a Sermon based on John 12:1-8
This is our last week in Lent before we head into Holy Week. The countdown to Easter is on.
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and it’s a safe bet that he know what’s about to unfold.
Before he parades towards the Temple of God, he makes an important stop in Bethany to visit close friends who have invited Jesus and the disciples over for a meal.
The story begins in the Gospel of John 12:1-8.
There’s something to be said about being invited to dinner. I have spent countless hours lost in conversations around many tables; devouring life and savoring the joy of being in the presence of good company.
Leonardo Boff wrote, “Table fellowship is one of the most ancient signs of human intimacy.” And “the meal is one of the most intimate and sacred human events.”
More than food or drink, it’s an invitation to share our most intimate gifts of life – ourself. Or as Henri Nouwen so beautifully coined, “The table is the place where we want to become food for one another.”
Kathleen and I used to live in a small community of ruffians and misfits who made up a unique kind of family for us. And it was rare for an evening to go by without a few of us sitting around the old metal patio table – sipping wine, singing songs, sharing laughs, and sometimes tears.
Long into the night we spoke of our thoughts, dreams, and ideas like families share stories of their varied day.
I loved coming home and slipping into whatever conversation was happening in that moment, to immerse myself completely in the Spirit, and be fully present in their lives. Whether my heart was happy or heavy, there was always a seat at that table. And fellowship with people who loved me as I was.
It was one of the best examples of church that I have ever experienced.
“The table is the place where we want to become food for one another.”
Luke’s gospel tells us about another meal in the same house. In this story Martha plays the dutiful hostess while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping. But Jesus is quick to remind her that the hospitality of both sisters are important. We need both food and conversation.
A few weeks ago we hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for our friends and neighbors, as well as a few of their friends who came unexpectedly. All day and most of the evening, Kathleen was busy decorating the house, preparing the food, and and making sure everyone was fed and had fun. My job was to do what she told me to do. Which included welcoming our guest and catching up with the latest stories in their lives. Food and conversation.
This week we received a lovely card that said, “Thank you for a wonderful party. You all share your love so freely and have a gift of making everyone feel important.” Her words sum up John’s story beautifully. Life is about making people feel loved, and important. Because they are.
This is what Martha and Mary did, Each in their own unique way. I like to think they learned it by being mindfully present with Jesus. As we are discovering, we can learn and teach the will of God simply by watching and doing what Jesus does. Especially around the table, that alter in everyone’s home where God’s glory can be praised and exulted.
Martha honors Jesus by pouring out her love with food and wine. And Mary expresses her love by pouring out of the costliest perfume on Jesus’ feet. Both are sacred and holy acts towards God and humans. The disciples are watching closely. And what they learn will set the foundation for their ministry.
If we put ourselves in this story, then we might learn something too – especially what it means to be a church. In this unique gathering, we see church it’s not a building or dogma, it’s people gathered in Jesus’ name to share the gifts and intimacies of life together. It’s table fellowship and hospitality at its finest.
By watching these two amazing women, we learn how to be people who love. People who love God. People who love others. And people who love to serve both. With their gifts Martha and Mary “add to the banquet of love; filling the entire house with the exquisite aroma of thanksgiving.” (Whitley)
What we need to know is this. Jesus calls us to be more like Mary and Martha, and less like Judas who doesn’t understand such beauty and gratitude. He sees what Mary did for Jesus as useless extravagance because there are poor people in the world who could use the money. While he makes a good point, John believes that may not be his real intention. Jesus response is less of a rebuke and pretty much a lesson we can all learn from. “Leave her alone. Watch and learn.”
To borrow again from Katerina Whitley who poetically wrote, “When a heart is filled to overflowing, don’t quench it. When a throat sings of love and praise, don’t silence it, just because others are weeping.”
Mary spills her perfume so recklessly simply because Jesus is there. She doesn’t want to waste another moment holding back her love and gratitude. Judas doesn’t get it…because his heart is elsewhere. Jesus is present in this moment, and a mindful Mary feels the need to be extravagant. Not only is this a great lesson for us, but it’s also a great picture of God who knows a thing or two about being extravagant with love and grace. The food and conversation of life.
Jesus tells the group he will no longer be with them in the flesh, but that they will always have the poor… so serve them with the same love and extravagance. For just as we serve the least of these our brothers and sister, so too do we serve our Lord.
As the church, and as her people, let us never forget that a meal is an opportunity to define who Jesus is and to share God’s love with everyone. Because of what these siblings have done for him, Jesus “will carry the aroma of their love and devotion with him” to Jerusalem, to the cross and into the grave.
As we set our hearts towards Easter, God gives us this assurance that such love will resurrect and ascend with him as well. And the aroma of his spiritual gift will linger – an open invitation for all to dine in the house of our Lord.
In the midst of all the moral and emotional poverty in our world today, God continues to call upon us to welcome others with arms of kindness. And to invite everyone to come, sit and feast on everlasting life given to all through Jesus Christ.
As the church, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to share the good news – proclaiming God’s love by being God’s love. To set the table where laughter breaks into song, and bellies overflow with tears of joy.
The love we give is an open invitation to sit in the company of Jesus himself, the Christ who reigns in us, through us, and all around us, now and forever, Amen.
Boff, Leonardo. Table Fellowship: Rebuilding Humanity. Translated by Anne Fullerton, April 18, 2008 http://www.leonardobuff.com.
Gonzalez, Justo. Living By The Word. ChristianCentury.org, April 7, 2019.
Whitley, Katerina. Comfort in the Midst of Suffering. Episcopalchurch.org. April 7, 2019.