Let me say what a joy it is for Deb and I to be back at Richmond’s First Baptist Church to join you in worship to see so many long, long time friends and just have some good laughs this morning already as we shared some good memories to sharing worship with an incredible staff that you have. I hope you know and appreciate the staff you have. They are awesome. And to be here and worship with you and join them is a special gift. I would also like to take just a moment to say thank you on behalf of the Baptist General Association of Virginia for your faithfulness to our state organization as well as your generosity. It is not taken for granted and is deeply appreciated, so thank you for not only the way you support it financially but the leadership you give on such a regular basis in BGAV life, so thank you for every bit of that.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. That whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. He did not come to this world to condemn this world. He came to save it. Here’s a story of love. This is a story that a good friend of mine, Grady Nutt, many of you know Grady, and Grady shared this story on numerous occasions. I heard it many times, loved it every time I heard it, and he shared it on the day of my ordination when he gave the ordination message. Here’s the story of love.
It was a family. It was a special Sunday at the church. It was the ministers family. I guess preacher was coming and it was going to be a big day, and mom wanted to have a great dinner after the service for the guest preacher. She worked hard. She poured her whole heart into that dinner. There it was, steaming vegetables, casserole’s, homemade bread, getting hungry? Delicious desserts, it was a knock-out dinner she was preparing. Not only that, she had gotten out her finest china, finest crystal, the silver was on the table all polished and shiny. She had even gotten her favorite white linen tablecloth. It was quite a set for a meal. She couldn’t wait. They had four children. Two teenaged boys, one eight year old girl, and a four year old boy. Now days like this are particularly hard for children. And this is the kind of day when you gotta wear your Sunday best, at least when this happened. This happened a good while ago. Everyone had to come in their Sunday best. Everyone had to have their best manners on, and it was a guest preacher so you had to sit and listen to all this boring conversation that the adults were having. It was a difficult time for children to have to just sit there and mind their manners. But finally, dinner was ready. Everybody went and sat at the table, the guest minister was asked if he would do the blessing, which just gave him opportunity to preach a second sermon it seemed. It just took forever to get that blessing done. Finally the blessing was over, and the eight year old girl named Joanne was ready to eat, and she reached across her plate to get the glass of tea, to take a sip, when she miscalculated where that glass was, and knocked over her tea. I mean that tea went gushing out of that glass, onto that white tablecloth towards her four year old brother who had nothing more in his mind to do but to dodge that rushing tea towards him, he jerked back and overwent his tea, and now you have all this brown oozing tea all over the white tablecloth. Five seconds after the closing of the blessing. All those hours of hard work, and preparation for that meal, all now destroyed, and everyone looked to mom to see the reaction. Shock was on her face. Then a little bit of rage started appearing on the face, and she was about ready to say something that probably she would regret saying. And she looked at her husband, who just smiled at her, reached over and knocked his tea over. She couldn’t believe it. Well, the two teenaged boys were sitting there, and they’ve never seen an adult knock over their tea on purpose, particularly their dad, and they’re not missing out on that fun, so they reached over, and they knocked their tea over. So now you have five glasses of tea, 27 ice cubes floating on that beautiful white, linen tablecloth, and mom is absolutely destroyed. She looks at the guest preacher and he just smiles at her and knocks his tea over, he never has any fun anyways, it was the most fun he’s had in a long time. And she’s really befuddled by all that, looks at her husband, and he just winks at her, and she says, Oh why not? And she knocks hers over. And everybody died laughing and they almost fell out of their chairs, they were laughing so hard, until one by one they noticed little eight year old Joanne sitting there, tears in her eyes, and one by one they all stopped laughing. Those weren’t tears of embarrassment, those were tears of love and adoration. She knew what her dad had done for her. He had knocked that tea over for her. He was saying to her, as special as this occasion is, as hard as we all worked, particularly your mom in getting this meal ready, as special as it is to have this guest with us, you matter more to us than all of that. Jesus was at a white linen tablecloth affair too. He was at Mary and Martha’s, and Lazarus’ home. It was a special occasion because Lazarus was just raised from the dead. I don’t know about you, but that fits for a special occasion. Martha was doing what Martha tends to do in all these stories, she’s in the kitchen preparing for the meal for this special occasion, and there sits Mary doing what she always does, sitting at the feet of Jesus. She’s been listening. She knows what he is about to do. She gets him, and he’s about ready to be spilt. And he’s going to be spilt for her. And it’s going to be, she knows those disciples, it’s going to be an oozing embarrassment to those disciples. In a week, they are going to deny him. Even one at the table who criticizes her will betray him. She knows those disciples, and knows what an oozing embarrassment all this is going to be for them, but she is so filled with the love and adoration because of what he’s going to do for her, for them, for you, for me, for this whole world, and all she knows to do is to bring a gift. Now I have to say, that I think one of the most awkward moments that ever occurs in human relationship is that moment when one person give a gift to another person. It’s one of the most vulnerable moments that we have, and there’s a long list of reasons why it’s a vulnerable moment to give a gift. It takes a long time to pick one out, It takes an eternity to hand it to someone, place it in their hands, and they open it, and they look at it, and they give you a response, and if the response isn’t very exciting, it hurts. But if they’re excited about it, why you’re more delighted than they are, and it’s their gift. Lot’s of reasons for that vulnerability, the list is long. But I think it all boils down to this. Giving a gift to someone is like taking a risk, because every gift we give is the symbol of our love and it’s a symbol of us. It can be pretty simple things, I mean I can go to the store, see some peach rings hanging there. I know Deborah likes those peach rings, I take them home and if they’re old and hard, and she bites into it, and she says oh these aren’t very good, that’s very disappointing. I really wanted to do something. But if she bites into it, and says oh yeah, this is really good. I want you know, the boy is good. He really did well. Over something as simple and silly as peach rings. A gift is a symbol of ourselves and the other persons hands. Not only do we have the need to be cared for and loved, we have a tremendous need to be able to pour out our care, and pour out our love onto others. That’s why we have pets. I mean, pets really can’t give a whole lot of love back, but boy do they let us pour out our love on them. It’s why we give little children teddy bears. Teddy bears are totally receptive to any love that a child would give it. It’s a good thing for them to practice loving and caring for something. That’s why we give them teddy bears, and a teddy bear doesn’t mind if you poke out its eyes and pull out its stuffings, and leave it out in the rain. It doesn’t mind. Love has its risks. When we let someone love us. Now here’s the saddest thing I know. There are so many of us who have so much we want to give, pour out, and others won’t let us. How often do I hear this from sons and daughters? I wanted so badly to get through to my father. He wouldn’t let me in. A wife pleads with her husband to look at her. To accept her as a full partner in the marriage, but he keeps her at an arms distance. Parents ache for children and reach out to them only to have their children not reach out back to them. You extend a friendship to someone only to have that friendship declined. And it doesn’t always have to be outright rejection, sometimes we want to love and give our love or care to someone, but we’re told in return sure, I will take it but not the way you want to give it, I’ll take it only if you give it to me this way. There are many, many ways for love to be disregarded. And I’ve got to say this, it’s okay by the way. It’s okay for people to reject our care, and our love. We can’t force that. It wouldn’t be love if we’re forcing it. And that’s true with God too, you know. But it doesn’t change the fact that every one of us needs to pour ourselves out just as it is. Now that brings me back to Mary. Mary has a gift, and she’s bringing it to Jesus. It’s a strange gift, not one I would give, not one you would give. It’s a bottle of perfume, and not only does she give a bottle of perfume, it’s the way she expresses that gift that’s equally as strange. It was not only strange to you and me, it was strange to the disciples. They saw it, they smelled it, they didn’t get it. Not useful, not practical, what in the world is she doing? I wouldn’t give it, you wouldn’t give it, but Mary would, and Mary did. And what did Jesus do? Look at his feet? They aren’t moving? I mean, she’s pouring an entire bottle of perfume on his feet. You know those bottles with the itty bitty little hole at the top? It takes a long time to pour a bottle of perfume out, and not only that this is a huge bottle of perfume, and she pours out onto his feet, every single drop, and Jesus doesn’t move his feet. What would you do? Know what I would do? You start pouring perfume on my feet, my feet would move so fast, you’d say wow, quick feet man. And not only did Jesus keep his feet still for the perfume, he kept his feet still when she lifted those feet, and dried those feet with her hair. Now some in the room particularly one who was about ready to betray him, criticized the gift, and he just said, leave her alone. And he just receives it. Why is this story important to us? I think some of us need to hear this. We have so much still inside of us, we want to give in this life. You and I have so much, regardless of our age that we still want to pour out, we just aren’t sure it’s going to be received. We just aren’t sure yet that it’s going to be acceptable. Hear this. No matter who you are. No matter where you’ve been. No matter what you’ve done. No matter what your limits. There is someone that will receive what you bring and find it perfectly acceptable as you bring it to him in love. I think I finally understand Mary. She she’s what’s about ready to happen with Jesus. And at that cross, she’s going to look up at those extended arms, and she’s going to be able to look through the pain, and look through the agony, and see in those open, extended arms, an invitation. An invitation to bring her failures. An invitation to bring bitter disappointments. An invitation to bring our sins, and all those sicknesses unto death that we have in this life, and they will be received, and they will be forgiven, and they will be absorbed into the very heart of God, and here’s the good news. They will be transformed into love and life. Boy, I saw this when we were in Taiwan as missionaries. We were on the east coast, in a little village called Taitung, and our two sons have befriended a little fellow named William, this little guy, the mother was quite concerned because we were one, Americans and he was Chinese, number two we were missionaries and Chritians and they were Buddhists, and they’d been Buddhists for 48 generations. She could name all the generations, and she was uncomfortable with her son spending so much time in our home, so she came to our home, and she said I want to learn more about you before I let my son come over here, and I want to know more about this Christian thing that you probably will be talking about, and I need to know more about that, and so I sat there and just told her the basics, and she said well I want to read on this, so I said let me give you the Gospel of John. Oh no, no, no, no. You give me that big book you’ve been looking at. You’re going to read this whole thing? Yes, I am. Well, here. I’m going to go back home to the US and tell people you did this. It wasn’t but a couple days later she was knocking at the door, and I let her in, and she said you lied to me. Now in Chinese, piàn rén is pretty strong language to lie to someone. You ultimately lied to me. I read that book. I didn’t get to the new part, but I read that old part. I said, you read the whole Old Testament? Holy cow. She said, yes I did, and I read that story about this guy named Abraham, and his son Isaac, and you said God was a loving, kind God, he asked him to put his son on an alter to be sacrificed. I only have one son, you telling me that God can ask me to put my son on some alter to be sacrificed?. I don’t see that as a loving story at all. I said, well I got to be honest with you. That’s the most loving story I actually know. That story hits me every single time. Well, how is that? Because God knows you’re going to put your son on some alter. You’re going to sacrifice him to something, and your son goes to school every day, and goes to pram school every night, seven days a week. You put him on the altar of education. I don’t see him being very happy. I know a lot of people who put their children on the altars of success, popularity, things. You’re going to put your child on some altar. What God is saying to you is putting it mild. Because on my altar he’ll be saved, he’ll be free because in the bush there will be a ram, and that ram will be my son. I’ll make the sacrifice for you. She actually started coming to worship, and this is the gift she gave us. As we would stand to sing one Sunday, she stood up and said, stop. I didn’t know where she was going. Stop right now. I just read these words, and this hymn. They’re the most beautiful I have ever read in my life. Can we before we sing, read the words before we sing them? Wow. Phil, what a beautiful language we have in the handbook. I had the privilege of baptizing her. Now Jesus knows the risk of our love. He’s seen what we do to teddy bears. But he also knows we give the only love we have, and that’s a flawed love. He’ll take it. He’ll delight in it. And what God is saying to you and me right now is that your love has a place in this world. Your life has a place in this world, let it loose. Pour it out. Offer it as Mary did, unhindered. Your way. Your gift. Offered every single drop. Give it to Christ. Give it to the body of Christ. Pour it out on the body of Christ, offer your heart to the stranger, offer your heart to the children, to the elderly, to the lonely, to the lost. Offer your heart to everyone who Christ will put on your path. This is our response to the life that was poured out for us. Amen. Let’s pray.
Our heavenly father, when we come to you we need to feel vulnerable. There’s so much in us yet to give. We just don’t know if it’ll be received or even if it’s acceptable. Give us the courage to pour it out. We’re living in a world right now that’s so hurt, and so angry, and so divided, let us be the presence of your love in this world, because you first loved us now we are able to open up and love. Set us free Lord. Turn us loose. I pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.