“Signs of the Times: Giving Jesus Our Best!”
Rev. Perry Fruhling, St. Mark’s Lutheran, 20 November 2016
Grace to you and peace...I love one part of the movie, “Liar, Liar.” Jim Carey’s character is a lying lawyer who, through the magic of the story, is forced to tell the truth. When he finally recognizes what’s important to him (his family), he gives away the money he’s been living his life to attain. (Clip from Liar, Liar...1:00)...as he gives away the money he says, “But it won’t make you happy.” He was forced to tell the truth...money will not make you happy.
Welcome to our final week of our year-long sermon series in the “Year of the Gospels”. We’ve made our way through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in an effort to acquaint our congregation with Jesus and how he’s presented in Scripture. John is the deep, symbolic, interpretive writer. There’s more than meets the eye as John sees it. And, in our final passage from John 12 (from chapter 13 on it’s the passion narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection), we see Jesus at the home of his close friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and from there, the religious leaders seek to find a way to kill Jesus – the spectacle has become too great. In John 12 we hear, “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3 (NLT) The perfume in today’s dollars would have cost somewhere between $30,000-40,000, or about $3,000 per ounce.
I brought some cologne that Marlys got me for Christmas last year – about half spent – and I wonder how much she paid for this. I’m hoping it wasn’t what Mary spent for this perfume from the Himalayas, but it does make one realize that what Mary did here was extravagant! Perfume is expensive, but who would pay for, and then give away perfume at this cost? Let’s look at this passage and the principles there for our life today.
- Give thank for God’s gifts to you. Mary was responding out of her deep appreciation for what God had done for their family. In John 11, Lazarus is dead. Mary and Martha are in mourning. Jesus says his death is meant for God’s glory. When Jesus comes four days late, there is already a stench coming from the tomb, but Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, and it’s dead man walking. Many people come to believe. Everyone is stunned...Jesus can raise the dead to life! Jesus brings light into darkness, hope into hopelessness. And Mary is, well, thankful. She recognizes that Jesus himself is now facing opposition and death, and she decides to pour it all out on the line for the one who has restored life to their family. Not only that, but we hear in Luke 10 that Mary was allowed to sit at the feet of Jesus (something only a male disciple would do) to learn from him. Jesus gave Mary an identity; she was uplifted as a woman of faith; he raised her brother to life. She poured out her treasures at Jesus’ feet.
Today is Stewardship Sunday. We invite every partner of St. Mark’s to bring forward a financial commitment for the 2017 Ministry Year. There are many wonderful plans for ministry next year. We are already signed on to increase our commitment to Meals From the Heartland, doubling our packaged meal goal to ½ million! We have our largest Mission group yet signed up for Haiti in February. We are in the midst of a national search for Children’s, High School and Worship leadership staff. And if you based your giving on our church’s mission, I would be encouraged because God has great plans, and there would be much motivation. But the greatest reason to give is not the need, but from the power of God at work in us.
I looked at my Facebook account yesterday and some of the highlighted stories...a new grandchild born, the Cubs win the World Series, time walking in the footsteps of Paul...and more. So why am I not more thankful? It’s been a difficult year in other ways...some real struggles spiritually on a number of levels. Where is my focus? The apostle Paul writes, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT) It reminds us to focus on our blessings! You, like me, have many opportunities to look at either the hope or the hurt in every situation. When we focus on our blessings, we proclaim that in the midst of every storm God is sovereign. Are you facing physical struggles, relationship difficulties, trouble at work or school? Where is the hope, the light, the resurrection that God wants to bring forth from this situation? Mary saw life, God’s power, and grace when Jesus entered her and Lazarus’ situation. You will need to think counter cultural. When the world sees hatred, we must share and see love. When others see a curse, we must see a blessing. When there is need, we must be Christ’s body in a world that craves something more than the surface and superficiality all around.
- Value Jesus above all else. A funny thing happens when Mary makes this extravagant gesture towards Jesus. Judas, who represents the world, reacts negatively. The money could have been sold and given to the poor, Judas says. But John tells us that Judas’ motivations were self-interest. He used to dip into the treasury and take for himself. Whenever you go all in for Jesus the world will react negatively. That’s why it has to be counter cultural. Out of guilt, self-interest, desire for security, when you give freely to God, you can be assured that Satan doesn’t like it. So we must resist self-interest. The hardest time to tithe in our lives came when we got our largest increase in salary years ago coming to a new church. I was already thinking about the things we wanted but never bought – better dishes, a nicer car, new furniture...the list goes on...but then I thought, oh wait a minute, God, I forgot about you. I’m Judas in this story...I’m jealous that Mary’s relationship with Jesus is so close that she gives not out of law but out of love and grace.
So we live in a world that stinks it up sometimes. Quite an election year, huh? (Squirt from the perfume bottle). We live in our own addictions (squirt from perfume bottle). We hurt one another in relationships (squirt). We make poor choices (squirt). We and the world spend our time chasing after that which reeks and we spray on a little perfume to hope that we or no one else notices. Christ has come to put to death the pain and sorrow, to forgive the unforgiveable, to take away the sadness of loss and grief, to give hope where cancer, disease, and bodily pain take it from us. And that’s just a waste of the resources God has given to us. God wants us to experience the power of his love, not a squirt at a time, but the overflow of the sweet smelling perfume of his son, who was offered as a fragrant offering before God through his death and resurrection. And when we respond to that love, Scripture says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). So, we give thanks to God for who he is in the midst of every circumstance and we become a way for God’s hope to reach all people.
Like Mary, to give Jesus our best, we must let our joyfulness overflow. Mary has recognized in Jesus the true treasure of life, that which can’t be taken from her. No matter what may happen to her, Jesus is with her. Lazarus was raised to life, but later he died. And so did Mary...and Martha. But their treasure wasn’t this body, this life, or successes in it. Peter died...and John, the author of this Gospel...and the apostle Paul, who put it into words this way: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8 NLT) When we value Jesus above all else, money and possession become something to release for God’s purposes. The more we have the tighter we grip and cling to that which we hope will give us security, but actually the less we have.
- Respond to God with a heart of joy. We can share of what we have from what we have received and the more we recognize it, the more our hearts are ready to respond. Hearts of joy share hope for others. The author of Hebrews tells us how: We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT)
While we are talking today about Stewardship, it’s a great time to talk about our capital appeal as well. It’s called EVERY.ONE. It’s the same concept, giving from a heart of joy, a blessed heart to create the opportunity for us to minister as a congregation to those who walk through these doors and to those beyond. It’s something we do together as the body of Christ out of the many joys we’ve experienced through God’s grace and power in our lives.
I’d like to invite forward Ron Harriman who is a member of the EVERY.ONE Capital Appeal Team and on Church Council. Ron, before we get started, would you like to talk baseball?
RH: Sure, I'd be glad to talk about the Capital Appeal (CA), but for the first time in my lifetime I have no desire to talk baseball. Did they even have a World Series this year? Anyway back to the Everyone appeal. Our CA team was formed about 10 months ago and has gone through various phases of preparation, focus groups, advanced giving and now we are in the all-important phase where we are making personal visits with partners and it is our intent to visit with every partner of St. Mark's.
PF: Today is stewardship Sunday and we are all asked to turn in our pledge cards for the annual operating budget. The annual budget goes toward the mission and ministry of our church and the Capital Appeal is to pay down debt so that more money can be freed up for mission. So the Everyone appeal has an emphasis on personal visits; why is that?
RH: first let's go back to baseball, I am sure you remember when Albert Pujols played for the Cardinals and he ended up leaving the Cardinals in free agency. When he was approaching free agency he made a comment "that it would not be about the money", I knew at that point it was in fact, "all about the money." So with that in mind, I know what everyone is thinking today, "that this is all about the money". And let's be honest, from a financial perspective it is our intent to be good stewards with the financial resources that God has blessed us with and tap into the fullest potential of St. Mark's. However, if you think about tapping in to the fullest potential of St. Mark's you are not simply talking about financial resources.
PF: You seem to be alluding to something that is beyond the money. Can you describe that a little further?
RH: sure, and what I'd like to do is read a short excerpt from a book I read recently, The Boys in the Boat, a story about the University of Washington rowing team that won the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic games. I'll pick up in the midst of a conversation between George Pocock a very wise rowing expert, and builder of the boat, and Joe Rantz one of the rowing team members: Pocock began by saying he'd been watching Joe row for a while and had noticed some technical issues…….but that was not what he wanted to talk about. He told Joe that there were times when he seemed to think he was the only fellow in the boat, as if it was up to him to row the boat across the finish line all by himself. When a man rowed like that, he said, he was bound to attack the water rather than work with it, and worse, he was bound not to let his crew help him row. He suggested Joe think of a well-rowed race as a symphony, and himself as just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined. That's the way it is with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn't harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. He told Joe to be careful not to miss his chance. Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you've ever imagined. Sometimes you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars." That pretty much sums up how I feel about the personal visits and how important they are not just to the present day fundraising but to the long term ministry and our ability to Go and Make Disciples. We want EVERY.ONE. to know that every gift is important. Some of our most important visits have been with those who weren’t able to contribute, or at least not as they wanted, but where we shared our lives together, the challenges, concerns, faith, and opened our hearts to each other even if just a little bit.
PF: so what are the action steps that need to happen? Every gift is like the sandbag in the flood protection recently in Cedar Rapids...small or large, we need them all.. this is what I am asking: answer the call to receive a visit, better yet take the card with phone numbers on it and call someone to arrange your visit. The visits will only increase the likelihood that we are not a team of 2000 in our own foxholes but rather a team of 2000 on a single and clear mission.
PF: As we close, I love what Ron said about opening the heart to one another. When we give from the heart together, God will be able to do a great thing through this ministry God has entrusted to us. As we give thanks for what we have received in all circumstances, value Jesus and his kingdom above all else, and respond together from the heart, God’s kingdom will prevail in our time! Let’s bow our heads...