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A Lesson in Sacrifice

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A Lesson in Sacrifice

Mark 14:1-9

Story of the chicken and the pig.  For you it is a donation, but for me it would mean total sacrifice.  I want to talk to you this morning on the idea of sacrificial love.  I think just about everyone in the room could quote or at least make reference to verses of Scripture that indicate God’s sacrificial love to mankind.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  It is easier for us to understand God’s love for us when we hold it up to the light of God’s action in His love.  We can say all our lives long how much we love the Lord, but words without action are sometimes pretty meaningless.  I want you to know this morning that sacrificial love will often appear excessive or extravagant to the casual observer.  That’s how the prodigal got his name.  Given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse, lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical.  There can be no doubt that there is such a thing as wasteful living, and spending, but I submit to you this morning that there is no such thing as wasteful loving when it comes to our devotion to God.  The woman in our story this morning performs one of the greatest, heartfelt acts of love that we will ever find in our Bibles.  I believe that it is here for us to have an example, a true picture of sacrificial love.  You see not everyone owned an alabaster box, they in and of themselves were fairly rare and somewhat expensive.  It is quite possible that this was a family heirloom that had been passed down through the generations.  It also may have been an extravagant gift that was given to this woman.  The contents of that bottle were more costly, and we read that it was filled with spikenard.  Spikenard was positioned in the foremost place among ancient perfumes, and it was made from two ingredients that were found only in northern India.  A single leaf of the Nardis plant could bring as much as 80-100 pence.  You may be saying, well I don’t know how much a pence is.  You will find that the words denarius, penny and pence are pretty much interchangeable in our NT.  That was the common amount of a day’s wages.  Multiply it by 300, and you get an idea of how much we are talking about in monetary value.  I think we can safely round it off to be equivalent to a year’s wages.  I have spent too much on perfume for my wife, but I have never spent that much.  Do you see that this woman didn’t think twice about breaking open that alabaster box, and dispensing every drop of that precious ointment to show her love and devotion to Jesus Christ?  To the casual observer, our love to God may seem excessive. 

I want you to know this morning if we truly love the Lord, and are prepared to show it, people will murmur.  In verses 4 and 5, we have the sentiment of the crowd.  Understand that these were more than likely the followers of Christ, His disciples.  What a waste they would scoff.  This could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.  I remember vividly when I left a good paying job at Motorola to go to Bible College.  Old Hoffer has lost his mind; he is off his rocker, what a waste!  Sacrificial love will not compute in the practical mind—It just doesn’t make sense. 

McCoy was pastoring a Baptist church in Oyster Bay, New York, when at age seventy-two he was mandated by his denomination to retire. A lifelong bachelor, he had cared for his mother for as long as she lived. In his spare time he had earned seven university degrees, including two Ph.D.’s—one from Dartmouth, the other from Columbia. But now, at age seventy-two, he was being forced to retire from the ministry.

He was depressed. “I just lay on my bed thinking that my life’s over, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I’ve been pastor of this church for so many years and nobody really wants me much—what have I done for Christ? I’ve spent an awful lot of time working for degrees, but what does that count for? I haven’t won very many to the Lord.”6

A week later he met a Christian pastor from India, and on impulse asked him to preach in his church. After the service the Indian brother asked him matter-of-factly to return the favor. Since he had preached for McCoy, would McCoy come to India and preach for him? McCoy told him that he was going to have to retire and move to a home for the elderly down in Florida. But the Indian insisted, informing McCoy that where he came from, people respected a man when his hair turns {93} white. Would he come?

McCoy thought and prayed about it and decided he would. The members of his church were aghast. Dire predictions were made. The young chairman of his board of deacons summed up the attitude of the congregation when he asked, “What if you die in India?” I love McCoy’s answer. He told him he reckoned “it’s just as close to heaven from there as it is from here.” He sold most of his belongings, put what was left in a trunk, and booked a one-way passage to India—his first trip ever out of the United States!

When he arrived in Bombay, he discovered to his horror that his trunk was lost. All he had were the clothes on his back, his wallet, his passport, and the address of missionaries in Bombay he had clipped from a missionary magazine when he left. He asked for directions, got on a streetcar and headed for their house. When he got there, he discovered that while he was on the streetcar his wallet and passport had been stolen! He went to the missionaries who welcomed him in, but who told him the man who had invited him to come to India was still in the U.S.A. and would probably remain there indefinitely.

What was he going to do now? they wanted to know. Unperturbed, McCoy told them he had come to preach and that he would try to make an appointment with the mayor of Bombay. They warned him that the mayor was very busy and important and that in all the years they had been missionaries there, they had never succeeded in getting an appointment with him. Nevertheless, McCoy set out for the mayor’s office the next day—and he got in! When the mayor saw McCoy’s business card, listing all his degrees, he reasoned that McCoy must not be merely a Christian pastor, but someone much more important. Not only did he get an appointment, but the mayor held a tea in his honor, attended by all of the big officials in Bombay! Old Dr. McCoy was able to preach to these leaders for half an hour. Among them was the director of India’s West Point, the National Defense Academy at Poona. He was so impressed at what he heard that he invited McCoy to preach there.

Thus was launched, at age seventy-two, a brand new, sixteen-year ministry for Dr. Charles McCoy. Until he died at age eighty-eight, this dauntless old man circled the globe preaching the gospel. There is a church in Calcutta today because of {94} his preaching and a thriving band of Christians in Hong Kong because of his faithful ministry. He never had more than enough money than to get him to the next place he was to go. He died one afternoon at a hotel in Calcutta, resting for a meeting he was to preach at that evening.

I was brought up under the Golden Dome of Notre Dame.  We moved away form northern Indiana when I was young, but I always spent a week or two at my grandmother’s in the Summer. We would make trips to the campus, and my grandma liked to go into the cathedral.  I have to say I was pretty impressed as a young boy, but as I have gotten older I can look back and say, what a waste.  It was excessive, extravagant, and I ma not sure that the motives were pure or understood.  But on the other hand, we are living in an age where everything is labeled stewardship.  If we used the word correctly it wouldn’t bother me, but when it simply becomes a replacement for cheap, I just don’t know if I can get on board. 

Lastly this morning, I want you to know that Jesus will find your acts of sacrificial love quite appropriate.  He said it was a good work done to Him.  He also said, she hath done what she could.  I love the woman’s response to the detractors.  Golden silence.  I think of it like this, you simply wouldn’t understand. If all we do can be explained away by reason and with excuse, then we may not be extravagant enough.  Go break you alabaster box, and show your love and devotion to Christ.

My Grandfather and Grandmother were married for over half a century, and played their own special game from the time they had met each other. The goal of their game was to write the word "shmily"in a surprise place for the other to find. They took turns leaving "shmily" around the house, and as soon as one of them discovered it, it was their turn to hide it once more.

They dragged "shmily" with their fingers through the sugar and flour containers to await whoever was preparing the next meal. They smeared it in the dew on the windows overlooking the patio where they always had warm, homemade pudding with blue food coloring.

"Shmily" was written in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, where it would reappear bath after bath.  At one point, my Grandmother even unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper to leave"shmily" on the very last sheet.

There was no end to the places "shmily" would pop up. Little notes with "shmily" scribbled hurriedly were found on dashboards and car seats, or taped to steering wheels. The notes were stuffed inside shoes and left under pillows.

"Shmily" was written in the dust upon the mantel and traced in the ashes of the fireplace. This mysterious word was as much a part of their house as the furniture.

It took me a long time before I was able to fully appreciate my grandparents' game. Skepticism had kept some of them from believing in true love-one that is pure and enduring. However, I never doubted my grandparents' relationship. They had love down pat. It was more than their flirtatious little games; it was a way of life. Their relationship was based on a devotion and passionate affection which not everyone is able to experience.

Grandma and Grandpa held hands every chance they could. They stole kisses as they bumped into each other in their tiny kitchen. They finished each other's sentences and shared the daily crossword puzzle and word jumble.

My Grandmother whispered to one of her friends about how cute my Grandfather was, how handsome and old he had grown to be. She claimed that she really knew "how to pick 'em." Before every meal they bowed their heads and gave thanks, marveling at their blessings: a wonderful family, good fortune, and each other.

But there was a dark cloud in the couples' life: my Grandmother had breast cancer. The disease had first appeared ten years earlier. As always, my Grandfather was with her every step of the way. He comforted her in their yellow room, painted that way so that she could always be surrounded by sunshine, even when she was too sick to go outside.

Now the cancer was again attacking her body. With the help of a cane and my Grandfather's steady hand, they went to church every week. But my Grandmother grew steadily weaker until, finally,she could not leave the house anymore. For a while, my Grandfather would go to church alone, praying to God to watch over my Grandmother.

Then one day, what everyone dreaded finally happened. My Grandmother was gone.

"Shmily." It was scrawled in yellow on the pink ribbons of my Grandmother's funeral bouquet. As the crowd thinned and the last mourners turned to leave, my aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members came forward and gathered around Grandma one last time.

My Grandfather stepped up to my Grandmother's casket and, taking a shaky breath, he began to sing to her.

Through his tears and grief, the song came, a deep and throaty lullaby.

Shmily?

See How Much I Love You

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