Reformation Sunday October 27, 2019

Mark 14:1-10 Rev. Donald W. Hackett, D.Min.         

Centre Presbyterian Church New Park, PA

Introduction

Welcome to Reformation Sunday!  What is that?  This is the day once a year we celebrate a milestone in our faith history where the Bible returned as the primary text and authority for our faith.  Prior to the mid-1500s a separation between people and God had slowly developed through the centuries.  Religious systems had developed that put a priest or religious expert between God and the people.  If you wanted to understand God or get close to God, the professional had to be involved. The professionals taught your what to believe, heard your prayers, granted forgiveness, and were the only ones allowed to oversee the Holy meal and other worship services.  

Now professionals can be helpful.  We all depend on men and women who have an expertise to help us with planning, taxes, home repairs, and all sorts of important tasks.  I like and deeply appreciate professional airline pilots.  I do not want amateurs flying my plane!

In the Christian faith the primary focus is between you and God.  Others can be helpful, but they might also get in the way.  Two key developments in the Reformation were Bible translation and the Gutenberg printing press.  John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English in the fourteenth century, William Tyndale into Dutch, Martin Luther into German. Others also translated the Bible from Latin into the languages of the day.  Finally, people were able to read, learn, and reflect on what God was saying to them individually.  What a breakthrough!

We know from the book of Hebrews, chapter 4, this important truth:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,  it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 

As people read that God loves them, the Holy Spirit is there to help them understand and step into this new life God has for them. That is why Bible translation is so important today.  There are still over a billion people (of the 7 billion people on the earth today) who do not have the whole Bible translated into their language.  That is a lot of people who do not clearly understand how much God loves them!  That is why we are committed to missions in this church.  We want people to know and experience the freeing love of God in Christ.  We want this for ourselves as well. We have Bibles and even Bible apps on our devices so we can immerse ourselves in God’s wisdom, power and love for us.

Background to Text

Since we are blessed to have the Bible in our own language, let’s see what God has for us today!  Mark 14 brings us near to the end of life and ministry of Jesus in a human body.  He has wrapped up this traveling teaching and healing ministry.  Jesus will not be going through all the towns and villages anymore.  He is headed towards Jerusalem for the last time.  He has repeatedly warned his followers that he will betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law and will be handed over to the Gentiles who will mock, flog and kill him. (Mark 10:34)  Jesus also tells them three days later he will rise, but that get lost for awhile in the confusion.  With only two days until the Passover, he dines in Bethany with Simon, the Leper, one of his last meals.  In the middle of this supper, something very unusual happens.  Let me read it to you.

The Text – Mark 14:1-10 (The Voice)

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two days away.         The Jewish leaders—the chief priests and the scribes—gathered to discuss how they might secretly arrest Jesus and kill Him.

Jewish Leaders: We can’t do it during the festivals. It might create an uproar.

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those around the table were troubled by this and grumbled to each other.

Dinner Guests: Why did she waste this precious ointment? We could have sold this ointment for almost a year’s wages, and the money could have gone to the poor!  Their private concerns turned to public criticism against her.

Jesus: Leave her alone. Why are you attacking her? She has done a good thing. The poor will always be with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you want. But I won’t always be with you. She has done what she could for Me—she has come to anoint My body and prepare it for burial. 

Believe Me when I tell you that this act of hers will be told in her honor as long as there are people who tell the good news.

The Word of Our Lord.  Thanks be to God!

Who is at the dinner?

What do you observe here?  Who was being honored? How? Who was upset?  Why? Who was being criticized?  Why? There is a lot going on in this dinner party!  

Simon the Leper

Simon the host is honored that Jesus would come to his home.  He was grateful for the way Jesus had healed and restored him from leprosy. We know this disease attacks the nervous system and can spread through frequent human contact.

Simon has had his body and community restored to him.  What a gift of life!  

Simon knew what it was like to be on the outside.  I am sure God gave him a special ministry to others still on the outside of community and care.

Application 1:  What hardship, wound, or failure is God inviting you to use for him?  God loves to take our weaknesses and use them to help others.  Some of the best peer counselors for people struggling with addictions, criminal behavior, financial hardship, and failing relationships are people who have failed in these areas as well. They have a special sensitivity and hard won wisdom to offer. Where is God calling you and me to use our gifts? 

The Disciples

Also in the room are the disciples of Jesus.  They travel with him everywhere and an invitation for dinner to Jesus is an invitation to all of them.  They are also on edge.  They are only a few miles from Jerusalem and they are still confused about what is going to unfold there.  They are probably a little jumpy. They see the woman pouring out all this expensive perfume and they must be thinking, “Wait, we made need those funds when we go into Jerusalem!” 

Application 2:  We too can get jumpy and anxious.  We do not know what is coming next.  Our temptation is to hold to what have and not share.  Where you and I holding on?  What are we hoping will get us through the tough times?  If we are holding on to anything other than Jesus, we need to think again. 

Judas Iscariot 

Oh, yes, Judas is with them.  In John 12, Judas is quoted as saying: “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5)

In that same chapter, John 12:6, this note is made about him.

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Judas had a plan of his own.  He had an agenda only a few know about.  Right after this dinner, he went out to make a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus. 

I do not pretend to know what was going on in the heart and mind of Judas.  I do know I can, like Judas, act on my own.  Sometimes I think I know better than Jesus.  I know, as well, how easily we all can be self-deceived. We can be fooled and we can even fool ourselves.

Application 3:  One of the reasons we come back to read and reflect on the Bible every day is check our hearts.  The Holy Spirit will use scripture like a mirror to show us what is our hearts.  The Psalms are good for this. I have started using a daily devotional app called Daily Prayer (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/daily-prayer/) and is found on the all the app stores.  Every morning and evening it has prayers and scriptures to guide and feed your soul.  I like that they are easy to use and there is much from which to pick.

The Woman

In this passage the woman is not named.  In John’s account of this anointing, he has the dinner at the home of Lazarus, and identifies her as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.  Whoever she was, she was in tune to the moment, the need, and how to respond.  While everyone else was distracted with dinner arrangements, the politics of Jerusalem, and how to save their own skins, Mary was very present for Jesus. God had put on her heart this unusual act of service and sacrifice.  I am sure she struggled to understand this.  You want me to do what?  How can I afford that?  What will people think?  What will Jesus think!!  Often it is not easy way to discern the will of God.  It often involves a mixture of prayer, reflection on scripture, and the wisdom of people we trust.  Mary may have been alone on this one.  This prompting of God was so impressed on her mind and spirit that she persisted.  She took what probably her dowry worth a year’s wages and freely anointed Jesus. Truly this was an unexpected demonstration of costly love. 

Application 4:  You never know want and how God will prompt you to serve. Sometimes it is a persistent impression, a portion of scripture, a name of person God is putting on your heart.  Our response is to listen, seek wisdom and step out in faith.  Sometimes it will make sense.  Other times it will only make sense afterwards. Regardless we step out trusting God to guide us as we go. Is God putting a person, a need, an opportunity on your heart?  Please take time to listen and make the first steps.  This is how God guides and uses you and me.

Jesus the Christ

The center of all this action is Jesus.  He is the one being anointed for his burial in a few days.  He is the one who has travelled to Jerusalem this final time to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Jesus is the one who needs to be serve, honored, and even comforted. Jesus was fully human as well as divine.  He was feeling the weight of the terrible task before him.  Mary was able to recognize and respond this.  Can you imagine the peace and love that flowed over Jesus as she poured this perfume on his head.  With every breath he would take, her love would enter his nostrils again.  What an amazing gift to offer her Lord.

Application: We are the hands and feet of Jesus to others.  Like Mary we offer what we can in Jesus’ name. I love seeing you all in action:  

  • Mort, Denny, Roger and others caring for our building and landscaping without need for attention.
  • Denny and Nathalie serving at Christmastime to make the holidays special for others.
  • The flowers for worship just appear from Joyce, Jamelyn, Ralph and Jane.
  • Every month you all give food, clothes, paper goods, personal items to  support the work of our Deacons and Women of Centre.
  • We give what we have.  We give it to Jesus.

Please know with every breath that Jesus takes, he takes in the sweet aroma of our love offerings and knows we love him.

Prayer:  Gracious and giving God, we come grateful for all the ways you love and provide for us.  You just keep giving, day by day.  Flow through us this week so we, too, can pour out your love to others. 

Benediction: From Presbyterian Missionary John McCall in Taiwan

About 25 Taiwanese pastors and several Guatemalan pastors would be arriving the next day to live together in a big old house at the PC(USA) conference center Montreat in Western North Carolina. I had visited the house shortly after the male collegiate summer staff had vacated. It looked pretty grim, with mildew in the bathrooms and carpets that had seen better days.

So, when I went back to see how the house looked on Sunday afternoon, I was delighted that two folks were just beginning to clean the house. I learned later that one of the women had just been released from prison. She had become a Christian while in prison and now was participating in a work release program. I thanked them for their willingness to get the house ready for our international friends and taught them the word “Shing-koo” in Mandarin, which literally means, “I recognize the difficult job you are doing.”

That evening, when I returned to check out the house, the folks who had done the cleaning were gone, but I found that they had worked a miracle. The house no longer smelled of mildew, and those old carpets looked pretty good. The beds were made with fresh linens, and mountain air blew through the open windows. Even the bathrooms were presentable. I uttered a prayer of thanks that our Taiwanese and Guatemalan pastors would be welcomed by a clean house.

Later in the week on the way to a worship service, after the pastors had been in Montreat for several days, I ran into one of the women, the one on the work release program. I thanked her profusely for the magic that they had rendered in that old, dirty house. I told her that they had worked a miracle with a lot of elbow grease.

She thanked me, and then said, “As I cleaned each room, I prayed for the pastors who would be staying there.” I brushed away a tear.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. She gave Jesus her best. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Christ’s fragrance filled the house where we were staying with the pastors from Taiwan and Guatemala. Her name wasn’t Mary, but she offered her best for Christ’s body. 

A devotion for the fifth Sunday in Lent