When Is It O.K. To Be O.T.T.?
Personal word, please, before I preach. Let me remind you that the elders of our church have called all of us at MDPC to engage in a day of fasting and prayer. That will begin after the evening meal on Tuesday of this week, finishing at the evening meal on Wednesday of this week. It can be a full fast for you or just a water and juice fast or whatever you can manage for that day, but the real point is that we focus our minds and our hearts upon what God is leading us to do as we bring our financial commitments to Christ and to His church on next Sunday. Historically in the church when God’s people have engaged in prayer and fasting, God’s spirit has done remarkable things. I call you to a day of fasting and prayer.
Now, I wish to read for you these verses from the 12th chapter of the Gospel according to John. This is the Word of God.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany where Lazarus lived whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with the Lord. 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. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected. ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 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. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. It was meant that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus, amen.
Several years ago, Trisha and I were privileged to visit Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen of England. We were being escorted through the palace by a wonderfully delightful English lady. Every time we would step into another room in the palace, another elaborately ornate exquisitely proportioned room, either the grand ballroom or the throne room or the banquet hall, one after another, every time we would step into a new room, this lady would say, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this room is O.T.T., over the top. Well, you’re right. It is over the top, but it’s okay to be O.T.T. because, after all, this is Buckingham Palace.” Well, the lady’s point was that sometimes it is appropriate and acceptable to be extravagant.
True story, happened a few years ago in New York City, a man was kidnapped. The kidnappers made contact with his wife. They demanded a $100,000 ransom. She talked them down to $30,000. The whole story ended well. The man was released unharmed. The money was recovered. The kidnappers were caught and sent to prison. But don’t you wonder what happened when that fellow got home and realized that his wife had gotten him for a discount?
Well, that whole incident was just too much for Calvin Trillin, the syndicated columnist. He actually wrote an entire column about this incident, couldn’t resist it. And along the way in the column, Calvin Trillin began to imagine how the negotiations must have gone between this man’s wife and the kidnappers. He imagined the wife saying to them, “$100,000, that’s what you want for that old guy? Come on, just look at him. You must be crazy. Look at his sagging jowls. Look at his belly hanging over his belt. You want $100,000 for that? Give me a break. I’ll give you $30,000, and that is my final offer.”
Well, Calvin Trillin’s take on that incident is actually quite hilarious, but I want to tell you something. I find myself identifying with that fellow. And I would like to think that under similar circumstances Trisha would not be haggling over the price. I would like to think that Trisha would be willing to go to any length to spare no expense in order to get me back. At least I hope that’s the case. But you see the point that Calvin Trillin was trying to make, the point I’m trying to make, the point the English lady was making, is this, sometimes it’s okay to be O.T.T. Sometimes it’s appropriate and acceptable to be extravagant.
Jesus was on the way to the cross. It was six days before Passover. The crucifixion was less than a week away, and Jesus knew it. And so as Jesus and His disciples were making their way toward Jerusalem for the final confrontation, He decided to stop in the little town of Bethany just over the hill from Jerusalem. There is where He wished to visit with His close friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He had raised Lazarus from the dead not long before. And so He wanted to spend this last weekend before Calvary in the presence of His good friends. And while they were there, Mary and Martha decided to throw a dinner party in honor of Jesus. During that meal, Mary did an extraordinarily beautiful thing for the Lord. She came to Him, knelt down before Him, and proceeded to anoint His feet by pouring over His feet a very costly perfumed oil. And then, she wiped and dried His feet with her hair. It was an extraordinarily beautiful thing to do.
Now, why did she do it? Some scholars say it was an act of gratitude. She was thanking Jesus for having raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. Some scholars say it was an act of consecration, that she was baptizing the feet of Jesus, encouraging Him to go on into Jerusalem to do what had to be done. Still, others suggest that it was an act of preparation, that she was quite literally anointing in advance the body of Jesus in preparation for the death that was to come just days later. But everyone agrees that what Mary did was an extraordinarily generous and beautiful act.
My great friend, Kenneth Bailey, the noted Presbyterian biblical scholar, calls what Mary did a costly demonstration of extravagant love. I love that, a costly demonstration of extravagant love. Now, no sooner had Mary completed her costly demonstration of extravagant love, then she was reprimanded by Judas. And no sooner did Judas reprimand Mary, then Jesus reprimanded Judas. He called Judas a victim of stingy thinking. “Why are you being so stingy?” in essence, is what Jesus said.
Stinginess you understand, of course, means being overly concerned about money kind of like that woman whose husband was kidnapped in New York. Her thinking was, “Which is easier to replace? A husband or $100,000.” She opted for the money. That’s stingy thinking. That’s materialistic thinking. That’s Judas’s kind of thinking. Judas said, “What a waste. We could have taken that expensive oil and sold it. And then, we could have used the money to feed who knows how many poor people.” Of course, Judas had no intention of doing anything like that. He was just saying that because it sounded good. And he must have been shocked when Jesus reprimanded him so strongly.
Now, here is this amazing story in John 12. And when you take the details of the story, both what Mary did and what Jesus said, and when you weave it all together, it comes out like this. Sometimes it’s okay to be O.T.T., over the top. Sometimes it’s appropriate and acceptable to be extravagant. And I believe that the message of this story for us is simply this: As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I are made for costly demonstrations of extravagant love. Here’s what I mean.
It’s okay to be OTT in our generosity.
That’s exactly what Mary was doing here. Her act was an act of uninhibited devotion, sacrificial generosity, extravagant love. She didn’t hold anything back. She generously gave what she had to Jesus Christ.
When I stop to think about that, I can’t help but think about all of the people who have made this church what it is today. I mean, it’s taken 58 years to build this church into what you see around you, not just the buildings but the people, not just the people but the ministries. It’s taken 58 years, so many people along the way whose names we no longer know but whose names are enshrined forever in God’s hallowed memory. I think of those ministers who have served Christ here. I think of the elders who bore the burden and made the tough decisions. I think of the countless people, thousands of them through the years, who have given without ever stopping to count the cost, who’ve given in good times and hard times, who’ve given so generously in order that this church might be what it is today. And as I think about that, I also think about those who will come after us in this place. Will we be willing to run some risks for their sake and for the sake of our master? Will we be willing to give generously, extravagantly in order to keep this church in position to reach out, to win people to Jesus Christ in this city, in this country, and in this world?
Back in our nation’s history, at one point, there was a small Native American Indian tribe living in the state of Mississippi. The tribe was actually living along the banks of a very swift-flowing and dangerous river. In fact, if anyone ever accidentally fell into that river, more than likely they would be swept to death downstream. And then, one day this small tribe was attacked by a larger hostile tribe. They were vastly outnumbered. They were backed up against the banks of that river, that treacherous river. There was no escape. The only option was to try and cross the raging currents of that river, but they knew perfectly well that that would mean certain death for the children and the elderly and the weak and the ill. And even some of the stronger ones would suffer death as well in the process. And so under the circumstances, the tribal leaders gathered together to devise a plan. The reasonable thing to do, the expedient thing to do, the sensible thing to do, was to sacrifice the weak for the sake of the strong. I mean, the weak were going to die anyway. And so they pondered that, and they couldn’t bring themselves to do that. They decided instead to give themselves to an extravagant generosity. What they did is they ordered all of the strong members of the tribe to pick up the weak ones and place those individuals on their backs and shoulders, the children, the elderly, the weak, the ill, the wounded, to pick them up and place them on their backs and shoulders and then to march into the raging currents of that river hoping upon hope that some might survive. However, when they stepped into the river, they made an astonishing discovery. They discovered that the extra weight of the weak on their backs and shoulders kept their feet firmly fixed to the bottom so that they were able to withstand the current and they were able to move step by step and emerge safely on the other side. They were saved by their extravagant generosity.
Well, I wonder if those of us in this church who are strong and comfortable and well-fed, I wonder if we are going to be willing to give generously, extravagantly, over the top, in order to help others in the name of Jesus Christ. If we do, we may be surprised to discover that the life we save is actually our own. Oh, yes. You see, sometimes it’s okay to be OTT. Sometimes it’s appropriate to be extravagant. We are called by Christ to be extravagant in our generosity.
And it’s okay to be O.T.T. in our graciousness.
It’s so clear from this story. What Mary did, no matter what meaning may have been intended, what really mattered was it was an extraordinarily kind, loving, and gracious thing to do for Jesus. And I have to tell you I am convinced that what Mary did meant the world to Jesus. Remember, please, He knew that death was days away. He knew that His enemies were plotting His arrest. He could already sense the weight of the whole world’s sin beginning to descend upon His shoulders. And I’m convinced that what Mary did for Him, Mary’s costly demonstration of extravagant love, I am convinced that that was going to shine like a star through all of the dark hours that were just ahead. But then, of course, Jesus knew in His life the extraordinary power of unrestrained spendthrift extravagant love. He brought that kind of love to bear against all of the issues that exist in this world. He pitted that love against political power, against earthly authority, against disease, against sin, against all the forces of evil at work in the world. He was never very careful about choosing His friends. He never aligned Himself with special interest or political action groups. He broke one petty rule after another. He embraced all different kinds of people. He loved the unlovable. He touched the untouchable. He accepted the rejected. He lifted up those who had been knocked down. And needless to say, as He moved through life with that kind of extravagant love, there were those who sought to break Him in response. And when they couldn’t break Him, they sought to get rid of Him. And what happened? Instead of being a dead Christ crossed off the world, He became a living, loving Christ let loose in the world. And He set Himself to breaking down all the walls that people build in order to keep love out.
He didn’t always win. He still doesn’t. But every once in awhile, He unlocks the door to someone’s heart. Every once in awhile, He entices someone out into kingdom loving and kingdom living. Every once in awhile, He inspires someone to uninhibited devotion and unreserved commitment. Every once in awhile, it happens, but it happens often enough to keep me preaching. It happens often enough to keep this church going and growing. It happens often enough for us to remember that this church and your life and my life, all of us together, are held fast in the great loving hands of Jesus Christ and there we shall ever remain.
That’s the message of this great story. It is appropriate and acceptable to be extravagant, extravagant, over the top in our love, in our kindness, in our graciousness, and in our generosity.
Well, that’s the story, except for one line in the story that I have to tell you just jumps off the page and grips my heart. John 12:3, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Now, why did John put that in there? Did he write that line in there because it’s a fact? Maybe. Or under the inspiration of the spirit of God? Did John write that line to serve as a constant reminder through the ages that the whole history of the church now, twenty-one centuries of believers, the whole history of the church is sweetened by the redolent perfume of Mary’s costly demonstration of extravagant love? What Mary did for Jesus forever calls all of us to give ourselves to the greatest love and the deepest commitment possible no matter the cost, no matter how foolish it may seem to some, to give ourselves to the greatest love and the deepest commitment possible for the sake of Jesus Christ.
So one day the great Albert Schweitzer flopped down in his chair at the end of the day completely exhausted in his jungle hospital in Lambaréné, Africa, and with a stout sigh he said, “I must be some kind of idiot to keep trying to minister to all these people here.” And immediately, Joseph, his big, black, African orderly said to him, “You is an idiot on Earth but not in Heaven.” You want that in King James English? Try this. Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:10: “We, we are to be fools for Christ’s sake.”
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.