March 17, 2013

Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

“Costly Love”

You know, the choir has been practicing for weeks now for this special anthem for Easter Sunday. We’ve still got a couple more practices on it, and many of us are practicing our parts at home too. When Easter Sunday comes, it’ll take us about three minutes to sing it and then it will be over. What a waste!

And what do you think about those grandmothers… the ones who spend all day shopping, and preparing, and cooking a fabulous meal for their kids and grandkids? Everyone shows up to the house at 5:30 on Sunday evening, and by 6:30 it’s all gone. Not a scrap left when the grandsons get up from the table. What a waste!

Or think about all the planning and expense that goes towards sending a youth group on a mission trip… the fundraising, the organizing, the preparing, the packing. All that work, all that effort… and five days or ten days or two weeks later it’s all over and they’re back home again. What a waste!

And then there’s Mary of Bethany… working, and saving, choosing the perfume and buying it with practically a year’s worth of wages. Yes, she could have used that money to help the poor instead. She could have bought an awful lot of bread with 300 denarii. But instead she “took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” And Judas said, “What a waste!”

What Judas didn’t understand, what Mary had figured out before the rest of Jesus’ disciples, was that love is costly. If you’re going to do something loving for someone else, if you’re going to do something important that makes a difference, it’s going to cost you something. It’s going to cost you a lot.

Mary would say that the three minutes of beautiful soaring music for the glory of God on Easter Sunday is worth the practice. Mary would say that the grandkids’ full bellies, and the parents’ night of not having to cook, and the love shared through the practical gift of providing a good meal was well worth the day of shopping and prepping and cooking that the grandmother did. Mary would say that the blessing and transformation experienced by both the youth and the people they went to serve was well worth the planning and expense that went into the mission trip. And Mary would say that she did not regret the 300 denarii worth of perfumed oil that she poured over Jesus’ feet because she loved him even more than 300 denarii worth of love.

In a world in which everything is speeding up, in which comfort and convenience are such high values, it may be hard to get our heads around the idea that love is costly. But as much as we may be tempted to choose the easy way much of the time, most of us know deep down that truly loving another person is costly. Those of you who have been married, those of you who have raised children, those of you who have cared for an aging parent or spouse, or been the best friend of someone who needed special care… you all know that loving another person is costly.

After preaching countless sermons on 1 Corinthians 13, I don’t know how many times I have pointed out that love is not that nice, fluttering feeling you get when your lover is near. Love is actually a lot of work. It’s a lot of work to be patient, and kind, to avoid being envious, or arrogant, or rude, as Paul describes love in his letter to the Corinthians. It’s not that love doesn’t feel good. It often does, whether we are the recipient of the love or the one offering love. But it takes a lot of energy, and commitment, and determination to love. Love is costly.

Of course, Jesus had been talking about the fact that he was going to be arrested and killed, but most of his disciples didn’t seem to understand what he was telling them. Mary, on the other hand, seemed to know that she wouldn’t have too many more opportunities to care for Jesus in the way that he deserved.

Maybe if she was expecting to have Jesus over for Sunday dinner every week for the next thirty years she would have used just a little perfume on his feet that evening, but she seemed to know that this would be her last chance to pour out her love, so she poured out the whole bottle.

And just as Mary knelt down that evening to pour oil on Jesus’ feet and to wipe them with her hair, in just a few days Jesus would be the one to drop to his knees to wash the feet of all his disciples. As Mary loved Jesus, Jesus loved all his disciples, and he told them, “Just as I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”

Jesus didn’t fool them into thinking that loving one another was going to be easy. He was honest about it. Love would be hard work. It would give them sore knees, and tired backs, and dirty hands. Love was going to be costly.

But that’s what Jesus’ way was all about. Jesus loved the world so much… Jesus loved us so much that he not only got down on his knees to wash our dirty feet, but he gave his whole life so that we would experience God’s love. He gave up the normal life of a first century man… work, family, stability, predictability… in order to fulfill God’s mission in the world. He preached, he healed, he travelled, at times he had nowhere to lay his head. He was challenged and harassed, arrested and mocked, and put to death… all so that we might experience God’s unconditional, faithful, and costly love for us.

Some people looked at Jesus’ life and scoffed at him, “What a waste… he was doing so many good and helpful things, and now he’s dead and gone. What a waste.” But we know that it’s not true. Jesus’ life and his death were not wasted, because by his death and resurrection he has transformed our lives. He has transformed billions of lives. And because of him we know that love is costly, and we hear his call again and again to love one another as he has loved us.

Christian discipleship and the call to costly love are not easy. Even the strongest and the holiest among us find it difficult. But with the apostle Paul, we pray: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

May we spend our lives learning to love one another as Jesus has loved us, and may we know that it is not a waste.