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The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis

The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis is the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN


Karoline Lewis: Grace Upon Grace Love

John 12: 1-8

5th Sunday in Lent

April 07, 2019

 

What does love smell like?

Have you ever asked that question? A box of chocolates? A dozen fragrant roses? How about a house filled with the fragrance of a very expensive perfume? So much so that it lodges into every nook and cranny, infusing the floor boards with the scent, seeping into the curtains, the woodwork, the fabric of every couch and every chair.

Mary's love for Jesus is a rather smelly event, much like grace upon grace should. A dab on the neck won't do when it comes to matching the love Jesus has for us.

Mary's act is an act of abundant love - and it's all in the details. A pound of perfume. Ok, when was the last time you bought a pound of perfume? Like never. Chanel #5, Clinique Happy, DKNY Be Delicious, Ralph Lauren - about the most you can get at a time is like what, 1.4 ounces? I don't know about you, but it would take me my lifetime to go through a pound of perfume.

And this is costly perfume. No knock-offs from Wal-Mart or Walgreens. This is the expensive stuff. The department store selection. The kind you ask for as a birthday gift, a Christmas present. The kind you would never buy for yourself. Made of pure nard - meaning, that it was not spliced with something cheaper to make it go farther. Or adding some water to get a few more sprays out of the bottle.

The house was filled with the fragrance. There's nowhere you can go without smelling it. It seeps into your clothing, even into your skin, and the perfume costs 300 denarii - almost a year's salary. One denarii was a day's wage. In today's currency that $8/hour, 8 hours/day, for 300 days is $19,200. So, we're talking $20,000 worth of precious perfume poured out on Jesus' feet.

This is grace upon grace kind of love. This is abundant love. The kind of love that has to be shown, not just said.

Because too much of our love lands in empty words. If you can't feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it, and see it, well, then it's not discipleship love. This is what Mary teaches us. This is what we need to know about discipleship today.

But be ready. When you start going around and acting out this kind of abundant love, a love without words, but love that is heard louder than ever - well, expect resistance. Expect suspicion. Expect rejection. Because most people do not know what to do with this kind of love.

And Judas proves that theory right.

Isn't it interesting how Judas shows up in the middle of this display of abundant love? It's as if he just can't stand it. It's as if there is only so much love he can take, and I don't think Judas is alone in that feeling.

In fact, right after Mary's display of love comes the chief priest's decision to kill the object of Jesus' love - Lazarus. The scripture reads, "When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."

Yes, this is what we do with abundant love. We think it untrue. We don't imagine ourselves worthy of such love, and we make excuses that deem us unlovable. And, we allow ourselves to think that others do not deserve God's love. We put boundaries around love. Set up stipulations for love. We control love. Confine, contain, and detain love.

But love wins. Love always wins.

Friends, we like to say, what would Jesus do? We've got it on bracelets, tattoos, screen savers, who knows where. But, of course, we conveniently forget that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is a viable option.

What would Jesus do when one of his friends wants to say, "I love you"? What would Jesus do if one of his disciples said, "Jesus, you have shown me so much love, please let me love you." Look at Jesus in this story. What does he do? He doesn't say, "Oh, I couldn't possibly, Mary. Such a nice gesture, but not necessary."

He doesn't say, "I am sure there is something or someone much more meaningful and important that deserves such devotion."

He doesn't say, "No, really Mary. You shouldn't."

He does not stop her. He receives her love. Because he loves her. This is what true, mutual love looks like.

Jesus accepts her love. In silence. In intimate reception. In mutual affection. Because maybe, just maybe, Jesus needs her love. Right here and right now. After all, we are coming to the end. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. We are coming to the end of Jesus' ministry, yes. But also, to the end of his life. In the very next chapter, the hour will come. The foot-washing, the Farewell Discourse, Jesus' final prayer, and then his arrest in the garden. If there is ever a time Jesus' needs to know he is loved, it's here. It's now. I wonder, filling in the blanks, filling in the gaps, I think Jesus' gratitude for Mary's love likely matches the fragrance that filled the room.

And Jesus' gratitude and love will then be the same for his disciples. Because in the very next chapter, he washes his disciples' feet, showing them the kind of love that Mary showed him. This is what happens when abundant love is let loose. This is what happens when you experience a kind of love, an amount of love that you could never have imagined. You cannot not do the same.

The kind of love to which we are called, dear friends, is a no-holds-barred love. An overflowing, unending, kind of love. An abundant love.

Discipleship love is grace-upon-grace love. Love that can't stop at sufficient or succinct. Love that can't stop at that's enough or that has an end in sight. Love that can't stop at the level of love the world is willing to deem acceptable.

We are called to a grace-upon-grace love that lays down one's life for one's friends. A grace-upon-grace love expressed in nothing less than the taste of the best wine. The smell of the bread of life. Seeing for the very first time the world God created for us. Hearing your name called when no one else seems to care. A grace-upon-grace love expressed in nothing less than the feeling of the gentle touch of one you love.

Amen.

 


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