- Forms | Resources
- About Us
- Give / Donate
Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
April 03 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Each of the gospels records a story about a woman who anoints Jesus. In Matthew and Mark, she is unnamed and she anoints Jesus’ head at the house of Simon the Leper during what we call Holy Week. In Luke, she is also unnamed and she anoints Jesus at Simon the Pharisee’s house earlier in Jesus’ ministry.
Only in John’s gospel does a woman anoint Jesus’ feet. And only in John’s gospel does she have a name and a relationship with Jesus. Mary, along with her siblings Martha and Lazarus, were longtime and close friends of Jesus.
On any other occasion, this would be an ordinary dinner with friends in their home. Conversation, relaxing at the table, everyone relaxed and comfortable. But we read this story with a little bit of anticipation, maybe we even feel a little anxious, because we know what’s going to happen a few days later.
This is one of the last times, if not the last time, that Jesus would be able to relax with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. It’s a different kind of last supper.
Everyone knew how dangerous it was for Jesus to be there. He’d raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days earlier, so there was a plot to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. So there was probably some tension in the room, but there was also an abundance of love.
And it spilled over as Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, the scent of the perfume filling the house. And as it does, the tension reached its peak with Judas’ question – why wasn’t the perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It’s a valid point.
But in his response, Jesus reveals the heart of his call for his disciples to serve one another in love. He’d been modeling it for them throughout his ministry, but here it gives a clear hint at the new commandment he will leave with them on their actual last night together.
His answer, “you always have the poor with you” has, historically, been interpreted with a little bit of snark. But a less literal way of translating it is, “As long as you follow me, you will always stand among the poor.” And I think that’s closer to what Jesus meant, especially when it’s taken together with Mary’s actions.
She exemplifies Jesus’ call to serve one another in love. The first time she was at Jesus’ feet, she listened and learned and received love. This time, she’s putting into practice what she’s learned from him.
She’s the first disciple to live into a life of service that’s based in Christ’s abundant love, and she models it for the others – and for us. Because to love one another as Jesus loves them, is to serve from that love and with that love.
We know, as people who follow Jesus, we know that he calls us to serve others in love. We know this – it’s a core part of our identity as Christians.
But when it comes to serving others, there are two sides to the discussion: one that says we need to be responsible with our resources and use them wisely. That’s reality and it’s also a biblical mandate. But the other says that true Christian stewardship also includes abundant love that leads us to do what others may consider to be wasteful. That’s also reality, and the love is a biblical mandate.
Mary did what she did out of that overflowing abundance of love; that’s why she was able to anoint Jesus’ feet that night. She had received that love from Jesus and so she, in turn, was able to serve him and others and to share that love with them.
What that means for us today, is accepting that that love goes both ways. Too often, we spend so much time serving others that it becomes a one-way street: we give to a person or people and then we walk away because we’ve shared Christ’s love and, a lot of times, we think they don’t have anything to give us. But serving in true, Christian love means that we must also be open to receiving that love from others.
When I served in Costa Rica, I organized short-term mission trips for ELCA congregations to come and work in the Costa Rican Lutheran Church communities. Usually, they did a building project or ran a VBS, and in the process they built relationships with the people who live there.
At the end of their time, it was common for the community to organize a meal or a party to thank their guests for the work they’d done. In one community in particular, the financial poverty was visible everywhere you looked – you couldn’t not see it. And the people there threw a party for the ELCA group that had been with them for a week.
When I went back to the hostel with the group that night and listened in on their evening devotions, the main topic of conversation was about the party. And they all shared about what a wonderful experience it was for them. But one of the participants looked at me and asked, “How do we pay them back?”
And I said, “You don’t. You’ve been giving to them all week, this is their chance to give to you.”
Jesus embodied abundant love throughout his life, and he showed us not only how to give that love to others but also how to receive it from others. He didn’t tell Mary to not anoint his feet that night; he received her love because he loved her.
We are really good at giving to others and serving them. Not just because Jesus commands it, but if you ask most people they will tell you that they genuinely want to serve and help in some way. But serving in true, Christian love means that we must also be open to receiving Christ’s love from other. It goes both ways.
To put it concretely, it means not only doing something like hosting the men from CFH (Congregations for the Homeless), it also means receiving their gratitude and welcoming them when they come back to help us at events like yesterday’s property clean-up. It means freely accepting Christian love from someone without insisting on paying it back somehow.
Serving in true Christian love means understanding that the person across from you or next to you has as much love to give you as you do to give them. And that it’s okay for you to receive it.
The extravagant, abundant love of Jesus didn’t stay contained within him. It poured out of him in a way that many considered to be wasteful. But that wastefulness, that abundance of love, is what empowers us to give and receive love whenever we serve in Jesus’ name. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Rev. Phil Ruge-Jones, Early Sermon Seeds. Accessed March 30, 2022.