by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
March 5, 2017
Text: John 12:1-7
Children's Sermon Preparation: paper bags with different things that smell strong enough that kids can guess what they are in them-one bag per smell. For example: cinnamon sticks, garlic, hot chocolate, flower, other spices or herbs. One bag that has perfume or smelly lotion that you can also use.1
I invite any of the kids that would like to come down and join me for a few minutes. I want to first show you our fountain. This is going to be up all throughout our season of Lent - the weeks leading up to Easter. It goes along with our sermon series called "Poured Out". See how the water is flowing out into the different containers. When you see this, I want you to be thinking about how God's love is pouring out to each and every one of us in you and you and you. His love is poured out through Jesus. And each Sunday of Lent, you will see a rose appearing that will remind us of Jesus. Jesus is described in the Bible as the Rose of Sharon.
Ok - let's sit down here and I want to talk to you today about smells. "Do you have a favorite smell? I brought some things for you to try to guess what they are by the smell."
"Our sense of smell is very powerful; did you know that? Sometimes we can remember whole events or people just by what we smell. I know, when I come downstairs in my home, and I smell eggs and bacon - or even pancakes and warm home-made syrup, I am reminded of all the times I would wake up, when I was growing up, and I would smell my mother making breakfast for me.
In today's story from John we are told about how Mary poured a perfume on Jesus and that the smell filled the house. She did this because it was a way that people prepared for a body for being buried and she was saying that she understood that Jesus was going to go to Jerusalem and one day die to show her and the whole world how much God loves. So, this smell filled the house and was likely a smell that after Jesus did leave and die and rise again, reminded Mary and the people who there, not only about Jesus but about God's love and forgiveness. Just like when I smell bacon and eggs I remember and think of my mother's love for me in making me breakfast.
I am going to give you each a little dab of this frankincense/myrrh oil I want you to smell it while you pray today. And throughout the rest of the day, when you smell this on your skin, you can remember that you are loved by Jesus."
Let's pray, Jesus, we have many ways we can remember you. Help us to know that you are with us in all our days and that even our sense of smell can show us how to be a part of your kingdom and love. Amen
May you know the sweet smell of love today!
As the kids are returning to their seats, I invite you to get your Bibles out and turn to the gospel of John - and let's hear the whole story of the oil that was poured out on Jesus' feet. The Gospel of John is near the beginning of the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
Turn to the 12th chapter and we will be reading the first 7 verses. What is interesting about this story about the anointing of Jesus is that it is found in all four gospels - with slight variations among the four. As we read in John's version, we come into the story right after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. It was an incredible miracle - one that you would think everyone would be celebrating. But such was not the case. The Pharisees were up in arms about it and didn't want Jesus to go on like this. So, the Jewish leaders decided, from that time on, to plot Jesus' death.
Our story begins with Jesus being the guest of honor at a thanksgiving meal of sorts - thanksgiving for Jesus raising Lazarus. As I read the story, I want you to listen closely and try to imagine yourself being at the party. Where are you in the party - who do you relate to? Close your eyes if you want . just try to imagine.
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus-the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus' honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus' feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. 4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said,5 "That perfume was worth a year's wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor." 6 Not that he cared for the poor-he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples' money, he often stole some for himself. 7 Jesus replied, "Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.
Did you find yourself at that party? Were you the host of the party - Lazarus, reclining at the table, feeling incredibly grateful for the gift of life? Or are you Martha - feeling privileged to be able to serve a meal for the Lord. Did you notice that Martha wasn't complaining at this meal like she has done in the past about not getting any help? I think it because she now sees Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. Maybe you didn't see yourself as Martha or Lazarus. Maybe you are just a guest at the meal maybe a disciple. Are you moved by such a lavish gift? Overwhelmed by the smell? Are you like Judas - offended by such a waste? Or are you like Mary - kneeling at the feet of Jesus, worshiping and adoring Him.
That seems to be the favorite spot for Mary - sitting at the feet of Jesus. She had sat there before - listening to Him, learning from Him, worshiping Him - and Jesus commended her for it. She truly loved Jesus. And I think in this story, she was also very aware of the threat placed upon the life of Jesus. Somehow, she knew Jesus was close to death. Perhaps she had heard Jesus talk about his upcoming death - and she accepted it while others seemed not to. Knowing she didn't have much time left, she wanted to express her love by giving her best to Him. So, she did something amazing - she expressed her love and devotion to Jesus by lavishing a very expensive perfume on Him. It really was a radical pouring out of her love!
When you think about how much Jesus has done for you - how have you shown your gratitude? Knowing that Jesus gave His life for you - what have done to express your love and devotion? How radical do you get toward Jesus? Do you pour out your love for Him?
Our text tells us Mary anointed Jesus' feet with a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. I have always wondered what that was. So, I did a little research this week. I discovered that nard - or spikenard as some translations describe it - was highly prized as a precious perfume. Basically, it was a very aromatic essential oil with an amber color - something we are hearing a lot about these days - and it came from a spikenard plant that grows in the Himalayan mountains.2 The seeds of the plant look like this. Spikenard is harvested and the root of the plant is crushed and bruised to be able to squeeze the oil out of it - and then that oil is used for healing purposes especially to help calm nerves and stress. Isn't it interesting that this oil, that had been crushed and bruised to make an oil used for healing, was given to Jesus - who would soon be crushed and bruised - for our healing.
This perfume was very, very expensive. And Mary doesn't just put a little dab of oil here and there on the feet of Jesus. No, she pours it all out - all 12 ounces! She wanted the best to give to Jesus and she wanted to give her all.
Judas, the one who would soon betray Jesus, sees all this drama enfolding in front of him and is enraged. What a waste! That perfume is equal to a whole year's worth of wages! It should have been sold and the money given to the poor! But apparently, he really didn't care about the poor because he was a thief. All he cared about was the money - not the poor. While Mary wanted to give the very best to Jesus to worship him - Judas had no worship at all. For Mary - it wasn't a waste - because nothing is wasted on the Lord. For her, it was a pouring out of all her heart - her love shown in the most extravagant means she could.
What are you willing to pour out for Jesus? Jesus poured out everything for you. Have you been as willing to give your all for Jesus - or have you held back, not wanting to go overboard - or have people judge you. Are you more like Judas - a disciple in name only who has no inward drive to worship and serve and pour out his all for Jesus? Or are you like Mary - who out of her deep devotion to Jesus, gives her all?
You know I find it interesting that Mary chose to express her love and devotion with the bottle of perfume. Why didn't she give a gift of a song she had written for Him - or give Him all the money she had? Why anoint Him with oil?
Well, Adrian Dieleman3 tells us that anointing was usually used for a special occasion: at an engagement to be married, during a wedding, after victory in battle. Oil was poured on top of the head of a man to anoint his coronation as a new king. But the anointing of one's feet was usually reserved when preparing a body for burial. Remember how Mary and the other women had gone to the tomb of Jesus, early on Easter morning, to anoint Jesus' body for burial. But of course, they didn't do that because they found that Jesus was alive. But Jesus did get anointed - prior to His death - and it was here in Bethany. Mary was anointing Him, preparing His body for His impending death. I have always wondered if that smell of the huge amount of perfume lingered with Jesus - so that all through His last week of life, if he continually smelled that perfume. Was that smell a reminder of love and worship something He needed to be reminded of in the midst of so many people deserting Him and attacking Him?
We do know that when Mary opened the jar of perfume, that the house was filled with the fragrance. The smell of that perfume probably lingered in the air for some time. In fact, it probably lingered on every person who was there. And I imagine that every time they would smell the essence of nard in the future, their mind would go back to that time when they saw an incredible display of love - and of the outpouring of love seen in the death of Jesus on the cross.
In II Corinthians 2:15, Paul says that "we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?" So the question is - are we living like the pleasing aroma of Christ that brings life? Are the places we go filled with Christ's fragrance because of us? When people are around us, do they smell the fragrance of God's love?
Oftentimes, we carry the smell on us of place we've been to or the person we have been around. For example, you might carry the smell of the bonfire you attended or you might smell like the aftershave or perfume of your spouse. When we enter a room, do we carry the evidence that we have been with Jesus or when we leave, does the aroma of Christ linger in the air? Does something of His love and joy permeate from us - and leave its effect on the places and people we are around?4
As Pastor Dan Raymond shares, "we can't anoint Jesus with perfume like Mary did. We can't anoint Him for His death and burial. But we can give Him the best of our love. We can give Him the best of our time and our talents and treasures. We can perform extravagant acts of beauty and kindness and when people ask why we do such a thing, like Mary, we can point to the death of Jesus. I do this because God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son"5 to die for us. I do this because I love Jesus so much!
Your extravagant gift of love that you pour out will probably look different for each one of you. One of you might do that through serving in a particular ministry and doing it with all your heart. Another might do it through actively reaching out to people and showing God's love and compassion. It might mean that you work with the youth group or teach a Sunday School class - or maybe even coach a little league - because you care about showing God's love to children. Or maybe, your aroma of love is in the way you give faithfully to the work of the church and to missions. What do you think your gift of love could be - what fragrance of Christ do you bring to our world? Are you sharing it or are you burying it?
In February 1989, The New York Times reported that some Israeli archaeologists searching in some caves near the Dead Sea in Israel - discovered what they believe is a 2,000-year-old jug of once-fragrant oil. It was still fluid and had maintained its original chemical composition, though it had lost its fragrance. Scientists have concluded that this oil was from an extract of an ancient persimmon plant, now extinct, that was the source, many centuries ago, of a highly valued natural perfume used in religious rites and medical preparations. But it was buried - and it no longer had any aroma.6
I wonder - who owned that jug of oil? And why was it buried?
Mary had an alabaster box of precious oil of nard. She didn't keep it to herself and bury it and hide it in a cave. No - she opened it up and poured it out at the feet of Jesus and filled the room with the fragrance of her love
What about you? Will you pour it out for Jesus?
1Children's Sermon - http://faithformationjourneys.org/?p=763
3Adrian Dieleman, Sermon on John 12:7. March 9, 2008. www.trinityurcvisalia.com/NTSer/jn12v07.html
5 Dan Raymond, Extravagant Love, sermoncentral.org
6Dwight A. Moody, Sacrifice: Anointing the Feet of Jesus, March 1, 1993. http://www.preaching.com/sermons/sacrifice-anointing-the-feet-of-jesus/
Balsam Oil of Israelite Kings Found in Cave Near Dead Sea
By Joel Brinkley, Special to the New York Times
Published: February 16, 1989. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/16/world/balsam-oil-of-israelite-kings-found-in-cave-near-dead-sea.html