Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. 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. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you but you will not always have me.”
(John 12: 1-8)
Today is confirmation Sunday and we welcome all of the confirmands into membership of the church. After being confirmed by Rev. Garcia, the confirmands were anointed at the baptismal font in order to remind them of their baptism and to represent the church, recognizing that each of them have a unique responsibility in the kingdom of God.
Today is a great day for our church. Following this worship service there will be many parties in honor of the confirmands by their families, and I am certain they will be wonderful experiences of grand celebration.
Of course, not all gatherings go smoothly. I had an experience with a member of my family who attended a party with me and Christine, and he knocked over a pillar in the entry way of the host’s home. It was very embarrassing to say the least and ruined the evening.
When Mary poured expensive oil upon the feet of Jesus it ruined the evening for Judas. After that moment, I believe Judas decided that he had enough of following Jesus and would betray him.
The party was thrown in honor of a miracle that Jesus performed. Jesus raised Lazarus, Mary’s brother, from the dead, and Mary honored him by anointing the feet of Jesus with oil that was valued at a year’s salary. Judas reacted strongly at this display. He said that it was a waste- it could have been used to help the poor. Jesus responded with an enigmatic statement, “You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me.” Jesus was not diminishing the poor. He was accentuating grasping each opportunity in the present to experience God’s powerful grace. Each of us can seek out ways to shower our loved ones with extravagant grace. We must be mindful of those opportunities and seek them out.
When Jesus recognized Mary’s anointing, that was the last straw for Judas. He had witnessed the power of Jesus through the many miracles Jesus performed. Feeding the five thousand, healing the sick and blind, calming the storm waters, and teaching strong messages of the kingdom of God coming soon had convinced Judas that Jesus was powerful. Yet, Judas must have shared the confusion of Jesus refusing to be a political messiah and instead looking for a spiritual kingdom. Now Jesus was being anointed not as the new political messiah anointed in the temple in Jerusalem, but anointed in a house about two miles outside of the capital city, in Bethany. To make matters worse, at this dinner party Jesus mentions that he is being anointed to death, not to victory over the Romans.
There is an apocryphal story about one of the wise men visiting the holy family in the manger. The Babylonian king breaks a seal and the perfume fills the air, anointing the ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and hands of the Christ child. The king said that this would be a king who would be fully connected to the world.
As we celebrate the confirmands today, we believe that they will truly go out and be connected to the world as the body of Christ. These confirmands are connected to each other and to this church spiritually. What does that mean? That means that we realize that they are challenged to succeed at many levels. They live under great expectations to be good, solid, producing citizens of our country. They are expected to be responsible, organized, to have their act together. They are given the message by society that these things will make them accepted and successful by society.
But today the church gives the confirmands another message. They are deemed successful not at the end of the journey, but at the beginning. They do not have to have the Bible memorized or be tested on the level of their religious knowledge or their spirituality. The church loves the confirmation class and accepts them fully today. God accepts them fully today. That extravagant grace allows them to see the church as a safe place that accepts them by another standard- God’s love.
There was a human interest story on the Today Show that featured Irena Sendler. She was involved in an effort to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis in World War II. As a nurse she began entering the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, a place where about two million Jews were imprisoned, convincing the mothers and fathers to let her smuggle out their children. She kept records in jars buried in her neighbor’s lawn. Even though she was captured by the Nazis and tortured she never surrendered the names. When the war ended, she had saved more than 2,500 children and reunited many with their families.
That is an example of living in the present- of living extravagantly for God with those loved ones in our midst. We want to save our youth- our confirmation class, and all of our youth, from the perils of this modern day society. Our fellowship creates a safe place for our faith to dwell. After this very intense confirmation experience, the confirmands may be tempted to pull back and take a break from the church. The church never wants to lose these confirmands. We want to find them always, and for them to always know that this is their church home to which they can always return for the rest of their lives. Our church is a place that takes great measures to demonstrate its love for its children and youth.
There was an Indian tribe that was living on the border of the Mississippi River. They lived on a portion where a fierce current protected them on one side of their encampment. However, another tribe was mounting an offensive and beginning to invade on their vulnerable side. They were trapped. They faced the reality of having to cross the river. Many would be killed by that alone, especially the sick, the aged, and the youth. In a moment of extravagant grace, the stronger in the tribe took the elderly, the young, and the infirm upon their shoulders and began to cross the river. Ironically, the weight upon their shoulders allowed them to become stabilized in the river. The current did not wash them away. The tribe was preserved, protected, and escaped to safety.
This is a lesson for our lives- when we reach out and risk to save another, it is not always another’s life we are saving, many times it is our own. This church wants to take these confirmands upon its shoulders. They are children of God, and so are we. That is an even greater fact- God wants to take each of us on his shoulders to take us to a place where we can respond with extravagant grace in the moment.
Again, the poor are not diminished by the words of Jesus. Jesus wants us to take care of the poor, but Jesus does not want us to miss the opportunity to lift up our loved ones with acts of mercy and grace. In fact, Jesus calls us to lift up our loved ones because we will not always have them with us.
Jesus offers an authentic experience of community. It is not the kind of community the world offers. It is a gateway to an alternative way of life, a life moderated by the love of God. Today, families of confirmands, celebrate this step in their lives with extravagant grace and let that love fill the entire household like a beautiful perfume. Let us all follow our confirmands to new journeys of faith.