Splurging in Acts of Love (John 12:1-11)

Sermon from a Midweek Lent service (2/25/15)

Text: John 12:1-11

Theme: Splurging in Acts of Love

            How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

It’s a 1st world problem. It’s not something being discussed in Syria or Iraq right now, but it is a question Americans spend time and energy answering.

How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

The general consensus (as far as I can tell) is somewhere between one and three months wages. Whatever you make in three months, that should be the ceiling on how much you spend on an engagement ring.

Well, back when I went shopping with my mom and sister for the ring Laura has on her hand now, that didn’t add up to all that much money. I was a fulltime student at the seminary, only part-time employed. Even adding up three months of part-time pay washing windows for Squeegee Squad didn’t amount to all that much…

So I broke the rule. I decided to splurge on the engagement ring – still something not unreasonably expensive, but more than three months wages because I was in love and I wanted to show that love in a tangible way, and I knew I wasn’t going to be working part-time washing windows forever. I was going to ask Laura to marry me and I wanted to splurge on this once in a lifetime opportunity to show Laura what she means to me.

That’s what you do when you are in love, right? You splurge in acts of love for the object of that love. You go over and above what is normal for you. And splurging doesn’t always just have to mean “spending more money.” You can splurge on something or someone by spending an unusual amount of time with them. You can splurge by paying particularly close attention. You can splurge just be being nicer, friendlier, more welcoming. Splurging is anything that you do that is over and above the normal for something or someone that you love.

Splurging, it’s what we see Mary doing in the Passion history I just read from John 12. Mary takes a jar of perfume worth an entire year’s wages and she pours it on Jesus’ feet and then uses her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet clean.

Talk about splurging!

What do you make in a year? I don’t actually want you to tell me, but think about that number. Now, picture sitting down, writing a check for that much and dropping it in the offering plate when it comes around in a little bit – talk about splurging!

What Mary does here is even a step beyond that, isn’t it? Mary takes this extremely expensive jar of perfume and she doesn’t just give it to Jesus so he can use it later – she dumps the whole thing on his feet. To really do what Mary does here you would have to go to the bank, get your salary in cash, and then lighting it on fire and watch it burn here in front of the altar. It’s gone! A whole year’s wages, just gone – talk about splurging!

It’s an amazing, almost uncomfortable thing to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this supper where we see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for Jesus by Mary – it’s amazing. I mean, it doesn’t get much more real than this, does it? What we see here is someone desperately in love with Jesus and willing to do anything to show that love – it’s almost uncomfortable to see this extremely personal act of love.

It’s also a humbling thing, isn’t it? It’s a humbling thing to be a fly on the wall for this supper (one of the last ones Jesus would have on this earth) and to watch Mary splurge in an act of love for Jesus.

It’s humbling because all too often my love looks pitiful in comparison to this reckless love of Mary…

What or who do you splurge on in an act of love?

There are a couple slightly simplistic ways to find the answer to that question.

First, look at your budget. It’s tax season, that time when we look back over 2014, the money we made, the money we spent. What did you splurge on financially last year? What are the things you went over and above to spend money on because you love them? How much did you financially splurge on Jesus?

You should know the answer to that question. Jesus tells us to sit down and consciously plan out how much we are going to spend on him, so you should know how much you did or didn’t give to Jesus.

What are you splurging on with your money?

Second, take a look at your average weekly schedule. Where do you spend your time? What are the “must do” things on your weekly to-do list? How much do you splurge on Jesus with your schedule? You have 24 hours in your day. How many of those hours do you give to Jesus? How long do you spend in prayer? How much time do you spend reading his word on a typical day?

What are you splurging on with your time?

Third, take a look at your heart? What’s the most important thing in your life right now? We just celebrated Valentine ’s Day, right? Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, how much energy do you invest into showing the love of your life he or she matters? The things we love with all our heart are the things we do random acts of kindness for. They are the things that light up our faces when we see or think about them. They are the things that obsess us, the things we can’t get enough of.

And how does Jesus fit into that picture? Does your face light up when you think about coming to church to sit at Jesus’ feet? Do you obsess about Jesus? Do you splurge on Jesus with random, over the top acts of love?

What are you splurging on with your love and attention?

Now I realize this is a slightly simplistic way to go about it. It’s not a simple math equation: if you give x amount of dollars you really love Jesus… if you spend x amount of hours in devotion in a week, you must really love Jesus… but man, I look at this three step approach to answering the question “what do I splurge on,” and let me be the first to say… I’m sorry. Let me be the first to confess before you and before God that I have not loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Let me be the first to identify that Judas in my own heart that pushes me to love other things above my love for Jesus…

What’s my point in all this? Do I just want to browbeat you into giving more money (I sure hope you know that’s not my point)?

This is the season of Lent. We are walking with Jesus to his cross – to the place he was brutally murdered. This is a time for us to examine our hearts and see just what it was that drove him to that cross: my sin… your sin… all of those times you and I broke the first commandment and loved something or someone more than we loved Jesus. And what we see Mary doing at this dinner; it drives us to ask the tough question: what are we splurging on?

We see in Mary a reckless act of love that ought to make us sorry – sorry for all of the times we fail to love Jesus as we should.

But Mary isn’t the only act of reckless love we see at this dinner in John 12…

Mary poured out a jar of expensive perfume to show how much she loved Jesus. Jesus was about to pour out his life to show how much he loved Mary… and me… and you…

Jesus says of Mary’s splurging, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Jesus isn’t dead yet, he won’t be for another five days. But already Jesus is talking about his death as a forgone conclusion – He was as good as dead now, because he knew where he was going. He knew what was waiting for him when he got to Jerusalem.

Realize tonight that this is what drove Jesus to that cross – his reckless desire for us not to have to pay for all of our sins against the 1st and every other commandment.  What we see tonight from Jesus, what we see in Lent, is Jesus splurging in an breathtaking act of love for us!

This is how much he loves you! He would willingly pour out his own life on a brutal death on a cross to prove to you just how deeply and desperately he loves you.

It’s amazing and almost uncomfortable to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this last week of Jesus’ life, to see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for us – it’s amazing! It doesn’t get any more real than this! What we see here from Jesus is someone desperately in love with us, and willing to do anything to show that love – and if it weren’t so personal and perfect it would almost be uncomfortable to see Jesus loving us so deeply like this.

It’s also and inspiring thing, isn’t it? It’s something that fills our hearts so full of love that we too want to love Jesus back.

That doesn’t mean that I expect each of you to write a check for one year’s salary and put it in the offering plate – it is not now, nor will it ever by my job to dictate to you how you have to show your love for Jesus. But it is my privilege to remind you of the love that I know is in your heart – you do love Jesus! And it is my privilege to remind you to show that love!

Every day, we get to wake up and realize that we are soaking wet in the love that Jesus has poured out on us. And we get to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love. We get to respond in love to that love! We get to turn each day into moments when we go over and above to say thank you to the one who poured out his life for us.

Every day we get to wake up and know that Jesus loves us. Every day we get to wake up and live a life splurging in our acts of thank-filled love for Jesus.

Amen.

How to Beat the Devil: Try… Trust… Know! (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent (2/22/15)

Text: Romans 8:31-39

Theme: How to Beat the Devil:

Try… Trust… Know!

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, my wife says I get “hangry.” If you feed me, I’ll work like the Energizer bunny, all day, every day. If you don’t feed me and expect me to work, I sometimes stop being the person I should be. Sometimes hunger leads to anger = hanger. I don’t always deal well with hunger, so 40 days (like Jesus in the desert) with nothing to eat at all, and the devil tempting me on top of that… if my track record gives any indication, after those 40 days the devil would say “jump,” and I’d say “how high?”

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, one of the things I thank God for most is being a dad. I’ve always wanted to have kids of my own, and now that I have them it is even better than I could have possible imagined.

What I still can’t quite imagine is what it must have felt like to walk up that mountain. I can’t quite imagine what it must have felt like to have my curious son ask the obvious question, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  I can’t quite imagine what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling as he tied his son up, put him on the altar, and looked down at the knife in his hand, knowing what he had to do next.

I don’t know how I would react, but I have to be honest… if my previous success rate with trials and temptations is any indicator, my chances of passing that test are not all that promising…

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

We are at war, friends. The Bible makes clear that public enemy #1 is the devil. The spoils of this war/what’s at stake is your heart. Ever since Genesis chapter 3, that slimy serpent has been there tempting and testing God’s people every step along the way. And God allows this because he didn’t create us to be robots. He created us to love and serve him of our own accord, and part of loving and serving him means hating what he hates and fighting what he fights– the devil. God allows us to be tempted and tested to give us opportunities to serve him, to show him how much we love him.

We are at war. Every day God calls us to get up and do battle against the devil – to try with everything we are and everything we have to beat the devil.

And I have to confess to you: I’m not doing very well… Continue reading

I Have Sinned Against the LORD! (2 Samuel 12:1-13)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday (2/18/15)

Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

Theme: I Have Sinned Against the LORD!

            It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

David sat in his throne room, righteously wrathful over the story Nathaniel had just shared with him, only to have Nathaniel look him in the eye and chill him to the bone with the words, “You are the man!”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

Ananias lays his offering at the apostles’ feet. He feels a little flutter of pride as he looks around the room and sees everyone else watching him make this “great sacrifice,” only to have Peter see right through him – to that heart so full of the devil’s pride and lies. “You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

I sat in my dad’s office at church. I heard him speaking quietly with my teacher just outside the door. I didn’t care to hear what they were saying – I knew what they were talking about. I had seen a movie at a friend’s house that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at home. I had proudly repeated a rather vulgar line from that movie to my other friends at school. The teacher found out – and now the pastor, my Dad, was finding out too.

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to – at least you shouldn’t.

It’s the feeling of guilt – that uniquely, universally, horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling that comes when you know you’ve done something wrong and that you are about to pay for it. Continue reading

It Is Good For Us to Be Here! (Mark 9:2-9)

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (2/15/15)

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Theme: It Is Good For Us to Be Here!

Why did he do it?…

We just saw, with Peter, James and John, a fascinating but all too brief glimpse at Jesus in all of his glory. Mark describes Jesus’ clothes as “dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” Matthew and Luke, in their records of this event, describe Jesus’ face as looking as bright as a flash of lightening.

For one brief afternoon, after years of following Jesus’ every move, these three disciples get this little glimpse at the real glory of Jesus. The other gospel writers explain that these guys did what every other human does when he sees true heavenly glory – they fell on their faces in fear, only to look up and see Jesus catting with Moses and Elijah (two men long since dead) like old friends.

And just when the awesomeness of what was going on started to sink in, a cloud settles in, the heavens open and they hear the voice of God the Father himself.

And it just begs the question: why?

Why now? He spent 30+ years on this earth and just in this brief moment, for one afternoon, does he fully reveal who he really is. Sure, throughout his ministry he gave hints as to who he really was with his amazing miracles, but even the prophets did miracles, even the disciples did miracles. This was on a whole different level. This was undeniable proof that Jesus was who he said he was – true God.

Why did he do it? Continue reading

Pursuing Desire

It was famous long before Pete Seeger put it to music and the Byrd’s took it to the top of the charts in the 60’s. Almost 3000 years before the song we know as “Turn, Turn, Turn” came on the radio King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 3.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.   – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It’s beautiful, right? It’s famous, it’s deep – this juxtaposition of the different seasons we go through in life…

But, if that’s all we take away from Ecclesiastes 3, we are missing the point. Continue reading

It Is Well With My Soul! (Romans 8:28-30)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (2/8/15)

Text: Romans 8:28-30

Theme: It Is Well With My Soul!

            “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” – beautiful words in and of themselves… even more beautiful when you know a little bit of the background.

The hymn we just sang (When Peace Like a River) was written by Horatio Gates Spafford. Horatio was a successful businessman who lived with his wife and four daughters in Chicago in the mid-1800’s – successful in business that is, until the great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed everything he had worked for.

But fire wasn’t the only tragedy to come Horatio’s way. Later he and has family bought tickets to sail to England – at the last minute Horatio was forced to stay behind. His wife and four daughters went on without him – but they never made it, at least not all of them. The ship collided with another vessel and sunk. Only Horatio’s wife survived. All four daughters drown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Horatio was inspired to write the hymn we just sang as he passed over the place where his daughters drown on his way to be with his heartbroken wife in England.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Our purpose this Sunday is to identify for whom Jesus came – his target audience. The hymns we’ve sung and the readings from the Bible have left us a trail of bread crumbs – let’s see where they lead…

The first lesson for today brought us face to face with a familiar person – Job. As you know, the life of Job made the life of Horatio seem like child’s play. On day one of Job’s whirlwind tour through hell on earth Job lost practically every cent he owned and seven sons and three daughters – in one day! On another day the only thing Job had left, his health, was taken away from him as painful soars covered his body – it’s no wonder the words we read from Job 7 ended like they did. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.”

Our second lesson for today brought us face to face with another familiar person – Paul. Paul boldly says that God is working though all things for our good – what are those “things?” In Paul’s case, those “things” that God was using are listed off for us in 2 Corinthians: Imprisonments, beatings, exposure to extreme weather, stoning’s, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger and so much more.

Add in the history of the hymn we just sang and the Gospel reading and Jesus’ target audience becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Jesus didn’t come to rub shoulders with the successful and wealthy. He didn’t come to give a pep talk to people who were trying really hard all on their own. He didn’t come to congratulate the people who thought they had it altogether, who thought they had life pretty well figured out by themselves.

Jesus came for the sick. He came for the destitute, diseased, and dying. He came for those shunned by society, the prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and addicts. He came for the brokenhearted – for those whose hearts had been ripped out of their chests and stomped on as they watched loved ones die and the things they held dear torn away.

This is a Sunday that hits close to home for people like us – people who have known, are knowing, and will know sickness, loneliness and broken hearts. This Sunday hits close to home for anyone with half a heart who has been watching the news in recent weeks, and years for that matter.

“This is why I have come,” Jesus said in Mark – because there are so many people in this world like Peter’s mother-in-law and those nameless people possessed by demons, so many Horatios and Jobs and Pauls, so many people who are hurt and need help – “This is why I have come.”

And this is where we might start to lose some people if this were an audience made up of believers and unbelievers. This (the teaching that Jesus came for the sick and suffering) is a big stumbling block for a lot of people – it’s what they call the Christian problem of suffering. We say that God is good and that he is capable of doing whatever he wants – so following that logic, why hasn’t God stopped all the suffering of this world? We say that Jesus came to fix the suffering of this world, but that was 2000 years ago and there are still a lot of people suffering. Logically, these people say, this means that either God isn’t good because he doesn’t care about the plight of people on this earth, or he isn’t capable of ending suffering, in which case he’s not much of a God…

You and I would never take that tone with God, would we?…

You see, we are not just here to set up a straw-man and tear down those people out there who have a problem with God and suffering. If you want to find someone who needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to the suffering in this world and God’s relationship to it, you don’t need to look any further than this room – you don’t have to look any further than the heart that’s beating in your chest.

We may not come right out and deny that God exists or that he’s good, but that doesn’t mean we are perfect at handling the problem of suffering.

Here’s the big problem that really hits home for us – if you were handling the idea of suffering the way God wants you to, you would never worry – never, about anything.

Think that through with me. Paul tells us (God tells us!) that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. In the words of John Newton (the author of the next hymn we are going to sing, Amazing Grace) that means “Everything is needful that [God] sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.” Think about that (think about it for the rest of your life, it will do you good).

That means that you can never rightfully worry about anything again because whatever happens, it’s all a part of God’s plan. It’s for your good. It’s something that he in is infinite wisdom decided you needed – Which means you have absolutely no reason or right to worry about it.

That means that if tomorrow you woke up and had a day like Job, the proper response would be to get down on your knees and thank God for giving you what you needed that day. That means that if today on your way home you got in a car accident, were completely paralyzed, and everyone you love died, the proper response at the end of the day would be to sing with Horatio, “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Friends, we get in a fender-bender and we get all bent out of shape.

It’s not just the world out there that displays a lack of trust that God will in fact work all things for our good – that when Jesus said he came for the suffering, he meant it.

So, what are we going to do, not just with the problem of suffering in this world, but also with the problem of our hearts? This is where our paths do split with the rest of the world.

They run away from God (even though that doesn’t solve their problem: they run away from God because they don’t trust that he can fix suffering but all that does is leave them to suffer in this world without God and without hope that things will get better).

We run to God. We run to God not because we are so much smarter than the people out there. We run to God because he has called us, and shown us, and taught us the real cause of suffering (sins committed by people like us) and just what he has done and is doing about it.

Here again we have a trail of breadcrumbs to follow and see what God has done and is doing about suffering in this world.

Horatio, Job, Paul – they suffered an incredible amount, even the people that Jesus healed when he was on this earth would continue to suffer from different things in their lives, but do you know what else they have in common beyond the suffering? Right now, every single one of them is sitting in heaven – the heaven that God himself describes as the place where he will wipe every tear from our eyes!

God promised through Paul that he would work all things out for the good of whom? Those who have been called according to his purpose, and what is that purpose? Paul tells us.

Before this world was even created, God foreknew you. He knew your name, how many hairs would be on your head, where you would live, what you would do, all the ways you would suffer. Before this world was even created he knew that one day you would be with him in heaven, forever.

And so, from before the creation of the world, God’s purpose (in everything he has done) was to get you from point A to point  B – from this world of suffering to his side in heaven.

Think about that for the rest of your life! That’s what it means when Paul says God foreknew you. That’s what it means when Paul says you were predestined. God thought of you before he did anything else, and he loved you enough to make sure you would be in heaven with him forever and ever.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, he also called. When, in time, his thought became a reality and you were born, he guided this entire world so that you could come into contact with him – who he really is, what his love is really like. He guided all of human history so that when the water ran down your head and his name was spoken at your baptism, your heart would hear the calling and believe.

And those God foreknew, predestined, and called, he also justified. In time, he sent his Son, Jesus, to live in this world of suffering, to carry on his shoulders suffering that we can’t even imagine. He sent his Son to die so that you, a dirty sinner who has done more than your fair share to cause more suffering in this world, could be declared “not guilty,” cleansed, forgiven, set free.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, those he called and justified, he will also glorify. You do not have to be afraid of tomorrow, you don’t have to have a problem with suffering in this world because you know that one day you will be standing in the glories of heaven – it’s a fact that no one and nothing can take away from you.

Friends, let’s do something today that we don’t usually do. Let’s re-sing the hymn we just sang. This time I want you think about everything I’ve just said, think about all the things that have gone wrong in your life, everything that is going wrong, and everything that could go wrong, and boldly sing of the peace that God has called you to have – come what may, it is well with my soul.

Amen.