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It was just six days until the countdown for one of the most high and holy days in the life of the Jewish people; and everybody everywhere who was somebody, anybody, would be in Jerusalem to celebrate. And we find Jesus and his disciples on their way there. It was that time of the year for the Passover, a time to remember how the Lord stepped in right on time; how God delivered his people from slavery; how God passed over the one's who had the blood of the lamb smeared over their doors and in their heart; the one's who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the blood shed for them. One day when I was lost he died upon the cross, and I know it was the blood. Some of us don't remember, but I've stopped by to remind you that I know it was the blood. Some of us have selective amnesia. We want to forget, but God reminds us again.
Here we are on yet another extraordinary day for an extraordinary God, and we find the master of the sea, Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem for this Passover celebration that would last 7 days. The text says that he stopped by Bethany. You know Bethany, the place on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a suburb to the Holy City. Bethany, a village on the southeastern slopes of the Mount of Olives; it was 2 or 3 miles, depends on who you talk to, from Jerusalem. Bethany is a city that is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, but is a place of significance in the Christian text. Bethany is the home of Simon the leper. Bethany literally means "the house of dates," "the house of misery," "the house of obedience," a place where figs grew and palm trees were in abundance. Bethany is the same place where Lazarus lived, died and was buried, only to be raised from the dead by Jesus. I'm talking about Bethany. Bethany was on the Jericho road. Bethany was the home of Lazarus' two sisters, Mary and Martha. Bethany was the place that Jesus sent his two disciples to find a colt. Oh the things that happen at Bethany! Bethany is also the place of our Lord's Ascension, as they went out as far as Bethany and he blessed them.
But before we get too far on our Lenten Journey, let us go back to Bethany, the place Jesus would have been familiar with, a place that he would have frequently gone, maybe even stopped off on his way to Jerusalem. It is significant that this is a place where a number of memorable incidents in the life of our Lord happened. But what I want to also suggest is that Bethany was for Jesus a place to retreat, to get away and a place to get some good old-fashioned home cooking. Bethany was a rest stop before going to worship in Jerusalem.
We all have our Bethanys, our places of significance in our life that we retreat to. Oh the things that happen at Bethany! Bethany, the place that you want to be, should be and ought to be, and the very place that Jesus is heading towards. A little town right outside of Jerusalem, the Holy City, the place of the mega fest of their day. Bethany, in the vicinity of holiness and just before a high holy day and time and season.
The text says that they gave a dinner for Jesus. Martha served and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Jesus has come to a place where he can be himself, where he doesn't have to be the Savior of the world, a place he could be at home. And so it is that Jesus arrives in Bethany and stops by the home of Lazarus. You know Lazarus, the same one he raised from the dead. And Lazarus has two sisters, Martha and Mary. And every now and again Jesus would slip away and go down south to Lazarus' house for some good old-fashioned fellowship.
Remember, there is a time and a place for everything under the sun. Well, Jesus was just kicking it with his homees in Lazarus' house, but he also knew, more importantly, that at Martha's house he could get some good old-fashioned down home, southern Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana Georgia, North and South Carolina cooking. And Jesus had gone over to their house for some soul food. Ya'll don't know it, but Martha was the bomb. Girlfriend had it going on and could cook. She was one of those old-fashioned chefs who could take a dab of this and pinch of that and make something out of nothing. She could make anything from scratch, and she put her foot in everything she cooked. She could throw up some macaroni and cheese. She could cook some finger-licking good fried chicken, better than the Colonel's. She could cook some collard greens with turkey tails; her BBQ chicken and ribs fell off the bone as they were cooked to perfection. She could cook some pound cake, peach cobbler, apple and sweet potato pie, (I'm making myself hungry) egg custard, and some of Grandma's famous tea cakes. Martha, Mary and Lazarus had it going on. Oh the things that happen at Bethany!
But Mary was doing other things. I am reminded of the movie "Soul Food." Three sisters (and sisters have a different relationship than brothers) are very competitive-not to say us brothers aren't too. But sister have different criteria for being jealous of one another. The older sisters wanted the younger sister to be just like them. Sisters hold each other to a higher standard; they hold on to things longer. As long as I've been pastoring, women add a different dimension and perspective to ministry. Women see things that don't nobody else sees. Women are perceptive, and are also very superstitious. Martha, although she wanted to please everybody, had to be in the kitchen. She also wanted to be in the middle of the conversation, in the middle of the Kool-Aid, "in the mix" as our young people say. She wanted to be in the middle of whatever was going on in the other room.
But after diner, things got heated up. Mary, Lazarus' other sister, decided to do something. She decide to have church right in the middle of the dinner party. She decided to have worship and praise, good old-fashioned devotion, right in the middle of Martha's living room because she was thankful for all that God had done for her.
Mary knew that the Lord had passed over her, looked beyond her faults and saw her need, took her from the guttermost, to the uttermost, picked her up and turned her around. Mary knew that a wonderful change had come over her, that she had been set free, that the God loved her unconditionally, whether she could cook or not. And so she would not, and could not, let this opportunity pass her by.
But before I go there, let me tell you about Mary. Mary was not your typical young lady. Some would say that she had grown up and had a 'tude, attitude that is. But in all reality, she really knows who she is and what she wanted! And this was not Jesus' first time to encounter this family. The first time that we know of is when their brother, Lazarus, Jesus' friend had died and Jesus raised him from the dead. The second time was when Mary sat at Jesus' feet, the position of honor, the position of a student, a disciple, a follower, and so Mary is and was one of Jesus disciple. A young lady who refused to be placed in the traditional role of women-in the kitchen-cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, traditional female duties. Mary was different. I've come by to tell you, don't let anybody tell you what you can and cannot do! You see, because I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do anything with the help of God because you see, our ancestors, by the help of God, opened up a whole lot of arenas, we couldn't do! Ya'll don't hear me! See, Mary knew this. She had heard the old, old story. She remembered her past. She heard the old folks talking about the way it use to be, and the songs that they used to sing. They would sing, "I've got a new home over in Zion," with no money in their pocket, no home here, no financing, no credit; but they were talking about a new home. But not only that they were talking about having a new wardrobe, "I've got a robe, you've got a robe, all God's children have got a robe. When we get to heaven I'm gonna put on my robe and shout all over God's heaven." And ain't none of them, nobody, got a robe. Ain't got no money to buy a robe. But it didn't stop there.
Mary had done something that seemed outrageous. She took some Donna Karan, some Michael Jordan, some PS (Paul Sebastian), some White Diamonds, and she opened it up. And see, back in the day, once you opened the perfume, you couldn't just close it again. You just had to use it. And so she poured the whole bottle on Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. She had poured so much perfume that the whole house was filled with fragrance. See, it was a sweet-smelling thing. Even though the smell of death and destruction was all around, it smelled good. Even though the evil one was seeking to kill and steal, it smelled good. Even though Judas was about to betray him and Peter deny him, it smelled good. Even though Jesus was to go to Calvary, it smelled good. And they tell me that it all happened at Bethany. Oh the things that happen at Bethany! Mary is getting her praise on; she is celebrating the fact that he is still here. She doesn't know what the future will bring, but she takes the time to praise him in the morning, and praise him in the noonday, and praise him while the sun is going down.
See, somebody needs to take the time to remember that tomorrow is not a promise, so hold my mule while I give him some praise, up in here, up in here.
Every now and then, you have to praise God before you get to the temple. You see the church is only a building, but the temple is where I live every day. And so every now and then there ought to be some worship that happens in the temple, not just in the building because there is a leak in this old building and my soul has got to move. You see, Mary waved her hands, shed a tear, danced and shouted for a while and even sang, "I really love the Lord, you don't know what he's done for me, faith is the victory, I love him I love him, I really love the Lord."
And I stopped by to tell you about the things, the things that happen at Bethany.
Let the church say Amen.
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