Online Service 2 – 29.3.20 – Lent 5
I hope your week has gone well and you are managing to keep well clear of the dreaded COVID 19. Things are getting a lot worse and becoming very real for us as the numbers of those affected rise every day.
Our God is a God of love and compassion and our prayers go out for those who are vulnerable and for those who give so much of their time to keep the rest of us safe – and we mourn with those who mourn the loss of a dear one.
And we remember those who are suffering financially because of the restrictions and the homeless whose lives have become even more unstable.
When and where will it all end? Only God knows, so we place ourselves in His Holy hands, safe in the knowledge that He watches over us each and every day.
Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent, and as we draw closer to Easter, to the Cross, we focus our minds on the event when Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed the head and feet of Jesus with an expensive perfumed oil.
But before we take a look at that – let is share in a prayer ~
Let us pray…
Loving and Heavenly Father – we offer you our praise, our worship as we sit in our different homes in many different locations, but we are all are in your presence this day.
Not that you aren’t with us every day – but we are so often too busy to experience you.
Today we take time from our busy lives to focus on you – to relax and recharge – to unwind and unburden ourselves.
We bring you our worries and concerns – we bring you our fears and our anxieties.
We bring you those things which burden us – and we hand them over to you – we lay them at your feet – knowing that you will take them from us and lighten our load. What a wonderful God you are !
How you must love us – yet – how disappointed you must be when you see the things we do – hear the words we speak – and the thoughts which go through our heads at times…..
Forgive us – we pray – for putting ourselves before you – for thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought – for the many times that we stay silent instead of witnessing our faith before others and praising your name – for fear of what our friends and colleagues might think of us.
Listening Lord – hear us now as we sit for a few moments to clear our minds of the events of the past week or so – as we recall the ups and downs in our lives and bring all our worries and concerns to you in prayer.
We bring too – our personal prayer of confession as we think of the things we have said, done and thought which have hurt or upset others – hurt and upset you………….. we are sorry lord – and we pray for your forgiveness in Jesus’ name……… so be with us now Lord – as we gather up all these thoughts and bring them to you in our silent prayers ~
………..….SHORT TIME OF SILENCE……………….
Listening Lord – as undeserving as we are – we pray that you will forgive us and bless us with your mercy and your grace.
Lord we know that you hear us when we pray to you in faith – so hear us now as we say together – the prayer which brings us together as one family – the family prayer – the lord’s prayer ~
Our Father.. who art in heaven.. hallowed be thy name.. thy kingdom come.. thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….. give us this day our daily bread.. and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.. lead us not into temptation.. but deliver us from evil .. for thine is the kingdom.. the power and the glory forever…. Amen.
READINGS – John 12 : 1 – 8
The Anointing at Bethany. 1 [a]Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. 3 Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus[b] and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, 5 “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages[c] and given to the poor?” 6 He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. 7 So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.[d] 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
In our New Testament reading this morning we hear of Jesus visiting some friends on the outskirts of Jerusalem – Mary and Martha – and their brother Lazarus.
It seems to be a pretty normal kind of visit – we can imagine it – chatting, laughing – sharing a drink and a meal – but then – out of the blue – Mary does something which seems strange – to say the least – she opens a jar of really expensive perfume, and pours it over the head and feet of Jesus.
The oil was called ‘Nard oil’ and was one of the 11 oils used for the incense of the holy temple at Jerusalem – and it was also used to anoint the bodies of the dead – as was Myrrh – one of the 3 gifts given to Jesus at his birth – a foreshadowing of things to come!
And so – it was a very special oil – and a very expensive one too!
As Judas reminded them – it was worth a years wages !! – what would that be worth today ??
£25 – 30, 000 – maybe more!!! I wish !!!
But this didn’t seem to matter to Mary – nor to Jesus.
“the poor will always be with you” – Jesus said to Judas in v.7 – “you can look after them anytime – but I am only here for a short time – Mary knows that and is doing a good thing !”.
It’s a well know reading which has much to say to us –
and its cleverly crafted narrative gives us a whole series of character sketches about the main people in the story – Martha – Mary – Judas and – of course, Jesus.
There is the ever practical Martha – busying herself – serving at the table – she loved Jesus and she showed that love by the work of her hands.
Many of us can – and do that too – serve God in practical ways.
It’s true to say that we can serve God just as faithfully in the kitchen – serving God’s people – as we can in the various committees – or cleaning God’s house – or in the pulpit.
And Jesus recognises our different ways of serving Him.
Then there was Mary –
She knew what lay ahead for Jesus – He had told his disciples a week or two before that he must soon go to Jerusalem and die – and Mary wanted to show her great love for him while she could.
Jesus knew this – for in verse 7 Jesus says ~ “leave Mary alone! – it was intended that she save this perfume for my burial”.
But Mary couldn’t wait. Another week or so – and it might all be too late.
And so she acted on impulse – prompted by love – doing what she felt she had to do for Jesus – in her own way – and while she could still do it.
If she didn’t do it now – while she had the chance – she may have thought – then perhaps she wouldn’t be able to do it all.
Perhaps it ought to remind us – that we should not put off those things which are important – ‘strike while the iron is hot’ as the saying goes – for the opportunity to do good for someone – may not come your way again.
Perhaps Ignatius had this passage in mind when he wrote these words ~
“Teach us Lord to serve you as you deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek for rest.
To labour and not to seek for any reward –
Save that of knowing that we do your will”
Mary served Jesus in her own way, she gave to Him and didn’t count the cost.Was she extravagant ? – yes – but for Mary the monetary cost didn’t enter in to it – it wasn’t about the money – it was about her love for Jesus.
That was the guide to her actions.
In both Martha and Mary – we see a humility and a willingness to serve Jesus – each in their own way.
Judas, on the other hand, was dark and difficult – a very different character altogether.
He had just witnessed the most amazing and beautiful act of self-less love – yet remained untouched by it.
For Judas it was all about the money – he complained that the money would have been better spent on the poor – but of course, Judas cared little for the poor.
His great love was money – indeed verse 6 tells us that he was a thief.
And very soon – he was to betray Jesus – for just 30 pieces of silver.
It shows us the true character of Judas, that he forgot – or chose to forget the words in Deuteronomy – words which all good Jewish children would have been taught at their mothers knee – “there will always be poor people in your land – therefore I command you to be open handed towards your brothers and to the poor and needy..”
The only person Judas was ‘open handed’ to – was himself!
Love money or love God – you can’t serve both – the Bible tells us.
Judas loved money –
Mary and Martha loved Jesus.
And then we see Jesus – laid back and unruffled. “stay calm” he was saying to Judas – “chill out” as the young people might say today – “Mary’s doing a good thing ! – there’s more important things in this world than money you know !”
But Judas remained unconvinced – just as many do today, sadly.
But Jesus could see through Mary’s wild extravagance – He could see that it wasn’t about the perfume – or the cost – it was about the action – the symbolism of being anointed – and the love that was behind it.
Mary wanted to do it – simply because she loved Jesus.
Different people – acting in different ways – when in the company of Jesus.
But the line that I like most in this passage is the last sentence in verse 3- “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil”.
The whole house was effected by Mary’s actions.
Perhaps like one of those calming scented candles which we might burn at home. You know – lavender and camomile or something similar.It’s gentle and soothing scent can be smelt and felt – throughout the whole house – bringing a feeling of calm and comfort – touching our senses – as we inhale it’s beautiful fragrance.
And that too has a lesson for us – it tells us that the way we live and act – has an effect on those around us.
If we are loud, obnoxious and unpleasant – don’t be surprised of those around you act the same!
But if we are kind, friendly and calm – living a life if faith, then it will rub off on those who are close to you – just like the beautiful scent, as it winds it’s way from room to room in your home.
Those who were present in that room –and the millions who have read or heard the story since – have all been effected by Mary’s kindness and her love for Jesus……
The aroma has permeated through the centuries…
Mary’s actions have been called – “the extravagant act of love” – and – for me – it’s one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible.
We think of the bible as being a Holy book – and so it is.
And we think of the people in it – as ‘Holy people’ – and so they are.
But when we take a closer look – we see that it also tells us that “Holy people” are just like you and I – flawed, imperfect, with all our human imperfections – and yet able to serve God, as do we, in our own circumstances and in our own particular and individual ways – just as they did.
So you and I are ‘Holy people’ too – children of a loving God – our heavenly Father – we are made in His image…
Each of us has a ministry – different ways of serving God in our everyday lives – and that can take many forms – as diverse as the people we are.
We say that Mary was ‘extravagant’ with her love. But in a couple of weeks– Jesus was to give all He had – His very life – for Mary – for all who love and accept him into their hearts and their lives.
It really doesn’t get more “extravagant” than that !
And so – the question is – how do we – you and I – respond to His extravagant, amazing, love for us?
Are we extravagant with our time, our talents – our love – for Him ? Some of you are, I know.
What do we – you and I – give to Jesus that is of “extravagant” value?
He doesn’t want our money – some of us have little enough of that to give.
He doesn’t want things of this earth – things that we put a value on.
All he wants – is you – the most precious thing in all the world.
All He yearns for – is your love.
Your praise – your worship.
Your trust and your faith in Him.
That’s the most valuable – important and treasured –thing you can give Him.
Is that really too much to ask – when we think of all that He gave for you – and for me??
He suffered betrayal – humiliation – pain – and death on a cross – so that when – on that final day – you arrive at the gates of heaven and you stand, holding your breath as your life is scrutinised – you will hear those words – “Enter – your sins are forgiven – my Son has paid your price!”
That’s what He did for us – what are we doing – for him??
He showed an extravagant love for us –
Do we show an extravagant love for him?
Maybe we do – maybe we don’t
Maybe we haven’t given it too much thought –
Aye – maybe it’s time we did!!
And in Jesus’ precious name.
Let us share a prayer ~
Loving, caring, providing god – we come to offer our heartfelt thanks to you for all that you provide for us each and every day – family and friends that make life good – food on our table –a roof over our heads – clothes to wear – all things we take for granted – but things which are denied to so many in our world.
Lord – thank you for blessing us… and our families..
But we are aware that there are many – aye, too many – who are not so blessed as we are – and we pray for them today.
We pray for the world with all its needs.
The hungry and the homeless, the lost and the lonely, the sad and the bereaved.
Watch over them and bless them with your strength, love and peace.
And we pray for all who are engaged in coping with the effects of this crisis – those who are searching tirelessly to produce a vaccine – all medical and ancillary staff throughout the world , those who care for the vulnerable and the those whose sense of isolation and need is heightened at this time.
In these difficult days, may we all find something of that peace that ‘passes all our understanding.’
Give us an open mind and an open heart to help others – remembering the words of Jesus when he said “whatever you do for the leas to my people, you do for me…”
Lord, hear our prayer, for we pray from our hearts – and in Jesus’ precious name.
‘Thought for the week’
As you know – I like to leave you each week with a ‘thought for the week’ – and today I’d like to leave you with a short story about a wee girl who wanted to become a world famous pianist. The only problem was – that she couldn’t play the piano !
Well – not very well.
She could play a rather bad version of the tune ‘chopsticks’ but that was all.
So, one day – her parents arranged for her to visit a famous piano teacher – to teach her to play properly.
Naturally, the wee girl was excited – and on arrival at the teacher’s house – she ran over to the grand piano and started to play her version of chopsticks.
The parents were embarrassed and were just about to tell her to stop playing – when the teacher told them to let her play.
He listened for a while – and then went over and sat beside her – and after a couple of minutes – he joined in and began to play all the extra notes – harmonies and lots of ‘twiddly bits’ which enhanced the wee girls playing beyond all recognition.
The parents couldn’t believe their ears ! – their wee girl was playing a duet – and it was beautiful!!
Sometimes we can feel that we would like to do great things but we don’t believe we can.
We don’t have the confidence or the skill – or so we think.
But we have a teacher too – one who sits beside us – who joins in our feeble efforts and enhances them and makes them more wonderful than we ever could.
He gives us the encouragement and confidence to do amazing things – to serve him – and others, in amazing ways.
He is able to take what little we are able to do – and turn it into something much more beautiful.
When we put ourselves in His holy hands – He will transform us – and our service – into a glorious offering of praise and worship – whatever we do and wherever we are.
Do you want to show your ‘extravagant love’ for Jesus ? – then give him your talents and your gifts – give him your very self – and he will help you to turn them into a wonderful offering to him – and to God’s glory.
Will you do that? I pray that you will.
Mmmmmmmm – it’s food for thought isn’t it!?
May the fragrance of God’s love fill your life and your home –
And may the blessing of Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you all – may He be with your family, your friends and all who you know and love – and ought to love – this day – and every day.
Take care – keep safe – and God Bless.