The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - March 13, 2016
Scripture Reading: John 12:1-8


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I am a bit cheap when it comes to personal care products.  It is not that I want to look, or smell, bad, it is just that I donít like spending much money on me.  In Mason I discovered a woman who made soap from goatís milk.  It is a bit more money than a bar of Ivory, but works like an air freshener for a few months, and then, in the shower, lasts for quite a long time, not like those fancy beauty bars and you use 2 or 3 times and they turn to mush.  I donít like shaving, so normally do not do it every day.  I tried giving it up totally this last summer, thought lots of guys have beards, might look OK.  It was just getting past that itchy stage, and I looked closely at it.  Two problems.  First is that I have very little hair on my cheeks, it is mostly on my neck and chin.  And about 2/3 of what was growing in was gray in color.  So I shaved off my gray neck warmer.  But not shaving every day saves on razors, and shaving cream.
     For my shampoo I discovered Dr. Bronnerís Magic soap.  If you have never tried it, it is worth it.  It is very strongly scented, and a couple drops goes a long way.  After using the peppermint, you come out of the shower feeling like a candy cane, but the smell goes away quickly, just wakes you up.  Dr. Bonner claims it has 18 uses, washing body, hair, shaving, the car just about everything around the house, you can even brush your teeth with it, but it does taste like soap.  So a little bottle lasts for about a year. 

     Yes, I do use deodorant, but not cologne, or Axe, which I guess is like perfume for guys.  Toothpaste is whatever is on sale, after I have used up all those samples they give out at the dentistís office.  When the hygienist asks me if I use this brand or this brand, I suggest she just throws a couple of each into my goody bag, might want to switch brands and better to try them all before I pay money for a tube. 

     And today we hear about Jesus and Mary.  What she is doing seems pretty strange to us today.  Many of us are self-conscious of our feet.  I will wear sandals sometimes in the summer, but most of the year I am just as happy to leave my feet in their socks.  Jesus probably wore sandals all the time, of course all the roads were dirty and you walked everywhere.  So when you went into someoneís house, you often had your feet washed.  But Mary goes all out, spends about a yearís salary, for an average laborer, on oils for Jesus feet.  This is like spending maybe $30,000 on some oil for one use.  I donít think I have spent that much in my whole life, on every product I have purchased. 

     And Judas points out that this is wasteful.  Jesus, we could have sold this and used it to feed the poor.  Now, from the text, we know that Judas was probably thinking as much about himself as he was for the poor.  We will give him the benefit of the doubt, some of the money they would have gotten could have gone to the poor, but Judas also was apparently using some of that money for his own uses, in addition to helping others.  I donít think he was all bad. 

     And then Jesus says the excuse that I have heard too often, the poor will always be with you.  Seriously Jesus, you are the one who is talking about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.  And we try.  We give money to the church.  From the church it goes to One Great Hour of Sharing, Heifer project, 100 nights shelter in Keene and lots of other places.  As individuals, many of us give to many different groups that help others. 

     We can use that as an excuse.  Well Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, was not willing to give up some oil for his feet in order to help others, why should I give up what I have to help others. 

     But maybe it is not about us.  When we gather to worship, we sing, we pray, we read scripture.  We have the choice to give over to God everything, or keep back everything.  We have the choice to worship God with all of our hearts, or with a little bit. 

     You will receive, if you have not already, a letter in the mail.  It invites you to our Easter services.  It is a letter that was sent on behalf of the Stewardship and Finance committee.  When I was asked to write this letter, I asked what it should say.  Not word for word, but what was the purpose of the letter.  It was not clear, so I took a stab at it.  I was thinking of ending with the typical plea that we get in the mail almost every day.  If you would like to make a financial giftÖ  But I left it out.  The letter invites you to join us on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter early morning, or Easter later in the morning.  It also invites you to join us for our Easter Egg hunt, and then our Spring Fling in April.  If you live in Marlborough, in addition to that letter, you will also get a similar flyer.  Again, does not ask you for money, simply invites you, as you are, to come. 

     Too often we focus on money.  Is money important?  Of course.  But it is not what God requires of us.  I have heard the best way to destroy a church is to donate a large amount of money to it without any instructions.  It is fine to give it to an endowment, or a capitol fund drive or something like that, but unspecified gifts are hard.  Money causes people to fight.  Some will say that all the money should go to missions.  Others will have a project that they have dreamed of seeing done.  Others will say that they need to use it to fix up their building, and others will insist that it should go to youth group or choir or something else. 

     God requires us to worship God.  Some of the most powerful worship services I have experienced are the most simple.  At one camp we wanted to do something powerful for the kids, but we had no money.  We found some old 2x4ís behind a barn, and some candle ends, probably had been donated by some church once their candles got too low to use in church.  We bolted the wood into the shape of a cross, and drilled holes in it.  Each child got a candle, we passed the flame around much like we do on Christmas Eve.  Then each child put their candle into a hole on the cross.  We lowered the cross into the water, where it floated just above the surface.  We talked about each of us having a message, a light to share.  As the cross floated out into the lake, as it got further from shore, the individual candles were harder and harder to see, but the cross, floating in the water was very clear.  The message to the kids, about sharing their Christian story, I hope, stuck with them. 

     And in our worship services, we have the ability to give God so much more than our money.  We accept the offering; we need it to run the church.  We need lights on.  We need to buy oil to heat the building.  We have to pay to make bulletins.  You have chosen to pay a minister, for that I think you.  But what we can pour out in worship is more than our money.  We can share our joys and our concerns with a community that cares.  We can praise God for waking us up this morning and giving us another day of life. 

     And that abundance we share in worship can, and should carry out into our lives.  I believe that I am a Christian 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  365 days most years, 366 this year.  And every day there is something that I can do as a Christian.  I can and do pray.  I smile when I am out in public, and sometimes even at home when nobody is around.  I know that there is a special gift that I have received, that we all have received as followers of Christ.  We do the best that we can, but we mess up and God forgives us.  We have received a blessing, and that is a message that we can share. 

     Now we are stiff New England Congregationalists, and New England United Methodists, and maybe even a Unitarian or two.  We are not comfortable knocking on doors, handing out leaflets telling people not to celebrate Easter.  You can tell that they stopped by my house the other day.  But we can share who we are in more subtle ways.  We are going to have an Easter Egg Hunt the day before Easter here at the church.  What in the world does an egg laying bunny, or even a bunny that hides eggs have to do with our Christian Easter?  Nothing.  It is secular, based probably in pagan traditions.  But have you seen a little child, maybe 3 or 4 go on an Easter Egg hunt?  There is excitement in their eyes.  Even the younger ones, Wow, look an egg, I found it! 
There is nothing wrong with taking the joy that we have found in church and sharing that in many different ways, even if they are not specifically religious.  If someone can see the joy that we have, in all that we do, they may start to wonder what is going on.  Why are we a happy people?  Why do we believe that we have received a gift already?  And why are we willing to share our gifts in all that we do?

     I donít think I will ever waste money on expensive beauty products for myself, but I do know that pouring out what I have to worship God is the right thing to do.  Our worshipping of God is not about how to preserve limited resources; it is about abundance.  We have received a gift that we cannot put a price on, and we are asked to share that joy that we know with everyone we meet. 

     Jesus said there will always be the poor.  That does not excuse us from doing our part to try to limit that, but in our worship of Jesus, in our following of God, there is no limit to what we can give back to the one who has already given us so much.  Mary was showing how much she loved Jesus.  Although we can no longer wash his feet with expensive oils, we can show to others that extravagant welcome that Jesus received.