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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Being There For Each Other

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, July 9, 2017.  The Bible verses used are John 12:1-8.

            We’ve been doing a sermon series looking at the earthly life of Jesus in more-or-less chronological order.  We’ve skipped over many of the events of Jesus’ life, of course.  This sermon series has gone on a long time as it is.  If we did each and every event of Jesus’ life that’s recorded in the gospels, we’d still be in this sermon series next year.  And, of course, the Bible tells us that there are many things Jesus said and did that are not recorded in the gospels, and of course there’s no way we can cover those things.
            But now, we are very close to the end of Jesus’ life.  We’re told that what we read today takes place six days before the Passover, the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate on earth.  It’s the day before he would ride into Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey, what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday.  That’s a little foreshadowing of what we might talk about next week.
            But on this day, Jesus is with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  We don’t know how long this is after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but it looks like it was probably not very long.  We’re told that a dinner is being given in Jesus’ honor.  We don’t know if the dinner is a thank you for raising Lazarus or is just being given in recognition of what they know to be a fact:  that Jesus is the divine Son of God.  And after dinner comes the event that makes this story memorable.  Mary takes a pint of pure nard, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes his feet with her hair.
            In case you’re wondering, nard is an oil.  What I read is that it comes from a plant that’s variously known as spikenard or nardin.  You can still buy it, and it’s still expensive.  On amazon, thirty milliliters, which is about six tablespoons, sells for forty-six dollars and fifteen cents.  It’s said to have a musky and woody aroma and is supposed to soothe the nerves, quiet the mind, and lead to an overall tranquil feeling.
            So with that in mind, it’s pretty clear that Jesus’ friends could see that Jesus had something on his mind, something that was really bothering him.  We don’t know whether they really understood what it was--maybe they did, maybe they did not--but they knew there was something.  And so they did what they could for him.  Lazarus sat and talked to him.  Martha prepared a meal for him.  And Mary washed his feet with nard, something that she hoped would help Jesus relax and would take his mind off his problems, even if only for a little while.
            When you think about it, that’s pretty much what we do for people today, right?  If we know someone we care about is going through a hard time, what do we do?  We go and visit them.  We take a meal over for them.  If we can, we try to do something that will help them relax and take their mind off their problems, even if it’s just for a little while.
            When we do stuff like that, of course, there are always the nay-sayers.  It’s human nature, I guess.  Whenever you try to do something nice for someone, it seems like there’s always someone who’ll say you did not do the right thing, or you did not do it the right way, or you did not do it at the right time, or something.  In this case, it was Judas.  He says, in effect, why are you wasting this expensive perfume?  Why did you not sell it and give the money to the poor?
            Now, we’re told that Judas did not really care about the poor, that he wanted the money put into the treasury so he could take it for himself.  But you know there had to be other people around who were thinking the same thing.  Maybe even some of the disciples were thinking the same thing.  As I said, everybody’s a critic.
            That’s when Jesus reveals what was on his mind.  He says it was intended that Mary should save this perfume to prepare him for his burial.
            As we think about the earthly life of Jesus, this had to be one of the hardest nights he ever had.  Jesus knows what’s going to happen.  He knows that tomorrow, he’s going to ride into Jerusalem to the cheering of the crowds.  And he knows how the Jewish authorities are going to react to that.
            Now, Jesus has known all along what’s going to happen to him.  In fact, he’s told people about it.  But now, the time is here.  Jesus knows that, tomorrow, he’s going to set in motion a series of events from which there is no turning back.  This is the road that leads inevitably to the cross.
            It does not appear that Jesus is faltering in this.  He’s determined that he’s going to go through with it.  But still, this is hard.  This is probably about as hard a thing as there is to do.  To deliberately, willfully go down a path that you know--you know--is going to lead to your death.  And not just that, but a death that is going to be very painful and very humiliating.  A death that is going to be caused, in part, by your betrayal by one of your best friends.  It simply does not come much harder than that.
            Can you think of a time when you’ve been facing a really hard thing?  I’m sure some of us can.  A time when you there was something you knew you had to do, but it was about the last thing in the world that you really wanted to do.  You were dreading it, you were wishing somehow that you could get out of it, but you knew that there really was no choice.  It was necessary, you had to go ahead and do it, there really was no alternative, but still, you sure did not want to.
            It’s a pretty lonely feeling, right?  Because you know this is something you have to do yourself.  Nobody can do it for you.  Nobody can even do it with you.  You have to do it yourself.  And there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it.
            This is why we ask you to pray for people who feel alone.  Feeling alone is not necessarily about being by yourself.  It’s not even necessarily about not having friends.  It can be about those things, but sometimes, this is what feeling alone is.  Knowing you have to go through with something that’s really hard, something you don’t want to do, and knowing that you have to do it yourself.
            And that’s why we need to be there for each other.  Because even when you have to do something yourself, you don’t necessarily have to do it by yourself.  There may be no one who can do it for you.  There may not even be anyone who can do it with you.  But there are people who can be alongside you.  There are people who can support you, people who can encourage you.  There are people who can show you that they love you and care about you and will be there for you, no matter what happens.
            But here’s the thing, too.  Lazarus and Martha and Mary did what they could for Jesus.  They were there for him as well as they could be.  But for that to happen, Jesus had to put himself in a place where they could be there for him.  He had to agree to go to their house and have a meal with them.  He had to agree to let them help him.
            So many times, when we’re in a situation like this, we’re tempted to just close up.  We think, well, there’s nothing anybody can do to help me, anyway.  Besides, they’ve all got their own problems.  They don’t have time to help me.  And anyway, I’m an adult.  I should be able to handle these things by myself.  It’d be too embarrassing to admit I cannot handle things by myself.  I should not need anyone else.  I don’t need anyone else.  I should just grit my teeth and deal with it on my own.
            That’s not what God wants for us.  I’ve said this before, but God puts us into groups, into communities, into churches, so that we can be there for each other.  So that we can help each other.  If you’re going through a tough time, if you’re facing something you don’t want to face, there are people who want to be there for you.  But for them to do that, you have to let them know.
            Even Jesus could not face the hard things of life alone.  If Jesus could not do it, why do you and I expect to be able to?  We cannot do it.  We’re not supposed to try.  We need each other.  That’s why God put us in each other’s lives.  We are all in each other’s lives because we need each other.  You are all in my life because I need you.  Wanda and I are in your lives because sometimes you need us.  I don’t mean that to sound arrogant.  I just mean that we all need each other.  That’s how it works.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.
            When Jesus was facing something hard, he needed other people.  When you and I are facing something hard, we need other people, too.  May we all be there for each other and support each other and encourage each other.  May we all help each other through life.  That’s why God put us together.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

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