Enough Is Enough

John 12.1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep if for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

“How are you?”

A rather innocuous question and one that we drop all the time. So much so that we aren’t really asking because we want an answer, but because it has become a filler. 

We ask the question and we are asked the question in the grocery store line, while we’re sitting in the waiting room, and even when we’re passing the peace on Sunday morning.

And how do we usually answer the question?

“I’m fine.” “I’m good.” And the best of all, “I’m busy.”

“I’m busy.” It’s almost as if it’s become a reflex these days to respond with our busyness. And it’s not untrue.

Take one of my day’s this week as an example. Woke up early to get breakfast and coffee ready, rushed out the door with my kid in tow to get him to preschool on time. Drove straight to church to start going over financial documents, sermon prep, phone calls, emails, and then had to leave to get home in time to get my kid to soccer practice, which went late, we didn’t have time to cook dinner so we had to grab something on our way home, just to get him to bed late knowing that it would be another crazy day tomorrow.

So, if you had asked me how I was doing this week, I’m sure that I would have made a comment about how busy I am. 

And then I picked up a copy of David Zahl’s new book Seculosity. 

In it he writes about how our busyness has become a new religion. “To be busy is to be valuable, desired, justified. It signals importance and therefore, enoughness. Busy is not how how we are but who we are – or who we’d like to be.”

When we feel busy, we make connections between what we do with who we are. Which, of course, is a problem.

And today, many of us cannot imagine who we are outside of what we do. So we build these ladders out of whatever we have around and construct scoreboards of our own design measuring everything we do against everyone and everything else. 

And we never feel like we have, or have done, enough. 

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We chase after the elusive “enough” when in our heart of hearts we know that we will never really have enough. The perfect meal leaves us hungry mere hours later, the perfect spouses ages with time and knows how to cut through our armor, the perfect children grow up and rebel against our wishes, the perfect church gets a pastor or a program or a piety that rubs us the wrong way, and on and on and on.

We just can’t shake the feeling that there’s always more for us to do.

In the prelude to his Passion, on the eve of Palm Sunday, Jesus arrives in Bethany and goes to the home of Lazarus. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha decide to throw a little dinner party and the disciples gather around the table to kick up their feet. The food is brought out, and probably some wine, when Mary walks over with a pound of Chanel No.5 and pours the entire bottle out on Jesus’ feet and she wipes them with her hair. 

And then Judas jumps up from his seat and screams for everyone to hear, “Woman! What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you sell this perfume for a year’s worth of salary and give the proceeds away to the poor?”

Jesus, ever calm, merely replies, “Judas, leave her alone. She bought it so that she could use it for my burial. There will always be poor people, but I won’t be here forever.”

What a story and the details are incredible. But perhaps most interesting of all is how some of the details just sit there without elaboration or explanation. 

The home of Lazarus is casually mentioned, you know the guy who Jesus raised from the dead! I don’t know about you but I have a hard time imagining a guy once dead just merely sitting around at the dinner table – the miracle made possible for him through Jesus seems to demand more demonstration than hosting a dinner party.

Martha served the food. Apparently Martha hadn’t quite learned her lesson as the constant busybody from a previous interaction with Jesus and continues to preoccupied with the comings and goings in the kitchen.

And then Mary takes a pound of perfume. A whole pound (!) and begins pouring it on Jesus’ feet. Today, perfumes and colognes are often contained in tiny one ounce bottles, so we have to broaden our minds to a pound of this stuff being poured out.

In Matthew and Mark’s version of this story the woman anoints Jesus’ head, a prophetic witness to his the truth that he is the King and Messiah in the midst of the empire ruled by Caesar.

But here in John’s version, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet – another kind of prophetic act. Though in this scene, it points to his imminent death, as he is anointed ahead of his burial. 

Mary, unlike the inner circle of the disciples and unlike the rest of the crowd who have been following him, sees Jesus for who he is. She comprehends and accepts what others can not – Jesus will die.

But then Judas goes off the rails.

You know, the one about to betray Jesus!

Why are you wasting that perfume when we could’ve sold it to help the poor?! And he drops the fact that they could’ve sold that pound of perfume for 300 denarii, which roughly equates to a year’s worth of wages.

Which, alone, begs our consideration.

How in the world did Mary procure such an expensive quantity of perfume? Where did the money come from? How long had she been holding on to it?

And, of course, scripture doesn’t provide us any more details than the ones on the page. We are left with a scene of a wasteful woman and a nonchalant Jesus.

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Judas, for good reason, gets a bad rap in the Bible. After all, he is the one who ultimately hands Jesus over to the authorities. But can we but not sympathize with him in this moment? He’s certainly not wrong, they could’ve sold that perfume and given the proceeds to the poor.

John, makes sure that we know what Judas was really up to with the narrative interruption: He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.

Even still Mary seems to be wasting what she had, and it could’ve been used in a different way, perhaps an even better way…

Throughout the gospel according to John, Jesus regularly provides blessed abundance. When he and the disciples arrives in Cana he creates 18 gallons of new wine to keep the wedding party going. By the Sea of Galilee Jesus produces enough food to feed the 5,000 with plenty of leftovers. After fishing all night without anything to show for it, Jesus instructs Peter to put his nets in one more time and he pulls up such a haul that the boat begins to sink.

The abundance made possible in Christ is offered to those in need. Whether its food, or wine, or companionship, Jesus provides. But at this particularly weird dinner party, the abundance is reversed. 

It is a prelude to the passion. Mary anoints him ahead of time for the burial he is to receive. 

Again and again people ask something of Jesus: Lord, give us a sign, heal my daughter, feed the hungry crowds. And Jesus obliges over and over. 

But here, less than a week away from the moment of his crucifixion, John tells us that Jesus turns his attention to different direction: the cross.

Much of religion today focuses on that which is useful, practical, and cost-effective. We spend most our time thinking about and planning upon what we should do in order to achieve what we want to do.

This type of fanatical religious observance has been on display in the last week, though not inside the church – it has been in the frightening dedication of wealthy parents who bought their children spaces in elite colleges.

Have you heard about this? An agency, for a steep price, could procure a diagnosis from a psychologist that would enable your child to take the SATs over two days rather than a few hours. And a hired proctor would be provided to either help guide the students to the right answers, or simply fill out the test on their behalf.

For another fee, the agency would hire someone to take online high school classes under the name of student in order to boost their grade point average.

And still yet for another fee, coaches at elite universities would take a bribe to say that they needed a particular individual for their team, regardless of whether the high schooler had ever played the sport or not.

The news broke through a number of arrests and articles and the overwhelming response wasn’t one of shock and awe but one of, “meh, sounds about right.”

I mean, who are we to blame those ultra wealthy parents for doing everything in their disposal to help their children? (sarcasm)

But they, and we, suffer from the Judas-like fixation that enough is never enough. We move to a particular neighborhood only to start planning out the finances required to move to an even better neighborhood. We enroll our children in after-school programs and we aren’t content with their participation until it garners them a spot on the best team, in the best social group, or at the best school. We work until we are able to retire and then spend most of our retirement wondering is we really saved enough.

The frightening truth that Judas hints at with his question is that there will always more work to be done. The question isn’t what needs to be done, but whether we know what enough looks like.

Now, this is not as some churches have foolishly used as a claim that frees us from caring for the last, least, and lost. We don’t have to help the poor, and we aren’t freed from helping the poor, we get to free the poor because of what happens to and through Jesus.

The anointing of Jesus’ feet is a recognition that the week will end with those feet being nailed to the cross. In that most of God’s triumphant condescension, Jesus does for us what we could not. Jesus is sent into a world that did not request him and yet acts entirely for the world’s benefit. Were it up to us alone, even with our best intentions, the poor would get poorer and the rich would get richer, the hungry would starve and the filled would bloat. 

Enough would never feel like enough.

But Jesus lays down his life for God’s people not because he is asked to do so, but because he chooses to give himself for us. 

We can, of course, initiate new programs to fee the hungry in the community. We should do that work. We can also give away clothing to those in need, or start offering micro-loans to small local businesses, or help teach individuals and families how to budget their money.

The list could go on and on and on.

And it would never be enough.

There will always be more for us to do, but the one thing we could never do has already been done for us. The work of Christ, life-death-resurrection, provides all the enoughness we could ever really hope for. It is the sign that though we are unworthy, Christ makes us worthy, though we have sinned, Christ offers pardon, though we feel empty, Christ proclaims that we are enough.

Because Christ is enough. Amen. 

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Holy Perspective – Sermon on 1 Samuel 16.1-3

1 Samuel 16.1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord look on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

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One of the things I enjoy most about meeting with couples, and talking about weddings, is the invitation I offer for them to pick a particular scripture for their weddings. Now, I always have backups prepared just in case they are unable to come to a consensus or if they are just unfamiliar with God’s Word. But most of the time, they are willing to look around for something.

Many couples will choose the oft-mentioned 1 Corinthians 13 passage: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

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Others will pick something along the lines of the regularly misinterpreted Ephesians 5 passage: Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. Or that great passage from Ruth: “Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay, your people will be my people, your God my God. Where you die I will die.”

The scripture that a couple chooses for their wedding can be quite revealing. It helps to demonstrate where their priorities are, what they expect out of marriage, and frankly, what they want to hear the pastor talk about.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when a couple recently asked me to use the scripture from today for their wedding. Preparing to enter wedded bliss, they didn’t want to hear about love, or marriage, but instead they wanted to hear about Samuel anointing David…

David & Samuel

The people of Israel had demanded a king from their God. For too long they had wandered about without leadership and they cried out for a leader they could follow. Reluctant to provide a human and fallible leader for a people that were supposed to be following their Lord, Saul eventually became king.

Handsomer and taller than any other man in the land, it quickly became clear that Saul was not the right one to rule the nation. He listened to his own heart rather than the Lord, and God eventually rejected him.

Thats where our story begins today. Samuel was sent to see Jesse the Bethlehemite, for the Lord has provided a king among his sons. The prophet took a heifer with him to cover his true actions from the vengeful Saul who might’ve killed him upon discovery.

After arriving, the elders met Samuel with fear and trembling. Turbulent events had always come in the wake of Samuel’s life and the people were responding appropriately. Great men and women always seem to stir up trouble wherever they travel. (It might be worth rediscovering this today in our own faith lives; too often has it been supposed that the role of church is to give all of us peace of mind. Truly I tell you, the greatest churches and sermons are those that challenge us to be better and do more than we already are)

So Samuel begin to evaluate all of Jesse’s sons; first Eliab, then Abinadab, than Shammah, and eventually all of Jesse’s sons had stood before the prophet. But the Lord spoke to Samuel and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his statue, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Samuel was caught up with outward appearances. It’s like whenever I go to Alexandria to visit my grandmother, there is always a bowl of skittles out on her coffee table. I love skittles. On the outside the skittles always look delicious, the problem is that I don’t know whether they were put out that day, or six months ago. If you’ve never experienced it, trust me, you would rather have fresh skittles. The point being, you cannot tell how they will taste from the surface.

Anyway, the Lord had promised Samuel that one of Jesse’s sons would be the king, yet the Lord had passed over each one. “Are all of your sons here?” Samuel asked Jesse. “Well, there remains the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” David was beckoned away from his shepherding duties and brought before the prophet. He was ruddy and had beautiful eyes. The Lord commanded Samuel to anoint this boy, for he was the one. So Samuel took the horn of oil, anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.

I prepared for the wedding like I have for all the others, I had counseling sessions with the couple, I talked about the major issues that most couples confront once joining together, but the whole time 1 Samuel 16 hung in the back of my head. What was I going to do with the text during the ceremony? How in the world could I proclaim love and wedded bliss in the midst of David being anointed by Samuel.

I was at a shop here in Staunton when I saw a bumper sticker that illuminated the text for me. The bumper sticker said, “Marriage: betting someone half your stuff that you’ll love them forever.” In reading that, I realized what the world sees in marriage is not what God sees. We, myself included, look on marriage and all things with mortal eyes, but the Lord looks on the heart.

All of the sudden 1 Samuel 16 became the perfect wedding scripture! The Lord does not look on our cooly color coordinated outfits, not our perfect hair, not the precise flower arrangements, God looks on the heart. God does not concern himself with the pomp and circumstance of weddings but instead looks at the intentionality of the two being brought together. God does not get caught up with the minor details of all the rights words and ceremony, but cares about the love within two people sharing a life together.

On the outside, marriage looks like it can be sustained by love alone, it appears like a gamble of half of your things, it seems to be a simple agreement to live together. When we look at marital relationships through mortals eyes, we are limited to the surface appearance and we forget to look on the heart.

Marriage is a beautiful and strange thing. Like Samuel pouring oil over David’s head, it can become uncomfortable and weird. At its best, marriage is loving someone knowing that they will not be the same person tomorrow. Its entering into a dance that will evolve over the years with different tempos and time signatures. Marriage is about the inward heart and disposition of two people coming together to share this remarkable thing we call life.

The Lord looks on the heart. This, after all, was a perfect wedding scripture. As I stood before the happy couple, presiding over their marital vows I could tell that their intentions were clear, they were not caught up in all the outside elements, but were committing to their marital covenant together.

In as much as this text fit perfectly for the couple, I believe that it stands as a light in the darkness for churches and Christians today. The Lord looks on the heart – How sad is it then that most human judgments about people are almost always superficial? Those who are physically attractive have many easy advantages in life, while others, by their very appearance, seem to be severely regarded by others.

David was noted by Samuel as being handsome, with beautiful eyes, but he was still one of the least likely candidates to be anointed by the Lord. While his brothers were older and more mature, David was still young and off in the fields tending the sheep. Rather incredibly, while God anointed David to become king, he would have to mature and go through many trials and tribulations before his role would come to fruition. He would have to battle against the mighty Goliath, avoid Saul’s spear in the royal court, and flee for his life hiding in caves before he could event mount the throne of Israel.

In many ways, God ordains each of us, anoints all of our heads, for certain tasks and graces in the world. Some may have occurred already, and many more lie ahead of each of you in your futures.

God does not call the attractive and the strong to bring about his will on earth, he is not caught up with our outward appearance and physical requirements. God is concerned, above all, with our hearts, with our intentions, with our hopes.

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This past week, the Christian organization World Vision made national news. World Vision is a humanitarian agency dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Like many other similarly focused organizations, it can operate primarily under the radar and achieve a lot of good in the world. That was, until this past week.

In a public statement issued on Monday, the organization announced that it would begin hiring Gay Christians in legal same sex marriages. Prior to the announcement World Vision required all of its employees to maintain heterosexual practices within marriage to be considered for employment. The new policy was described as symbolic not of compromise, but of Christian unity, with the hope that it would inspire unity among other Christians as well.

After a remarkable amount of public outrage by evangelical Christians, and a significant amounts of threats regarding withdrawal of funding for the organization, World Vision reversed its decision to hire Gay christians in same sex marriages.

In only 48 hours, one of the most open, vulnerable, and incredible acts by a Christian group, devoted to helping sponsor children in need, was reversed. The mission of World Vision, the good that they do in the world, was immediately overshadowed by their hiring policy.

I don’t know what to think about all of this. I don’t know if any of the decisions have been right or wrong. What I do know is that a significant number of people who were being helped and saved by an organization were almost put in jeopardy because an agency aspired for greater Christian unity. It would seem to me, that regardless of opinion, the majority of the response was far more focused on the outward appearance of an organization, rather than their heart and intentionality.

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say that one side was right, or that one side was wrong, but merely question how far we fallen from the idea that God looks on the heart. Every week we gather in this place to affirm our faith in the God who loves us when we don’t love back, that God listens when we run out of words, and that he desires us to be one in the Spirit when it seems as if we cannot agree on anything.

The Lord said to Samuel, and I believe the Lord is still saying to all of us: “Do not look on appearances or on height, do not look on political ideologies or past deeds, do not judge others lest ye be judged; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

How do you look at others in your life? Are you caught up with outward appearances, judging others before you have an opportunity to really learn their story? Do you see the world through mortals eyes, or do you look at the world the way that God looks at us?

This is a tough Word for us to hear today. God called Samuel to look on David through God’s eyes, with holy perspective. We, in the same way, are called to radically love one another, sacrifice for the body of Christ, and be one in the Spirit with holy perspective. It is not easy, and we cannot do it on our own.

So, may God bless us enough to open our eyes to see the world, and one another, the way that God sees us. Amen.

 

Open My Eyes That I May See