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As part of our first week of seminary studies, all of us

first year students were spilt up and toured some of the


churches in Dubuque. There are quite a few churches in
Dubuque, both Catholic and Protestant, and there is
even as synagogue. As part of this tour, I was assigned
to the group who went to the historic Methodist church
downtown. Besides their amazing New Orleans Jazz
worship service and a Madri Grais themed dinner they
host once a year, this Church is known for their stained
glass windows. This windows that adorn the sanctuary
are made of Tiffany stained glass. They truly are
beautiful sight to see and many people stop to check
out these windows.
I think one of the reason this church is on the tour is,
because it forces us seminarians to think about what it
means to be church. And in way for us to feel horribly
conflicted about the whole thing. You see, each of those
windows costs somewhere along the lines of $250,000
to restore. And to the conflicted part, Dubuque has a
serious housing problem. Just down the road a few
miles from this church are blighted neighborhoods and
there are many homeless people that seek shelter at
night. Holding of the up keep of just one of those
windows could help serve so many of their neighbors.
Churches everywhere wrestle with problems just like
this. We wrestle with the tension of serving the poor and
marginalized and having a beautiful place to honor God
and to serve as a sanctuary for our life as the church.
How do we utilize our money in the best way for the
service of God, honoring tradition, caring for the
community that has been there for us and our family,
and serving other peoples needs as well? And it is not
just a problem for churches, how often do we personally
feel guilty, because we do something for ourselves
before serving others. How often do we feel shame,
because we picked our own need over the churches?
In our text for today, we hear of an extravagant act.
So extravagant that it is talked about in all 4 Gospels. It
is an act that has a lasting effect and it is an act that is
seen by some as extremely wasteful. Mary takes a
pound of nard worth about a years wages and pours it
over Jesus feet. She anoints the Messiah. It is a love
offering given to her friend who raised her brother from
the dead and who would soon die for the world.
Her devotion, isnt seen that way by everyone. The
overpowering stink of the rich perfume filling the house
and the sight of the scandalous act of washing the
saviors feet with her hair, upsets Judas. He rebukes her
act with concern that his teacher has had. Caring for the
poor. That money could been sold and given to the
poor, he scoffs. But his intention isnt pure. John
makes sure to tell us that. Judas is jealous of this act,
perhaps convicted by what he is planning to do. This
women is a better disciple than he. He knows it. She
acts out of service and love to someone who gave her a
great gift. Judas acts out of self-concern.
You could say that this story is about abundance vs.
scarcity. Mary acts shamelessly giving generously out of
a feeling of abundance. There is no worry about wasting
a 300 denarii. It wasnt a waste in her eyes. It was an
act of love. She gives back to God, because God has
given everything to her. She is generous.
Overwhelmingly so.
Jesus chides Judas and his judging of Mary. In his
response, Jesus isnt claiming that we shouldnt care for
the poor. The poor will always need us. There will
always be people worse off than we are. And God does
call us to care for the least of these. We are to serve
them as well.
What Jesus is challenging here is Judas thinking.
Judas is judging Mary rather than thinking about himself
and his thinking. Judas doesnt think that there will be
enough. He acts out of scarcity judging Marys devotion
as wasteful. How often do we judge others devotion
rather than looking at ourselves? Judas was to betray
Jesus. He was no longer going to follow him. He didnt
believe in the message anymore. But he didnt want to
examine his own intentions so it was easier to judge
anothers.
You could also that this story is about service as
well. There is one verse that is really easy to overlook in
this story. Verse two says, There they gave a dinner for
him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at
the table with him. Martha served. The word for Martha
serving dinner is the same word that the church uses for
the life of service that we live out. Sometimes that
service is by giving money to people who do good
things for our neighbors, sometimes that service is
making dinner, sometimes that service is examining
what we have and giving away things we really no
longer need to others, and sometimes that service is our
presence.
Mary who sits at Jesus feet and listens to him,
worships him, also serves him. She gives a gift of
comfort to Jesus. She loves him. And she serves him by
reconciling who he is. The anointed on the Messiah,
who is going to die for her sake, for her brothers, for
Judas, and for you and me. Jesus the one being served
by Mary and Martha is the one who will serve others
soon. He who feet were washed will soon wash the feet
of his followers. And his concern for the others will lead
to his death, the ultimate act of service for the sake of
the entire world.
There is both a time to worship and a time to serve.
And I think the problem that comes is when we ignore
one for the benefit of the other. When churches focus
only on the building to the detriment of should be
happening inside it. Those who worship need to be
spiritually feed and empowered to be sent out to serve
their neighbor. That is when it is time to judge. When
the intention and the purpose is gone all we have is an
empty tomb. That is when it is time to speak out to
evaluate and refocus. Because God does some
amazing things with empty tombs.
Lent is a time to turn back to God. And this text
speaks to us how we can turn to God and give thanks.
Give thanks for what has happened, what God has
given us, and to give thanks for what will be done
because of the gifts that we have received.