Costly Praise

What a wonderful day at Ebenezer this past Sunday as we ordained our newest elder and member of our session (board):  Pat Burns.  I hope I never lose the excitement that comes from being a part of such an experience.  Being ordained an elder in the Presbyterian Church is much more than just becoming part of the “business-end” of the church, because the position of elder, today as in the Early Church, is more than just administration, but rather lay members who fully participate in the ministry and outreach of the church. 

John 12:1-8, tells the story of a dinner at Bethany.  In this small passage, we see three very different, and all important, responses to Christ.  Look along with me, will you?


Jesus came to the home of Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.  Many people were there, to see Jesus, sure, but probably more excited to see Lazarus whom they had buried many days ago.  In the midst of this, we see Martha.  Only two words:  “Martha served,” but those two words describe her ministry well.  Earlier in the gospels Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was just sitting.  Martha was wound up in her “ministry” and was angry over her sister’s lack of shared vision.

How much like Martha are we sometimes?   God gives a talent, a vision, a plan for ministry, but then we complain that others aren’t doing what we have chosen to do.  We complain and fret, much as Mary had.  Such a negative attitude often comes from “serving” for the wrong reason, for example, for recognition, acceptance, or even trying to earn God’s love.  Our service should not be the result of someone else’s manipulation of our emotions or our emotional need for acceptance, but rather the response of a heart filled with love for the One who called us and saved us.

Paul tells us how to serve in the book of Colossians.  “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17), and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (vv. 23,24).  While Martha did not understand this previously, at this visit, it seems she was happy to use her talents and to offer them to Christ.


The same verse tells us that “Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.”  The men would recline at table, waiting to be served by the women, but something makes me believe there was more going on here.  You see, Lazarus was the big news story, a celebrity.  How many people had actually been dead for three days and then risen!  Most of us would probably succumb to the pressure and spend our time telling stories about our harrowing experience!  Yet the Scripture says Lazarus was at table with Jesus.

My friends, I believe the Psalmist had it right when he stated,

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  Praise be to you, LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 109:9-12). 

Lazarus chose to spend time with the One who saved him, with the One who had the words of life.  Not willing to be the center of attention himself, Lazarus sat with Jesus and sought out the wisdom and grace in Jesus’ words. 

Unlike Lazarus, we often rush through our Bible reading (if we even read our Bibles), and check our watches if the service goes a little too long.   We are so impacted by our fast and furious world that settling down to listen is a burden to us.  Listening to God’s Word and to the Spirit’s voice takes second place to our e-mail and text messages, the radio and television, the neighbor across the fence, and the other end of the telephone. 

As when Adam and Even walked in the Garden of Eden with God, Lazarus chose to spend time with Jesus, listening to him, spending time with him.   May God help us to be so single-minded that we will seek God in our daily lives, that we will open our hearts to hear from God through the Word of God, and that through the Spirit’s voice we will slow down and choose to bask in God’s presence.


The rest of the passage is about Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.  Quite the different one, Mary was already known for sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning from him.  Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part at that time, but on this day, filled with gratefulness for her brother’s return to life, Mary takes her relationship with Christ to a new level; she worships him with her whole being.

First, Mary brought something that was tremendously valuable to an unmarried woman.  The perfume that Mary carried to Jesus would have been saved over a long period of time for her own funeral, since she had no husband to provide for her.  Not only was it valuable for her funeral, it was valuable monetarily.  Many of us put out our good china when a guest comes to dinner, but very few of us would let the guest take it home!  Very few would tell our guests that they could do as they wished with our heirlooms!  Yet Mary took that precious oil and spent it on Jesus.  She “spent” her own riches on Jesus without expecting any return.

Second, Mary ministered to Jesus in a way that would diminish her status in the local community.  You see, a Hebrew woman was not to have her hair down in the presence of anyone but her husband.  Only “loose” women wore their hair long.  But Mary, as she worshipped Christ, put her status and reputation on the line in order to express her love for Jesus.  After pouring the perfume on his feet, she wiped his feet with her hair.  In any Middle Eastern home of the time the owner of the house or his servant would wash the feet of guests when they arrived.  Mary takes that honor to a much higher level when she kneels down and uses her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet.

When was the last time you worshipped God without wondering who might hear you, who might see you?  When was the last time you stood in the congregation, or even in your private prayer time, and laid down all of your riches, your valuables, your family, everything you hold dear, in worship of God?  Have you experienced that moment in worship when nothing around you matters, not reputation, not what wagging tongues would say, not social convention, only that moment between you and your God?   If not, think about that moment when you realized you were in love, when speaking to that one special person clouded out everyone around you, a pure communication between the beloved and the Lover.  Mary worshipped Jesus with everything she had.  Should we do any less?

In this short passage, with this small family, John gives us a snapshot of the Christian life:  Service, Learning and Listening, and Worship.  Each is important in the life of the believer, and if you are missing one or more, you are missing out.  May God bless you as you seek to serve, learn, and worship with your whole heart and all your being.   


Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church


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