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.

You Are Exactly Whom God Wants! (John 4:5-26)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (3/16/14)

Theme: You Are Exactly Whom God Wants!

Text: John 4:5-26

            I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase before. Chances are, you have said (or at the very least thought) the phrase on more than one occasion. You heard it when your friend got engaged to that guy who didn’t have his act together yet. You thought it when your boss hired someone that you personally knew wasn’t going to be a good fit for the position he was given… you could have done better. If only your friend hadn’t been so eager to marry the first guy who came along – she could have done so much better. If only your boss had done his homework a little more before hiring this guy – he could have done better.

It’s that little phrase that slips between our lips so easily when we see someone get something we don’t think they deserve… you could have done better.

It’s that little judgmental phrase that leads to clicks, even in a church. It’s that little phrase that leads you to treat someone differently because their accent is a little thick, they work a different job, or have no job, they look, they dress, they smell, or they sound different than what you are comfortable with – you could do better… your time, your energy, your love could better be spent elsewhere. You could do better.

Maybe you would never admit it. You probably would never say it out loud in front of me because you recognize how silly it sounds, but I know it’s there, because it’s the only thing that can explain why you treat some people better than other people.

And this little judgmental phrase that we throw out there so often because someone fails to live up to our standards is nothing new. It’s certainly what everyone in Jesus’ day would have thought if they read what we just did in John 4. It’s certainly what the disciples were thinking when they came back and found Jesus talking to this unnamed Samaritan woman. The very next verse that we didn’t read says, “Just then the disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”

They didn’t say it, but they all were thinking it… Jesus, you could have done better.

“Can’t you see this is a woman? Don’t you know that no teacher worth his salt speaks to a woman in public?” said every social norm of the day.

“Can’t you see this is a Samaritan? Can’t you tell by her accent and the way she looks that she is one of those Samaritans, one of those ‘half-breeds?’ Half Jew, half Gentile, half worshiper of the true God, half worshiper of pagan gods. Don’t you know that no self-respecting Jew talks with a Samaritan? Don’t you know it’s against the law to even share a cup of water with one of these no good half-breeds?“ said every social norm of the day.

“Didn’t you notice she is down here by herself in the heat of the day drawing water? Don’t you know that any respectable person gets water from the well in the cool of the morning? Don’t you know that the very fact that she is here now  by herself means that she has been rejected by her own half-breed people, probably for some awful immorality, some terrible sin?” said every social norm of the day.

Jesus, you could have done better. You could have done better than talk to this immoral Samaritan woman. You could have asked any one of your disciples for a drink and they would have gladly gotten it and you wouldn’t have had to soil yourself in this way. You wouldn’t have even had to recognize that this woman existed! You could have done better.

And yet here he is… Jesus certainly knew better than the disciples did all the reasons why this immoral Samaritan woman should have no right to talk to him, the Son of God. We know that because with a simple request Jesus cuts right to the heart of her immorality. When Jesus said to the woman, “Go, call your husband and come back,” he already knew that this was going to be a problem for this woman.

The question that begs to be asked is: Why? Why would Jesus abandon the social norms? Why would Jesus talk to this woman? And why did he have this account recorded for us?

When you ask that question it becomes clear that he did this so that he could teach his disciples something – he did it to teach us something. He did it to get the disciples to start questioning the social norms that tell us that some people are better than others. He did it to help us see things from his perspective.

With one simple request Jesus awoke well-deserved guilt and shame in this Samaritan woman. With one simple request Jesus proved that this woman deserved nothing from him. What do you think the chances are that he could have done the same for the disciples – with one request cut to the heart of their shameful sins? What do you think the chances are that he could do the same to you? What do you think the chances are he could look at you and with a simple request cut through all the layers to the sins that reign in your heart?

Maybe for you it would be the exact same request, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “Oh no, not today Jesus. You see I have already chewed through five husbands, and the man I am with now is not my husband.”

Maybe for you the request would sound a little different. “Go, bring me your Bible.” “Oh, not today Jesus. Because truth be told, my Bible still looks pretty brand new. The crisp, white pages would reveal how little time I spend in your word.”

Maybe for you it would be Jesus saying, “Go, bring me your checkbook.” “Oh, not today Jesus. I couldn’t do that, because then you would know just how little I have thanked you for everything you have given me.”

Maybe for you it would be Jesus saying, “Go, bring me your calendar.” “Oh, not today Jesus. I couldn’t do that, because then you would see how full my calendar is with time spent on me, and how little time I have set aside for you.”

Can you see the problem with this little phrase? It’s not just the Samaritan woman that’s not good enough for Jesus… From God’s perspective it’s you, and it’s me because we all harbor sins that make us not good enough for Jesus.

“Could have done better,” is what the disciples thought. “Could have done better,” is what we think in our arrogant moments. But realize that from Jesus’ perspective, we are all in the same boat as that Samaritan woman.

But did you notice that we never once heard Jesus think or say that? Never once does Jesus give the impression that he is too good for this woman.

That’s because, from Jesus perspective, he couldn’t have done any better. He couldn’t have found a better target for his love than this adulterous Samaritan woman. The message that Jesus wanted to preach that day is crystal clear. The water of life, heaven –  it’s a gift. And a gift isn’t something you earn by being the right race, the right gender, or living the right way.

That’s why Jesus walked through Samaria this day. He could have walked around Samaria (as was the custom of many Jews). That’s why they made a pit stop at this little Samaritan town. That’s why he let the disciples go ahead of him into town. He did it all so that he could meet this woman and give her a gift.

You see, when Jesus looked at this woman he didn’t just see a adulterous Samaritan woman. He didn’t think, “This woman isn’t good enough for me.” He thought, “This woman needs me.” He looked at this woman and he saw someone who was thirsty, caught in the arid, dry downward spiral of her own sinfulness and he didn’t dwell on the fact that he deserved better, he dwelt on the fact that this woman was the very reason he was here on this earth in the first place.

Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well so that he could offer the free water of life to a woman who was desperately thirsty. Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well that day so that he could take someone who didn’t deserve him and treat her as if she did. Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well that day so that he could make clear to his disciples – so that he could make clear to you and me – that he couldn’t find anyone better, because he came to save sinners, and that’s exactly what this woman was, which means she’s exactly what Jesus wanted.

Which means that Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well so that he could make clear to you that you are exactly the kind of person he wants. Look at the conversation between this woman and Jesus today and realize that everything he is offering to her, he is offering to you.  Realize that Jesus came to give the water of life to sinners, which means he came to give the water of life to you and to me.

Jesus stopped at this well so that he could make clear that the water of life, heaven, is his gift – a gift bought and paid for at the cross – a gift he offers completely free of charge to sinners, each and every one of them. A gift we receive simply by trusting him when he says that this water he is giving us will make us never know thirst again and will bring us eternal life.

This gift comes simply by faith – faith like Abraham, the man who simply trusted that God would take him from what he was (a barren 75 year old man) and turn him into something he wasn’t (a great nation).

It’s faith that makes a person worthy of the water of life, not race, not language, not works. Its faith in the promise of God that he wants to take people and make them what they are not – worthy of heaven. When Jesus looks at you he doesn’t see just a hell bound sinner. He doesn’t think, “I could do better.” He thinks, “You need me. You are why I am here. I couldn’t do any better than you because I came to save sinners, which means I came to save you.”

Now stop and think about what that means for every day of your life, and for every interaction you have with people in this church and outside those doors. This love of God levels the playing field, and forces us to change our perspective – it helps us see that we are all sinners in the presence of a perfect God. It helps us see that we are all sinners whom God wants to save.

If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then that new guy at work is not just another guy – he is someone whom God wants to hear about the Bible. If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then that maid at your hotel is not just an unknown person speaking a different language – she is someone whom Jesus died. If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then those people on your tv dealing with death, disease and disaster are not just unlucky strangers– they are people that God wants to offer the water of life.

So go, see all people the way God sees people. Offer them the same water of life God has given you. Echo his thoughts when he looks at you and says, “I couldn’t find anyone better. Here take and drink and know that heaven is yours.”

Amen.