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a why"

The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/7/21

The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/7/21

“Without a Why” John 12:1-8


In light of the cancel culture persecution of Mr. Potato Head and woke orthodoxy banning Dr. Seuss, let’s try this;


That man I am!


That man I am,


I do not like that man I am!


Do you like without a why?


I do not like it man I am,


I do not like without a why!


Would you like it here or there?


I would not like it here or there,


I would not like it anywhere!


I do not like without a why,


I do not like it man I am.


Would you try it in a car,


it could take you very far.


I would not try it in a car,


even if it took me far.


I do not like without a why,


I do not like it man I am.



Would you try it in the sky?


Without a why could make you fly!


I would not try it in the sky,


if without a why should make me fly.


I do not like without a why,


I do not like it, man I am.


You may like it, you will see,


You will like it, follow me.


I do not like it man I am. 


Now let me be.


Okay. I won’t quit my day job.


Here’s a question. When was the last time you did something for someone else without any expectations, with no strings attached, without any conditions or preconditions? There was no ‘why’ to what you were doing. You were just doing what you were doing because that’s what you were doing. It’s how you roll.


I read a quote from a seventeenth century German priest, who wrote: 


“The rose has no why; it blossoms because it blossoms.
It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.”


What if we were to live like the rose—without a why? What if we blossomed simply because we blossomed. What if there was no motive or seeking to our blossoming; to be noticed, to be praised, to accomplish? What if we fragranced the world because we couldn’t do anything but fragrance the world? The rose is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of whether anyone sees or smells it. It’s beauty and fragrance are not means to an end. It has no why.


Let’s look at our text. 


12 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. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint 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.


4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.


7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”


I want to live without a why. I want to give and do unconditionally, at least that’s what I want on my better days. I think that’s often how we see ourselves and how we want to be and live—unconditionally and without strings attached, but it’s harder than it sounds. We live in a world of economy, exchange, and transaction. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back. We live in a world in which you pay for what you want. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free lunch. We’re expected to return the favor, pay off the debt, or reciprocate in some way. A ‘Quid Pro Quo’ way of life. In short, you get what you pay for. And we pay in all sorts of ways. 


Think about all the ways that happens and how commonplace and acceptable it is.


We exchange our time for money, sacrifice our families for success, and trade our dreams for the practicalities of making ends meet.


Have you ever sent flowers after an argument? Were you giving a gift or working a deal? 


Have you ever argued over the lunch bill? “You paid the last time, it’s my turn,” or “I’ll get it today, you can get it next time.”


Have you ever said or done something as a means to an end? Have you ever wondered why somebody was doing something for you, wondered what was in it for them?


It’s even in the Church and our faith. Theologians call it, “the economy of salvation.” Believe in Jesus, follow his way, and you too can have salvation. Sometimes we believe that our prayers and good behavior are the currency that pays for God’s favor.


I say none of that as a criticism or judgment but simply as an observation that there are thousands of ways in which we daily transact the business of life. We can’t escape it. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to give a pure gift. Economies are a part of our world and our lives. As much as I enjoy being a pastor and say that I’m not in it for the money, I still want and need to be paid. I’m not suggesting economies are inherently wrong or that we need to rid ourselves of economies, but maybe we need to be more aware of them and the power and influence they have. 


Now, we don’t always do everything for the payoff. There are times when we do something simply for the sake of doing it; like expressing love, forgiveness, gratitude, hospitality, compassion. In those times something is being affirmed for itself, not for what it might achieve or accomplish. There is no why. 


I think that’s what’s going on with Mary in our text. She loves because she loves. She anoints because she anoints. She fragrances because she fragrances. There is no why. It’s a gifting, grace upon grace. There is nothing in it for her. It’s unconditional, without measure or calculation and it looks reckless and irresponsible. She’s not invested in a result or seeking a particular outcome. She’s just doing what she’s doing because that’s what she’s doing. She breaks the chains of means and ends. And it makes no sense to Judas or any other economist. 


Gift always stands in contrast to economy, even as Mary stands in contrast to Judas. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” I don’t know what Judas’ real motive was. Maybe he was, as our text says, a thief and wanted it all for himself. Maybe he really did care about and wanted to help the poor. 


In any event, Judas is calculating and practical. He knows the market. He’s an investor looking for a return. He wants to turn Mary’s gift into a profit. Judas has a why. He’s aligned himself with a means and an end. In the economies of our life everything has a why. Life is calculable, and we become calculating, expecting a return on our investment whether that investment is money, time, love, or a good deed. 


Let’s not draw any conclusions here about Mary or Judas, it would be easy to oppose them. Mary is good, Judas is bad. Mary is right, Judas is wrong. But here’s the thing. I know times when I’ve lived as Judas and times when I have lived as Mary, don’t you? 


I don’t think it’s a question of choosing one over the other, gift or economy, Mary or Judas, but living in the tension of the two. That tension is what sometimes keeps us up at night, calls us into question, awakens us to how we truly want to live. It reminds us that the fragrance of life can be neither bought nor sold. It’s priceless. 


I don’t know if we ever truly live without a why. I can’t answer that, but I know that’s the direction I want to go. I know that’s how I want to shape my life. What about you? 


I sipped the last of my coffee as the sun came up this morning and glanced out the window into the cemetery. I suppose it has kept me ‘grounded’ (no pun intended) in a way all these years, because it reminds me how brief life really is (unlike this sermon). Which, then in turn makes me ask, “What really matters?” The thought usually comes unbidden and unannounced, it just shows up and interrupts. 


What really matters to you? What really matters for the kind of life you want to live? Keeping score? Living a Quid Pro Quo lifestyle? What matters so much to you that when it is ignored, forgotten, denied of you, it becomes the matter with you? Like when someone asks, “What’s the matter with you?” Hmmmph. 


What really matters to you? That’s the question that’s at the heart of this passage. 


Jesus could just as easily have said, “You’ll always have the rich with you. You always have work to do. You always have errands to run. You always have chores to do. You always have bills and taxes to pay. You always have somewhere to go. You always have things to tend to. But you do not always have me.” So, I’m back to my question. What really matters?


Maybe when Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you,” he’s saying that we always live within a set of circumstances and conditions. And the challenge is to not let those overtake what really matters. Our work is to not lose Jesus in the conditions of our life, and to not make the conditions of our life paramount. 


What are the conditions and circumstances of your life compared to what really matters?


What really matters does so not in spite of, or because of life’s circumstances and conditions—but within them. What really matters calls to us from within the circumstances and conditions of our life. It asks a response from us and sometimes we respond and sometimes we don’t.


Yet, when we do respond the whole house is fragranced. That’s where I want to live, in the house of fragrance, don’t you?


We ask you God, help us learn to live without a why.


This is the Word of the Lord for the day.



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