Dear Friends in Christ,
Several years ago I heard a preacher tell a story about a man in New York City who was kidnapped. His kidnappers called his wife and asked for $100,000 ransom. She talked them down to $30,000. The story had a happy ending: the man returned home unharmed, the money was recovered, and the kidnappers were caught and sent to jail.
The preacher asked, “Don’t you wonder what happened when the man got home and found that his wife got him back for a discount?” The newspaper columnist Calvin Trillin wrote about this incident. He imagined out loud what the negotiations must have been like: “$100,000 for that old guy? You have got to be crazy. Just look at him! Look at that gut! You want $100,000 for that? You’ve got to be kidding. Give me a break here. $30,000 is my top offer.”
The preacher of the day concluded his rendition of the story with this thoughtful comment:
“I suppose there are some here this morning who can identify with the wife in that story, but for some reason I find myself identifying with the husband. I’d like to think if I were in a similar situation, there would be people who would spare no expense to get me back. They wouldn’t haggle over the price. They wouldn’t say, ‘Well, let me think about it.’ I like to think that they would say, ‘We’ll do anything for you.’”
The point of that story is this: sometimes it is okay to be extravagant! Now, that is precisely what this story in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of John is all about. Remember the story with me. Jesus is on His way to the cross. It is just a few days before Passover. The chief priests and scribes are plotting against Him. Judas is about ready to betray Him. The crucifixion is less than a week away and Jesus knows it. Jesus and His disciples stop at Bethany… just a few days before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead there in Bethany. Now, as they are having dinner, a woman comes to Jesus and does a beautiful but extravagant thing for our Lord. The Gospel of John tells us that the woman was Mary, (the sister of Martha and Lazarus). Mary brings an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. She breaks open the jar and pours the costly perfumed oil on Jesus’ head… she anoints His head with oil.
Why did she do that? Some say it was an act of gratitude in which she was thanking Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. Some say it was an act of consecration in which she was baptizing Jesus to encourage Him to go into the Holy City and do what had to be done. Others say it was a foreshadowing, an act of preparation, in which she was anointing His body for the death which was to come in Jerusalem a few days later. All say it was an act of love and kindness.
As we remember it together, we remember the story doesn’t end there. Mary (after doing this beautiful thing) is criticized by some of the folks in the room. Judas reprimanded her for being so wasteful. And then Jesus reprimands Judas for being so “stingy.”
Usually we think of “stingy” being unwilling to give or concerned about money… sort of like the kidnapped man’s wife, who obviously felt that money is the very important issue.
Maybe she reasoned like this: "Which is easier to replace, a husband or $100,000?" That would reflect stingy thinking, materialistic thinking. That is the Judas mind-set. That reflects the way Judas thought. "What a waste! Look what we could have done with all the money we could have gotten for selling that perfumed oil. Think of how many poor people we could have fed!"
Now, Judas didn’t intend to do that… in fact, it wasn’t even his oil, but it sounded good… and Judas was probably surprised and taken aback when Jesus complimented Mary on what she had done.
One message from the story in John’s Gospel is this: sometimes it is okay to be extravagant. That’s Mary’s mind-set. If you lived strictly by the Judas mind-set, you would have no dome in the sanctuary, no flowers on the altar, no art on the walls, no robes for the choir, no fine pipe organ, no beautiful weddings. Your daughter would come to you and say, “I’m in love and I’m so happy… I want to get married.” And you would say, “Well, why don’t you just elope? It’s much cheaper. It would be wasteful to have a wedding.” But the Mary mind-set says, “Sometimes in the name of love and kindness and gratefulness, it is a fine idea to be extravagant. Indeed, it’s beautiful to be extravagant.”
In the spirit of the extravagant generosity of the 12th chapter of John, let us be grateful for the wonderful gifts others bring to serve Christ and us.
Thank you to the families who provided funds to upgrade the sound in the sanctuary, and thank you to all of you who have been kind enough to notice and to say something.
Thank you to Byron and David for volunteering hours of time and energy for the upgrade project and to serve as sound engineers and recorders for many of our worship services and events.
Thank you to the families who provided funds to polish the Susie Early Room. Thank you for serving all of us with a lovely accessible meeting space in proximity to the Sanctuary and Chapel.
Thank you to Lee who completed a deep clean in the Susie Early Room and prepped the space for its updated look.
Thank you for the extravagant love of all those members and friends who attended the interfaith forum “Who is Jesus?” and the Presbyterian Women for serving us all in the wonderful reception for us and our guests.
Thank you for those who prepared and served “Pancakes and Piggies” and for our special stained glass installation. It takes all the members of the family to show up and be a family, and your extravagant love for one another is appreciated. (Hugs and handshakes to the Hawkins family, the Pollack family, Doug and Janet, Blair and Ginna, Art and Taylor and Lyle – and – to the staff for their helpful prep work with the stained glass art installation).
Thank you to W.I. “Bill” Hairston for inviting the special music group “Worship Only Him” to First Presby, and to Glenn for his inspirational message, to Nora, Hoy and Katherine for their joyful dancing, and everyone for their presence at worship on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Thank you for the great group of women participating in the first rehearsal of the First Presby Female Chorus, and for those who will come to the final rehearsal on Wednesday 3/4.
It is okay to be extravagant. It is good to be generous. And it is a sign of God’s presence to be grateful.
What might it look like if every week, we made a special effort to say “thank you” to someone for making a difference in our church family?
What might it look like if we said “thank you” to parents who bring their young children to worship week after week, and we are so inspired by their presence with us?
What might it look like if we said “thank you” to people for serving at the Panera table?
What if we acknowledged the hours and energies that staff devote to making it easy and nice for others? “Hey there, noticed you made a special effort and I appreciate your loyalty.” How about that?
The more grateful we can be, without concern for reciprocity or resentment, but with a genuine and sincere heart - - we would multiply the joy experienced at First Presby overnight. Little notes of gratitude floating around the congregation. Simple emails of thanks shared with the Staff. Brief words of appreciation shared with the Ruling Elders of the Session, and the Board of Deacons, and the Trustees. Can you imagine?
It would be okay to be that extravagant during Lent 2020. It would be okay to go the extra mile. To give the extra dollar. To share the extra smile. To share the extra kindness. It would be okay for each of us to take our turn in being extravagant with the church family, and in doing so, to be extravagant with Christ, who gave us one another.
For the sake of the gospel,
Reverend Dr. Nancy Kahaian
Interim Pastor/Head of Staff
First Presbyterian Church