It Smells Like Faith in Here

Who here knows the first rule of perfume and cologne?

Anybody? If you know it, shout it out!

The first rule of perfume and cologne is:

A dab’ll do ya OR

A little bit goes a looooooooong way.

You know this rule instinctually whenever somebody who doesn’t know this rule

sits down next to you on the subway.

And the smell of cologne fills the whole car!

And gets inside your clothes!

And up your sinuses!

And—apparently—Mary was one of the people who didn’t know this rule.

In fact, she was overdoing it on a number of different levels.

While her sister Martha was serving the table like a proper young lady,

Mary was just being—shall we say—a little much.

She used a pound—a pound—of perfume where a few spritzes would normally do.

It cost 300 Denarii,

which was about a year’s salary for people like Jesus or the disciples.

It would have taken years to save up that much money.

            And then rather than anointing the head, or putting a little dab on the wrists

                        Mary goes all the way down to the ground

                        And pours it over Jesus’ feet

which isn’t the usual place for a small fortune in perfume to be spilled

                        And where a towel would have done the trick,

                                    Mary uses her hair to rub it in and clean it up.

Good Lord, it’s just TOO MUCH.

It’s too much money, it’s too intimate, it’s soooo wasteful,

a ridiculous excess, poured out on dirty feet, wiped up with her own hair?  Over the top, too far, inappropriate, uncomfortable. 

AND and AND

Mary is being emotionally honest, she’s telling the truth of how she feels,

she’s telling the truth of what she and Jesus know is coming

(the truth of Jesus’ death and burial),

she’s telling the truth of who Jesus was, she was declaring:

You are the Christ!

(Christ which means the anointed one,

so she was pouring perfume on the Christ

in the same way you put a crown on a queen,

Mary was making it real),

she was telling the truth of who Jesus had helped her to become, she was saying,

“Lord, all those hours that my sister Martha complained

I was spending with you while she was working,

let me show you all—anxious sister, dull disciples—

that I have heard the message!

And I’m going to declare it from now on in such an extravagant way

that when you witness it, you’re not going to be able to ignore it, you’re not going to be able to get the smell of it off your skin.

Mary was what you would call an advanced student

            It was six days before the Passover,

six days before the Last supper,

when Jesus would get down on his hands and knees

and wash the disciples’ feet,

and when he would give his body and blood to the disciples to eat

where normally bread and wine would’ve done just fine.

            But Mary was way ahead of the curve

because she had been paying attention

            She had already learned the lesson of this table,

and she saw the big picture of the Gospel

and when Jesus came over for dinner

knowing what she knew

being who Jesus had liberated her to become

what else could she do?

            She offered up her gifts with all the extravagance

that we’ve come to expect from this radically welcoming table,

in this radically welcoming church.

We take pride in our radical, extravagant welcome at BwayUCC.

We take it seriously.

But I guess one of the things this piece of scripture brings up is what does it mean to be serious?

Lazarus, recently raised from the dead, barely cracked a smile at the table.

That’s one kind of serious.

Martha worked hard to make sure everyone was fed.

That’s important and serious.

Some of the disciples were worried about waste—

which is a serious concern.

Others were wondering—how could this have benefitted me more?

And folks who think like that are usually dead serious.

But Mary, rolling on the floor, weeping and alive,

her hair wrapped around Jesus’ big toe,

her life-savings in a pungent pool on the ground,

wasn’t she serious?

And why have we found it so difficult to take her gift seriously?

We have a wide welcome here at Broadway.

No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. That’s important to us.

Anyone can walk through that door—

people of all ages, all genders, all sexual orientations,

all races, all immigration statuses, all body shapes, sizes, and abilities, heck, all religions

and they will all be welcome.

They will all be welcomed in the same friendly way.

Friendly, but not too friendly.

Hopefully, but not desperately.

We’ll make sure they get a handshake during the passing of the peace.

But we don’t want to be weird about it.

And we’re probably pretty close to the mark.

I mean if Mary and Martha were members here,

I’d want Martha to be a greeter.

She’d arrive on time,

take the role seriously,

and everyone would get a bulletin and a smile.

I have a feeling Mary might be a little overwhelming at the door.

You’d be able to smell the Jesus on her from the street.

That kind of intensity can be a little intimidating.

Most of the time you need a seriously welcoming Martha at the door.

But when it comes to the man sitting in the back row of the church

with tears in his eyes,

or when it comes to the woman who seems to find herself

at a community hour table alone week after week,

or when it comes to the person who is coming into church

at a moment when they need

an authentic and honest and real human connection,

that’s when we need to find the Mary within us—the one who says,

“What the hell?

I’m not just going to welcome the kind of person you are,

no, I’m going to recognize, and welcome, and touch

who you are in your soul

with who I am in my soul.

For a few minutes, I’m going to give you

300 Denarii-worth of my attention.”

That’s Mary’s kind of seriousness.

And she was right about the perfume.

Authentic human connection is like a pound of nard.

It fills the whole room. It’s contagious.

When the person seeking authentic human connection

walks into a room where one person is sitting off by themselves,

 their heart drops a little.

They can feel it when they walk in:

this room might not have room for me

in all my brokenness and despair.

But when they walk into a room smelling of perfume,

a room where kindness

and honesty

and hope

are being exchanged

without regard to the cost,

the smell gets all over them too.

And just seeing another person’s needs for a human connection being met,

meets some need in all of us.

 

 

Samson, who is one of our members and lives at Rockland Psychiatric Center,

told me a story once during one of my visits to him.

He told me how he had gone on a walk on the grounds of the hospital

and healed two sick boys he saw.

I went along with him, listening and responding to his impossible story.

Part of me, of course, wanted to say, “Are you sure?” “That’s impossible.”

“I think you must be confused.”

At the end of the story he was quiet for a few moments and then he said,

“I hope the families of those two boys will come to visit me.”

And there it was, at the bottom of a confusing and difficult story,

there was a real human need, a desire,

there was something that needed to be touched and shared.

And we wouldn’t have gotten there together

unless he had risked the foolishness of telling his truth

and I had risked the ridiculousness of listening.

Beloved, You all know that the search committee

has a big announcement for us today

about the candidate to be your next pastor!

And we are going to hear from them shortly.

But just to prepare ourselves for the news,

and for all the excitement and changes that this news

is heralding for Broadway UCC over the next few months,

I want to reassure you that you are ready

and that you’ve got this.

As you all know, last month we completed our Stewardship Season.

And the numbers are in and the numbers are good.

Pledging and giving usually go down in the interim period.

People usually pull out a little bit to protect themselves.

Wait and see.

But Broadway UCC had more pledges,

more pledgers,

and a higher pledged total for next year’s budget

than we had for last year’s budget.

We even have four first-time pledgers!

Your Marthas are ready to be relied upon,

ready to get down to work,

ready to make it all happen.

I couldn’t be more pleased or more hopeful.

And knowing that the Martha parts of you are all in and ready to go,

I think the Mary parts of you are ready to step up too.

Not just your time, not just your talent, not just your treasure,

but your selves.

You are ready to welcome in your future

and a world that needs you

with an open and extravagant kind of love.

            I know this, Beloved, because I can smell it on you!

It’s filling the whole room.

Amen.