Here is a portion of my sermon today on John 12:1-8
The other day I was researching videos that might have been good to encourage you to invite a friend or a neighbor to church. I found one with loud music and fancy graphics. It was the picture of cool. The line that ran throughout the video was “at our church we believe this and we believe that.” The self-congratulating video made comments like, “For years churches have placed a high emphasis on Jesus as the get out of hell free card, at our church we place highest priority on Jesus as to live life to the fullest invitation.” Now maybe I am over thinking this video, but that line set me off. There is a trend today of making Jesus into your very own personal cheerleader.
Televangelist Joel Olsteen has made a large fortune with this message. He writes and preaches about changing your thoughts, thinking positive, doing good deeds, and choosing to be happy at all life has to offer. He refers seldom to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit and takes pride in dismissing doctrine or theological insight. That’s great. Good for him. But “do all you can to make your dreams come true” is the message of Walt Disney not the message of Jesus Christ. That’s not why Jesus went to the cross. Jesus did not go to the cross so that we can “be all that we can be.”
Jesus did not come to the earth, teach, preach, heal, face scrutiny, torture, and death to be our financial planner, a college admissions counselor, or our therapist. If we come to worship to get a good show, a good return on our investment, or for a pep rally for positive thinking we are missing the point of worship. Whoever said Jesus came to the earth so we could be financially successful? Jesus came so that we may know the love and mercy of God. Jesus came so that we would remember that nothing, no matter what pain or challenges we are going through will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. There is sin. There is pain. There is death. There is loss. There is brokenness. Denying that only gives it more power.
In our scripture reading this morning Jesus is mustering all of the courage he can to let himself die. And those whom he loves is gathering all the courage to let him go.
Mary enters a room with an alabaster jar. Then, as everyone in the room watches her, she does four shocking things in a row.
First she lets down her hair in a room full of men, which an honorable woman would never do. Then she pours perfume – expensive perfume. – It could feed a poor family for a year. – “This is no way to spend mission dollars,” Judas says. She pours this costly extravagance on Jesus’ feet, which is also not done. Then she touches him–a single woman rubbing a single man’s feet–also not done. Then she wipes the perfume off with her hair–totally inexplicable. The quality that is supposed to be her greatest pride, is used for the must humbling act.
All of these actions are degrading, vulnerable, risky and judged as excessive. None of these actions are for Mary’s benefit, or personal satisfaction. They are selfless and extravagant. It’s radical and uncomfortable. Could it be that is how we are to live out our Christian faith? Could it be that the Christian faith is less about getting all you can out of life, and more about being vulnerable, taking risks and giving to point of humility and excessive love?
Part of the frustration expressed in this sermon is due to the readings for my doctorate class on “Being the Church in the Age of Narcissism.” Read “Incorporation” by Will Willemon and “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler Bass.