Message Manuscript for “Spilling Adoration”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2016
What is your signature scent? That’s a question Forbes magazine seeks to help its readers answer in a recent article about perfume. The author states that,
In an ideal world, a signature scent serves as a personal scent memory to cherished friends and loved ones. A fragrance can linger on clothes, in rooms, over the air, causing thoughts like: Santal 33! Chelsea’s here! or Oh no, Santal 33. Chelsea is here. But getting to that point is difficult, thanks to the complications of finding a signature perfume. The short answer for how to find your elusive, signature fragrance is merely: Find one that you like.
The search for the rich fragrance isn’t quick and easy. Perfume, after all, isn’t cheap and shouldn’t be wasted.
Apparently, that’s what Judas thought too as he sees Mary pouring out the perfume on Jesus’ feet. What he sees is a precious year’s worth of salary spilling out of Mary’s hands carelessly and unnecessarily. What he smells is not the beautiful aroma of anointing from a devoted follower but, instead, the most expensive of perfumes going to a place far less important to him than to his own concerns. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Surely you’ve been there in a moment like that, knowing you should keep your mouth shut about someone else’s business but you just can’t stand it any longer and blurt it out there to state your opinion on the matter. Judas is against it, against this whole misdirected movement of Jesus to suffering and death, against anything and anyone who poses a threat to how he thinks God is moving in the world.
But that’s not what Mary thought about her perfume, a Chanel No. 5 of today. This was Spikenard, “Nardostachys jatamansi,” which is according to Wikipedia,
a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The plant grows to about 1 meter (3 ft) in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. It is found in the altitude of about 3,000 to 5,000 m (9,800 to 16,400 ft). Rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, which is very thick in consistency. Nard oil is used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and an herbal medicine said to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and other minor ailments.
She knew it was high dollar and that when it was gone it was gone. But she knew what she was doing with it was absolutely worth it. She, Judas, the others, and, especially Jesus, understood what an outpouring this was from Mary. As Eliseo Perez-Alvarez writes in his commentary of this text,
According to Mark 14:5 the perfume price was 300 denarii, namely, a yearly salary; but Mary didn’t care. She put that recently coined money in its place: at Jesus’ feet. Golden heaven’s streets send precisely the same message: gold is to be stepped on, and not to be ruled by the worldly creed: “in gold we trust.” Time is not money; time is life. Furthermore, money is an idol made of gold and silver (Psalm 115:4-7).
Judas can’t get past the idolatry of money. Mary, though, demonstrates what you do with something so valuable.
Mary’s spilling of perfume onto the feet of Jesus was her act of adoration of Jesus. She adored him for being a friend, something unusual for a Jewish man to be for a woman. He obviously was a true friend to her, to her sister Martha, and her brother Lazarus. This kind of relationship between them, as represented in the Gospels, is that kind that is formed through shared experiences of laughter and tears, of sacrificial love, tried and true loyalty, and from the sheer enjoyment of just hanging out together. Mary also adored Jesus for what he had done to bring her dead brother Lazarus back to life, a reality that must have been behind her motivation of extravagance that day as he sat at the table there with Jesus. But she also adored Jesus not just for where he had been with them, but where he was going for them. In recognition that he was truly Messiah, she anointed him, choosing his feet rather than his head because she anticipated where his feet were headed.
Mary’s act of adoration is what we remember most about her and it continues as a model for us as we follow Jesus today. This reckless act of love inspires us, especially as we end our 40 days of Lent this week and soon enter into Holy Week. Do we love Jesus like she did? Do we adore him enough to spill out what is most cherished and expensive to us? That’s actually what your life is—an expensive and uncommon offering to God. Your life poured out for Jesus is a pleasing aroma to God. It also makes the world better as it revitalizes the atmosphere of wherever it happens to go. Wherever, and whenever, that is, that you spill it out. Your life has amazing significance and can be kept safely on the shelf or dripped out sparingly only on certain occasions. What Mary would have us know is that was never given to us to store away; it is for us to pour out at the feet of Jesus.
Like Mary, we are to see that Jesus is worth the outpouring. Mary had her reasons for unrestrained adoration and we have ours. What is yours today? Why should you pour out your life for Jesus? Perhaps you’ve discovered the complete joy of friendship with Jesus, experiencing what it is like to walk and talk with him as you live your life each day. You know what it is like to be inspired, encouraged, and challenged by his words and actions. You know that his interest in you is dependable, more so than any friend you’ve ever had. Or, like Mary, your reason for adoration is because you have seen the resuscitating power of Jesus in bringing someone you love—maybe even yourself —back to life. You have seen his power work in that way and you know more now what Jesus meant that day he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” If you need another reason, there’s one for you as we enter Holy Week soon as you remember where Jesus was headed and why.
The perfume that spilled onto the feet of Jesus that day became Mary’s signature fragrance. What is yours?
[Audio of this sermon is here]