March 18, 2007
4th Sunday of Lent
"Wednesday: The Way Of The Cross: Oooh, That Smell"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A little girl hugged her grandmother and said, "Mmmmm! You smell so wonderful, Grandmother! Is that Oil of Old Lady?" (1)
Have you ever noticed how a particular smell or aroma can bring back memories. You smell something and before you know it your mind has taken you back to when you were a child.
There's one aroma that immediately brings me back to boyhood and that's the aroma of chicken frying. I'm not talking about KFC or Chicken Express. I'm talking about hand battered skillet fried chicken. Because we didn't have air conditioning, you didn't have to wait for the door to open, instead you could smell the chicken frying once you hit the edge of the driveway. My mouth would start watering and my step would get a little lighter. And as soon as I hit the door, I'd be in the bathroom washing my hands in preparation for supper. That aroma would fill the house and roll out into the yard and street. Sometimes even the neighbors could smell it in their own kitchens.
Aromas have a way of evoking certain memories and the feelings associated with those memories. This morning, in the Gospel of John, we look at the story of an aroma that filled a room and evoked several kinds off emotions in the people gather there. Let's look at John 12:1-11 (NRSV).
 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,
 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
It's amazing how a little perfume could become so controversial isn't it. So, what was it about this perfume that made it so controversial? It represented both A Poured Out Love and A Poured Out Life.
A. Mary's love was A POURED OUT LOVE.
One of the interesting things about this passage is that this story is related in all four Gospels. The details are a little bit different, for whatever reason, but the story of the perfume being poured out and the objection is the same. In Matthew and Mark the story takes place in the home of Simon the Leper (whom Jesus had healed) and the woman is nameless. In Luke it takes place in the home of Simon the Pharisee, who objects to the woman (still nameless) because of her past, instead of the perfume. John is the only one who tells us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus.
All of which has caused considerable speculation. Some have claimed that the woman in question in Matthew, Mark and Luke was none other than the woman caught in adultery, about to be stoned to death, whom Jesus forgave and said, "Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone." Others have equated this person with Mary Magdalene and claimed she was the woman caught in adultery. But that's an unfair connection started by misogynist Pope Gregory 1st and corrected by Vatican 2.
John tells us the woman was none other than Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Maybe Mary was the woman caught in adultery? Jesus act of kindness certainly would have endeared him to the family. Maybe it was that act of forgiveness that brought Jesus into this family's life and brought them back together.
None of the speculation really matters, though. What matters is the simple act of love Mary performs for Jesus. An act which Judas objected to vehemently.
B. This Nard, this perfume, was worth 300 denarii. A denarius was the daily wage for a laborer. If just you use minimum wage, that means the perfume was worth $12,360. If you use the average daily wage of a skilled laborer, like a shipbuilder, the perfume would be worth around $33,000. (2)
You can see why Judas, who used to steal from the treasury, would object. Knowing what it was worth, some of us might have objected, too, because the gift was so extravagant. But then that's the whole point. Mary's gift was extravagant and priceless.
John D. Rockefeller was once asked, "How much money does it take to satisfy man?" Rockefeller replied, "A little bit more, a little bit more." (3)
Judas wanted more. People like Judas go through life knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Judas knew the price of the perfume. Mary knew it only as a priceless expression of her love for Christ. She felt so grateful and appreciative of what Jesus had done for her family, that the words "thank you" didn't even begin to express how she felt. So, she did something extravagant and priceless.
Mary is an example of A POURED OUT LOVE. A love so strong that the aroma of her deed and the aroma of her love still linger with us today and remind us that we're called to live A POURED OUT LIFE.
A. So, what do I mean by A POURED OUT LIFE? Well, first, you and I are called not just to believe and have faith, we're called to make a difference. We're called to bear witness and be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. Because we've given our lives to Christ, we no longer live for ourselves, we live for Christ. As a result, we're called to leave a pleasing aroma wherever we go.
Have you ever heard of a woman by the name of Irena Sendler? Neither had I until a couple of weeks ago when I say a human interest story on the Today Show.
Irena Sendler is one of the unsung heroes of World War II who is credited with rescuing 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. The Warsaw Ghetto was a patch of the city no bigger than Central Park in New York but had 2 million Jews crammed into it by Hitler.
Irena Sendler, a devout Catholic, saw her friends rounded up like cattle and knew their eventual fate. Sendler was head of the children's section in the Polish underground movement Zegota, which worked to rescue Jews. Posing as a nurse, she visited the Warsaw Ghetto and convinced Jewish parents that their children had a better chance of survival if she smuggled them out and placed them with Polish families. She wrote each of the children's names on slips of paper and buried them in jars under an apple tree in a neighbor's yard as a record that could help them find their parents after the war.
The Nazis arrested her in 1943, but despite severe beatings, she refused to reveal the names. And after the war, was instrumental in reuniting many of the families with their children. (4)
That's A POURED OUT LIFE which has left the lasting aroma of Christ like love for the world to breathe in.
B. Several years ago at the Cincinnati Bible College they had one of the best basketball teams they had ever had, it was the year they were supposed to take it all. They won the regional tournament and advanced to the national tournament in Missouri. A number of the students went to Missouri to cheer the team on to victory and one of the most beloved professors went too. Mr. Smith taught Gospels, and was an avid fan of the basketball team. The team made it to the championship game, and lost in overtime by one point.
It was a tough and devastating loss, especially for the Seniors. After the game, Mr. Smith went into the locker room, and saw Coach Wallingford and one of the seniors sitting on a bench in front of the lockers crying. He never said a word. He just walked over, sat down in between them and put his arms on their shoulders and started crying with them."
That's A POURED OUT LIFE. Especially when you find out that Professor Smith took vacation days to go to Missouri, went at his own expense, and the only reason he went was to encourage the team. (5)
C. Or how about William Wilberforce whose passionate stand and battle against slavery finally saw the slave trade abolished in the British Empire on February 18, 1807, just days before John Newton, Wilberforce's mentor and author of the hymn Amazing Grace, died.
CLIP FROM "Amazing Grace" (6)
It was the awful aroma of slavery and the smell of death which changed the minds and hearts of many of the people who William Wilberforce addressed. But it was the aroma of his POURED OUT LIFE that changed the world.
One person, like Irena Sendler or Mr. Smith CAN make a difference. One person, like William Wilberforce or John Newton CAN change the world. The aroma of their good deeds, like ripples in the water, goes on endlessly. The fragrant aroma of their righteousness and righteous behavior has touched the lives of countless millions and righted a wrong perpetrated upon people for centuries.
Thanks to Belinda Mullen and Dillards, you've been given a small vial of perfume this morning. I don't expect you to wear it. But at some point today I'd like you open it and smell it and think about the extravagant gift which Mary, the sister for Lazarus gave that day and the love she poured out in giving it.
I'd also like you to think about the life of Christ. And the life He Poured Out for you. His life, His blood "poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
And then I'd like you to think about your life. What kind of aroma do you leave behind? What kind of aroma will people remember you for? Do you live a life of POURED OUT LOVE? Are you living a Christ like, POURED OUT LIFE?
1. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July 1999, adapted
2. Based on 2000 daily average of $110.00 as per http://www.admiraltylawguide.com/circt/5thingalls.html
3. Bible Illustrator for Windows 3.0, 199-1998, Parson's Technology, Inc.
4. Today Show, Various internet news stories and www.irenasendler.org
5. Www.sermons.com (adapted)
6. Amazing Grace clip downloaded from www.wingclips.com
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