and small things! From giving me eternal life in Christ, to giving me my amazing, beautiful three kids, to giving me the courage to withstand that scary long needle and donate blood at the Red Cross.
What do I have, what do I possess, what can I do that isn’t a gift from our gracious Lord? What does James say? “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Of course I owe the Lord everything! He’s given me everything! Everything I have and everything I am—everything that’s good about me, I mean—I owe completely to him!
The point is, I find that it’s much harder to be grumpy and ungrateful when I start my day reminding myself of these things, which I do when I start my day praising and worshiping and adoring my God and king!
If Jesus is worth everything to us, we should show it through the way we worship. It goes without saying, I hope, that among other things we don’t willingly miss an opportunity to worship on Sunday mornings at Hampton UMC. Amen?
Martin Lloyd-Jones was a famous twentieth-century British preacher who told the story of a farmer who reported happily to his wife that their best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, the Lord has blessed us so much that I think we should dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We’ll bring them up together, and when the time comes we’ll sell one and keep the proceeds but… we’ll sell the other one and give all the proceeds to support the Lord’s work at church.”
His wife asked him which one he was going to dedicate to the Lord’s work. “I don’t know. Let’s not worry about that now,” he replied. “We’ll raise them both the same, so it doesn’t really matter.” And so, off he went.
A few months later, the farmer came into the kitchen looking miserable and deeply sad. When his wife asked what was wrong, he said, “Well, I have some bad news. The Lord’s calf died.” “But wait a minute,” she said, “I thought you hadn’t decided which one belonged to the Lord.” “Oh no, I had already decided it was going to be the white one, and the white one died.”
The Lord’s calf died.
Guess what? The Lord’s calf always dies, doesn’t it? When it comes to our being faithful to the Lord in the area of tithing and giving money to support the work of God’s kingdom, the Lord’s calf usually dies. Our intentions are as good as our excuses are plentiful. “Of course, we would give more to the Lord, but the furnace broke, the car needs a new A/C, the kids have to have braces.” Always good excuses!
In today’s scripture, Mary certainly could make excuses for why she shouldn’t give this expensive gift to Jesus—after all, this is her safety net, this is her life savings, this is her Social Security. Yet there were no excuses from her. She gave what she had to give.
Don Martin, the senior pastor at Alpharetta First, who was my boss for six years before I came here, was once the pastor a church in our conference who had a very wealthy member—with a net worth of millions and millions, the richest man in town. The church was starting a building campaign, and Don was asking for pledges that were “over and above” his parishioners’ regular tithes and offerings. So this very wealthy man turned in his pledge card, and get this… It was 50 thousand dollars! Just like that. That’s a lot of money!
But Don knew the man pretty well, and he did something that I’m not so sure I would have the boldness to do. He went to the rich man’s house and said, “Friend, don’t think I don’t appreciate your generous pledge, but… Is this really the best you can do? If it is, that’s fine, but I’m asking everyone to do their best. Is this the best you can do?”
The next week the rich man wrote a check for 500 thousand dollars.
But you know what Don said? He said, “He should’ve given a lot more!” The man died a couple of years later, and you know what happened to the fortune he was holding onto? His kids fought over it and tore the family apart, as happens so often when settling an estate.
If Jesus is worth everything to us, we should show it through the money we give.
And of course this kind of giving goes way beyond money.
Notice what happened when Mary gave her gift. She faced opposition from other people. She heard scornful voices telling her what? That she was wasting this gift on the Lord.
Years ago, I was at a party at a friend’s house, and I was making small talk with a guest I hadn’t met before. He was German. The company he worked for transferred him to the United States. His name was Yorge. And he asked me what I did for a living, and I said I was a pastor, and—I’m not kidding—he literally laughed out loud. He apologized and then said he had never known anyone personally who ever went into ministry. No one even goes to church back where he’s from—at least not once you become an adult.
But the tone in his voice said it all: “You seem like such an otherwise normal, intelligent person. Why are you wasting your life believing in fairy tales.” It hurt my feelings back then in a way that it wouldn’t now, I promise. Back then I desperately wanted people to respect me—back before I understood that the gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I used to crave respectability; now I just want people to be saved. I can’t try to be cool about it. Salvation is what everyone needs, whether they know it or not.
But I’m happy to report—no thanks to me, unfortunately—that within two years that man, that skeptic, that critic, that voice of scorn and derision, was a professing Christian!
Sometimes when we seek to be more faithful to Jesus that voice of opposition comes to us from outside. More often than not, however, it comes from the inside. Often when we wake up in the morning, we want to read scripture and pray—have a “quiet time”—but we feel the pressure, you know—it’s as if a voice in our head were saying, “First, you need to do this, and this, and then this, and you don’t have a moment to spare. Get busy! And then, after all that, you can worry about praying or reading the Bible. You’ve got customers, or clients, or supervisors, or bosses, or teachers, or family members, or, in my case, parishioners to make happy, to keep happy. Everyone’s going to know if you don’t meet this deadline… or keep this appointment… or make this sale…” But who’s going to know if you don’t pray this morning?”
I’m sure that’s the voice of the devil!
The point is, if Jesus is worth everything to us, we should show it through the time we give to him.
I often see one of my childhood heroes, Henry Winkler—the Fonz—on late-night TV marketing something called a reverse mortgage loan to senior adults. It’s a great thing, he says, call this number, get this information. It will change your life. I have no idea what a reverse mortgage loan is—I’ve been told by financial advisors that it’s assuredly not a great thing. Who knows? But here’s one thing I know for sure: Henry Winkler isn’t getting a reverse mortgage loan! He’s clearly endorsing a product that he himself has no use for!
Aren’t we Christians sometimes like that when it comes to Jesus? Sure, we endorse the life-changing love and grace that Christ has to offer the world… without actually letting Jesus change our life!
Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is worth everything to us, we will demonstrate it through a changed life!
That’s what Mary did.
What impresses me most about Mary in today’s scripture is what Jesus says about her in verse 8: “She has done what she could.” She wasn’t asked to do more than what she could do. But she did what she could! If only we could be so faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ that that when we reached the end of each day we could say, “I have done what I could for my Lord.”
If only we could be so faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ that on the other side of death and resurrection, our Lord would say of us, “He did what he could.” “She did what she could.”
It’s what Jesus asks of our church: that we do what we can! Will we do what we can to love the children of our Preschool such that they will not only be prepared for academic success, but will also grow up with a strong faith in Jesus and receive eternal life? Will we do what we can to help victims of natural disasters like these employees who are put out of work because of the fire two weeks ago? Will we do what we can to enable our youth to make an eternal difference in the lives of people in the Dominican Republic this summer? Will we do what we can to help cancer victims through Relay for Life? Will we do what we can to share the love of Jesus with the many children who come to our church’s KidZone children’s program on Sunday afternoons? Will we do what we can to feed hungry people in Hampton through our food bank? Will we do what we can to tell others about Jesus, to bear witness for Jesus, to invite others to find Jesus, so that our friends, neighbors, families, co-workers, and fellow students will be saved?
Will we do what we can? That’s all our Lord is asking us to do. We don’t have to save everyone in Hampton, Georgia, and the surrounding area. There are other churches around. But make no mistake, God has given us this church so that we can do what we can to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Are we being faithful in that task? Let’s get to work! Let’s get to praying. Let’s get to giving. Let’s get to serving. Let’s get to witnessing. And by all means, let’s get our own lives right with God while we’re at it, while there’s still time!
Jesus asks us to do what we can! And he certainly doesn’t ask of us anything that he hasn’t done himself. Mary gave everything she had—well, Jesus did too, except infinitely more! Just as this bottle of costly perfume was broken and poured out for the sake of Mary’s love for Christ, so Christ’s body was broken and his blood poured out for the sake of his love for you and me… [Invitation.]