New Creations & Perfume

I have been called a unicorn, a mythic creature that does not exist.

But, if I am a mythical creature, I do not want to be a unicorn.
I would rather be a Phoenix.

You can blame it on me raised in the Phoenix valley, but that is not the whole of it

The Phoenix, according to legend, self-combusts into flames but is re-created from the ashes stronger, better, more powerful than it was before.

THAT is the purpose of Lent and it is a theme throughout our scriptures this morning.

Our scriptures are about change with the old being undone and cast aside in order for new birth and a new creation.

Be honest, change can be intimidating especially as we grow older and become comfortable in our lives, our sense of security, and aware of expectations.

But, our scriptures tell us ‘toss it away because something new is happening’.

In our Isaiah scripture the wilderness/desert, which as long been considered the enemy of the people, will have water and plants plus the wild animals that caused fear will now be tamed by God.

In our Philippians scripture, Paul writes that in his old life he was at the top of the hierarchy. He was blameless under the law and the safe-guards that protected the Torah (law or teaching) from our human error/sin. Thus, if any person had the ‘right’ to boast about their own righteousness (under the law) it was Paul and he did while his name was Saul.

While Saul (Paul), he persecuted the Christians until Jesus literally knocked him off of a donkey, temporary stole his sight, and made him realize that God was doing a new thing.

Paul (Saul) realizes that the ashes of his old life gave birth to this new life, but it was such a drastic change that he even needed a name change.

Saul to Paul, similar to Simeon becoming Peter (the rock). 

In the Gospel, Jesus is doing something new yet again.

Jesus is enjoying dinner with friends, including one he had raised from the dead. Jesus’ friend has two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is the behind-the-scenes server ensuring that all was ready, which is not necessarily bad. Mary was les practical in her serving, as she sat and listened at the feet of Jesus, which also is not necessarily bad.

In John’s account, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a pound of perfume.

Can you imagine the smell that would have filled the room?
I cannot wear perfume due to migraines, so even reading this causes me to get one.

The scent of the perfume must have filled the entire room.

Judas stated that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii, or the annual wage of a laborer. Can you imagine using your salary for an entire year to buy one pound of perfume, which you would use all at one time to anoint the feet of your teacher then drying his feet with your hair?

It  was a beautiful act of devotion, which was quite symbolic.

You anointed kings, but that amount of perfume would have been reserved only for a coronation.

You anointed those who were preparing for death or had died.

Again, it is a beautiful act that named Jesus as king and prepared him for his death.

Judas, on the other hand, does not understand Mary’s actions.

Judas questions the wasted perfume, which was a lavish cost. According to the author, Judas did not genuinely care about the poor, but had seen the dollar signs he would have been able to pocket from the sale of said perfume.

We often focus on the drama of the story, but let us focus on the extravagance of Mary and Jesus’ response.

We may be surprised to hear Jesus say:
“leave Mary alone, you will always have the poor with you but I will not always be here”.

Greek can be a tricky language.
We translate/read it as Jesus making a simple statement, but it can be a command to “keep”; thus, it might be a command to “keep the poor with you always”.

Keep the poor with you always?
Keep in mind those who are in need, who deserve to experience the extravagance that Mary had poured upon Jesus.

I imagine that the perfume, the smell of it that filled up the entire house, is just a small example of the extravagant love that happened in that moment: Mary’s love for Jesus.
If Mary’s love for Jesus was so strong, can you imagine how strong Jesus’ love for us was and remains?

Jesus knew he was leaving behind that house in Bethany, his disciples, his family, his loved ones, and his friends to make the final journey into Jerusalem. He knew that this journey would lead to his arrest, his trial, his passion, his crucifixion, and his death knowing that Mary in her love and service was preparing Jesus for it.

We live in a world of abundance, but it does not mean that all experience that abundance.

May we as stewards use our financial resources, our time, our energy, our talents, and all that we are to show the extravagance of God’s abundant creation, but more  so the abundance of God’s extravagant love in the care and service to one another as we prepare to follow Jesus on that journey to the cross. Amen.

Scriptures were Philippians 3:4b-14; Isaiah 43: 16-21; and John 12: 1-18.
Originally preached on 7 April 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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