Join us this Sunday as we focus on Mark 14: 3-9. Rev. Scott will be speaking on the topic: “Surprised by Gratitude.” Scripture will be collaboratively read by members of the Wednesday Zoom Coffee Group. Musical leadership is supplied by Betty Nobel, Sharon Prindle-Collins , and the Virtual Choir of Northwood and Langley United Churches. We hope you will join in and worship via the website, YouTube Channel, or the 'Zoom Worship Gathering.'
“Surprised by Generosity”
Mark 14: 3-9 ~ August 29, 2021 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
She carefully broke open the small glass vase. So gentle as not to spill a drop. As it opened, the fragrance of the perfumed nard delighted the senses. Flowers…heavenly flowers…filled the room. It was the smell of a thousand gardens filling the room. Roses….lilies…lilacs…The smell of heaven come upon earth. The smell of life that danced forth upon sunbeams towards the heavenly realms. And she poured that ointment upon her hands and began to apply it. Generously…so very generously…she applied it for she knew more than anyone else that day what the future would bring. And, she generously offered that ointment to Jesus…giving all that she had. For, that was all that mattered that day. Generosity.
Generosity is the virtue of being liberal and gracious in our giving; it is often exercised through the offering of gifts; giving all that one has. Held in common many of our world religions, generosity is a virtue which lifted up in ceremonies throughout the year. And, this morning we are reminded how generosity is one mark of the Christ follower as we revisit the story of the person without name or title. The main character is simply: “a woman with an alabaster jar”, and in her story, we see this true mark of faith on display: generosity…we see the unnamed woman giving what she had, pouring it out, and offering this faithful expression as a follower of Jesus. We see this woman’s generosity.
Generosity is something which many of us have witnessed…that many of us have offered, over this pandemic period. Have you been surprised by generosity over the past while? Have you surprised others with your generosity? This morning, we plumb the depths of this faith virtue…generosity…and we prepare to be surprised by generosity in our faith and in our lives!
As we begin to examine this story, you might object to the poor timing of presenting this story amidst the church year. This is a story slotted to be told amidst Passion Week as we walk towards Good Friday and the culmination of Easter. The “unnamed woman’s” anointing of Jesus, that is told by all 4 of the gospel writers, is a narrative that occurs as people gather under the watchful eye of Roman troops in Jerusalem, as they prepare to celebrate Passover ~ the liberation festival where God liberated them from Egypt. And, deep in their hearts, was the hope for God’s liberation for them from the Kingdom of Rome as they yearned for the birthing of the Kingdom of God. So, you are correct if you are shouting, ‘Scott…Easter is a ways away! ... It is not time for this story!’ However, when we think of the needs of today’s times: WE are a people needing God’s hope, WE are a people needing God’s liberation, WE are a people needing God’s power! WE are a people needing this story today!
The story, in this version of Mark’s gospel, is told of a nameless woman. Later versions will elaborate on who she may have been; however, Mark (the first gospel writer) wants all those who feel disempowered; all who feel afraid; all who feel in need of God’s strength…to become part of “the unnamed woman”. Our story is her story…we are the unnamed woman! Consider this…if she was given a name and a title and a backstory, we would read the story as that of someone else, right? Yet that is not the case. Here, she is the ‘unnamed woman’ who as we read her story, we find her story to be a template where we might find deeper insight into ours ~ how is our story similar? As we watch her actions, we wonder about our actions ~ how are her actions similar to what we would do? As we see her faith in pouring out the costly nard, we wonder about how we would share our faith? The woman’s story becomes an opportunity to examine generosity in our faith…in our lives…and in our world!
They say you can often learn what something is by looking at its opposite. In the case of Mark, we seem him using this literary technique of bracketing a number of times throughout his gospel. Mark carefully places a very contrary expression on either side ~ or as a bracket ~ on either side of the point he is trying to make. What are the stories on either side of the unnamed woman’s generosity in pouring out the nard? The texts on either side of this faith story are the plotting of Jesus’ death. The two verses preceding the text contains the Chief Priests plotting to kill Jesus. And the two verses proceeding contain the story of Jesus’ close friend, Judas, who begins a plot to kill him. And sandwiched between two expressions of greed and lack of faith is found the generous faith of the Christ follower. Giving so much, as I explained prior to the reading…300 denarii ~ a year’s wage of a day-labourer. And naming his as a King by anointing him in a manner done to Kings after their death. Yet…the woman demonstrates a faith that proclaims him as King…now…and forevermore. And to pour out the depth of love that she knew. With faith that believed in a power that would conquer death; with love that would overcome hatred; with God’s full expression that was here / now!
I’m wondering about our stories over the past year and one-half, where has the unnamed woman’s generosity been found during Covid. This is *hopefully* our final ‘virtual’ service of worship. Next week, we will move towards a hybrid service offering options of both ‘in person’ and ‘virtual’. This has been a long journey for us all. Do you remember the hoarding of supplies? Do you remember the fears that set in when toilet paper ran in scarce supply? When masks, hand sanitizer and other cleaning products were nowhere to be purchased? But…do you also remember the generosity. When we were separated in our homes during the lockdown periods, do you remember the phone calls, the emails, the cards that you received? Do you remember the generosity? Within the church, we came to realize that the church is not the building, as much as we miss it, the church is the people…and those connections continued to be strong. People reported to me about the meaning of our monthly communion services and how deeply connected they felt during the ‘at home communion’ time. Generosity of time…generosity of spirit….generosity of life continued!
Next Sunday, we are planning a wonderful reunion party. After one and one-half years time, we will begin gathering ‘in person’ once again as we reopen the church and gather for worship. (Looking further ahead, other ministries will reconvene into September and the fall ~ so stay tuned) And as we prepare for this reunion, we consider the generosity that will be required to create a sacred space where the holy will dance in our midst. Jesus taught how two or three gathering was all that was required for His presence to be found. This morning’s text reminds us that we need to be generous in our faith as we welcome Christ. How does this look? I think that being generous as a community will require patience as we acknowledge that it will take us time to get there. Generosity in patience acknowledge that things will not be the same as we resume. Not everyone will be ready to gather…just yet. And as we gather we need to be generous in helping each other feel safe. Some may want to sit alone…others may feel comfortable to sit as a group. Not everyone will be ready to shake hands or hug…just yet. The importance of communication will be so critical going forward. Generosity of patience, as we have adopted over the past time, will be continue as we begin reconvening as a church. May we be generous in our patience and continue our vision of embracing the community with the love of Christ.
In many ways, generosity has been the underlying theme that has allowed us to thrive and get this virus under control. We have learned that this virus does not observe any geographical, cultural or economic boundaries. We are all equally at risk and our generosity of care towards others…even those whom we do not know has been more important now than ever before! A friend’s church sign recently was changed to proclaim Jesus great commandment: “Love Thy Neighbour…Get Vaxxed”. We have learned the effectiveness of vaccination, not only in protecting our own health, but also in protecting those around us…friends, family, strangers…this crisis has truly been a time calling for generosity of care for the greater good. You likely read in the Friday email, and it is posted on the United Church of Canada website, where our National Church is encouraging us to be generous in sponsoring vaccine distribution through UNICEF into countries who have no way of getting them. Vaccine justice has become a real issue for our world today. For the cost of $25, we can ensure one person’s vaccination. While we debate whether a third dose is warranted, there are countries who are largely unvaccinated due to the vaccines being unavailable. This is a time that calls for our generosity: our generosity of patience…our generosity of care…our generosity of love.
May we be generous in our expressions of faith. May our generosity bring life, hope and joy.