What Money Can’t Buy …

Sunday, 1st March 2009 @ St Barnabas

Readings – Mark 14:1-11, Romans 3:9-20

A football match in the premier league a few weeks ago saw Stoke City beat Manchester City by one goal to nil. Columnist Martin Smith commented on the match and Manchester City fans rebuked him on his comments. His next column in response said this,

AFTER my column last week a succession of Manchester City supporters kindly lined up to have a go at me for the views I expressed. Indignant hardly does justice to describe their feelings towards my comments about their club. After the game at the weekend I wonder if any of them, honestly, can see what I was trying to say?

Money can buy you the best players in the world, the most wondrous technical ability and plenty of mercenaries eager to cash in on an inflated pay packet that will set them up for life. What money can’t buy, not even when you’re splashing out £32 million, or £19 million for a player you could have had for £2.5 million in the summer, is heart, commitment and bravery. (Something that Plymouth Argyle had this weekend when they beat top of the championship league Wolves!)

Those were the qualities that took Stoke City to a splendid and thoroughly deserved victory at the Britannia Stadium and it was the absence of these qualities in the ranks of our opponents which shows why Mark Hughes’ spending of some £93 million on his team this season has still given him little more than an average squad with a below average willingness to die for the cause.

If Man City fans want to disagree with that, then they may do so. I would be grateful though if they could also include in their replies the colour of the sky in the fantasy world they’re currently living in.

Let’s remember those three words that Martin Smith says money can’t buy in the football world, heart, commitment and bravery as we set the scene for our Gospel reading today. The events which were a few days before the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins and ends with treachery and betrayal. The religious leaders of Jerusalem plotted to kill Jesus v 1-2, and Judas Iscariot agreed to betray Jesus in exchange for money v 10-11. The religious leaders didn’t want to arrest Jesus during this time “as the people may riot”. Judas’ assistance as an inside informer was vital: without his information about when it would be easiest to capture Jesus, it would have been difficult to find Him at a time when a large crowd didn’t surround Him.

In the middle of this passage of treachery and betrayal, is something very different as we see now …

So, Jesus at this time had come to Bethany, a village not far from Jerusalem, reclining at a table in the house of a man known as Simon the Leper.  No doubt Jesus was weary from the crowds, the constant questioning from the chief priests, and as we see in the previous chapter Mark 13 trying to explain to his disciples about what was going to happen in the future but they just didn’t get it at all. So he came to relax with his disciples and have a meal with his friends whom he loved.  From the parallel passage in John 12, we know that Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were there as well. These friends are mentioned in two other episodes in the Gospels. On one occasion you will remember when Jesus and His disciples were their guests (Luke 10:38-42), Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him while her sister Martha busied herself with preparing food and waiting on the guests. Well we know that Mary hung on Jesus’ every word and she adored him as her teacher. The housework could wait.( I agree with that!) Nothing was more important than listening at the feet of Jesus. She was going to give her full, undivided attention to the Living Word of God.  and when Martha complained, Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part. And, of course, you are familiar with the story of how Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had wept with them, he knew them very well. So as he reclined at table, the woman who we now know was Mary, came with an alabaster jar of very, very expensive perfume made of pure nard. A costly fragrant ointment prepared from the roots and hairy stems of an aromatic Indian herb.  broke the jar and poured it over His head. ointment cost as much as a year’s wages. could she sacrifice so much? But she was in the presence of the Lord Jesus and the fragrance in that room must have been so strong even overpowering I would think. Something to take your breath away in that moment. It also took away the breath of those present in the room I would imagine but we will learn more of that later.

When was the last time you had your breath taken away? Somersaulting out of an aeroplane a few years ago literally took my breath away, not in the way you would think, but in the way that I could hardly breath with the force of falling. The breathtaking view came later as the parachute opened up.

I am talking about is the time when you saw something so beautiful that it took your breath away. I call them photo moments when I feel like capturing them like a camera in my head to live in my memory for ever.  When was the last time that you experienced that?

Sometimes those times seem very few and far between in our lives, don’t they? On a personal note, seeing my babies for the first time, seeing my daughter in her wedding dress, seeing my granddaughter run up to me arms wide open and seeing out of my bedroom window the beautiful red cloud formation as the sun rose first thing in the morning. Breathtaking moments. Each of us have had them.  You can’t prepare for them. You can’t make them up.  But they are unmistakably real. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord”

That was a breathtaking moment for all there.  Do we have to wait for some time in the future for those breathtaking moments when we are in the presence of the Lord or do we experience that now?   Just something for us all to think about isn’t it.

Well this was a breathtaking moment for Mary and for Jesus.  Think of those three things that we talked about which money can’t buy.  Can you remember? Heart, Commitment and Bravery.

Mary certainly had a heartfull of love for Jesus. She adored him and hung on His every word. She gave up her time for Him. She loved him with all her heart and soul.  Her commitment there for all to see, she had spent a year’s wages on anointing Him with expensive perfume. She chose to use it in a way that is unsurpassed by any other way. She chose to use it to anoint the body of Jesus. She gave it up in worship of Him. And by doing so, she did something with eternal significance. The fragrance of that perfume has long since evaporated but the memory of that woman will survive as long as the gospel is preached. She did what she could and what she did made a difference.

If you’ve ever had one of those ladies in the shops who spray you with perfume, you know how even cheap perfume will stay with you for a while.  But the perfume that Mary used must have stayed with Jesus for days. Think about it. The sweet smell must have lingered as He sweat great drops of blood in the garden. The sweet perfume must have mixed with the blood that later ran down His face. Did the soldiers smell its fragrance as they beat Him till the flesh hung off His back? Could they still smell its sweetness as they drove the nail in His feet? As they were casting lots for His garments, did they still carry the aroma of Mary’s act of worship? The fact is, Mary’s adoring act of worship hasn’t ever worn off. The powerful aroma of selflessly extravagant worship is eternal. Why? Because the Christ to whom it is offered is eternal. And any worship we give Him in this life is just a shadow of the worship we will give Him throughout eternity. So Mary had a heart full of love, she had commitment and she was brave. In those days it was certainly a man’s world and to do this act of sacrifice in front of all the men was a brave act knowing that for certain she would be criticised for it. And criticised she certainly was for wasting so much perfume that could have been used to raise money for the poor.   Jesus responded to the criticism of Mary saying “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering with her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial”.

Mary had done it ahead of time, presumably as Jesus knows, he will be killed in such a way that there may not be a chance for a proper anointing at the time.  Because of this Jesus said” I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Mary offered a sacrifice of perfume, perhaps the most costly thing she owned. Because of it, Jesus was blessed, and Mary’s name is remembered. She’d offered her all because of the fullness of love in her heart, her commitment to her Lord and her bravery in doing so against all odds was there for all to see.

So what does this mean for us today and especially as we begin Lent, in our personal Christian life and in the life of our Church because they can’t be separated really can they. Mary did a beautiful thing to Jesus. She was preparing Him for the ultimate sacrifice on the cross so that we might be saved from our sins.  How are you preparing yourself during Lent? What sacrifice are you going to make or have you made, if any?

I have been doing a lot of decorating lately and the preparation is the hardest and time consuming and tedious job but is the most important because if the room is not prepared properly, then the end result is less than beautiful.

As we think of our time in Lent, as we think about our Passion for Prayer weekend next week how are we preparing ourselves and what are we thinking?   I haven’t really got the time.   Do I really need to be there?  Are you going to sacrifice your time to spend some of it with the Lord Jesus as Mary did?   If I asked you about your prayer life, how would you answer honestly? Well I must confess, mine has not been brilliant and talking to others sometimes, it is the same for them.  So at this time of Lent, I have made up my mind to make time with the Lord other than the arrow prayers and conversations that normally happen during the day. I am sharing this not to boast but to encourage you. One thing that I felt The Lord saying during these times is that although I listen and pray and thank Him, I don’t praise Him enough.  Just spending time to praise Him for who He is and what He has sacrificed for me instead of continuous prayer requests (which are, of course, important) has been a blessing and a sense of a deeper relationship with him. God inhabits the praises of His people …When we bring the sacrifice of praise, the fragrance is attractive  and things very often happen.

Remember  in 2 Chronicles 20 when King Jehoshaphat before his army went into battle appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army saying “Give thanks to the Lord for his live endures for ever”. As they sang and praised, the opposing armies were defeated by the Lord. Things happen.

Remember in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were in prison, they were praying and singing hymns to God, and an earthquake came and the prison gates opened.  They stayed there with the jailer and prayed and him and all his family were saved.  Things happen when we praise the Lord God Almighty.

I urge you to try, if you are not already doing so.  Remember the Bible Marathon weekend when we sacrificed our time and sleep, were truly blessed as a Church family. I urge you to be a part of the Passion for Prayer weekend and see what the Lord wants to say to you and us as a Church.

Let us remind ourselves of the questions Tim has asked on the service sheet in preparation for our Passion for Prayer.

  • Do you want to see the Church to grow?
  • Do you want to know God better?
  • Do you want to know what God wants of your life?

Is your answer YES to all these questions, if so, what are you going to do about it?

Let me just read you verse 4 from Psalm 27 “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”. And isn’t that what Mary did.  When Jesus was in Martha and Mary’s house previously, she showed the love in her heart by spending time at His feet instead of busying herself and what did Jesus say? “She chose the better part”.  She showed the love in her heart by anointing him with expensive perfume that would have cost a year’s wages and what did Jesus say?  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did what she could.” She did what money couldn’t buy, unlike Judas who betrayed Jesus for money.

What does the Lord Jesus expect of you and me? To do what we can from a heart of love. To do what we can with total commitment and to do what we can with bravery regardless of criticism.  May the world know that He is with you, because of the fragrant offering of your life.

Amen.

JB

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