The sermon on the Sunday BEFORE the “big give” day of a Capital Campaign is typically the most important one of the lot. It’s the final opportunity a preacher has before people write their checks and make their pledges to get the project underway. And yesterday was no exception. Except instead of talking so much about dollars and cents and focused more on the cross and empty grave. It was all part of drilling down to the bottom line: When you realize that what you have been given is PRICELESS, you’re eager to give back what is PRECIOUS.
Here it is:
We get to dig into a story today that involves the only dinner EVER attended by a dead guy. How can I not love that? You’re like, “What? I thought this was church, not Zombie Apocalypse!” And I’m like “This (bible)!” See: it’s John 12 today. And John 12 follows John ____. Right! And what happens in John 11? Jesus raises three days dead Lazarus from the grave! It’s a miracle that is not only the appetizer for Jesus’ own resurrection in John 20, but it is also the miracle that seals his fate on the cross. That’s when the religious leaders decide finally, “We’ve got to get him.”
And here’s how it relates. John 12 opens up with a dinner party in Jesus’ honor in a Jerusalem suburb called Bethany: Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Why the dinner in his honor? Because he raised Lazarus! And Lazarus comes to the party, a party which is hosted by his sisters, Mary & Martha! But can you imagine that party? What would they put on the Congratulations banner? Way To Knock Em Alive, Jesus?! When Your Number’s Up, Start Counting Again?! I don’t know, but Way To Go! just seems so lame. And then, Lazarus was there himself; I love how it says he was “reclining at the table with him.” I don’t know, but if I’m Lazarus I’m just a little bit leery of reclining too far ever again. And don’t you know people had questions for Lazarus! What did it look like? What’s the minimum it takes to get there? And . . . Who’d you see? So there is this overwhelming atmosphere of death and life in the whole John 12 scene – you’ve got a dead guy reclining and a live guy just days from his own tortuous death. Stunning, stunning scene.
And of all the people most stunned at the turn of events, Mary, Lazarus’ sister is the most. It’s interesting – back in 11:32, when Lazarus was still dead, she was the one with the freedom to get mad at Jesus for getting there too late: 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But that passion and freedom just indicates how deeply connected to Jesus she was; how honesty characterized her relationship with the Savior. Because in Mary’s case, the shaking fist was merely a prelude to a raised hand. Her anger prepared the way for her praise. Because her brother is back and he is ALIVE. She knows that this gift of sibling life she has been given defies measurement, is beyond value, is fundamentally, inconceivably priceless. You know what I’m saying — some of you have lost siblings, parents, spouses, and even children. And what you wouldn’t give to have that person back in your life! It would be priceless. That’s what Mary has. And she doesn’t take that gift for granted. What happens later in the story shows that she just can’t get over Jesus. So overwhelmed. She’s hosting a dinner for a man who brings life to a dead guy because what he’s done is priceless.
Someone here knows something of what that’s like. You’re like the guy who sent me an email detailing the improbable level of blessing in his life and his last line was: “I don’t know what I do to deserve these blessings. In fact, I often think of myself as unworthy. I guess it’s just the grace of God.” Yes, it is, and it’s priceless. Gosh, I remember going to the Johnny Cash movie a few years ago and in the scene where young Johnny is at dinner essentially begging for his dad’s approval and never gets it, and I was just bawling in the theater. Because I didn’t get that? No! Because I did. And that approval is priceless. Even more recently, 2014 was a year of blessing + blessing + blessing all of which so surpassed my level of love for God. What was it / is it? Priceless.
Some of you now have your sobriety and your higher power has taken the name of the Highest Power, Jesus. And to have sobriety instead of addiction, serenity instead of chaos? Priceless. Others of you have a marriage that has no business being together in the worldly sense, but it is. Priceless. And even a few of you, it’s that healing – by rights you are a little like Lazarus, you should be dead, and HERE YOU ARE! Priceless. And then a whole lot of you have a destiny ahead of you that simply demolishes what you deserve from what is behind you. Because you trust in Jesus you have this assurance of eternal life with him. And that gift, that sweet certainty that God is not counting your sins against you and you are guaranteed of eternity with him in spite of what you’ve done . . . it is priceless. Happened to me on 1.7.79 & since then I’m not scared to die. I know, you know what it is like to be given what is of infinite, incalculable value. And God forbid we take it for granted.
Because Mary sure didn’t. Remember Mary? She’s got the priceless gift right there in front of her at the dinner party. And she – the same one who shook her fist at Jesus in ch. 11 – just can’t get over Jesus now. Overwhelmed with his priceless gift. So what does she do? Look at 12:3:
3 Then Mary took about a pint[c] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Whoa. Pure nard, which actually smelled like gladiolas, and when John tells us it was “an expensive perfume,” he wasn’t kidding. A pint of it in those days represented about the annual salary of an average worker – perhaps as much as $40,000 in today’s world. How’d she get it? Were they rich? Maybe. Did she have it lying around? Possibly? Was it a family heirloom, passed down thru the generations? Most likely. But remember . . . she is just overwhelmed by Jesus goodness and so she overwhelms him with the scent. And she takes her glory – because in those days, a woman’s hair was called her glory – and anoints Jesus’ shame – his feet. In every way, at every level, this is an unreasonable, outrageous, irresponsible – and ultimately beautiful – gesture. She takes the most precious thing she’s got – a pint full of a year’s worth of money, mixes it with her glory and presents it to Jesus. Because she had received what was priceless, she gives what is precious.
And that’s it! Here’s how it works: When you realize what you’ve been GIVEN is priceless, you’re eager to GIVE BACK what is precious. Reclining right in front of Mary was a gift that could not be counted and she is so taken by that that she gives back what will not be limited. When you realize what you’ve been GIVEN is priceless, you’re eager to GIVE BACK what is precious.
Here’s the situation. We are going to ask you to give what is precious next week. We’re going to ask for a sacrificial one-time gift to help us reach $500,000 cash on hand and then we’re going to ask you to keep giving over three years to get us to at least $3M. But I will fail if I encourage and exhort you to give to a building! I will fail if you give to a project! We will fail if we give to a campus! We will only succeed if we get you to give to a Savior. Because here I am today preaching on generosity & giving, quite possibly highest stakes message I’ve ever given on the subject, and yet all I really want to do is direct your attention back to the cross and resurrection! To urge you to realize that in THAT WEEKEND, that gift that we place before your very eyes every time we gather, you have been given a gift that is beyond measure. That those of you who walk with Jesus and anticipate a future with Jesus have been given what is truly priceless.
And so often we respond to what’s priceless with yard sale stuff! Leftovers! Like the people who had a Butterball turkey in the freezer – had had it there for awhile – and called the Butterball hotline to see if it was still safe to eat. Since more than a year had passed, the hotline people said, No, probably not. The callers answered, “That’s what we thought. We’ll just give it to the church.” That’s how we respond to the priceless? With what belongs in a pig pen? Imagine if God had done that to us! Given us half a Savior! A sinful Savior! But no! He gave us the spotless, priceless lamb. And know this: Jesus is not words on a page. He is not stories from history. He is a living, moving, rescuing, priceless Savior today. Showing up when we least expect it but most need it!
My gosh, so much like what happened with Dan Jansen at the winter Olympics in 88. He had to skate just after discovering that his sister had died of leukemia. Here’s what happened: Two falls, two losses, on top of the worst loss of them all. And so a lot of people sent Dan letters of consolation. Among those was a letter and package from Mark Arrowood of Doylestown PA: READ
Dear Dan, I watched you on TV. I’m sorry that you feel two times. I am in Special Olympics. I won a gold medal at the Pennsylvanis Summer Olympics right after my dad died seven years ago. Before we start the games we have a saying that goes like this: ‘Let me win but if I can’t let me be brave in the attempt.’ I want to share one of my gold medals wiht you because I don’t like to see you not get one. Try again in four more years.
And inside the envelope was a gold medal Arrowood had won in an SOI track event. Takes what is most precious and gives in acknowledgement of what is truly priceless. When you realize what you’ve been GIVEN is priceless, you’re eager to GIVE BACK what is precious.
So . . . here’s what I’ve got to ask you: what is your pint of nard? In response, not to something cool like the Living Room or something with a value like the Zoar campus or something snazzy like the KZone, but to something priceless like the blood shed for you and the grave conquered for you . . . what is your pint of nard? What is precious? For some of you, it’s pennies. For others, it’s allowance money. For others, it’s the job you have while taking classes.
And then, for others, it’s investments. Money that you are holding on to for the future. Then for others, it’s that annual bonus. Your identity is tied to it, your self-esteem comes from it, and you’ve put so much into it that it has made you forget how much Jesus poured into you. And then, for others, it’s even that inheritance. It’s precious because it’s in the family and from the family. For me, it’s been the security from selling a house at the right time, a wife with a good job, a church that loves me well, a future that seems well planned. All of that is precious. But it’s not priceless. Which is why both as a one time gift and then continuing over three years, our house will be giving our pint of nard not to a project but to a Savior. When you realize what you’ve been GIVEN is priceless, you’re eager to GIVE BACK what is precious.
Beyond Giving Exercise I / We could REASONABLY give ________ as a one-time, sacrificial offering to Beyond on February 8.
I / We could REASONABLY give ______ per month for the next 36 months to Beyond, totaling _____________.
If I / We were to give what is PRECIOUS, we would give ____________ as a one-time, sacrificial offering to Beyond on February 8.
If I / We were to give what is PRECIOUS, we would give _______ per month for the next 36 months to Beyond, totaling ___________.